On (Not) Writing Short IF

When it comes to writing IF, I keep reading I should start with a short work. My problem is that I have about half a dozen ideas for IF, but each one would require a lot of coding. So I would be grateful to have feedback from those of you who have started IF this way: Where did your ideas come from? Were there any articles on writing IF that were helpful while writing short fiction specifically? More generally what helped you to write your first short IF piece?

What has helped me write my short IF pieces (the only kind I’ve ever written) was some kind of external prompt and a deadline. There were the ones I wrote for the competition for games whose source code would fit in a Tweet, and one for EctoComp (a Halloween-themed comp with three hours to code), and two that were inspired by particular songs (one for the Apollo 18 + 20 tribute and one for ShuffleComp).

The other thing that has often helped me is to find something that hooks onto a mechanic I’ve already been thinking about, which helps given that I’m doing things in a hurry. So my EctoComp game was largely an excuse to keep messing around with the extension Editable Stored Actions by Ron Newcomb, and the ShuffleComp game used some mechanics I’d been thinking about for a while that had to do with free association and stream of consciousness.

In short, what I would recommend to myself: go look at the ParserComp page and see if the “sunrise” theme wanders through your mind and connects with anything you’ve been thinking about. Then write a little thing about that by Feb. 1. And don’t get too hung up about its being the most polished thing it can be; it’s a jam, and this is your first effort.

I second the SpeedIF idea. Prompts and deadlines are great for supplying ideas and then not allowing them to become too grandiose. However, even if you’re not writing for a particular SpeedIF, the 2-3 hour time limit is really useful for helping finish something. The first thing I ever programmed was a super simple piece about sledding. It had about five locations, a hat you needed to find and wear to withstand the wind at the top of the hill, a sled, and one new verb (sled) with a bunch of synonyms (ride sled, sled down hill, etc.) It basically had one of each programming feature I wanted to learn: one conditional (if hat is not worn), one enterable/rideable object, one ending, and one new verb. It wasn’t anything special, but it was something that I could write in a single sitting. Finishing even just one silly little vignette like that really helped me figure out how to carry out longer and better projects.

Something else to consider is divorcing yourself of the idea that a “game” has to consist of the entire story. Perhaps there’s one neat conversation or episode or flashback or series of interactions involving peripheral characters’ side conflict in your idea that could bloom out to make a solidly enjoyable 10-30 minutes of experience. And making such a game doesn’t prevent you from expanding the concept in the future when you do want to write something longer - especially if the excerpt was well-received.

Do the best part of your game…just the part you’re looking forward to.

Ha, I have the opposite problem. Most of my IF ideas are more like amuses bouches than anything that I would want to make into a “full length” game.

If you’re just trying to start with something that will let you get practice at coding and polishing, there are honestly worse things than the venerable “my apartment simulator” genre. They have a bad reputation in this community because they tend to be way less interesting to read than they are to write, but if you’re not going to enter it into a Comp or anything, they can be a great way to learn! My first IF “game” was a HouseSim that I wrote over a Thanksgiving weekend when all my housemates were out of town, and they loved it when they got back.

I also second HanonO’s point about playable demos.

Time to plug Introcomp!


My first released IF game (Phoenix’s Landing: Destiny) was the beginning of an uncompleteably large project. (At the time, I didn’t realize it was uncompleteably large, our I wouldn’t have submitted it. Whoops!)

Being able to work on something big that I was excited about was more effective for me than working on a small practice project. Once I finished the beginning, I had learned a ton and gotten a lot of helpful feedback, so I was in better shape to work on other projects. Definitely recommend this event to other beginners when it comes around in the summer.

In the meantime, though, ParserComp is a good starting point! :slight_smile:

Thank you, matt w, caleb, HanonO, tove, and cvaneseltine.

You all have given me some great ideas. The idea of a competition with a deadline seems to have been what I needed to start writing something short—well, what I thought was going to be short. My eager-to-bite-off-more-than-I-had-intended-to-chew brain is already thinking of ways to make my new WIP substantially bigger. It is good to know that if I cannot finish in time for ParserComp there is always IntroComp.

I think when it comes to attempting any project (writing, making games, etc) - it is to finish it.

  • First: Take one of your ideas. Big or small. Just choose the one you are the most in love with. It will take a bit of love to finish it and polish it nicely!
  • Second: Break your story into chapters, and create a basic outline for each chapter.
  • Third: Start work on your first chapter - share the word count you’ve completed every day on twitter. It will help motivate you. It will help motivate others. They call this “bookmarking” (read more here).
  • Fourth: Use google translate to read back your work to help edit it. Grab a friend or two to take a pass at it. Polish it up!
  • Fifth: Release the 1st chapter and call this book/game #1. Think of how Sorcery! works, but make yours much shorter. You can always continue the story in the next chapter/book/release. Just get something done and out there.

I think people get on better if they start on a project that means something to them. If that happens to be a big project just break it down into bite sized chunks but be realistic about your expectations. Don’t fall victim to scope creep.

Some great ideas above (especially the Twitter ‘bookmarking’ idea).

For my first ever serious foray into writing IF, I am rewriting an existing text adventure from when I was very small: my dad and I played through it together on our Acorn Electron. Rewriting it in Inform is allowing me to learn the language and syntax without overly worrying about the story (which although quite simple, is already written). Once I am much happier with the language itself I will try to flesh out a story of my own (something which does not come easily to me (yet)).

I got another tip for you, similar to bookmarking - but it’s about defining a goal and making a habit out of writing:

Aim for 500 words a day and tweet out your progress whether you make it or not with #my500words. Source: my500words.com

Just find things that help to keep you motivate, I find that feedback or the feeling that someone cares about what I’m doing helps. Drop by the weekly reddit thread: Text Piece Tuesday if you want to share!