Updated 25 September 2018.
Note: My series on Writing Digital Fiction is also a useful (more in-depth) resource.
What is Digital Fiction?
Digital fiction (DF) as we understand it here at Wonderbox is:
Fictional stories that are written and read on digital devices, using some element of digital interactivity or expression (e.g., links, multimedia, gameplay). DF stories would lose something – or everything – if they were expressed in print form only.
For more thorough (and scholarly) overviews of what digital fiction is, have a look at the [S]creed for Digital Fiction, and Reading Digital Fiction’s overview.
Examples of DF include (but are definitely not limited to!) interactive fiction, text adventure games, hypertexts, Flash fictions (the ones built in Adobe Flash), multimedia fiction, mobile story apps, enhanced books, and more. We review a lot of these across a breadth of styles and platforms here on Wonderbox.
Writing Digital Fiction
(Previously posted on the Reading Digital Fiction website.)
Digital writers have historically used a lot of different platforms, often proprietary software that was both expensive, and repurposed for digital fiction. Luckily, a lot has changed as digital fiction has grown in popularity, and there are now a number of really great, inexpensive/free/open-source, built-for-purpose platforms for burgeoning digital writers to choose from.
The first step is always to check out existing digital fictions (start with our suggestions for readers and reading groups, and also review those collected at the Electronic Literature Collection and the Interactive Fiction Database), to get familiar with how digital fiction works, and be inspired by the different styles and genres you can write in.
It’s worth noting that game developers often use Twine, or Twine-like environments, as planning and organizational tools for their game design. Even if you choose to go on to other platforms, Twine’s easy-to-use, visual mapping space can be a valuable tool for digital writing.
Texture is a more recently developed platform, but it is already showing promise. Texture provides a WYSIWYG platform to create interactive narratives. Check out some of the Texture stories already written, and write/publish your own.
ChoiceScript is the platform used for Choice of Games fictions, and is freely available. If you enjoy CoG, or “multiple-choice games”, this is a good option.
InkleWriter creates interactive stories in a scrolling visual that mimics the look of book pages, a nice crossover between interactivity and print-based stories.
Unfortunately, Inklewriter announced it would be shutting down in August 2018.
free | open source | download | parser-based | interpreter required | platform independent
On the purely text-based front of interactive fiction (a.k.a. text-adventure games) is Inform7 and TADS. Through these platforms, you can create parser-based interactive fictions in the mode of the old commercial games of the 1980s (think Zork or Colossal Cave Adventure). The form has turned to more of a literary bent in recent years, and experienced a resurgence.
free | Windows-only | parser-based | interpreter required
Adrift is another interactive fiction/text adventure game tool. It is unfortunately Windows-only, but the benefit is that it is menu-driven rather than requiring you to learn a new coding language.
free | browser-based/Windows | parser-based | HTML output
Quest allows you to create interactive fictions of the Inform7/TADS style, but without the need to learn the specific coding language.
free | open source | download | Python-based | platform independent
Ren’Py and Novelty are Python-based visual novel engines. Both are free, and both offer large libraries of VNs to explore, as well as extensive tutorials on how to make them. VNs are more popular in the East Asian market than in the West, as you’ll see from the visual style, but that popularity means they have been around for a while longer, and have more examples and tutorials than some of the other engines.
free | open source | download | Unity 3D-based | platform independent
Fungus is a Unity 3D-based, free open-source platform that allows you to create visual novels, interactive fiction, educational games, and point-and-click stories and games. It requires no coding, though “power users can use Lua scripting to tackle bigger storytelling projects”, according to Fungus. There are plenty of online documentation and tutorials, too.
$39USD+ | download | Mac/Windows
Obviously, judging from its name, Gamemaker is focused on making games. But many games, like walking sims and point-and-clicks, can easily be classified as digital fiction. So if you’re into more visual, game-like stories, give Gamemaker a go.
Massive List of Game Engines
Someone kindly put together this Google Spreadsheet “Another Interactive Fiction Engine List“, which includes many, many more options for creating digital fiction as well as notes on their forms and features. Note: I don’t maintain this list, and the “Last Updated” column is not up-to-date, so some or many of these entries may be obsolete.
£19.97/mo+ | download | MaclWindows
Flash was created as a general-purpose multimedia tool, and as such it’s A) expensive, and B) really robust (although finicky). You pay a lot for it, but you also get a lot (probably more than most digital writers need, given its wide range of uses, from multimedia websites to Flash games). A lot of digital fiction has been created on Flash, and some of the…er…”flashier” works use it well.
The limitations of Flash, of course, are well-known, as Flash has had a rocky relationship with mobile devices.
And finally, don’t forget the e-Book
Remember, e-Books have hypertext functionality! Using tools like Sigil and Calibre, enterprising digital writers can create hypertexts that can be enjoyed on any device, and sold through all major e-book sellers (including Amazon and the iBookstore). Our Hyperbooks project has started down this route in order to explore the commercialization potential of digital fiction and hypertexts, and we welcome all digital writers to join us!
Have other platforms or tools you like or that you built? Comment on this post with them and we’ll add them to the page.
Reading Digital Fiction
Resources for Reading DF (includes links to some great introductory DFs)
Resources for Reading Groups
Where to find DF:
Have suggestions for resources? Comment on this post with them, and we can update the page.
Updated 25 September 2018.