Now, I don’t do guest posts very often, but when I do, I like to think it’s more than worth it. So today, I’m closing out a short series of posts with yet another entry from the amazing Felicity Banks.
If you read my Book Spotlight on “Heart of Brass”, and the Author Spotlight on Felicity, you’ll know that she mentioned interactive fiction a number of times. As a childhood fan of the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, I was intrigued enough to ask her to write a post about it.
Writing these kinds of stories takes far more planning and work than anything I have ever attempted, so I was interested in what her process was.
I hope you enjoy reading what Felicity had to say about this type of story, and there are a lot of links that you can check out.
What is interactive fiction?
Choice-based interactive fiction (as opposed to Parser interactive fiction, which has puzzles) is exactly like a normal story except the reader gets a say in where the story goes. That can be as minor as choosing how to feel about an event (does the hero panic? Do they worry about their friends? Do they wish they were stronger or smarter?), or as major as traveling to a completely different country for part or all or the story.
A lot of choice-based interactive fiction is similar to Choose Your Own Adventure novels, except modern interactive fiction is usually 100% digital and released as an app rather than an e-book. This has led to a culture in which a lot of IF lets the reader choose their own name, gender, and even sexuality. Suddenly every character is a strong female hero!
When did you realise you wanted to write interactive fiction?
January 2015. My health was declining and I realized I wasn’t going to be able to go back to work in child care. A friend told me about Choice of Games offering a $10,000 advance based on an outline, so I sent them my writing CV. We sent my pitch and outline back and forth a few times before they rejected it—but by that time I’d already written most of the book!
I finished Attack of the Clockwork Army, and Choice of Games put it on their Hosted Games label, meaning that I’d get royalties only. No-one had heard of me and I’d never sold an interactive story before, but it earned me about $2000 anyway. I was stunned that there was such a market for interactive books, and I had an excuse to write more. I now work for Tin Man Games, which is a truly fantastic and internationally-famous Australian game company. They’re also a lot of fun to work with.
Do you have a favourite author of interactive fiction?
I like Brendan Patrick Henessy (Birdland), Eric Moser (Community College Hero 1), Kevin Gold, (Choice of Robots), and anything by Emily Short (except for Galatea, which is probably her most famous work).
What advice would you give beginners to interactive fiction?
If you’ve written a few novels and you want to earn money, start by sending your writing credits to Choice of Games. If you’re fascinated by the form, jump into Twine and have a play (Birdland was written in Twine). It’s free and takes about ten minutes to get started. If you’d like to test the waters, try entering a contest: The Windhammer Prize entries have to be both short and printable rather than digital. Introcomp is specifically designed for unfinished games. The Spring Thing welcomes beginners (they even have a “Back Garden” so critics know to mind their manners and be gentle with new people). The IF Comp is so huge a large number of reviewing blogs organize their year around it.
Be warned that the IF Community has an extremely deep (sometimes bruising) tradition of reviewing. It’s normal for even the best games to draw both praise and criticism, and for some games to be roundly condemned (especially in the IF Comp). On the other hand, I placed 7th in the IF Comp in 2015, and was offered three different paid jobs as a result!
If you want to learn about the world of IF, then read blogs and games (most of the competitions above are publicly judged, so go play!)
Could you tell us a bit about your latest book?
Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten is a serialized story that releases a new section each week (the first week is free, and continuing the story costs a few dollars). Readers can choose to turn the music and sounds on or off. If they have an apple watch, it can play a crucial role in the story (spoilers!) or they can switch off that function.
The main character has the magical ability to carry the souls of the deceased (a form of magical last rites). They have a duty to face dangerous training, which they’ve avoided for some years. The story begins when the main character is on the cusp of adulthood. A powerful woman guesses they have magical talent, and demands their help. At the same time, an immortal white bear is stalking them. One way or another, they have to face their fears. Their life changes forever as a result.
They’re soon swept up in an international war between the living and the dead.
It’s a steampunk story set in the same magical steampunk universe as my novel Heart of Brass, but without any overlapping characters or plot (so no spoilers). Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten is set in a steampunk 1830s Europe, when Queen Victoria was a teenage princess and the power of steam was changing everyday life forever.
Any upcoming book secrets you’d care to reveal?
Hmm… let’s just say that roughly two-thirds of readers will accidentally kill someone important.