Interactive Fiction? Why Bother?

With many things I am quite late to the game and far from being an early adopter. Interactive Fiction (or IF) is no different.

If you don’t know what IF is then here’s a good guide.

I have started to play with a popular IF (and even better is that it’s open-source) tool called Twine. My first ever story (The Mirror) was incredibly short and not very interactive but it got me thinking about how Twine is a great tool for writers in understanding their plots.

You may not want to write IF but if you want to make your writing more interesting or to understand how your scenes relate then you really should map out a story in Twine.

Twine Plot

Before you get worried I must stress that you don’t need to be techie or a programmer to do this.

Even with my very short story I quickly understood how Twine makes you look at every element of your writing. Could the story branch off here? Should this character do this or would another character be better for that? What if instead of throwing a ball, the character threw a rock? Or a grenade?

Do you see where I’m going here? Twine opens your eyes to possibilities that you might not have imagined before. Instead of writing and plotting in a boring linear style your one story idea becomes 100 different story ideas.

Even if you already have the end in sight, like I did with The Mirror, taking the reader on a winding road but to the same destination can’t be a bad thing.

What If?

Are you stuck for ideas and unable to move your plot forward?
Here are five random ‘What If?’ scenarios to get you thinking and take your story somewhere new.

Blank page intentionally end of book

What if… the Prime Minister crashes – what?

What if… the main character’s imaginary friend finds – who or what?

What if… the Pope falls ill.

What if… the Queen shoots – who or what?

What if… the fisherman converts to Islam.

Are these 5 not inspiring enough? Just refresh your browser and get 5 more.


I am still developing the What If randomizer so please let me have your feedback.

What works and what doesn’t?

What scenarios and characters would you like added?


Inside the pumpkin’s heart
Sits Jack, the lantern-man.
“I will light thy way”, says he,
“But, you’ll have to walk with me.”

At the top of the well
Bobs Rufus, the apple-man.
“I will feed thy way”, says he,
“But, you’ll have to swim with me.”

At the edge of the wood
Lurks Cara, the tree-woman.
“I will clothe thy way”, says she,
“But, you’ll have to hide with me.”

Above the murky path
Flutters Jabol, the bird-woman.
“I will sing thy way”, says she,
“But, you’ll have to fly with me.”

So Wicca, the man-woman
Calls Jack, the lantern-man.
“Lift me high”, says he,
“And a walking we shall go.”

Down the path they went,
Where winds tore their flesh.
They smiled on the out,
And were whole on the in.

Jack disappeared, and the end was the start.

So Wicca, the woman-man
Calls Rufus, the apple-man.
“Sit on me”, says he,
“And a bobbing we shall go.”

Down the well they went,
Where water bruised their skin.
They were hurt on the out,
And were warm on the in.

Rufus disappeared and the bottom was the top.

So Wicca, the sidhe-bairn
Calls Cara, the tree-woman.
“Come with me”, says she,
“And a hiding we shall go.”

Deep in the dense wood they went,
Where hunters pierced their mask.
They were killed on the out,
And alive on the in.

Cara disappeared, and the heart was the head.

So Wicca, the bairn-sidhe
Calls Jabol, the bird-woman.
“Ride on my back”, says she
“And a singing we shall go.”

High in the stormy night they went,
Where lightning ruptured their flight.
They were silent on the out,
And raucous on the in.

Jabol disappeared, and the sky was the ground.


Where the end is the start,
Where the bottom is the top,
Where the heart is the head,
Where the sky is the ground,
Is where four paths shall meet
And a fire shall always burn,
Is where a fifth shall come
And the dead and holy follow.

Wicca, the fifth, came
Along the spiral path,
That is an argent star,
But once a year.

Each week belongs to one of the four,
But there is another day, a dead day.
This day is free for all, no-man’s land,
It is gone before it has come, it is a dead day.

Night came, and the dead day was Wicca’s day.

“Come, o, death of my death!”, called Wicca, rattling spears.
“Come, o, birth of my birth!”, exhaled Wicca, beating drums.
“O, come my barrow-womb!”, charmed Wicca, the one voice.
They came, of their own volition, for their own reasons.

Hallowe’en came, and Wicca’s wish was a dead wish.

First came the blackened ones,
The flesh-dwellers, the brain-burners.
They grasped, and Jack appeared
With his flaming smile.

They disappeared, and Jack haunts them still.

Next came the cadavers,
The tempters, the poisoners.
They hissed, and Rufus appeared
Washing their venom away.

They disappeared, and Rufus drowns them still.

Next came the cannibals,
The hackers, the swallowers.
They struck, and Cara appeared
Deflecting their swipes.

They disappeared, and Cara confuses them still.

Then came the flashing ones,
The burners, the sunderers.
They crackled, and Jabol appeared
Chanting their magic away.

They disappeared, and Jabol deafens them still.

“Come, o, birth of my death!”, called Wicca, rattling spears.
“Come, o, death of my birth!”, exhaled Wicca, beating drums.
“The spiral path leads to the womb and the barrow!”, said Wicca.
They came with their night, bearing gifts.

Hallowe’en came, and Wicca’s wish was a holy wish.

First came the black ones,
The tender ones, the primitives.
With them they brought love,
And in their leaving lies despair.

Next came the silver ones,
The dancers, the heath-dwellers.
With them they brought knowledge,
And in their leaving lies frailty.

Then came the golden ones,
The singers, the civilised.
With them they brought wisdom,
And in their leaving lies death.

Last came the invisible ones,
The hidden, the unbroken thread.
With them they brought power,
And in their leaving lies destruction.

