GAME DEV: Phoebe Avison’s Great Gamebook Adventure — Part 2

So my friends, we meet again. I thought our second rendezvous would take place on a clear path, with meadows flanking either side, and a lilting tune performed by a handsome bard floating on the summer breeze. But, dear ones, the path is littered with corpses picked over by vultures and my bard is long dead, his beautiful face torn off by werewolves.

For those of you who missed the first instalment of my series for Gamebook News and don’t follow me on social media, let me give you the deets. I’m currently writing an adventure gamebook for Middle Grade readers, which I hope to get traditionally published. 

I’m not going down the independent publishing route, nor am I writing a gamebook intended solely for the original fans present at the birth of the genre in the ‘80s. I’m going all in and creating a gamebook that can hopefully rival modern technology and get the whippersnappers reading again. Because I don’t care what anyone says, books are cool. And gamebooks? They’re the coolest.

There’s been an intriguing plot twist since my last article, a big piece of gamebook news which I hope will have a positive impact on my own series. By now you’ve probably seen the news about Fighting Fantasy’s latest addition, Crystal of Storms, which hits shelves in autumn 2020. If not, might I ask: where have you been?! It’s attracted a flurry of controversial opinions about that cover. FYI, I kind of love it. 

Hate on me all you want, but I admire when companies shake things up in answer to the changing times we live in, even if it doesn’t work out. It takes big manticore gonads to pull a feat like that. They took a big risk in an attempt to entice a new readership into Titan and beyond — a readership whose attention is being vied for with the likes of mobile apps, video games, and even virtual reality. None of which existed when the original series was first published.

All that being said, I’m excited that Crystal of Storms (with its snazzy, contemporary cover) is being released this year. Obviously I’m giddy about it because it’s a new Fighting Fantasy book to add to my collection, but I’m also intrigued as to whether it will achieve what I presume to be its aim: to create a new generation of gamebook fans. Considering the fact I’m writing a commercial gamebook for children and big kids alike, I’m sitting on the sidelines with everything crossed, waiting patiently to see how the new Fighting Fantasy addition will be received.

Back to my gamebook. Basically, the second draft is kicking my derrière. Hard. Let’s rewind a little — don’t forget to make a rewinding sound, complete with comedic hand gestures — to the moment I finished the first draft of my gamebook.

Dear reader, I was elated. My gamebook was the first piece of fiction I ever completed. I could’ve danced around the room when I wrote that final heavenly phrase, “The End.” But I didn’t because my family were sleeping and I wasn’t about to be held responsible for a sleep-deprived toddler. I danced on the inside though.

I left the first draft alone for a short while, then I dove right back into the world I’d created to begin the second draft. Back in the day, I believed that once you’d finished writing a book, you got someone to proofread it and then it was done. How very wrong I was. 

I picked up my pile of A3 sheets, which I’d handwritten the entire tale upon, and got to work. It was then that I realised the sheer mountain that I had to climb; a giant which made Firetop Mountain look like a molehill. 

When I first started writing my debut gamebook, I plotted it out in the typical spider diagram method, with narrative pathways branching down from each choice. As I progressed through the story, I realised that it’d be easier, later down the line, if I wrote the entries out in full paragraphs. However, back at the beginning when I hadn’t cottoned on to this trick, I’d literally written a few words for each entry.

Granted, as I moved from sheet to sheet, the entries got longer and more detailed. But the initial few sheets were sparse, the first one being the worst. As I slogged through it, I found myself staring in disbelief at my own work, contemplating what on earth I was writing about, or pondering how certain entries linked logically to the ones before and after them.

What’s more, there were orphan entries. Entries that seemingly didn’t have parent entries before them. My book was rife with dead-end entries; sections that didn’t link back or forwards to anywhere and didn’t have any choices branching from them.

There were plot holes too. Big, gaping plot holes that were not easy to fix. I’ll give you a non-spoilery example. So you may or may not be aware that my gamebook is set in a creepy mansion. There is an aim of the game, so to speak, which I’ve yet to announce, but your mission takes you on a quest through the different areas of the mansion. 

Therefore, you find yourself exploring rooms and interacting with the characters therein. Early on in your adventure, you may discover that you can interact with one character in a very specific way. Doing so will lead you down a side jaunt where you’ll find out some very interesting, yet not vital, information. 

I wanted to give the reader more than one chance to discover this information, but first they had to interact with this specific character in the aforementioned precise manner. Thus, I wanted to allow the reader more than one chance to interact with this character. This meant that I needed to include a couple of separate events with this particular character, occurring in different rooms, which then led to the single specific interaction. Still with me? Long story short, I discovered multiple occurrences of this kind of mind-boggling issue.

Not only was the start of the first draft the most difficult to navigate in terms of the annoyingly concise way in which I’d written it, but it was also the most challenging part from a mechanics perspective. 

At the beginning of the story, everything is more or less open to the reader in terms of where they want to explore first. As the book progresses and the narrative develops, the exploration options become more linear. I decided upon this because I want the reader to hit set targets by certain points in the story, because my brain can’t handle the idea of an entirely open world gamebook. Once you are so far along, there’s no going back. 

There’s also a The Forest of Doom, Warhammer of Stonebridge moment, whereby if you haven’t got the necessary stuff by a certain point, it’s game over for you. However, like in The Forest of Doom, it’s pretty obvious as to what you’re supposed to have found by the time you near the end of the story. So hopefully, this will inspire readers to actually complete their quest thoroughly before they approach the grand finale. 

As I waded deeper into the pages of my first draft, and began digitalising it and creating the second draft, things became easier. This was due to my past self realising that I’d be making less work for my future self, if I just wrote the entries out in greater detail, plus the narrative becoming slightly more linear the further on I progressed.

I’m about halfway through the second draft now. My gamebook has hit over forty-thousand words, so it’s set to be a bit of a beast. I think the phrase, “Turn to 400” is well and truly out the window at this point.

However, there’s a bright light at the end of the tunnel and I’m forging a path confidently towards it. Who knows what I’ll find when I exit the tunnel and emerge into the land of the third draft? But it’s sure to be an epic adventure!

I’m always seeking new travelling companions, so if you want to join me on my road to publication, you can find me deep within the online realms of Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

This has been the second in a series for Gamebook News chronicling the trials and tribulations of creating my debut gamebook. I hope to see you again for the next one!

Featured photo by Michael Denning via Unsplash

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