How to Map out an Interactive Story

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Note: This post is part of Katie Ernst's series on best practices for writing interactive stories. If you'd like to read the blog from the beginning, click here

Based on my last post, you have now figured out what the major nodes of your story are going to be, but now you need to know how to literally write the story and map it all out. I have a fool-proof method.

Let’s imagine I'm writing an extremely simple story with only one node whose premise is that you’re a reindeer with a large, red nose that is tired of getting picked on. Let’s say that I have worked out that the reindeer can either tattle to Santa or handle the mean reindeer himself. First I need to write that opening scene. When I've finished, I can begin mapping out my story. I write "opening" on the top of a piece of paper (or even better, a very large white board) and draw a box around it. Then I draw two lines from it that go to the two options, numbered 1 and 2. Like so:

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Notice I did *not* put boxes around the two options yet. Why? Because we will only put boxes around scene names *after* we’ve written them. Also, note that at this point it does not matter what numbers I have given the scenes. The numbers are only to help me find the correct scene in my word document. 

So, let’s say the next scene I decide to write is “tattle”. In that scene the protagonist reindeer goes to Santa and at the end of the scene Santa gives the reader two options: either you can guide Santa's sleigh tonight to show the other reindeer who's the best or you can retire and move down to the South Pole with all the other washed-up reindeer. Once I’ve written that scene I will then draw a box around “Tattle” and draw lines to the two options off of that.

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Keep in mind, the order I write the scenes or the order of the numbers in my word document don’t matter. If I want to find a scene, I just hit find in my word document to find that number. I can worry about making all the numbers go in ascending order once I'm done writing.

So now I could write either guide sleigh, South Pole, or handle them yourself. Personally, I like to stay in one path before moving onto others, so let’s say I write “South Pole” next. In this scene, the red-nosed reindeer goes down to the South Pole, but the other reindeer living down there are even worse to him than the ones in the North Pole had been. The End. Once I finish this unhappy ending, I draw a box around the scene and put two lines underneath it to let me know it’s an unhappy ending.

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Now I write the scene for guide sleigh. Let’s say that in that scene, all the reindeer realize that your bright nose is a benefit and so now all the reindeer love you. That’s a happy ending, so I’d draw a box around “guide sleigh” and put two lines underneath to show it’s an ending but also write “you win” to let me know it’s a happy ending.

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After that, I'd write the scene “Handle them yourself” and so on.

That’s all you have to do to write a story like this, but remember in a real story, from the beginning to the end, the player should go through 10-20 scenes before they get to an ending rather than the two they go through in this simplified example.

Also, keep in mind that scenes can intersect with each other. Different scenes can lead to the same place and the like. So here’s a drawing of a small section of Cinder/Charming.

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These numbers do not correspond to the numbers in the finalized ebook or print book because this was before I put them all in ascending order, but this is just to give you an idea of how different scenes can lead to the same places.

In the next post I will explain what sort of topics work best for interactive stories. Stay tuned.

*Note: If you are interested in writing an interactive story signup for our newsletter and receive a PDF of Cinder/Charming as well as its full story map as our free gift to you.