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This is a request for a catch-all tag for nonlinear, branching narratives, Choose Your Own Adventure® gamebooks, choice fiction (Twine), interactive fiction (text adventures), and the stochastic/procedural storytelling used for visual novels and video game cutscenes.

Writing.SE questions include:

An existing tag is , but notice none of the above questions made the connection, and I also didn't realize this tag existed until I searched the Tags page for "gamebook" (which doesn't exist). I think videogame conjures something professionally specific, ie: the videogame industry (a look at that tag seems to confirm this). It doesn't suggest the exquisite corpse assemblage aspect which would be more along the lines of "branching" or "nonlinear".

NEEDED WRITING COMMUNITY

I haven't been able to find many branching narrative resources for writers. Communities are scattered around specific software or niche genre (Otome Japanese romance visual novels), discussion is usually gamer criticism ("FallOut 3's story ruined the game"). A few blogs generalize about branching structure, but never seem to get past an introduction.

Crossover topic with Game Developer, however a Writers-approach is probably more important, and game developers sometimes view narrative as a limitation to player agency, or an unnecessary add-on, so the topic is not always welcome.

I SUGGEST "BRANCHING NARRATIVE"

Pro:

  • "Branching Narrative" seems to be the best-known term for a story with dynamically assembled elements, especially that lead to multiple endings.
  • it's a Search Engine term. Google re-routes to Nonlinear Gameplay: Branching Storylines
  • "Nonlinear" is technically correct, but could be misinterpreted as "timeline", "flashback", etc. "Branching Narrative" is less correct but hard to mistake.

Con:

  • "Branching Narrative" conjures a choice interface, but might actually be text parsing, random or value-based, puzzle-solving, character interaction, map location, inventory item, social, etc. The underlying game mechanics are separate from the writing.
  • suggests a story-length structure of pre-written paths, but the storyengine might use other processes such as generators and storyloops to construct potentially endless variations, like the novel generators in NaNoGenMo.
  • omits granular text like Tracery, Chatbots, and Pirate Translator libraries.

Branching Narrative could be used with other tags to narrow the topic: "characters", "structure", "tense", "planning", "tools", etc.

ALTERNATIVES Alternatives might be: branching, nonlinear, interactive, game

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would be a good tag and we should create it

The reasons are already stated in the question, I just want to point out a few things.

A branching storyline doesn't necessarily mean that we are talking about a videogame, because for example gamebooks ("Choose Your Own Adventure"-style books) would deal with this issue, too, and while these could be videogames when using for example a website to play them, such as ChoiceOfGames.com, you could just as well have a printed book like the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. In this case the tag name game would be more appropriate, but game would probably include other things. Imagine you were supposed to write the backstory or rules for a board- or cardgame. The focus of a game tag would probably be on other aspects than the specific issue of dealing with branching storylines that you as the writer have to deal with.

The alternatives and strike me as not really telling the user what they are about. With we would have a tag that would tell the reader that it's about issues a writer might have with the narrative without even looking at the tag wiki. Otherwise someone might ask themselves whether these tags are for example used when asking about processes or approaches to writing, such as when asking whether you should work on one piece of writing at a time or on multiple pieces at a time, or multiple slightly different versions of the same book at a time - a nonlinear approach where you are skipping between worlds and having branched drafts that you are working on.

Or people might think that "branching" is about "branching out" to get some new experience in a different field, such as in the question How can I freelance remotely for overseas advertising agencies as a writer? . People could also mistake this to be about and branches used there to distinguish different versions that people are working on.

doesn't really convey the feeling of being about problems you encounter when writing such a multi-branch story. It looks like it could be about interactive tools that help you write your story instead of being an element in the writing problem itself.

I completely agree with the Pro section of the question.

