Sunday, October 01, 2017
Storyteller’s Rulebook: Never Move the Story Backwards
What I always preferred about the Zork books as a kid is that there were actually right and wrong answers. You were supposed to pick up on clues and figure out which choices to make. With every choice, if you chose wrong, you would die gruesomely (This is our second time through the series, and this time around, my daughter has realized that it’s more fun to make the bad choice and die every time, because you get to enjoy the gruesomeness, then they send you back to make a better choice.)
Often you have some wizard’s prophesy to give you a hint as to which path to take, but sometimes you have to figure out the wrong choice simply based on your intuitive sense of what makes a better story. Pretty soon, you figure out that you’re always going to die if the choice is anything like, “Go back to the castle and search for a spell to help you defeat this bad guy.”
Stories must always move forward, never backwards. Whenever I’m reading a novel in which the hero encounters an obstacle and retraces his steps the story always loses its momentum.
Of course, if your heroes are telling you that they want to go back and get something from home, you have to listen to that, but your response should be to cut off that path and force them forward. Another thing that happens often in the Zork books is that they’ll enter a chamber and an iron door will slam shut behind them.
Of course, one thing to do is to literally blow up anyplace that the hero is done with, so that there’ll be no temptation to return there. Nothing propels your hero forward more effectively than an explosion. (This goes back to an old rule: Take away the safe spaces.)