Adapting a novel for IF

I have a novel/novella (~40,000 words) I’ve been sitting on, and recently after playing a few IFs I thought it might just work out much better in that format.

Has anyone worked this way and successfully pulled it off? (I guess Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is an example.)

Some initial issues I can think of are:
Changing first person into second person
Chopping it up into paragraph/prompt segments
What to do with long passages where there is little action
What to do with scenes where the protagonist is not present
Making the spatial world explorable
Making objects relevant and usable
Adjusting the linearity of the plot
multiple endings
what else?

The reason I think it may work well is because the premise involves interaction, non-linearity. Switching the format may solve some of the issues I’ve been having with it, but may bring up others. If I will go ahead with this, I approach with trepidation.

You don’t actually have to do this. The latest Inform7 for example supports all sorts of moods and tenses, so you can totally have it in first person if you want. I do wish I had more to say about the other issues you raised.

Chopping it up into paragraph/prompt segments
-do your best to avoid text dumps

What to do with long passages where there is little action
-as above, but maybe think of how the player can actually be involved

What to do with scenes where the protagonist is not present
-using screen effects (like clearing the screen, pausing the game, etc) you should be able to do this

Making the spatial world explorable
-I enjoy exploration IF’s but that’s against the grain, it seems. Do your best to make a compact map without the player feeling like they are “on rails”.

Making objects relevant and usable
-I enjoy red-herrings, but again, many IFers do not. Make your things relevant, in general.

Adjusting the linearity of the plot
-You’ll have a lot of work thinking outside the lines of your static novel, but that’s the fun part.

multiple endings
-See the one above.

Any examples of 1st or 3rd person IFs, or even better ones with multiple POVs?
Also what about a plural POV?

This would play very much into a central aspect of the story I have, but also seems hard to get right in an IF.
How would it look to have one section in second person (“you”), another in first (“I”), and maybe some in plural (“we”)?
Any examples of something like this to examine?

I’d be interested in examples of IFs where navigating a map is not all that prominent. My story has some locations and if I had to I could lay them out on a map, but if that is not necessary it may be better to try an alternative approach.

What are the different relevant uses for things? Not just for puzzles, but for advancing plot, adding to atmosphere. Do most IF players see objects as usually for a puzzle? I mean if there is a key sitting in a room, everyone’s going to think there is some door to unlock, right? But if there are leaves drifting in the wind, that could just be for atmosphere. I’m thinking about going through and making a list of objects and seeing their purposes.
Does anyone have an idea of how many objects some popular IFs have? Some I’ve played had zero, but what would be an upper limit?

I’ve no existing examples to name at the top of my head. What it’d look like is easy enough, though.Example is a room. The printed name is "West of House". The description is "[We] [are] in an open field west of a white house.". A small mailbox is here. "[regarding the small mailbox][There] [are] a small mailbox here.".This’ll produce:

But if we doWhen play begins: now the story tense is past tense; now the story viewpoint is first person plural;we get “We were in an open field west of a white house. There was a small mailbox here.”

Nothing, of course, stops you from switching in the middle of the game:Flashback to Murder is a scene. When Flashback to Murder begins: say "'It all happened some six months ago,' Jonathan reminisced."; now the story tense is past tense; now the story viewpoint is first person singular; now the player is Past Jonathan [whom has already been set up elsewhere].Now, when playing as Past Jonathan, parser messages like “You can’t see any such thing” turn into “I couldn’t see any such thing”, as if said by Present Jonathan. And when Flashback to Murder ends, you can switch back.

Chekhov’s Gun. “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” If the key is mentioned, they will try to interact with it. Leaves are only good for counting. (There are, of course, 69,105 leaves.)

I don’t think there’s an upper limit on how many objects you “should” have in the game. If it’s a noun described in the room, then the parser should recognize it, which generally means that it should be an object.

I haven’t updated any of my large works to compile under the latest version of Inform 7, but I’m pretty sure they’re all upward of a hundred objects. For more recently-written work, “Monkey and Bear” has 51 things (about 30 minutes of play), and “Homecoming” has 52 (about 15 minutes of play).

If you think about adapting a novel into a game, you’re probably making a bad game. That path turns into a grind of trying to implement parts of the book, whether they make sense as a game or not.

You mentioned HHGG. Notice that the HHGG game is basically a series of small, original IF vignettes set in the HHGG setting. Some events overlap, but the focus is almost never the same. E.g. the most famous scene in the game is developed from a one-liner about Arthur sticking a fish in his ear. (And then the book’s description of the fish’s function, with digressions about war and the existence of God, is condensed in the game into a one-sentence footnote.)

