An alternative system for story writing

Not to seem unappreciative of everything great the Failbetters do, but writing stories in Fallen London is terribly dull. It also takes a really long time. Perhaps the process could be made more – dare I say it – creative? If a story was more than a number to push up, if it were actually built plot element by plot element, then… I’ve thought about it, and here is how I would so it.

Rock, paper, scissors… umbrella?
Under the system I propose there are four values to keep an eye on when writing:

  1. Inspiration, to be built up outside of the literary storylet. Once work on a story has started, all cards and actions should have a chance to increase Inspiration, so one can leave the desk if this seems to be lacking and venture out into the world. Inspiration is spent when adding Settings and Twists (see below). It also determines the range of available Settings and Twists. At Inspiration 1, only minimal choices will be available. Inspiration replaces &quotmaterial&quot under the current system. Basically this is what story length one is inspired enough to put down. Now the player doesn’t have to waste actions on getting mere pages.

  2. Originality, which is raised by introducing unexpected Twists into the tale. It may drop if you add logical Twists. It starts at 0 and can remain there for all anyone cares, but any Originality increases Persuasive reward (gain) if the story sells. A few points of Originality actually increase the chances of its acceptance, but higher than that, and editors begin to turn away. If you do manage to sell a really original story, however, your fame, represented by Persuasive, will benefit greatly. Originality also reduces aversion from Length. A story’s chances of acceptance with publishers are inversely proportionate to its Length, but Originality can blunt this effect for long stories.

  3. Quality, raised by introducing logical Twists. It may drop if you add unexpected Twists. Basic chance of acceptance is Quality divided by Length. Unlike Originality, Quality doesn’t help make long stories more acceptable.

  4. Length, working against both Originality and Quality. Length directly governs material rewards – royalties in money, but not Persuasive gains. To repeat, although chance of acceptance is inversely proportional to Length, material reward is directly proportionate to Length if the story succeeds (if they like it, they’ll want more of it). Length is measured in finished Scenes, with at least one required.

To sum up: Inspiration determines choices, Originality determines Persuasive gain, Quality determines chance of acceptance, Length determines money gain.

You compose a story of Scenes. Scenes represent distinct developments in the story. There can be a large number of Scenes strung along, seeing how they pay you per word, but try selling that huge monster…

You start the first Scene by choosing one of several Settings, for example:

  • Ancient castle
  • Corsair schooner
    • Battlefield in Hell
    • Manor
    • Squalid flat
    • Henry VI’s court

(a sufficient somewhat randomized list, with some choices available only with Tales of Terror!! or Distant Shores or Hard-Earned Lessons or Connected or special circumstances like being an Agent of the Cheesemonger – heck, Ian Fleming had been a spy)

These are all Persuasive challenges naturally, and failure may sometimes cost Inspiration, but has no other penalties.

After this succeeds, you can begin to add Twists, which represent events within the Scene:

  • Nomads invade on horseback
  • A mutiny breaks out
  • The landlord’s wife is murdered
    • The King announces his heirs
    • A mysterious nobleman makes introductions

And so on, again with some choices special, somewhat random and the list appropriate for the chosen Setting… But not completely appropriate. There need to be some Twists that make no obvious sense. So for Ancient castle the list might be:

  • The King announces his heirs
  • There is a grand ball
  • A fleet approaches
    • Nomads invade on horseback (hmm?)
  • The landlord’s wife is murdered (hmm!)

Twists are not labeled as logical or unexpected, the player needs to figure it out. However, repeated nouns in Twists always give Qualities. For example, choosing „The King announces his heirs” gives you „Element: King - 1” and „Element: Heir(s) – 1.” Increase these values by choosing Twists with the same actors or places (keeping the story logical), and your Quality will go up. Originality works the opposite way: gather the largest variety of Elements and try not to mention anything twice. This part of the system would probably be the most difficult to code, but it’s the most interesting part too. Alternatively, unexpected and logical Twists can bring up and down Quality and Originality mechanically, but this is a lot more dull.

Several Twists can be added within a Scene, and the player always sees the result in a „The story so far” section. After the Scene is confirmed complete, the player receives some in-game benefits on the spot. I suggest a reduction of Nightmares and Scandal, maybe more. This is important to make the process of writing rewarding.

If the player chooses to add another Scene, he can keep the Setting (this costs no Inspiration) or select a new one.

Then what
With at least one finished Scene the player can proceed to editing. Finished Scenes with their scores are all here. Here choices include, besides publishing:

  • Read the manuscript to another player – a social action that might improve Originality, Quality or both; the accepting player will get to read „The story so far” in all its glory :D
  • Trim it to make the story more likeable but less lucrative; this leaves Quality intact, reduces Length and keeps the structure
  • Throw out a Scene if you have more than one and you think it brings excessive Originality to the whole or its Quality is too low for the Length it adds;
  • Make it verbose for a better paycheck, sacrificing Quality for Length
  • Convert the work to special genre. Without rewriting anything, you can use your Connected qualities to give the story a particular slant, turning it into a Children’s Book with Urchins, a Pamphlet with Revolutionaries, a Parable with Church, a Cry to Reason with Rubbery Men, a Libertine Treatise with Hell, a Smutty Page-Turner with Docks and so on. This somewhat increases Length, but if the piece goes through, you’ll get a bonus to Connected and perhaps some payment from the group.
  • Chop it up for ideas – this destroys the manuscript but the next story will have half its Quality and Originality as a bonus
  • Burn it
  • Offer it to the Museum of Mistakes (the odds are strongly against you here)

If all this ends in a refusal, the story is destroyed as though you’ve chopped it up for ideas – you get a bonus to Quality and Originality next time. This is so you don’t feel like you’ve wasted a long long time. Triumph gets you a small standing bonus reflecting your reputation as an author. With this bonus high enough – after you’ve turned in a few tales – you can proceed to work on a Novel, assuming that feature makes it in.