The narrative is independent of the game mechanics and our focus should be on the narrative. Game mechanics and their impact would be better served over on GameDev.SE. The mechanics might play a role when mentioning requirements about your writing, such as when you are basing everything on locations but not knowing how to keep track of what happens where and needing for example or that help you with this issue, but the mechanics shouldn't be the focus of the question.

might actually be another topic that might be worth a new tag if we have some questions that deal specifically with them. Questions like Resource for generic plot hooks? might profit from being categorized in a special category that deals with engines that are helping you to come up with stuff. Looking at the NaNoGenMo page linked in the question it says for example:

The "novel" is defined however you want. It could be 50,000 repetitions of the word "meow".

This shows that such a generator does not necessarily need a branching storyline. Maybe a generator is used to develop each branch of a multi-branch story, but in such a case I would say it would be a good idea to tag a question with both and . Maybe this could go together with the granular text category mentioned in the question so that we have a tag that is used for text generation in general, no matter if it's trying to be coherent, translating stuff or just creating more of less random stuff?


A tag that might be important to think about in the context of this question is . The tag assumes one continuous storyline and should therefore get a tag wiki update when we create to say that this is the main difference. Something like:

This tag should be used on questions that deal with a continous storyline, though the timeline could change if you are writing a story that involves timetravel. Contrast this with the tag [branching-narrative], which should be used for questions that deal with multiple possible storylines that depend on the choices of the person interacting with your work. A "choice" in this context could be a conscious choice, a quest-item in the characters inventory, the amount of interactions with certain other characters, ...

  • "Story-engine" is a good idea… Alternate terms (or more info text) might be "-runtime" or "-generator" but it's getting back into game mechanics territory…. "Modular" is also a term I thought might help focus on the text, for instance writing prefab replies to an inquiry letter might be "modular" as a series of include options (it's not a very pretty term)…. I also like your idea of including plot/idea generators. Name generators has had recent discussion, NPC chatter, and ways to insert conditional text (if door=unlocked: display this extra paragraph)…. Still needs the granular level. – wetcircuit Apr 23 '18 at 14:24
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    @wetcircuit I created branching-narrative and updated storyline. Feel free to propose additional tag wiki edits. When we get some more questions that go in the direction of "story-engine" we should revisit this discussion. Currently I only see one question that would be usefully tagged as such, and it's not useful to have a tag for a single question. – Secespitus May 23 '18 at 9:23
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The conventional umbrella term appears to be "non-linear narrative" and I therefore propose that we use this term for a tag.


Branching narrative is just one of several kinds of non-linear narrative. For example, reverse chronology, where a non-branching story is told from the end to its beginning, or flashbacks, flashforwards, and threaded narratives –

enter image description here

– are non-linear narrative techniques that do not involve branching. Branching also implies a tree-like increase in storylines, where multiple endings follow from one beginning, while the opposite, merging storylines, are also possible:

enter image description here

Other non-narrative, non-branching narratives include parallel, non-intersecting narratives:

enter image description here

and open worlds:

enter image description here


"Non-linear narrative" is the term for keywords on Wikipedia:

"Non-linear narrative" is the preferred term on the internet, with 106,000 hits on Google, and in academic sources, with 3690 hits on Google Scholar, while "branching narrative" returns 42,500 and 637 hits respectively.

In books, "non-linear narrative" is a clear favourite also (graph from Google Ngram Viewer):

enter image description here

  • That's because "non-linear narrative" means something else. Did you google it? Did you even read your own links??? The problem is already addressed in the OP. – wetcircuit Apr 24 '18 at 10:09
  • In your question, you use "nonlinear" and "branching" synonymously. So clearly you don't see them as "something else". As the terms are used in the literature, "non-linear narrative" is usually an umbrella term, and "branching narrative" is one kind of non-linear narrative. I have said and explained this in my answer. – user29032 Apr 24 '18 at 11:08
  • Can't we have 'non-linear' as a synonym for 'branching'? – Galastel Apr 26 '18 at 10:49
  • @Galastel That would be like having "fiction" as a synonym for "novel". – user29032 Apr 26 '18 at 11:14

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