Useful books for IF authors to read

#1

I hardly need to add any more books to my stuffed bookshelves, but I was wondering what books other IF authors find useful when they’re writing games?

Obviously there are system specific books, e.g. for Twine and Inform among others. Eg in order of publication (though remember some of these are very out of date now for current systems):

The Inform Designer’s Manual by Graham Nelson (4th ed, 2001)
The Inform Beginner’s Guide by Roger Firth and Sonja Kesserich (2003)
Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7 by Aaron Reed (2010)
Writing Interactive Fiction with Twine by Melissa Ford (2016)

And there are generic IF authorship books that can be useful. For example I’m thinking of this one:

IF Theory Reader by Kevin Jackson-Mead and J. Robinson Wheeler (2011)

But what about more general design books, whether for IF or more widely about games and/or writing? Have you found any particularly good for sparking ideas, or helping you manage a complex writing project? For instance there are a lot of creative writing books out there, and many advice books from authors like Stephen King. Have you found any of these to be particularly useful when writing IF?

There are also many retro text adventure books from the 1980s, but are these interesting for inspiring ideas still for modern authors, or are they more of interest as historical artefacts?

I searched for an existing thread about this topic, but couldn’t find it. The closest was @Niebuhr’s more general thread about books about interactive fiction, which has some great tips, and is worth checking out.

Thanks!

#2

I’ll reply to some of your questions out of order.

But what about more general design books, whether for IF or more widely about games and/or writing? Have you found any particularly good for sparking ideas, or helping you manage a complex writing project?

Do you follow Planet IF? Through that I see all Emily Short’s blog posts, and I feel like she’s reviewed a good number of IF/game design books over the past… year? They’re pretty specific reviews in terms of telling you what she thinks each book is good at.

From her site (https://emshort.blog/) you can get to some of them via this menu path:

Interactive Fiction Resources -> Writing IF -> Books and other resources ->

In my memory, she looked at more than are in the menu, but I could be wrong.

For instance there are a lot of creative writing books out there, and many advice books from authors like Stephen King. Have you found any of these to be particularly useful when writing IF?

I found Stephen King’s book good for all my writing and I see it often plugged around here. As it should be!

A book I like about creative practice in general is Deborah J Haynes’s “Art Lessons - Meditations on the Creative Life”. (At Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2205691.Art_Lessons). The chapters are small and it’s the kind of thing you can flip open to different chapters for ideas or energy.

There are also many retro text adventure books from the 1980s, but are these interesting for inspiring ideas still for modern authors, or are they more of interest as historical artefacts?

The quality of these books can vary hugely, except for the Usborne series, which is consistently of the highest quality. Have a look at the books in the ‘adventure games’ tab on Usborne’s page. They make their old books available for free: https://usborne.com/browse-books/features/computer-and-coding-books/

An IF author today may think the subject matter is too limiting for them to be of use. e.g. They’re all puzzle/fantasy/sci-fi quest focused. But I wouldn’t go to them for subject matter ideas.

These books were written in the era of BASIC, usually with a view to helping you turn out the one game included in the book, and to understand how you’d done it once you had done it. The limitations of the computers necessitated more planning. I think the value of these books for today is in how they practically demonstrate how solid planning produces solid work. They use a lot of lists and maps and such. Today, you no longer have to do it all on paper, and you can move things around more easily, but the books do show how to organise an adventure game. Which somehow feels like the missing link amongst other books advising you how to craft characters, write gooder, etc.

The books also have nostalgia value for someone like myself, but I now find just looking at them can be a bit inspiring.

-Wade

#3

Mucho thanks Wade. Much appreciated!

Yes I follow Emily’s blog, subscribed for years in my RSS reader, and have seen her recent book review series. All good, though I suppose what I was looking for more are recommendations of books that people have found useful themselves when writing IF.

I agree with your thoughts re old IF books from the 1980s. I was really just trying to prompt a discussion here. But yes, you echo many of my views. And yes the Usborne books are great. I was the person who notified this forum about them when they first went online legally. I read many back in the 1980s.

And thanks for the Deborah J Haynes book tip. I’ll check that out.

(J. J. Guest) #4

For general writing tips, I highly recommend Mark Forsyth’s The Elements of Eloquence, subtitled How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase. It’s about the figures of rhetoric; writing techniques and tricks known since the days of the ancient Greeks, but scarcely taught anymore. We use them all the time without realising it, but the book gives each its proper name and allows us to use them more deliberately.

It’s full of examples from Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde to political speeches and song lyrics, and it is very readable and very funny. I make a point of reading it every year, in the hope that some of the figures will sink in. I have the gorgeous hardback edition which I don’t think is available any more, but there are paperback and eBook editions available.

#5

Good tip. Many thanks! I started school in the 1970s, in Scotland, and English grammar teaching was already on the slide then. I learned more useful stuff in French classes! So yes, I’ll have a big gap in rhetoric and good writing techniques. Your tip sounds great :slight_smile:

I’m also now wondering if books for roleplaying game adventure/campaign writers might be of use to IF authors. There’s a surprising amount of overlap between the two as a game experience. I’ve my eye on one such book, which I may spend some remaining Christmas money on. I will report back if it’s useful!