Choosing the Right Idea

Last night I happened to be poking around in the interactive fiction database, and found a couple of very flattering reviews of two of my games (“Lydia’s Heart” and “Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina”). This gives my spirits a lift. It also encourages me to think a little more coherently about the IF project I’ve been intermittently flailing away at (while learning Inform 7).

The trouble is, this project is not serious enough. It was intended from the beginning to be goofy, and goofy is not a problem. But the story premise is extremely thin, and I think that is a problem. What “Lydia’s Heart” and “Ballerina” have in common is that in both of them, the player character (that would be you, or “you”) has a serious need to accomplish something. And of course, accomplishing it turns out to be quite difficult. That’s what this type of game is all about.

My current project, which I started before I played the wonderful (but too short) game “Lost Pig,” is about a young man — in point of fact, a pig-boy — who works on a farm and is ordered by the old lady who owns the farm to find and bring back Mabel the duck. Mabel, the old lady says, “is bone-stupid even for a duck. No telling where she’s wandered off to.” The old lady threatens our hero that she won’t give him any supper unless he returns with Mabel.

That’s not much of a premise. Even propping it up by adding an active volcano to the game probably wouldn’t help. Maybe if Mabel had swallowed the diamond ring he was going to give to his girlfriend … hmm, that’s a thought.

The point is, the story needs of IF are not really all that different from the story needs of conventional (a.k.a. “static”) fiction. The protagonist has to have a problem that is significant to him or her, and the more significant the better. A lost duck and the threat of being sent to bed hungry won’t really cut it — not if I want to see more glowing reviews!

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