Narrative Snippets: Writing for Story Games
[This is part of the ongoing series on narrative engineering: design, organisation and writing. These short articles (which are republished from our wiki) deal with writing for games like StoryNexus.]
StoryNexus games are played over multiple short chunks of text. For most storylets, a single sentence for root and branch descriptions and a paragraph for event text will do fine. It’s especially important to keep text short when the player will read a bit of text multiple times. They’ll probably just skim it after the second time anyway, so there’s no need to write a lot.
That said, the text is one of the major draws of StoryNexus games. It’s a good idea to get players used to the idea that text is a reward for play. So, you might want to make success text a bit longer or more interesting than failure text.
There are some occasions when you want to write more. You might want to go to town on the finale of a story, or describe a particularly memorable scene. It’s not too terrible to do this now and again, but don’t go over the top. Economy of prose is a virtue. If you go over four or five paragraphs, you’ve definitely gone too far.
Keep your sentences simple
Your player is reading your text, but they’re also playing a game. They may be only reading with half their attention, or skimming quickly. They may want to skip to the next storylet.
So, keep your sentences simple. Use short, simple constructions. Don’t write with a lot of semi-colons or parentheses or use endless clauses strung together with commas. Keep it simple and easy to read.
Put the important stuff first
This is the cornerstone and first rule of journalistic writing, but it holds true for games too. Players have limited attention and often skim-read, so shove the important stuff at them straight away. If you can’t do that, put the important stuff in the title so that they know what’s coming.