Thursday 22 March 2012

How to write an adventure gamebook - Part 1

Recently a number of people have been asking me for advice on how to write adventure gamebooks. Inspired by their questions, and in part by my own feature on Fighting Fantasy in the latest SFX Special, I'm re-posting these 'How to' posts from a couple of years back, and finishing off the series with another two. Enjoy, and I hope you find them helpful.

A number of people have shown an interest lately in how I go about writing an adventure gamebook. Having written eleven gamebooks to date - seven Fighting Fantasy, two Sonic the Hedgehogs, one Doctor Who and one Star Wars (with another couple of gamebook projects in the pipeline) - I feel at least semi-qualified to talk about this topic and offer a little advice to the budding gamebook writer.

I'm going to break this into a number of topics and start with something which others have asked in generally about my writing, and that's where I get my ideas from. So, welcome to Gamebook Writing 101. Class is in session...

The Idea

I send a SAE to a PO Box in Bristol and by return of post... I'm kidding, but the number of times I've been asked that question, I've been tempted to use that reply.

Ideas can come from anywhere, images, film, passing phrases, other books I've read... anywhere. I liked J K Rowling's response when asked where do you get your ideas from. She said something along the lines of, 'What, you mean you don't have ideas?'

The inspiration for my first ever gamebook Spellbreaker came from the cover to the first Advanced Fighting Fantasy rulebook Dungeoneer. That gave me the final big bad of the book and an obsession with Brother Cadfael mysteries at the time did the rest. Knights of Doom was inspired by Macbeth, Curse of the Mummy by a trip to Egypt. With Bloodbones I wanted to focus on a group who had only been used in passing in other books - pirates! The same was true of Howl of the Werewolf, where I turned a classic B-movie baddie into the main character of a gamebook. Stormslayer was in part generated by current concerns about climate change but also making another underused aspect of the FF milieu (elementals this time) the central theme. Night of the Necromancer, my most recent FF adventure, was again partly inspired by the works of the immortal bard (Hamlet as well as Macbeth this time) and partly I wanted to take the concept behind Howl of the Werewolf one step further.

Having settled on the idea (and often with a working title in mind) I set about making screeds of notes, brainstorming the topic to see what ideas I can come up with, and doing a fair bit of research. This ranges from flicking through the FF source books, Out of the Pit and Titan: The Fighting Fantasy World, to reading up on the subject in other sources and possibly watching the odd DVD too. As I make more and more notes I start to settle on a structure for the adventure as well as ideas for specific encounters and an overall story. I develop ideas for new monsters and any new rules the adventure may need, and I start to make a lot of maps. These vary in complexity from sketch spider diagrams, to pictorial maps with notes written all over them. The making of the map - which is of the adventure more than it is of any particular place - helps crystallise the structure of the adventure in my mind and goes through several iterations.

However, things aren't set in stone at this point. I have a rough idea of how many paragraphs each section/encounter will take up in the final adventure but during the writing of the book itself this can change quite dramatically, forcing a detailing re-structuring of some sections. (But that's for another post).

So, with the idea worked out and with my maps and pages of notes to hand, I set about writing the proposal. But more about that next time...

Coming soon: Part 2 - The Proposal

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