Now for a real challenge: how about a Poem?
edited by Von Prabik on 6/25/2015

Perhaps you should create your game using StoryNexus and implement this system?

I don’t see your point. I’ve tried writing stories in Fallen London and the process is both dull and long. I’ve come up with what seems to me an interesting alternative. And what is your reaction - love it or leave it?

It is difficult to make decisions regarding how enjoyable a process is without first playing at least a proof of concept. The idea is intriguing, but the line between a novel and enjoyable story and a tedious and over-complicated grind is very slim.

Also, if this turns out to be enjoyable and interesting as it appears to be, I have no doubt that I would jump at the chance to play it, even as a standalone game independent of FL.
edited by Hypersomnus on 6/27/2015

Also, it would be much quicker to implement this idea as a “let’s see if this is fun” alternative experiment in a separate StoryNexus project. Especially since your idea involves a chance of gaining Inspiration from “all cards and actions.” My impression is that there’d be two ways to do that in a StoryNexus game (like Fallen London) – you either have to go through every single card and action (thousands, in FL) and edit each one so that there’s a Rare Success that gives an Inspiration quality. Or you’d have to write a bunch of additional code to make StoryNexus work differently than it does, like creating a special type of extra event that can be triggered from any card or storylet. Both of these would be tremendous work for FL, but the former could be a “built in from the ground up” part of doing your own StoryNexus experiment.

I don’t have the coding knowledge to make this a stand-alone game. I’ll leave it to the designers. It doesn’t seem very complicated to me on the whole; script-wise, I would imagine getting Inspiration from any card would involve a set conditional after you start work on a story. “set onstory to 1” or some such. Then preface whatever script drives card-playing with a check for this conditional. Shouldn’t be much trouble. It’s more of a question of whether Failbetters would be interested in reworking story-writing at all, and all I can say about that is, the system now in place definitely needs to go… because it promised to be fun and creative - isn’t “become an artist” one of the promises in this game? - and it isn’t either…

You don’t need to know any code to make your own game in StoryNexus. It’s designed to be a pretty simple a straightforward process and there is lots of community help if you need it.
All you really need is an idea and some copy.

If you are serious about this and feel your system would be superior to FBG’s, and would like Alexis to ditch an award winning and successful, not to mention extensive and detailed writing process, in favour of your idea, I think demonstrating a proof of concept would be a good start.
StoryNexus provides all the tools you need to do just that.

It would also be a better way of demonstrating what it is you are suggesting. As it is, I don’t fully understand a lot of what you’re proposing or how it relates to Fallen London. The ability to interact with such a system would certainly help me get a grasp on it.

Also, I don’t know where your character is in the game, but my character very much is an artist. He’s written poetry, plays, short stories and even painted a time or two. I’ve got copies of the stuff to prove it. It is possible to become an artist several times over.

I completely agree with your assessment of writing short stories, it is tedious and grindy and certainly not enjoyable. I hope that FL will revisit it. But keep in mind that &quotFallen London is in Beta&quot. It even says it on the login page. They are still adding content and revisiting content previously created. They may yet revisit the writing mechanics, as your sentiment appears to be (to varying degrees) widely shared and it has come up on the forum in the past. Quite honestly though, cool as your idea is, it is unlikely that Fallen London devs will take it verbatim and implement it (though I could be wrong). If only for the reason that it would set a rather dangerous precedent of intellectual theft, or something approaching that.
I do however, think you have created a promising or at least interesting idea that should be explored.

Storynexus does not require (or even allow) code writing of any kind.

Having dabbled with writing code in a few languages, I assure you, it would be much more work than it would appear to be (it always is). Implementing this is FL would require changes to the engine, but ignoring however difficult it may be, you still have a lot of minute tweaks and manual entry to go through. For example, should you be equally inspired by killing rats, a beautiful zeescape, and chugging laudanum? Or should each provide differing increases? What of irrigo exposure, which logically would clean out any inspiration or progress in your memory? The idea is cool, but ultimately a large amount of work if you wish to maintain a logical connection between the actual writing, and game mechanics.

Perhaps a more realistic request would be inspired boosts added to storylets that might justify them. Seeing a beautiful painting, watching the zee, etc. Or more general opportunities or storylets that offer boosts to writing progress (go speak to the Bohemian Sculptress about your work) etc.

Out of curiosity, have you progressed to the point where you have access to the court? You can produce works of art there (novels, symphonies, etc.) and while still being rather linear and grindy, the content is much more enjoyable. You actually get the sense that your character is actively walking around London, talking to devils, high society ladies and zailors in search of more material. It is much better written in my opinion, and ultimately much more enjoyable, though admittedly, not quite as fascinating as your proposal.
edited by Hypersomnus on 6/29/2015