Creating an interactive world with fifty thousand words

Sunday, November 1st, 2020

I have decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month which is an event which creates motivation and structure for writers to complete a first draft of a new novel.

I will also be checking in with other people who are on the journey. I like the idea of a group helping each other do this kind of thing, and connecting with people crazy enough to attempt it.

What I will write about

I am going to create an interactive world, by which I mean narrative content that is suitable for a reader to explore and choose from various branching paths, which in time reveals places, people and choices. Through interaction a story is uncovered.

The words I write in November will all eventually live in a game of sorts, but I am unclear on exactly how they will be published in the end; perhaps a very straight interactive novel on a website; or maybe as content to supplement a traditional tabletop roleplaying game; or most ambitiously, as content that is weaved into computer roleplaying game.

As of this moment I have no fixed ideas on the style or genre of the writing. The world will be revealed through the writing. The driving aim is that the story will not be static and the reader will be presented with interesting choices.

I will be writing scenes which end in options. This format will demand making each scene somewhat self-contained, there is (probably) less room for long set pieces than in novel. Each scene must invite some sort of decision to be made.

Why I am coosing this topic

I want to test my skills and interest in writing for games. I suspect it will be something I enjoy and can do, as there is a kind of organisational and technical aspect to the genre that feels close to programming and decision science. Plus I love games.

However, in November I am certainly not going to do anything except write. I will not touch the tools which will bring the interactive experience to life - this month is all about words only.


I have never attempted anything like this before. I will be channeling inspiration from;

  • Ultima IV
  • Hot Springs Island
  • Disco Elysium
  • Duel Master
  • Six Ages
  • Forbidden Lands
  • 80 Days
  • Technical notes

  • I will write for two hours every working day
  • In each two hour session I will write eight scenes which total 2,500 words
  • 2,500 words per session * 20 sessions = 50,000 words
  • 20 sessions * 8 scenes = 160 scenes
  • I will use the Flowstate App for cranking the words out
  • Week One update

    Saturday, November 7th, 2020

    I have been writing approximately 2500 words per day for seven days straight. This has been an illuminating experience - I have arrived at a strong concept for the game, and subsequently an outline. Importantly, after riffing around with actual words, the outline feels much more substantial than if I had started with lists, timelines and boxes.

    I have made these decions about the project;

  • It will be a game, codename is 'The Silver Tower'
  • It will be a very simple game, with 'scoring' via the uncovering of Secrets
  • There will be no chance, everything is directed by decision making based on information gleaned through play
  • The interactive world now has a name, it is ‘The village of Eastcliffe and surrounding areas reachable by overland travel in 2 days”
  • The level of technology is pre-industrial renaissance, level of magic is 'Conan and druids'
  • Culture is pseudo-Scottish, lakes are lochs but you can understand everybody
  • The player will be able to create their own character (no pre-built protagonists)
  • The overarching story is simple but there will be a large number of possible endings
  • There will be three companions to choose from who will strongly influence the game
  • Week Two update

    Sunday, November 15th, 2020

    Today I am reflecting on what it feels like to apply complete focus and attention to the craft of writing, and on reflection, it feels good. I have completed more than the minimum word count needed to be in the running to achieve the 50k target. Even better, I am feeling enthused about the subject, a sprawling pseudo-fantasy role-playing game which I can’t wait to finish and share.

    In the last week I have further developed the characters and locations of Eastcliffe and I am happy to say that it is the kind of place I would like to visit. It is interesting and peaceful, the kind of place players will hopefully feel compelled to defend when trouble turns up.

    Speaking of trouble, I’m enjoying writing the major antagonist in the story very much - they are multidimensionally bad and will be a lot of fun to do battle with.

    I am also feeling good about making the decision to learn how to touch type at the start of the year as well as investing in a decent mechanical keyboard. I was also given a strong tip to give listening to binaural beats a try by someone who I consider a ‘real writer’ and I must say they seem to help or at least not hinder my process. Most mornings I have been able to get an hour or two in. Will this be my new normal? I hope so.

    While the practice of daily writing is not new to me, I have not ever set myself such an ambitious target as I am working to now. Staying on topic has forced me to dig more deeply into the locations, characters and decisions I want to share in this game. The best thing is, I actually have a significant body of text I can spend time shaping, instead of a giant spidery idea hanging around in my brain making me feel miserable because it can’t go anywhere.

    This coming week I will be refining even more - the outline is done, the major characters are in place and it’s time to do some colouring in.

    Here are some technical notes;

  • 30,200 words written
  • 20 hours invested, including break time between Flowstates
  • Average writing speed is 35 words-per-minute, just over half my best typing speed
  • Week Three update

    Sunday, November 22nd, 2020

    I have reached the end of the third straight week of participating in the NaNoWriMo challenge and I am well and truly in the game, having hit 40k words this morning, despite lightning strikes this morning casting some of my words into the cosmic ether, never to return.

    This last week has been such a blur I have no real sense of how the writing itself is evolving. Week One was about looking around in the dirt, performing archaeological digs around the outline of my idea; Week Two felt different as I was able to latch on to the concepts are fill in more detail; Week Three I guess has been much the same as week two.

    I am plodding through the writing each day with a workers ethic, which I am happy for, as I believe in the theories presented by Steven Pressfield in The War Of Art, that taking ones art too seriously and attaching too much of a sense of self to it can cause undue stress, paralysis, and essentially not getting it done.

    I have been attacking this project with rigour I have previously only applied to physical workout routines. In those cases I was never alone, and so it is with this writing project where I have been connected with a few other kindred souls who are looking to reveal their own truth through art. This makes a big difference.

    I do not want to call this challenge completed yet, there are still 10k words to be written and it feels like this last week will be much harder than the others. The end is so near that I could almost relax and say ‘near enough is good enough’ and, though that might be true in a cosmic sense, for myself I intend to give this last seven days all I have to meet the 50k target I set myself.

    My daydreaming and self-talk has improved these last few weeks as I realise that I do possess the will and the skill to commit to writing challenges of this scale and difficulty. While I have certainly been challenged, in the most part it has been because of the many other commitments I have needed to balance. I know that if I can carve some time for myself in future I can repeat this performance. Perhaps I have even started a new habit?