Tracing the Story

When writing a visual novel, or any highly interactive story, one challenge faced by the writer is keeping track of all the different story branches and where they go. Do they lead to a bad ending? Do they go off in a different direction? Do they eventually merge back together? Do some decisions have consequences that don’t show up until later in the story?
Some writers are very good at keeping all their plot details straight in their head, with a minimum of a notes, outlines, and the like. I’m one of them. However, once you start adding interactivity and branching paths, that quickly becomes impossible for all but the simplest stories. If you want to write that kind of story, no matter how good your memory and organization, you need something to track the story flow.

Being a game designer and writer, I’ve seen a lot of different methods used to chart interactive stories. Word documents and Excel files are easy to make and access, but tend to get extremely unwieldy the larger they get. Html sites and wiki are easy to browse and update, but make it difficult to get an easy view of the story flow at large. There’s even a very nice professional program designed specifically for working with interactive stories, but it’s moderately expensive and limits you to a single proprietary file format.
If you don’t need to cram a lot of detail into each node on your story chart, the best method is probably to make a standard flowchart, which is what I’m doing with Aurora’s Nightmare. While they lack detail, they make it easy to take in the flow of the story at a glance and trace all the different paths. They also make for a nice walkthrough of sorts for players, if they’re released publically.

My problem was finding a good way to make my flowchart. Word has some barebones flowchart drawing tools, but they’re fairly limited (especially by page sizes). I’ve also drawn flowcharts in Photoshop, though it lacks any actual flowchart tools, so it’s basically free drawing and can be a bit of a pain. I started out doing the AN flowchart in Word, but recently switched to a free flowchart program I found online. I may talk about it more in a future post if it works out well. In the end, I may even make my development flowchart available to players on this site, GameFAQs, or some such after AN is released, as it will help completionists looking to see every single scene.