The process there was Adams and Meretzky sitting down and brainstorming a set of player challenges based on the HHGG source material. These were then used to pad out a well-understood IF trope, the treasure hunt (the four pieces of fluff), plus an endgame puzzle that was pretty much adapted from Zork 2.

This worked for HHGG because the plots of those books already was an excuse for a series of random vignettes and asides. And Adams was already used to throwing pieces away and writing new ones that fit a new medium. (That’s how a radio series got turned into a set of novels.) (…, record album, stage play, TV series…)

Maybe this plan works for your story. Maybe not. But you’re going to have to take the tack of “I am building a game. How can I make it look like this book?”

I take it Shogun was done rather differently, then?

Well… wouldn’t that depend on how closely the game follows the novel, or also how much the novel already feels like a game (has certain IF elements)? This is what got me thinking of the possibility in the first place. It doesn’t really work all that well as a novel and seems to be asking for interaction. (It is already on the postmodern, non-linear, magical realism end of things.)

Yeah, that is good advice. But maybe something to hold in tension. In my arrogance I want to see if I can push the boundaries of a game more towards literature (something that a lot of IF authors seem to be doing well).

Wikipedia says:
“In sharp contrast to Douglas Adams’ close work with Steve Meretzky on Infocom’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy game, James Clavell contributed little to the design of the game, although he and Dave Lebling met several times. He treated the game as a traditional licensing agreement rather than a collaboration. Consequently, the game contains many scenes from the novel presented verbatim or made thinly interactive.”

IF is a genre of literature. It shouldn’t be a stretch to imagine a novel adapted into IF and it’s been done numerous times before. I say go for it, don’t listen to the nay-sayers.

Especially the nay-sayers of: time commitment, frustration with coding, and second guessing the quality?

If I go ahead with it, I’ll try to hang out here and learn some more first.

Christopher Huang’s Muse: An Autumn Romance is told from the first person POV, in the past tense. Eric Eve’s Shelter from the Storm lets you switch between first, second, or third person and past or present tense.

Have you checked … adaptation for a list of IF adapted from books?

Of these, Tower of the Elephant based on the Howard/Conan novel of the same name seems held in decent regard, so perhaps you might want to give it a look.

Check out Counterfeit Monkey by Emily Short.

To me this seems like the trickiest thing. In non-interactive fiction you have complete control over what happens, but when you make things interactive all kinds of things can disrupt the plot:

  • A vital character gets killed or left behind.
  • A necessary object is destroyed, used up, eaten or dropped.
  • An important event is prevented, mis-timed or avoided altogether by the PC.

I guess you need to be prepared to have the plot go in a different direction to the original story, or have convincing reasons why certain PC actions are not allowed (or arrange things in a way that the PC doesn’t have a chance to sabotage major plot events).

It sounds like a good challenge though. Good luck with the project!

I think there’s a difference between adapting a finished (perhaps even published) novel to IF, and deciding that a novel you’re in the process of writing is better suited to be IF. It seems like you’re asking about the latter, and it makes me think of this (from a Wired article about Sean Carruth, who wrote the movie Primer):

If you’ve just realized that you’re actually writing IF rather than a novel, then probably you should just rewrite (or leave out) all the parts that aren’t suited for IF (long passages with no action, scenes without the protagonist), rather than trying to preserve them like you might if you were adapting a published novel (e.g. because fans would expect them to be there).

Lots of good advice, especially Zarf’s regarding that HHGG invented new situations that lived in the world of the novel but still took advantage of puzzle structures inherent in IF form.

A novel is a specific kind of fiction. Just like you can’t chop dialogue verbatim out of a novel and paste it onto a page and have a compelling movie screenplay, just making a full novel slightly interactive won’t necessarily be more compelling than reading the actual novel.

Perhaps another angle - movies made into Broadway musicals. The first question to answer is “Why do these characters need to sing?” More specifically “What can we do with this material using conventions of musical theater that can’t be done in any other form to reveal a new facet of understanding in the story?”

You need to make sure you know why you want to make a novel interactive. Just because a novel is a detective story where the protagonist finds clues and solves a mystery shouldn’t automatically imply that the plot would also make a good interactive game.

A full-length novel might lend itself well to something more like a Twine incarnation which was mostly linear but had links to reveal extra detail about specific words/things in the narrative. A more interactive game would most likely benefit from a shorter but denser narrative, especially if there are definite ideas about different potential plot branches that are already in place that overlap and combine so the reader can actually have some agency over the direction of the story.

Realize that a straight narrative also has forward momentum in its favor, and most authors go for “the page turner”. Straight up parser games tend to stop dead while the player figures out how to proceed, so the writing must also be able to sustain unexpected lulls while the protagonist fiddles with a key or wants to spend turns examining the curtains and wallpaper and looking under beds.

A game with a plural POV is Legion by Jason Devlin.