Transitioning from Hollywood screenwriter to Narrative Designer

I have a good friend with 25+ years of experience writing screenplays for film and television. For a number of reasons, he is looking to gain experience and eventually work as a Narrative Designer. It will probably start out as a hobby for him, part-time at first, but who knows where it could lead.

My friend has fooled around with Twine and I have told him about Inkle’s ink scripting language (he knows about Choice of Games and Inform 7 but, by his own admission, he’s not a programmer).

My friend wants to do something “graphical” (he really likes the Rusty Lake games) but, with limited programming and graphical experience, I have strongly suggested that he work with some text-based tools first, learn about constructing interactive narratives, and see where that leads.

Since the Narrative Designer role is relatively new, and the definition of what it is and what it entails spans the game industry and differs from Triple-A to indie studio, I was hoping the people here could give my friend some advice, links, videos, etc. for research and inspiration on this new journey he is contemplating.

Thanks in advance.

P.S. - I’ve already sent my friend links to Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling and her post on Self-Training in Narrative Design but any other posts, videos, links, etc. by her are appreciated.

UPDATE: I’ve compiled a Workflowy outline for my friend so I could share it with him and also update the outline as new information surfaces.

I’m sharing it here as well so others can benefit. Here is the link - Transitioning from Hollywood Screenwriter to Narrative Designer .

Thanks everyone for your advice and information. Please keep posting here if you have any additional information, links, etc. and I’ll update my outline.


I feel that all talks by Jon Ingold, show the peak of the medium. So he could benefit from that wisdom by looking for them on youtube and seeing them in chronological order. (little by little, because the philosophy of them builds and builds upon the previous Jon’s experience through the years… so maybe your friend wants to consume them little by little).

I’ve created a list on youtube:

Also, I would recommend this first GDC for Jon Ingold at GDV Vault (for free):

Also, I would recommend reading some classics, like The craft of adventure, by Graham Nelson. and Crimes against mimesis, by Roger Giner-Sorolla. Those are a good start to Interactive Fiction authoring with game world and parser.

For choice-based IF, the top-notch design is the philosophy of Choice of Games: “Delayed branching”, that you can learn about here:

Lastltly, Standard Patterns in Choice-Based Games, by Sam Kabo Aswell, a modern seminal:

That’s it for now!


I LOVE those games. I pay whatever price they ask and it’s always worth it. I think there’s a good market out there for games with that sort of twisted oddball feel.

I think if he likes those, he can construct a similar type of narrative as a first try. There’s a running story to the Rusty Lake games and I think it wouldn’t be hard to do something like that (generations of a very disturbed family, an obsessed cop on the scent of something supernatural) for a text-based game.

This is more on the technical side, but he might be interested in using Adventuron - I haven’t personally worked with it but it bills itself as easy to use in terms of creating graphical text adventures.

If he’s worried about his lack of coding skills holding him back I’d point him towards CodeAcademy - in particular their free Javascript lessons are useful if he wants to keep noodling around with Twine. A little knowledge goes a long way, here - you really only need a little programming knowledge to be comfortable with Twine, and knowing the basics of programming will give him the footing to learn other creation tools if he wants to.

Finally, I find Emily Short’s Idea to Implementation extremely useful in how to lay out a game start to finish without falling into a number of common pitfalls.

For someone who lacks coding skills yet wants to do Hollywood like Graphics, I suggest try out Visual Novels or maybe hyper card like Myst.

Both mimics Storyboards closely and can be done on paper. Both are easily coded (by hired coder), once all the design is done.

If he has a lot of experience as a pro-writer, there are many companies that will try to round up people that can write choice-based fiction (usually Twine or Ink) to be put into big apps, usually as competitors to Choices or Episode. I swear if you search the forum you can find someone doing that for a voice-based app right now. So getting Twine or Ink experience can help, like entering a game jam (like Spring Thing coming up) and getting feedback and reviews. This kind of thing usually pays several thousand dollars for about 50-100K words over a few months.

The narrative design field seems to generally be either underpaid, have horrible working conditions, or temporary (you can pick which one). For instance, Fusebox Games is hiring writers, but that’s because all of their writers were quitting or protesting and the rest got fired en masse. The market is kind of glutted as well, with lots of people wanting junior positions. So your friend should be prepared to spend a long time looking (and hopefully they have a good dose of luck, as well).

(This is all for mainly indie/small publisher stuff. There’s not, as far as I know, a pipeline from the indie field to Triple A narrative designer. How triple A people hire their writers is a mystery to me. I get the impression that many triple A writers had other positions in the company and then kind of migrated; for instance, I just google 'NARRATIVE DESIGNER AT [BIG COMPANY] and saw these linkedin profiles:,

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When Netflix commissioned Bandersnatch it’s reported that the first design was made in Twine.

The article then states that approach fell short and so they decided to create their own tool which was called Branch Manager.

The obvious move then would have been to sell Branch Manager and capture the market. Because it could easily have established the industry standard as per AutoCAD or ProTools, etc.

But it seems that didn’t happen. Does anyone have any more details on Branch Manager?

