Graphic Novel Guide

Overview

You're writing an interactive visual novel for a mobile platform. Players will choose stories that sound interesting from a library, then tap through lines of dialogue spoken by visualized character portraits until reaching one of multiple endings unique to their play-through.

Whereas the Messaging format is simulating people text messaging each other, dialogue in the Graphic Novel format is meant to be written in the way it is meant to be displayed and read.

Dialogue is intended as a "perfect transcript of spoken words" - that means perfect spelling and grammar, and no acronyms (e.g. "lol") not meant to be pronounced as a word.

Pacing

One of the most important components of writing for this medium is fast pacing. Every line counts; there is absolutely no room for passive story setup and exposition. 

The opener must hook quickly. 
Start with questions, mysteries, and interesting statements. Don't be scared of in media res.

Avoid clustered lines of short words and small ideas.
The player taps to advance, and should feel like they're gaining something when they do - a new piece of info or evidence or mystery or question to be answered.
 

Genre & Demographics

Your story will be told primarily through the mouths of people who look to be from the modern-era, rendered in a realistic painted style. As such, we're looking for a engaging, realistic, and adult story to match these characters and the authentic world they live in.

Genres to (probably) consider...

  • Horror

  • Thriller

  • Mystery

  • Action

  • Sci-Fi (relatable, near future)

Genres to (probably) avoid...

  • Dramedy

  • Comedy

  • Light-Hearted

  • Children

Your story should be written for an adult audience who isn't afraid of complexity, mature issues, and genuine portrayals of things like humor, romance, violence, and sorrow when applicable.  

While this style of storytelling often leans into character development, it's important to develop a narrative that progresses in an active and engaging way, telling its characters' stories through events that allow a player to express agency. There's no time for exposition or lengthy conversations designed for little more than getting to know a character or relationship. No matter the subject matter, your story must constantly propel the player forward through an engaging narrative they want to binge.  

 

Assets

Characters

 
Actors.png
 

Once you start writing episodes, you'll be given access to a library of characters of diverse gender, age, and race. From there, you'll be able to request small customizations, such as changes to hairstyles and outfits, as well as the addition of small accessories such as scars, hats, or glasses. If we don't have the right combination of age, race, and gender in the library, you'll be able to request one made for your story.

Requested characters can be unique and interesting, but should (with minor exception) remain believable and contemporary - as at home in a family drama as a romantic comedy.   

 

Locations

 
Sets.png
 

You'll be able to request art for locations that sense for your story. Locations that can be reused later (such as a boy's bedroom or a park) are far more valuable to us to produce than locations that cannot be reused (such as a pantry full of one type of cereal, or an amusement park themed after a cartoon character unique to your world).

 

Items

 
Images.png
 

During the story, static images of important objects and moments can be inserted to break up the dialogue or make a moment special.

  • Objects: Individual items presented without a background, best used for clues, symbols, and things that the player "picks up.

  • Vignettes: Images of complete scenes featuring characters, locations, and objects.

 

Interactivity

Unlike many Tales stories, your story will not branch into wildly different endings per episode. The story must be designed from the ground up for multi-episode presentation. That means that players will mostly start and end each episode the same way. Even so, meaningful interactivity is VITAL to what you write. You have a few choices to make your story feel more reactive.

Variables

Your main character can persistently track variables:

  • Levels (external collections such as XP, money, trust, or information)

  • Traits (internal attributes such as dexterity, intelligence)

  • Relationships with others (how much they are liked/disliked per person)

Choices

Gated Choices

The player will need to have these special variables to access certain choices. Examples:

  • The player must have 8 clues to approach the police.
  • The player must have 17 strength to lift the boulder.  

  • The player is "liked" by Jenna, but must be "loved" to convince her to go to the prom.

Branch Choice

Branch Choices let players express themselves actively by making practical decisions. If the player replayed this story, this is the sort of choice they'd want to change.

  • Branch choices and be any number of lines, but always majorly divert the story.

