Have any of you ever thought about writing an adventure gamebook but don't know where to begin? Writing a gamebook certainly requires some skills not needed when writing an ordinary book.
Today I am continuing my series called "Gamebook Writing 101". My plan is to share some of my experiences and ideas concerning gamebook writing with the hope that these articles are of benefit to you. I also invite discussion (via the commenting section) about each article I write, so we can hear thoughts from other writers as well.
Today, I will continue with the topic I started last week - Page numbers (Part 2) for those of you who have not read Part 1, I advise you to read that article first before starting this one. The link for that article is here:
OPTION 2 - Random numbers
Repeating my example of last week:
You continue walking north along the path until you arrive at a crossroads. The north path continues across the open plain. The path to the east appears to head towards a small forest nearby. The path to the west heads towards a large lake, some distance away.
If you wish to continue north across the plain, turn to page 25.
If you wish to turn to the east, towards the forest, turn to page 17.
If you wish to go west, in the direction of the lake, turn to page 115.
Here, the story begins at page 1. The first choice to turn to is at page 25, the second is page 17 and the third is page 115. The two weaknesses I mentioned with option 1 in my previous article:
- 1) Reader seeing alternative decisions on the same two page spread
- 2) Endings piled at the end of the book
are eliminated. All the page numbers to turn to are far enough away from each other (and from the page the reader is currently on) for weakness 1) to be dealt with. Also, the random allocation of page numbers means that the endings to the story will, naturally, be randomly scattered throughout the book.
Random numbers - How many pages is my book?
Obviously, if you are going to allocate numbers randomly, you need tools to help with the "randomness" aspect. Before you start, however, because you not using the "allocate the next available page number" system, you are going to lose one of its advantages - easy tracking of how many pages long your book is. This forces you to make an early decision: You must decide how many pages (or sections) your gamebook is going to have. This is because when you go through the process of allocating random numbers, you must have an upper and lower range from which to select your next random page number.
As will be illustrated below, you are also going to have to be very accurate with your estimate.
If you decide that your book is going to be 200 pages long, and it turns out that you use your compliment, but the story is still going, you are going to have to readjust your estimate and start allocating a new set of numbers for the remaining pages. Let us say you reach 200 and estimate that it will probably take you another 50 pages to finish. You will now have to randomly allocate the final pages between 201 and 250. This is a reasonable compromise, however, one of the weaknesses of last week's system rears its head again. Quoting from my part 1 article:
As a natural course of events, this option results in the vast majority of the endings being piled together at the end of the book. As a result, the reader will get a reasonable idea when the story is more likely to end, the higher the page numbers become. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but if you don't want the reader to feel like the story is necessarily about to conclude as they read, this method of page numbering doesn't help the situation.
Even worse, in my opinion, is the other possibility: That you finish your story before you have used up your quota of pages. Let us say, you decide that you are going to have a 200 page story, but you finish it with only 150 pages used. Because you have been allocating random numbers between 1 and 200, but have only used 150 of them, there are going to be "missing page numbers" all over the place, which, on the face of it, appears to be a disaster. Imaging flipping through the pages of the book to find there is a page 1, 2, 3, 4 then a skip to page 6, then 7, then another skip to page 10 etc. It doesn't look good.
So, the above scenarios seem to suggest is it better to underestimate than overestimate the number of pages for your book. Neither, however, are ideal. Something else that could be done to "fix" the problem, however, is available to you. Whether or not you will be able to achieve this, however, depends greatly on your writing ability.
DELIBERATELY OVERESTIMATE YOUR BOOK LENGTH AND THEN INCLUDE "FILLER" SCENES
At some stage, when you are getting close to finishing your story, you should be able to get an idea when you are going to run out of pages or are not going to use them all. Another possibility is to deliberately overestimate how long your book will be and then make a conscious decision to include some "filler scenes" at various stages of the story so that you get closer to your originally overestimated number of pages.
Now, there is a danger that these filler scenes will detract from the quality of the story, if it is obvious that they are filler scenes. Padding out a book for the sake of page numbers is a dangerous business, and if you are wanting to publish it, a would-be publisher may not like what appear to be uneccessary story scenes. For gamebooks, however, you do have an option available to you that normal authors do not have:
For those familiar with gamebooks, the "game" element is an important part of a good gamebook so that the reader gets an opportunity to test out the characters game attributes. This should be done on a regular basis, to break up the story into purely "literary" moments to "gameplay" moments. Without going into to much detail about the random encounters themselves (as it is worthy of an article of its own), some examples that you could use are:
1) Random confrontation - Be it a wild animal that crosses the reader's path or an enemy of another sort, you can extend a story by a few pages by including a couple of random confrontations.
2) Random traps - Traps that test the character's attributes or simply cause an outright penalty without testing them are another option. Be imaginative! Recall your days of watching the Indiana Jones movies and think of how many times Indy was confronted with an unexpected trap that he had to overcome.
3) Random treasures/tests - Have the character potentially discover a special item that will help in the story later on. Better still, have the character need to overcome a series of tests to be able to acquire that special item.
4) Be really bold and use a combination of some or all the above to come up with a nice little extended scene that can benefit or harm the character in preparation for the final confrontation at the end of the story.
Just a final point on this, as far as myself is concerned, one of the series that I am writing (Woodland Forest Chronicles) is one that runs along a specific timeline. Each book that I write (indirectly) follows the previous book. I like to include extra scenes in one book that give a small clue as to future events in the land of Woodland Forest in future books, without being necessarily integral to the story being currently read. That is another way I like to extend my stories, if they need extending (although I tend to struggle to keep stories within my limit, rather than fall short, from expereience.)
Anyway, that will probably do for today. In Part 3, I will discuss the tools to use to help with the allocation of random page numbers as well as the third (and final) method on how to allocate page numbers.