Well, since I still seem to be going through a bit of a “point and click” adventure game phase at the moment, I couldn’t help but think of the interactive gamebook-style story that I wrote and posted online in October. So, I thought that I’d look at the subject of characterisation in interactive fiction today.
Although I’ll mostly be talking about gamebook-style prose stories here, I’ll also be talking briefly about “point and click” adventure games too.
Anyway, interactive stories offer all sorts of possibilities for characterisation that more traditional linear stories don’t.
This is especially noticeable in “point and click” games because the high level of interactivity means that literally every interaction with another character and every witty observation of the game’s world can reveal more information about the characters and their worldviews.
Likewise, because computer games are a visual medium, you can also reveal a lot of character information through the actions, appearances etc.. of all the various characters.
But, I thought that I’d talk about a slightly less interactive, and much less visual, type of interactive fiction for the rest of the article. I am, of course, talking about gamebooks.
Gamebooks are kind of interesting when it comes to characterisation since, although you can include interactive dialogue (eg: “to ask about one thing, turn to page 34. To ask about another thing, turn to page 86”) the limitations of the format mean that this kind of dialogue can’t really be as extensive as the interactive dialogue in “point and click” games.
Likewise, it’s more difficult for interactive gamebooks to include the kinds of witty observations that “point and click” games do. Yes, you can include witty descriptions in the narration but, since these books are narrated from a second-person perspective, all this does is give the narrator (rather than the main character) more characterisation.
Since the main character in a gamebook is supposed to be the reader, there is traditionally very little characterisation in order to allow the reader to immerse himself or herself fully in the story. Although I kind of ignored this rule slightly (for comedic purposes) when I wrote my interactive story, the main character in a gamebook-style story is supposed to be something of a “blank slate”.
What this means is that virtually all of the characterisation in a gamebook-style story has to come from the supporting characters. Although you can pretty much write these characters in the same way as you would write a character in an “ordinary” story, you will probably have to place more emphasis on distinctive dialogue and quick characterisation for the simple reason that your readers are probably only going to see these characters for a couple of pages.
Another interesting thing about gamebook-style stories is that, because the reader can usually take several different paths through the story, it’s possible that they might not meet all of the characters. What this means is that, if a character is essential to the plot, then you have to structure your story in a way that makes it impossible for the reader to avoid them.
On the other hand, you can take advantage of the branching nature of interactive stories to convey the same information to the reader in a variety of different ways. For example, at one point in my interactive story, you can choose to take one of three possible routes to the last part of the game.
In two of these routes, you get to meet one of two different characters ( either the Dungeonkeeper or High Priestess Lachard, depending on the route you take). During your dialogue with either character, they will give you a clue which will help you with a puzzle later in the story. But, more than that, their dialogue also discusses the same event from two different perspectives.
If you talk to the Dungeonkeeper, he’ll talk about a mistake that he once made and how High Priestess Lachard still mocks him about it. If you talk to Lachard, then one part of the dialogue will remind her of this mistake and she’ll suddenly burst into laughter with relatively little explanation.
Since you only get to read one of these two dialogues when you’re reading the story, you get a slightly different perspective on the same part of the story’s backstory. Not only does it provide extra “value” for people who are re-reading the story, but it also emphasises the fact that the characters knew each other and existed before the events of the story. In other words, it makes the “world” of your story feel more like a real, living world.
Likewise, because gamebook-style stories are interactive, you can get a lot of character information across from the way that other characters react to the player’s decisions. You can show whether characters are quick to anger, whether characters are always suspicious etc…
These are, of course, just a few of the advantages that interactive fiction has over linear fiction when it comes to characterisation. But, you’d be surprised at how much more you can do when you’re telling an interactive story.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