Thoughts on individual passage length?

Hey all. Pretty new to the interactive fiction community here. I’m making my first Twine game and it’s gotten pretty long, or at least longer than I first imagined it getting (~40000 words). One thing I’ve been thinking about while making this, which to me is important as a trait of the character (much of the game is told from a first-person narrator’s perspective) is the length of individual passages, or more broadly to fit in with other IF tools, the length of each chunk of visible text at a time. It occurred to me that many of these in my game can get lengthy, often multiple paragraphs at a time, and that I can’t think of many works that I’ve personally played (again, not saying I’m some IF savant here, I’ve only played a good handful myself) which have visible sections of text which are more than a few sentences long. While I’m pretty sure I’m going to stick to my guns here, I was curious if this practice is generally frowned upon, and why. Again, I’m less interested in the overall length of the work, more how its partitioned out to the player. Thanks in advance for any replies!

Long passage length is not bad in itself; choicescript games often have several paragraphs. Birdland had some fairly lengthy conversations on a single page. I think it’s only an issue if a lot of action is happening without your influence. There was a vampire game a few years ago where every page had solid walls of text followed by 2 small choices. You could tell they just wanted to tell their own story without any input from the reader.

So I think that as long as you don’t use the text as an excuse to take away player agency, it should be fine.

The history of IF has mostly been parser driven games, and at first they couldn’t write that much text out at a time due to technology / memory / disk space. Then when they got the power to write out lots of text, most authors usually didn’t, probably because the grains of action in parser games are pretty small - excepting moments of the odd great blast of game-changing exposition. So players mostly continued to expect to not have to read too much more text before their itchy trigger fingers were able to enter their next command.

In choice-based games, the Choice Of Games ones usually have a ton of crunchy game mechanics underneath, which again leads to understandable player desire to be able to interact with those mechanics frequently.

If your game really is all prose and character choices, I personally want to see more people writing longer stretches of prose in this arena. More novel-like. Tia Orisney’s games (Craig mentioned one of these, Blood on the Heather - I’ve played that one and Following Me) … archGo.y=0

have quite long prose stretches followed by just a few choices at a time. You might want to try one of those to see how a version of this looks/feels to you from the outside.

You were saying ‘Is it frowned upon?’. The fact is only that few people do it, so few are used to it. There have been decent design reasons to avoid it per se (usually variations of ‘I don’t want to read too much and do too little’) but it’s up to the author to come up with a design or aesthetic that makes it work.

So I reckon it can be done, it just hasn’t been done much yet.

  • Wade

No-choice jumps are always an option. I make extensive use of “Continue” as the only choice in order to stagger the text. Just make sure all the info needed to make an informed choice is in the passage with the choice, cus it’s very easy to get in the habit of skimming and clicking next.

It’s going to vary from reader to reader on what they like.

For example I tend to make 4 to 5 page long passages. I try not to go over 6 though the rare 7 page passage has popped up at times. I find nowadays I don’t usually write anything less than 3 pages unless it’s an ending and even those can get pretty long.

Obviously I’ve gotten comments ranging from how much they liked the detail to other comments about how they stopped reading because there were too many words. There really isn’t any good measure to this sort of thing.

But as always, I say the writer should stick with their original vision if that’s what is going to make them the happiest.

Different lengths of passage give a different feel to the game; it’s both personal preference and one of those “how long is a piece of string” sorts of questions.

If I get two lines of text and then am expected to make another choice, I expect to get many small individual actions, possibly with chances to change my mind and try things in different ways. If I get five paragraphs of text before my next choice, I assume that I’ll get fewer choices overall, and that each one is potentially more significant, and more likely to be irrevocable.

To make a broad overgeneralization, the shorter the passages between text the more game-y it feels, and the longer the passages the more story-y it feels. It’s an overgeneralization because it’s possible to do very mechanically-heavy game-focused IF with long passages, and very immersive story-focused low-mechanics IF with short passages. It’s just a bit more uphill to make it work that way.

As a general note on personal preference, I tend to like longer text passages–unless they’re going to repeat. I love that six-paragraph entrance to a scene, but not if I’m going to have to read it seven times as I keep returning to that room to figure out the puzzle piece I need to pick up there.

I think, in general, hypertext works can get away with longer passages than those in parser ones. A room description in a parser game can pack a lot of potential actions in a few sentences, and the player needs to figure out what they are. In hypertext games, the actions are always highlighted, and the player doesn’t need to scrutinize the text as much.


One thing I haven’t seen mentioned yet is that passage length has an effect on pacing. Longer passages yield a slower, more reflective pace; shorter passages move the story along faster. You could consider varying passage lengths for different effects in different scenes.