Jakob writes - Interactive Chat Fiction

in Fiction, Portfolio

Interactive Chat Fiction

I have written several chat fiction stories and interactive fiction for the app Thrill by Huracan Apps.

Chat fiction has been all the rage for a while now. Apps like Hooked, Yarn, Thrill, Tap by Wattpad or Texties are especially popular with younger people. The concept is straightforward: a chat fiction story plays out like a text conversation on the phone where the reader taps the screen cookie clicker style to see the next message or snippet and advance the story.

Jakob writes - Chat Fiction - Thrill App
“Botched Escape” and “School Dungeon Trials” are two of the stories I wrote for Thrill by Huracanapps.

Interactive chat fiction gives the reader two or more choices at turning points throughout the story. These influence the development and the different branches of the narrative can lead to various story endings or to a dead end.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Sounds familiar? Interactive fiction is hardly new. Gamebooks date back to the 70s and enabled the reader to experience a story around their distinct choices by flipping back and forth through the book to reach different way points of the story’s branches. Choose Your Own Adventure is in fact the most well-known brand of the genre.

Plotting such a book required mapping the narrative with all its way points and branches to arrive at the total number of pages necessary. These then needed to be shuffled enough in order to scramble the story sufficiently to make a linear reading impossible or at least too cryptic. Reverse engineering and visualization of gamebook maps reveals the complexity or simplicity of their stories at a glance.

Modern Interactive Fiction

Interactive fiction has since evolved. Text adventures such as Zork or The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy have comprised a whole sub-genre of computer games for decades with many hits from Infocom or later Sierra. The most recent example of ground-breaking innovation is the interactive Black mirror episode Bandersnatch by David Slade and Charlie Brooker for Netflix.

Jakob writes - Chat Fiction - HHGTTG Screenshot
A screenshot from the beginning of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy text adventure by Infocom.

Interactive fiction has since evolved. Text adventures such as Zork or The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy have comprised a whole sub-genre of computer games for decades with many hits from Infocom or later Sierra. The most recent example of ground-breaking innovation is the interactive Black mirror episode Bandersnatch by David Slade and Charlie Brooker for Netflix.

Apart from the slew of mobile chat fiction apps and platforms, many of which allow users to create their own stories, writers and creators have a multitude of tools available for various forms of interactive fiction. Ren’Py specializes in graphic novels, while Twine works well for telling interactive, nonlinear stories without any programming skills through text with markups.

Jakob writes - Chat Fiction - Twine Screenshot
A story map in Twine for an interactive romance story I wrote.

Chat Fiction: Romance, Thriller, Horror

I wrote around a dozen straightforward chat stories and interactive stories in the genres romance, thriller and horror for the Thrill app. As you can imagine, for a team of developers, a story is just a jumble of text blocks. The best way to deliver these is of course a spreadsheet. In the beginning, I was typing my stories directly into a spreadsheet template.

With branching narratives, you can lose track quickly, though. I quickly switched to Twine for creating each interactive story and then exported it from there. This had the great advantage that I was able to play and debug a work in progress.

Jakob writes - Chat Fiction - Twine Screenshot
This story map illustrates how branching narratives can arrive at the same way points again.
Jakob writes - Chat Fiction - Twine Screenshot
This story features four different endings.

To be honest, I often found the app’s format with several different episodes to a story limiting. Only the last episode could then contain true dead ends. The format also did not allow for variables to be set in order to determine a certain outcome later, or to create way points that adapt to what the reader or player has accomplished already.

Jakob writes - Chat Fiction - Romance
Romance was by far my favorite genre for chat fiction and interactive fiction while writing stories for the Thrill app.

However, all that is possible in Twine, and I will certainly play around more with the format and create more of my own interactive fiction.