Saturday, January 26, 2013

When to use more paragraphs in gamebooks

Good morrow to you all!  Today, I'm going to write about something that can be used in literature that I will call, for want of a better term*, timing. 

What I mean by timing is the use of splitting up the story into paragraphs and chapters in order to let the reader process what they've read and speculate on what is coming next.  When used well, this can really up the tension.  For exmple, Dostoevsky is very good at using timing in Crime and Punishment.  Here is the end of part 1, chapter 6.

Someone was standing stealthily close to the lock and just as he was doing on the outside was secretly listening within, and seemed to have her ear to the door.... He moved a little on purpose and muttered something aloud that he might not have the appearance of hiding, then rang a third time, but quietly, soberly, and without impatience, Recalling it afterwards, that moment stood out in his mind vividly, distinctly, for ever; he could not make out how he had had such cunning, for his mind was as it were clouded at moments and he was almost unconscious of his body.... An instant later he heard the latch unfastened.

The last bit of this chapter builds up to this - the ringing, happens not once, not twice, but three times, each time, Raskolnikov getting a bit more nervous.  Then the chapter ends with the latch unfastening...who is coming through the door?  What is it going to mean for out anti-hero?  This ending leaves you hanging and makes you want to read more, even though it's midnight, you can barely stay awake and you need a wee.

Dr Who also makes a good use of this with the endings to two parters, such as The Rise of the Cybermen.  How on Earth is he going to get out of this one?


Why on Earth am I talking about this?  I'm talking about this because gamebooks can make great use of this technique to build up tension as every paragraph is like a little chapter.  If you end the paragraph at the right point, it will keep the reader engaged as each paragraph can end in a little cliffhanger with the choice being how you get out of it.

There are also other reasons to have lots of paragraphs in gamebooks.  I have written before that in order to save space in some gamebooks, you can have the consequences of a roll spelled out on one paragraph rather than creating two new paragraphs to detail success and failure. For example, you can test your luck to avoid or be hit by an arrow.  If you are lucky, you dodge it.  If you are unlucky, you are hit by it and lose 2 stamina points.  Ken St. Andre has a reason not to do this:

The benefits of having all saving roll results appear in different paragraphs is that it reduces the temptation to cheat. If your paragraph says, Make a L1 LK saving roll and if you make it take 100 gold pieces; if you fail it then it’s a contact poison trap and you die is that the player knows what he’d better do before even reading the rest of the paragraph. Make them turn the pages. It increases suspense and playability.

If you do not have a maximum limit to the number of paragraphs, not having the results on the paragraph would increase the suspense, although in some cases where the consequences are obvious (if you bet 5gp on the flip of a coin, you know that if you roll a 1-3, you win 5gp and if you roll a 4-6, you lose it), it may still be a waste of paragraphs.

So that is something to think about when writing a gamebook.  How am I going to end this paragraph?  Is it going to create suspense?  Is it going to create a sense of danger and make the player really agonise of the decision? 

There we go.  Have a nice week :)

 *I'm sure that there is a better term, but I have not found one.


  1. I think the term you're looking for is "pacing".

    While you make a few good points, it should be noted that too much page-turning can tire out the reader, especially if it's in the middle of a long, noninteractive bit. DestinyQuest annoyed me with this, with long-winded cutscenes where your only input was to turn the page.

    Although on the other hand, you could make the case that if the reader gets annoyed by turning pages it's indicative of deeper flaws in game design; in DestinyQuest it was that the book was too linear. In the example you mention it's that there's too much die rolling.

    That, said, though, it can be used well. In my current project I have a sequence where the player comes upon an unusual house, and the process of entering the house is a short series of ominous foreshadowings, each of which is followed by the opportunity to back out; how much do you want what might or might not be in there?

  2. I know one should never answer critics but…

    The Heart of Fire was my apology for those mistakes.
    The Eye of Winter’s Fury is my spinning round house kick, knockdown and fatality move. All in one.

    Thank you.

  3. Ooh! How did it escape my notice that the Heart of Fire was available?

    Think that'll be a late Christmas present for myself...

    ...or possibly an early Valentine's present.

    1. Paul, you should never buy yourself a Valentine's Day present, mate. That's the sort of thing Caligula would have done.

  4. Hi. I'm a freelance writer, mathematician and according to my two teen boys HOPELESS at video games. I don't know if you're referring to the guides that they spend money on, or if this is some sort of new genre I've never heard of, but that's the joy of the A-Z. Welcome.

    Tina @ Life is Good
    Co-host, April 2013 A-Z Challenge
    @TinaLifeisGood, #atozchallenge

  5. You browse a paragraph and so it offers you many choices for the way you wish the story to travel and you've got to skip to a unique page for every choice...Please facilitate ??
    The Equation

  6. I don't like too the paragraphs that just send you to another single paragraph (that maybe sends you again to another single paragraph... I feel cheated!).
    I think that all paragraphs (at least the vast majority of them) should end with a choice: that should be the cliffhanger, where YOU can make a difference!