How I worked on Red Riding Hood:
1 Skeleton first: Twine makes it very easy to make a preliminary structure to navigate. It’s similar to how I write for games - after figuring out the outline of the story, I list the scenes I need and what they’re about.
2 Expand on each lexia: writing the scenes themselves based on the skeleton, what actually happens and what people say. This is where I realized this was a really fun thing to write, because I started giving the characters a personality (something that is not in the original story) and imagining what the world of Little Red Riding Hood would be like. Fairy tales have these gaps we usually don’t notice, and I decided to fill them, one lexia at a time. Some of the lexias became quite long, because I was expanding on the world and characters.
3 Second writing pass: as the characters came to life, they took the story to different places. For example, the whole thing with the grandma being eaten by the wolf and then being surgically removed was a bit ridiculous, so I started thinking about what would be more feasible to happen.
4 Changed Twine story format (from Sugarcube to Harlowe): I was annoyed by the default formatting of Sugarcube and the side menu. Since I already know the format well, I used this as a chance to learn more of the nooks and crannies of the Harlowe format. Harlowe also has better support for formatting and incorporating different text effects, as well as a nicer default layout, so I wanted to use those in more depth. That’s why there’s a couple of sections that feel a bit gimmicky, because I was trying different features of the program.
5 Restructure: I’m not a fan of screenfuls of text, and one of my favourite aspects of hypertext stories is how clicking from a lexia to the next creates a rhythm. So I split some lexias, as well as made some of the expansions on the world into asides that readers can explore. I’m sacrificing some of what made writing this fun into something marginal, which I feel uncomfortable about as a game designer, but I believe that the more literary-inclined readers will probably seek those parts of the story about.
6 Third Pass: in any creative work, there are passes at form and content, so this was another brief expansion of the content. In this pass I realized that the alternate versions of the story were more interesting than following the traditional story. So I expanded on what grandma’s cottage would be like, which took me to expanding a bit more on making the narrative more sensorial in general. I also included bits and details borrowed from the different versions of the tale - whenever I worked on this, I was listening to different versions of Sondheim’s Into The Woods.
7 Visual formatting: I found a font that I liked, and I took another pass at the visual effects / changing colors / bullet points. This created a series of bugs where things don’t quite look like what I want.
8 Fourth Pass: I was frustrated with the formatting bugs, so I decided to re-read, deal with typos and inconsistencies. I decided that the grandma can point out the inconsistencies of the story much more openly, and be the voice of reason. I loved hearing her voice in my head.
9 Fighting bugs: still working on those.
Still To do:
- Another consistency pass
- Including images (it’s part of the assignment this is an example for)
What works of the tool I was using (Twine 2)
- Ease to create links and update their names. It allows to create a structure really fast and keep going.
- Visualization of lexia and their connections is really useful to get a first glance at the scope of the writing. Makes writing a bit less daunting for small projects.
- Ease to change the looks of the text (as long as you know HTML and CSS)
- "View proofing copy” is great for copyediting the piece, though it doesn’t quite show formatting or help finding dead ends.
- Having different story formats, which can be used depending on the level of expertise and familiarity with markup languages and programming.
- You can test your text from any lexia, without having to read from the beginning of the text.
What I’m missing
- Word counts per lexia and whole document (this is for teaching too) - Twine allows me to see the proofing copy but I don’t get a sense of size of each lexia to figure out of there’s a rhythm to it.
- The “story formats” and why they change can be a barrier for less advanced users. While Sugarcube is fantastic to get started, it also looks a bit “blocky” in its default format. The default layout includes a button to can save the game state on the sidebar, but that’s something that may only be relevant to longer works or text games. Harlowe would be a better beginner layout, based on my experience, but when you want to include more sophisticated features, such as a simple back button, or change anything to do with the visual format, the conventions are all based on programming (rather than a markup language). I wish Sugarcube had the elegance of presentation of Harlowe, or rather, than you could use Harlowe with markup language rather than commands. (Hope this makes sense).
- Even knowing HTML and CSS, Harlowe has its own quirks in terms of using CSS formatting. One of the things that remains arcane on Twine what every element is named and how to change it. It’s nowhere in the documentation, and there’s no sample CSS for each story format (which was available in Twine 1). One of the sources of a lot of my formatting bugs is that there are general HTML elements and there are Twine-specific elements, and the difference between both is unclear. For example, in the CSS of my game, I can format the links of twine proper (tw-link) or a regular HTML link (identified as “a”), but after a lot of back and forth, I’m not sure when Harlowe uses which. I’m trying to override the default colors of links (blue for link; pink for active link), but unsuccessfully. The features that I’d like to have for this are either better documentation for how to format text or being able to format text on each lexia WYSIWYG, as you can do with other text editors.
- I love using conditional text and checking what the player has read before getting to a certain lexia, something that Twine can do well except for the fact that any code that changes the text includes some ghost blank lines in the texts; the markup \ supposedly eliminates that but it’s not consistent, especially in the Harlowe story format. Being able to play from any lexia is useful, as I mentioned above, and the debug mode helps me keep track of the variables used in the text; it’d be fabulous if I could change the variables in the debug mode as I play.
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