Home > Interactive Fiction > Why write IF

Why write IF

August 18th, 2010 Matt Leave a comment Go to comments
  • Tweet
  • Tweet

Interactive fiction – writing software

Welcome to part three of my interactive fiction series. So far, we’ve described interactive fiction and it’s history; looked at how you can get into reading it, and how you can get into writing it. There may be some of you still wondering what the big deal is, and that’s fine. You don’t have to like it. But I’d like to have one last go at persuading you. To that end, here are four reasons to try your hand at writing IF.

1. Interaction

Clue’s in the title, folks. This aspect might appeal to you as a reader, and so, why wouldn’t you want to emulate it.

But above and beyond that, it requires a different way of thinking about a story, and a different way of writing. The sheer experience of creating something so different might get you interested; you may carry something back from this experience into your other writing; or you might just consider it another string to your bow.

Certainly, anyone considering writing for video games would do well to have interactive fiction on their cv. It will demonstrate that you understand some of the demands that non-linear, interactive writing has.

2. A unique perspective


Image courtesy of Dar Sevier on Flickr

By and large, interactive fiction uses the second person perspective. It is you who is carrying out the action, not I or he or she (actually, one of the stories I mentioned in my IF introduction, Lost Pig, is told from the perspective of Grunk, the character you play, as if he is narrating the tale. So it’s told in the first person. Except that Grunk is not too hot on grammar and talks about himself in the third person. Never mind). Very rarely would an author choose to tackle this perspective, but given that it is the reader who guides the action, it is wholly appropriate.

So what, you might think. Well, I’m not an experienced IF writer, but there are some obvious advantages to this perspective.

The one that is perhaps most obvious is humour. Anyone who has played a text adventure will be familiar with the snarky comments you get back when you do something stupid. As an author of IF you get to make lighthearted fun of the reader (if they try to take a tree, for example).

You can also put your reader completely in the dark. This is not a bad technique for story telling anyway, but here it really comes into its own, as the reader fumbles around, trying to figure out the situation.

Take Emily Short’s Glass for example. When the story starts, you have no idea what your role in the narrative is or what you are capable of. As you try different things it appears that you’re not capable of much at all, and the conversation you’re witnessing seems to carry on without you anyway. Persevere though, and your function becomes clear, and then you can really start experimenting. It’s very satisfying.

One other opportunity, that is perhaps the most difficult to pull off, is to say something about the reader themselves. By giving the reader choices, and using the second person to point the finger, there is potential to hold up something of an interactive mirror to the reader.

3. A unique challenge

We know writing is difficult, but we do it anyway. Maybe we’re masochists, maybe we just relish a challenge. So picture a story with multiple paths through it, maybe multiple endings; conversations that could cover many topics; items that could be put to any use; rooms where everything should be described in detail. These are all very real possibilities in IF, and if you’re chomping at the bit to get writing at the thought of it, maybe you do like a challenge! Just remember, you have been warned!

4. Tiny, bite-sized chunks

Having said that, in some ways IF is suited to those who don’t have a lot of time to squeeze some writing in. Beyond the copious planning and some complicated logic (if required), interactive fiction is made up of tiny little bits. If you’re pressed for time, you can write a couple of item or room descriptions in ten minutes, and still feel like you’ve made some progress.

And there you have it. As always with these lists, there are bound to be more reasons, so hit the comments! I’d be especially interested to hear from experienced IF authors on why they enjoy writing interactive fiction.

Further Reading

Books on Interactive Fiction*

There’s not a lot of literature on IF, but there are a couple of seminal works. If you like the sound of this medium, you should really read these

  • Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction
  • Creative Interactive Fiction With Inform 7
  • Get Lamp is a documentary by Jason Scott chronicling the history of the text adventure
  • Or you could always search on Amazon

*Note that all Amazon links go through my associates account, to help out Getmewriting.com. If that bothers you, don’t click!

Further reading on Getmewriting.com

There’s a bunch of coverage on here. Here are the highlights: