Thursday 22 March 2012

How to write an adventure gamebook - Part 4

It would appear that posts on this blog about writing adventure gamebooks are like buses. Nothing for two years and then two come along within a matter of hours. So anyway, to business...

Re-structuring the Adventure

"Why 're-structuring' the adventure?" I hear you ask. Well because this is the last in a series of blog posts about how I write adventure gamebooks. Not anybody else. Me.

But before I get onto re-structuring, I should probably fill you in on a part of the writing process I omitted in the last post, and that's...

Numbering the Adventure

Before I start writing a new gamebook, I print out a sheet with the numbers 1-400 on it*. Once I get started, I write paragraph 1 which leads to 2 and 3, and so on. I don't write the book with the numbers muddled up to begin with (as Ian Livingstone does) nor as numbered scenes with annotated bullet points (as Steve Jackson does).

I do this for a number of reasons. (1) It helps give me an idea of how far through the story I am. (2) It means I can easily check back to previous paragraphs to make sure the writing flows from one reference to the next. (3) It means I can make sure illustrations are correctly spaced throughout the book, and not all bunched together. (4) I can make sure all the number clue references work (the ones you turn to when an item has a particular number associated with it, or if you've converted a name into numbers).

Once I've finished the first draft I then go through and give the adventure a thorough edit. I call it an edit, rather than a re-write, because in my case it usually involves taking words out, as opposed to re-writing whole sections or putting words in. When I'm happy with the text, it's time to start re-structuring the book - in other words muddling up all the paragraphs and then re-numbering them.

Re-Numbering the Adventure

To do this, I print out a second list of numbers from 1-400. I then colour code paragraphs, circling those that are the solutions to problems in one colour and using another colour to denote which ones will have illustrations connected to them**. I then start randomly assigning new numbers to the paragraphs on a physical print out of the story, marking the old paragraph number in yet another colour next to the new printed number. This then becomes the master for the final layout.

Once I've tracked down all the missing numbers and paragraphs and matched them up, I re-format the text of the book, changing 'Turn to's as necessary, and trying not to leave any paragraph references unchanged (which is never an easy task).

Finishing Touches

It's only then, once I've finished re-formatting, that I'll send the gamebook to my editor. Inevitably there are a few re-writes, some involving a re-jigging of paragraphs (which can be a bit of a pain). Further down the line there may well be an illustration brief to write, flow-charts to create and ultimately proof-reading to be done. But once I've sent the gamebook to be seen by another pair of eyes for the first time I feel that it's as good as done.

If the book is illustrated, several weeks (or sometimes months) after I'm done I get excited about the adventure all over again when the illustrations get sent through. It's great when the artist really captures the image you wanted them to portray but it's ever better when what they produce is better than you initial imaginings (as my sometime-collaborator Martin McKenna regularly managed to achieve).

Game Over

And that, in a nutshell, is how I go about writing a gamebook. If you have any comments or questions concerning the process, why not drop me a line in the 'Comments' section after this post? And if you're attempting to write a gamebook yourself, I hope my insights prove useful.

So, until next time...

* If that's how long the adventure's going to be, of course. As an aside, it's funny how 400 has become the standard number of paragraphs for gamebooks for so many people, especially when it was a purely arbitrary figure arrived at by chance when Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone wrote The Warlock of Firetop Mountain back in the early 80s.

** Sometimes a paragraph can be both - a number clue that leads to an illo.


James Wallis said...

Interesting. Back in the day I used to divide the book up by acts and then by scenes. Each scene would get a letter code, and then each paragraph within that scene got an alphanumeric. So the opening paragraph of the book would be A1, leading to A2, A3 and A4, and so on. A scene would typically have 10-25 paragraphs.

flashingsword said...

Many thanks, Jonathan, that's fascinating, and most helpful. I really appreciate the clear and helpful way you have outlined your process. Kudos!