  • Because Branch choices create massive new branches, they are far more rare than Role-Playing choices.

  • Branch choices are still presented as dialogue.

 
 An example of simple story structure (one of many possible) using scenes (as diagramed above). The points at which scenes branch into multiple possible scenes are what we're calling Branch Choice.

An example of simple story structure (one of many possible) using scenes (as diagramed above). The points at which scenes branch into multiple possible scenes are what we're calling Branch Choice.

 

Flavor Choice

Role-Playing Choices let player express themselves emotionally by choosing how they feel about what was just said.

  • Usually, each branch of an RP Choice is small (1-10 lines) before recombining.

  • Role-Playing Choices are presented as dialogue.

 
 An example scene structure as laid out in flowchart software. (draw.io is one good free option for mapping and planning your own stories.) The choice points are RP Choice as they quickly knit and keep the player inside of the same scene.

An example scene structure as laid out in flowchart software. (draw.io is one good free option for mapping and planning your own stories.) The choice points are RP Choice as they quickly knit and keep the player inside of the same scene.

 

Bad Choice Design

The following choice designs should not be used on our platform.

  • Arbitrary Choice
    • A choice in which the player has ZERO information with which to decide something. For example, asking the player to call Mark or Henry when the player has never met those characters and doesn't know the difference.
  • Random Choice
    • A choice that leads to an unreasonable consequence. For example, the choice "Take a shower" should not suddenly lead to a situation in which the plumber mixed up the pipes, the water is now acid, and the character is now dead.
  • Empty Choice
    • Even short RP Choices MUST have a unique effect (even if 2-3 lines) that could not have been seen had the player not chosen it. Often, this is an emotional response
  • Death Obstacle Course
    • Branch Choices should not be used to continually dead-end the player into deaths. You can write stories involving survival, but the player should ultimately feel like they've accomplished something interesting upon gaining an ending (even if it's negative).
  • Variably Ordered Choices
    • Do not write choices where the player must eventually choose both things to progress. For example: The player chooses to visit her mom or her dad. If they visit their mom, they automatically visit the dad after. If they visit the dad, they automatically visit the mom after.

Key Decision Memory

  • You'll be give the player invisible flags and reference them in later episodes. These can be used to influence dialogue or invisibly navigate them into customized branches.

  • Example: If the player said they like milk more than water in episode one, you'll be able to recall and reference that in future episodes.

Endings

  • Every choice the player makes will invisibly record a personality tag. These will be collated at the end, and turned into a play style that's presented to the player.

    • In an Ancient Roman game, the player may be told they are Apollo or Bacchus.

    • In a game about art thieves, the player may be told they are Picasso or Pollock.

Content Balance & Budget

  • Approximately 600 lines of dialogue or more is the sweet spot
  • Lines of dialogue no longer than 100 characters.
  • Choice dialogue no longer than 50 characters.
  • Choices points always offer exactly 2 choices... for now.
  • Per 300 lines:
    • Approximately 6-7 scenes
    • Approximately 25 Role-Playing Choice points
    • Approximately 3-4 Branch Choice points

Sometimes the art budget can feel very restrictive. Other times - no problem at all. In cases of the former, there are a few things you can do to help tell the story you want to tell with minimum compromises.

  • Try "pulling back" on some of your locations. If you have a Parisian street, a Parisian building entrance, and a Parisian boardwalk, try asking for one Paris Skyline and using it for all three.

  • Combine characters who serve similar functions. This is just good writing, anyway!

  • Before describing characters, start by considering who can be a extra, then who can be a variant, and only then who must be unique for the story to work.

  • Don't forget that we can still approve certain budgets that break budget. When in doubt, ask!


Basics of Creating Graphic Novels

The graphic novel format is the most challenging to create but has the most bells and whistles. Most of our flagship stories are in this format.  In the next section you'll learn how to create:

  • Basic Dialogue
  • Emotions
  • Markup
  • Visuals
  • Moments
  • Transitions