Digital writers have historically used a lot of different platforms, often proprietary software that was both expensive, and repurposed for digital fiction. Luckily, a lot has changed as digital fiction has grown in popularity, and there are now a number of really great, inexpensive/free/open-source, built-for-purpose platforms for burgeoning digital writers to choose from.
The first step is always to check out existing digital fictions (start with our suggestions for readers and reading groups, and also review those collected at the Electronic Literature Collection and the Interactive Fiction Database), to get familiar with how digital fiction works, and be inspired by the different styles and genres you can write in.
It’s worth noting that game developers often use Twine, or Twine-like environments, as planning and organizational tools for their game design. Even if you choose to go on to other platforms, Twine’s easy-to-use, visual mapping space can be a valuable tool for digital writing.
- Getting started with Twine 2
- Anna Anthropy’s “How to Make Games with Twine” refers to Twine 1, but includes useful tips and tricks from the master herself
Texture is a more recently developed platform, but it is already showing promise. Texture provides a WYSIWYG platform to create interactive narratives. Check out some of the Texture stories already written, and write/publish your own.
InkleWriter creates interactive stories in a scrolling visual that mimics the look of book pages, a nice crossover between interactivity and print-based stories.
On the purely text-based front of interactive fiction (a.k.a. text-adventure games) is Inform7 and TADS. Through these platforms, you can create parser-based interactive fictions in the mode of the old commercial games of the 1980s (think Zork or Colossal Cave Adventure). The form has turned to more of a literary bent in recent years, and experienced a resurgence.
- Emily Short’s “Writing IF” article is a treasure-trove of information and links
- Aaron Reed’s Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform7 is a fantastic how-to guide
Quest allows you to create interactive fictions of the Inform7/TADS style, but without the need to learn the specific coding language.
Ren’Py and Novelty are visual novel engines. Both are free, and both offer large libraries of VNs to explore, as well as extensive tutorials on how to make them. VNs are more popular in the East Asian market than in the West, as you’ll see from the visual style, but that popularity means they have been around for a while longer, and have more examples and tutorials, than some of the other engines.
Flash was created as a general-purpose multimedia tool, and as such it’s A) expensive, and B) really robust (although finicky). You pay a lot for it, but you also get a lot (probably more than most digital writers need, given its wide range of uses, from multimedia websites to Flash games). A lot of digital fiction has been created on Flash, and some of the…er…”flashier” works use it well.
The limitations of Flash, of course, are well-known, as Flash has had a rocky relationship with mobile devices.
And finally, don’t forget the e-Book
Remember, e-Books have hypertext functionality! Using tools like Sigil and Calibre, enterprising digital writers can create hypertexts that can be enjoyed on any device, and sold through all major e-book sellers (including Amazon and the iBookstore). Lyle Skains (Co-I on the Reading Digital Fiction project) has started down this route in order to explore the commercialization potential of digital fiction and hypertexts, and would welcome all digital writers to join her!
Have other platforms or tools you like? Post them in the comments and we’ll add them in!