Two by two, they embraced Wicca,
And presented their gifts.
Wicca remembers them in all their glory,
And embraces them still.

The holy came, the forebears, and their night was born.


Bonfire2“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

How Much?

How much is that doggy in the window,
Man, can’t you see that he’s free?
Just like any fish, fowl and beast,
He’s not for sale, just like me.

How much is that carcass in the wild,
Just how much did he really need the blade?
Hey, big business man sitting pretty,
How much money have we made?


How much do you think he can feel?
Yeah … but my kids they need to be fed.
How much is chemical in their blood?
Enough to keep them long after they’re dead.

How much is that doggy in the window,
Doesn’t he deserve to be free?
There’s nothing that can’t be bought,
Not him, I’m talking about you and me …

The Hoggledy Higgledy Song

Hoggledy Higgledy Hug
I’ve just eaten a slug,
Hoggledy Higgledy Ho
It tasted of jelly so.

Hoggledy Higgledy Hig
Now I’ve eaten a pig,
Hoggledy Higgledy Han
It tasted of English man.

Hoggledy Higgledy He
Last I’ve eaten a tree,
Hoggledy Higgledy Hole
It tasted just like your soul.

Don’t Try to be a Great Writer

Social media is awash with advice and opinion on how to be a great writer as if there is some kind of magic bullet.
There are some rather obvious traits that seem universal –

  • Read widely
  • Write as much as you can
  • Be passionate and believe in yourself

Is this enough?

No, the first thing you should do is stop trying to be a great writer, don’t even think in those terms. It is limiting and self-defeating. You should instead be the best writer you can.
This, of course, is easier said than done. The first trick is to be passionate and believe in yourself. Think of yourself not as a writer but as an artist.

What makes a great artist?

Think on any great work of art. What made the artist so great?
They were passionate and they had vision. Vision of what their art could be and vision of what they could be.
They may have sketched it first. And again. And again. Maybe twenty or a hundred times. Writers call these drafts.
There may be dozens of those finished paintings in existence. Why? Because the artist wasn’t happy with them. They weren’t finished and they didn’t match the vision. They then may have tried painting it with different materials, different canvases and in different light.

Hands Leonardo (Windsor Castle)

But isn’t this just about perfecting the technique?

Yes and no. Because while you’re growing technically you’re allowing the art and the artist emerge. You’re finding yourself  and allowing greatness to find you.

Am I a great writer?

No. I don’t read enough and I don’t write enough. But I am passionate and I know I will be a great writer. For now I’m enjoying the journey and all the practice. My technique is improving and I have a clear vision.

Greatness will have to wait until I’m ready for it.

We Are All Generation N

Last night I was sitting trying to watch some TV but was getting distracted by my daughter’s antics in my peripheral vision. She was holding up her mobile phone, contorting her face and body to meet the desired pose and sending snapchats. But she was doing it and re-doing and re-doing it until she got one that achieved the desired effect.

In exasperation I labelled her as Generation N (Narcissus) to which she shrugged her shoulders and carried on regardless.

On reflection I was perhaps a little unfair. Admittedly, she is of the Facebook/Twitter/Snapchat/etc (pick your preferred vanity platform) Generation where everything must be examined and manipulated for the perfect image before it is all laid bare. Unless you happen to be drunk or angry in which case everything is laid bare regardless of the consequences.

But aren’t we all? And haven’t writers always been?

“I write for pleasure”

“I’m an artist”

Oh really, I thought you just wanted fame and immortality?

Walk of Fame Category Theater

We all do, regardless of pretence otherwise. So writers and other artists have always been of Generation N but modern writers have so much more narcissism at their fingertips – e-publishing, social media, blogging, youtube etc.

There’s nothing wrong with a little self-publicity, in fact, the market demands it, but maybe, just maybe, we should be letting our work speak for itself rather than knocking on every single door and insisting complete strangers buy into it.

What has Ritual got to do with Reading and Writing?

It’s simple really – the use of ritual enables a particular state of mind and this can be helpful both with reading and writing. I am not suggesting that you cannot do these without the use of ritual but I would recommend using ritual that you’re comfortable with to get yourself into the zone.

I’ll clarify what I mean by ritual. It is an action that when repeated over time will create a subconscious ripple and speed up access to the required state. This ritual can be a simple action such as wearing your lucky socks, playing your favourite music or stirring your coffee 3 times anti-clockwise. Or you could channel the spirit of William Shakespeare – whatever floats your boat.


It doesn’t matter as long as it is meaningful to you and gets you into that zone quicker and takes you deeper into it.

I am a great lover of creating superstition and myth and believe it has a powerful role to counter a lot of the madness of modern life. When I really want to write and block all else out I shut the door, put on some Fields of the Nephilim, don my lucky writing hoodie (yes, really – I bought it for this sole purpose) and brew a strong, thick cup of coffee. I made a New Year’s resolution this year (which is unusual for me) and that was to only drink coffee when I’m writing. I love coffee, the thicker and treaclier the better, so this was a real big thing for me and I’ve stayed true to this.

Once I do this I’m instantly in the zone. No, more than that – once I have assembled the ritual I am a writer. Nothing else exists but writing. I have created a magic circle around me in which I have invoked the best writer I can be. I have created a myth inhabited by the great writer who quite naturally writes mythic tales.

Now think about it whether you write or whether reading is more your thing I bet you have developed some rituals around your reading and writing. But don’t you think you could up the game a bit? Add another layer, just one simple ritual and I’m sure you’ll reap the benefits.