Messaging Guide

Overview

You're writing a story told through text messages.

  • Linear, messaging stories are approximately 100 to 250 lines of dialogue, whereas interactive usually run around 500-600 lines.

  • Each lines of dialogue should be no longer than 80 characters.

  • You must hook a reader in less than 10 lines.

Reading narrative on a mobile device is a unique experience - so is writing for it. This guide will explain both the technical and narrative requirements for telling a successful story on our platform.

Style

You're writing in text messages.

Every line of dialogue is represented as a text message. This comes with a few restraints to keep in mind when conceiving ideas for stories.

  • Your characters need to have a reason to be texting vs. calling or talking in-person.

  • Your characters will generally not be in the same room.

  • Messages are not time stamped, so passage of time should be explicit.

Just because these are text messages, doesn't mean you can't get creative.

Usually, your stories should be about characters texting each other through a standard text messaging app on their smartphone. Sometimes, however, you can break the mold while staying within the style. Some examples include...

  • Voice transcription (The character is driving or performing actions, and the phone is transcribing voice to text, allowing him/her to do things with their hands.)

  • Real-time translation (Characters are speaking to each other in person in different languages, and the text is auto-translating for them.)

  • Text logs (These aren't texts - they're a log transcription of something interesting that happened.)

  • Talking to an app or AI. (An AI or an app becomes a character, and the human characters talk to them through their phone.)

Readability is paramount.

Because you're writing in text messages, you might feel the urge to use misspellings, bad (or no) punctuation, poor grammar, and acronyms. These must be used in moderation. Even though these additions might be more "realistic" for texts, they can harm readability and pacing.

  • Most lines should be spelled and punctuated correctly.

  • Acronyms are acceptable, but you should stick to those commonly known by non-tech-savvy users. LOL is acceptable, IMHO is borderline, TTBOMK is a no-go.

  • Bad spelling and punctuation should primarily be used to amplify tension.

  • In summary: If you're going to purposely mess up standard spelling, grammar, and punctuation, have a reason.

MARY
I think he's coming this way.

MARY
Omg omg Mark you have to help me or hes going to

MARK
Just hold on! I'm coming!!

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. you should be giving the player an interesting choice to make as early as possible.

Good Examples

Drama

WALEED
Mom? I'm looking in your medicine cabinet right now. All the bottles are... full?
    
MOM
Susan? What are you doing in my house? Thought I fired you back in the 80s.

Thriller

UNCLE_MATT
Nick? I need you to listen to me because I don't have a lot of time.

UNCLE_MATT
These may be my last words.

Romance

EMILY
So? How do I look?

JACK
Like a barista at a small coffee shop located between the 9th and 10th hole of a golf course?

Don't open with logistics, character introduction or long sentences/ideas split across multiple lines. Every line that advances is a tap, and those beginning taps really count.

Bad Examples

Outside of the opener, continue to avoid clustered lines of short words and small ideas.

BARB
Hey, Matt.
    
MATT
Barb!
    
MATT
I'm glad Tom gave you my number.
    
BARB
Yeah.
    
MATT
He usually forgets stuff like that.

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.

MIKE
Hmm.
    
HEATHER
What?
    
MIKE
I was just thinking.
    
MIKE
Why do you think he did it?
    
HEATHER
You mean Joe?
    
MIKE
Yeah.
    
MIKE
It's bothering me.

Instead, try this:

MIKE
Why do you think Joe did it?
    
MIKE
I can't stop thinking about it. It's really bothering me...

Assets

Actors

You'll have access to high quality profile photos that will be displayed next to each line of dialogue.

 
 

Sets

You'll be able to request art for Sets that make sense for your story. These images will be displayed as backgrounds to frame your text. The images will be presented in a darkened manner for text readability. They will largely be used to convey mood rather than provide specific details.

 
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Items

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.

 
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Interactivity

Your stories should be filled with choices that matter but designed for multi-episode presentation. That means that most of the time players will start and end the episodes in the same physical location (”Transition Points”) but the path to these Transition Points can vary wildly. The latter episodes of the story can break this guideline completely as the story should be branching to completely different endings based on the cumulative effective of previous decisions.

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: How much they are liked/disliked per person.

  • Currency: Spend currency to acquire items or make choices.

  • Inventory Items: Allow players to collect items and unlock options based on what is in inventory.

Choices

 
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  • Choice points always offer exactly 2 choices... for now. If you want more choices, please consider the Prose format.

  • Your choices can be gated by variables/inventory:

    • 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.

Branching

  • Your choices can let players fundamentally change the outcome of the story.

  • We allow infinite levels of choice nesting.

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.

Episode Bookends

  • Since most stories are part of a Season, there won't be wildly different endings in each episode (excluding the last episodes).

  • However, you can provide players information such as:

    • Their play style

    • Key decisions they made

    • How much they improved their stats or relationships with other characters

Content Balance & Budget

  • Each episode should aim for 10-15 min of gameplay.

  • We found this is approximately 5,000 to 6,000 words of text (before scripting).

  • Each season is 3-8 episodes.

  • Each episode will likely feature:

    • 2-5 Actors

    • 1-3 Sets

    • 3-5 Images

    • Approximately 25-35 Choices