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Hoo boy, yes it does. :)

There’s this hump for traditional writers who come in thinking “Here is my screenplay for a story! Now we’ll write a game whose story is this screenplay.” This doesn’t work, and the fact that it doesn’t work is so obvious that it’s hard to explain. Or sometimes it goes the other way: someone has designed a game, and then they hire a writer to write a story for the game. (Also doesn’t work.) (I mean, either of these can work, but what you’re trying to do is make the story design part of the game design and vice versa.)

The whole notion of “narrative designer” is sort of code for “writer who Gets It”. They can work as part of the design process.

But in practice, there are lots of different ways to design a game, and lots of different tools and genre conventions and so on. So different people doing the narrative design job may not have much common ground.

So the useful advice, just like everybody’s been saying, is “Start making some games.”


That’s my experience with most games. Transcript fully then implement method of writing IF fast by J. Robinson Wheeler.

Even CoG embraces that kind of linear bottleneck gaunlet type of narrative.

As for the opposite, either the movie just pick a branch, or ignore the game completely, grafting a whole new story to the IP.

Edit: it’s the difference between Quantic Dream and Telltale Games. Both are IF, but one has much more interaction and meanings than the other. IMO.

Neither of those is really what I meant. The CoG design inherently takes into account variations (within a chapter) and a range of possible protagonists (different skills, different character relationships). That’s very different from a movie screenplay.

I’ve compiled a Workflowy outline for my friend so I could share it with him and also update the outline as new information surfaces.

I’m sharing it here as well so others can benefit. Here is the link - Transitioning from Hollywood Screenwriter to Narrative Designer.

Thanks everyone for your advice and information. Please keep posting here if you have any additional information, links, etc. and I’ll update my outline.

Having written IF and also screenplays, I’d echo the recommendation toward Visual Novels, looking in to Ren’Py and possibly Visual Novel Maker. The analogues to screenwriting are the closest: The writing is dialogue-heavy, and the scripting is actually directing the character/paper dolls around a scene of layers. The main obstacle is the visual part, so if writer is not also an artist they will need to team up with one or hire one, or be hired by a company that makes them. Visual Novels are an exception in that there is a solid commercial audience willing to pay for them.

Otherwise, for professional/commercial purposes, the narrative designer often is going to need to be on a team of a larger game unless programming some type of game system is also in the skillset - RPG maker, Visual Novel Maker, and many others.

For text-only solo purposes, there’s CoG but that skillset lends more toward novel writing than screenwriting. Most narrative design that does not involve visuals can be a hard sell for commercial purposes.

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I’ve updated my post with links to a list of youtube with all relevant Inkle Studios talks.

If someone misses some essential talk by Jon or Joe, just say so. Thanks!

@Ruber_Eaglenest Thanks for creating the Craft of Inkle Studios playlist. I will update my outline with that link.

Question: You recommended viewing the videos in reverse-chronological order. Are the videos in your playlist in that order (posting date)?

  • Narrative Sorcery: Coherent Storytelling in an Open Worlds (12/08/20)
  • Ink: Behind the Narrative Scripting Language of “80 Days” and “Sorcery!” (07/15/16)
  • Adventure 2017: Jon Ingold - Designing Heaven’s Vault (11/10/18)
  • Heaven’s Vault: Creating a Dynamic Detective Story (11/06/19)
  • Designing a Lost Language for Heaven’s Vault | Rezzed Sessions | EGX Rezzed 2019 (04/06/19)
  • AdvX 2018 - Jon Ingold - Sparkling Dialogue: A Masterclass (12/01/18)
  • Designing Text UX for Effortless Reading (04/28/18)

I don’t know if it is possible to reorder playlist videos?

Also, might want to add this video to your playlist - Presentation 2: Jon Ingold, Ink: An Interactive Fiction Language for Humans (10/21/21)

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Hi Bill,

The list was compiled in a hurry, without not much double-checking.

I recommend seeing them in chronological order… but in a sense, some later videos could be seen earlier because they talk about “earlier games” or philosophy, or some knowledge inside could be seen earlier, for example, the Sparkling Dialog should be a must for every games writer, and is stuff not as advanced like the philosophy behind Heaven’s Vault.

So, I mean, I push for a semi-chronological order but, thematic order is important too.

I will contrast the list with your data and I will reorder the thing.


Also, about that video, maybe they intersect too much with “Ink: Behind the Narrative Scripting Language of “80 Days” and “Sorcery!” (07/15/16)”? I will see.

I mean, I don’t pretend to have an exhaustive list of every Inkle Studios talk, but only a handful of them that shows the evolution of their craft.

Kind regards.

@Ruber_Eaglenest My apologies. I did not mean to insinuate that your list should have included every relevant Inkle Studios talk. I appreciate your effort in pulling together the list in the first place.

Ooops, I’m so sorry if I sounded harsh. English is not my first language, so sometimes I struggle to express myself with full meaning, or just I am too direct or sound harsh. I appreciate your feedback and I will consider that video too. So, yeah, I was just stating that the purpose of the list is to show “evolution”, instead of being a “complete account”. Thanks a lot!