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

Locations

 
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You'll be able to request art for locations that sense for your story. These locations 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.

Items

 
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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

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

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.

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.


Basics of Creating Messaging Stories

Creating Messaging stories on our platform is easy! In the next section you'll learn how to create stories with:

  • Actor Dialogue
  • Narration
  • Passage of Time
  • Visuals