Sana Stories

It’s never been, simultaneously, both easier and more difficult to be a fiction writer. On one hand, the internet is filled with helpful free resources for authors and large forum communities that offer support and guidance. On the other hand, as the number of tools and resources for authors expand, everyone can now write a story,  and the competition for getting one’s work seen is higher than ever. It’s very easy for one’s work to drown in the masses. For example: There are currently six million books available for Amazon Kindle – and this number grows everyday.

With so many options from which to choose from for readers, it’s never been more important for authors to find new, creative ways of getting their stories to stand out from the rest and engage others. One way to achieve this could be by utilizing branching stories together with us at Sana.

Using branching stories creates interactive storytelling that puts the reader in charge of different situations within the story, and allows them to craft reading experiences that are unique to them. It allows the reader to take the characters’ stories into their own hands, and thus enabling them to develop unique connections with the characters.

Imagine a story in which a man and a woman meet by chance at a coffee shop. They have a conversation and sparks begin to fly. The man then prompts the woman with a question: “Hey, what are you doing tonight? Fancy a few drinks?” In a traditional story, the author would already have decided that the woman would say yes, and the two of them would head out on their romantic date. In an interactive story, the reader could be left with two options: Have the woman say “Yes, of course!” or “Oh no, not today..”. Depending on the choice made by the reader, the man and the woman would either go on a romantic date, or they’d part ways – for now.

Branching stories with interactive storytelling have been around for decades, but only recently have writing tools for authors become more popular and accessible. We at Sana are also developing our own writing tool for branching stories. One of our main objectives with the tool is that any author could with our tool create or experiment with simple story structures for interactive branching stories, without needing to have any experience with interactive fiction or other writing tools. As an author finishes creating a branching story with our writing tool, it can then be submitted to us for publication within the Sana Stories app, where it’s then available to be read and enjoyed by all the Sana Stories app users. Authors are compensated based on how much their story is read.

Reading is an experience, and branching stories is a proven concept of making that experience even more memorable for the reader, while it allows the author to build even more complex worlds and situations for their characters. With a little help, any author has the potential to take on the world of interactive storytelling!

Would you like a sneak-peak at our incoming writing tool for creating branching stories? Before we officially launch the tool for everyone to use, we would like to conduct a test session where we ask authors to try out our tool and give us feedback in order to help us make the tool the best it can be. It doesn’t matter to us if you’re a beginner in interactive storytelling, or an expert in the field, all feedback is welcome!

Additionally: Should you complete a story while testing our writing tool and want to publish it in our Sana Stories app, then we would like to offer a testing fee of 100€/118$ or a giftcard for the same sum, to show our appreciation for helping us polish the tool.

We also offer royalties from your story being read in our app. Do you want to be one of our testers, or wan’t to know more? Send us an email at company@10thmuse.net or reach out to us on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter and we will happily tell you more!

In the 1985 edition of her comic strip “Dykes To Watch Out For”, American cartoonist Allison Bechel invented the concept of the Bechdel test. The test is designed to critique the representation of women in media, and asks if two women in a work of fiction can hold a conversation about something other than a man. While the test is not meant to be used as a be-all-end-all basis for judging female character representation, but rather as a means to understand and critique the presence of women in fictional media. 

The Bechdel test inspired a wave of similar tests to judge the representation of people of color, members of the LGBT community, and other marginalized groups. Among these tests were also more detailed and diverse waves of judging female representation, including the Sexy Lamp Test, invented by American cartoonist and English-language manga adapter Kelly Sue DeConnick. The Sexy Lamp test asks, if a female character was replaced by a literal sexy lamp, would the story change at all?

Many media critics find the Sexy Lamp test to be, in a way, more telling than the Bechdel test on which it was based.  While the Bechdel test questions how female characters are written, the Sexy Lamp test questions their relation to the story as a whole, and whether or not they even matter. Is it better to have two women fight over a man in a work of fiction, or to have one woman who simply exists in the narrative, but doesn’t do anything more than simply exist and be sexy? 

A famous example of a sexy lamp can be found in the character Cosette, from the 1862 literary classic “Les Miserables”. Critics of media have had their issues with Cosette’s character since before the concept of Sexy Lamps, or even the Bechdel test, as she is often used as a blank canvas in relation to other characters in the novel. The story happens to and around her, but she is not an active part of the story.

Others have pointed out that Bella Swan, the main female lead in the “Twilight” novel series, could be considered a sexy lamp, as she has no real character arc that’s independent of her male love interest, Edward. 

How To Avoid Sexy Lamps

If an author wants to include a woman or women in their story, they must first ask themselves what purpose do those women serve, and is the story enhanced in some way by the female character? If her role is to exist solely for being the mandatory female in a story, then this character is contradicting its own purpose. This same line of thought can be applied to other character groups as well, such as people of color and members of the LGBT community.  When a piece of media includes members of such a group only for symbolic reasons or to give the illusion of an inclusive story, it is referred to as tokenism, and it is not helpful to the cause of more inclusive and diverse storytelling.

Every character in a story should serve a purpose of their own, and not just exist to have events happen to them. Not every character needs to be as developed as a story lead character, but all characters in a story should have a cause, or influence the story in some way. If authors can commit to writing more well-rounded characters, especially more well-rounded female characters, then the readers’ experiences could benefit exponentially!

Character cliches and tropes are almost always negative, and can quite often imply that an author has not taken enough time to develop their character, or that they are relying on stereotypes to paint their character’s identity. We’ve sat down and compiled a list of character tropes that we wish existed, and that we think authors could use instead.

The Badass Who Loves Cats

He’s a bad boy that doesn’t play by the rules. He breaks hearts and laws all the same. . He seems invincible, untouchable – but he’s got one weakness that paws at his hearts: cats. We can already imagine a story in which someone falls for this rebel without a cause, only to come home with him to find he’s got two cats who he treats like royalty!

LGBT Farmers

The farmer stereotype in media usually portrays a man in overalls throwing heavy hay bales with his bare hands. Usually, he’s some kind of older “grandfather” character, with old-fashioned views on life and society. But we know from experience that farmers come in more flavors than just one. We’d love to see a romance story featuring two farmers who are members of the LGBT community, and how their unconventional farm ways affect their dating lives. Yeehaw!

Nerdy Arabs

We spoke to an Arab friend recently who expressed deep frustration with the way Arabs are usually portrayed in media. In his view, it’s rare to see an Arab character that he can relate to. The average Arab in media is either trying to break free from overbearing parents or portraying any number of negative, racist stereotypes. For once, our friend said, he’d love to read about an Arab character that’s just as goofy and nerdy as he is. Someone who likes comic books and fandoms, and who spends his days playing video games, or watching superhero films.

Smart People Who Are Also Kind

We’ve all come across the typical “smug nerd” character in a story. They know everything and frequently have the social skills or patience to make them likable. We’d love to see more well-developed characters who are smart and solve problems, but who are also kind to those around them, and who have more depth than just inelegance.

Non-Binary People Who Are Normal

It’s rare to see non-binary characters in media. In the rare cases that a non-binary character is well-developed, they are almost always a caricature of queerness, with the author trying to tick off as many LGBTQ+ stereotypes in one go.  In reality, the non-binary experience is not nearly as glamourous or over-the-tp, with the average “enbie” wanting to simply be accepted for who they are.

Plus-Sized People Who Are Also Fit

The role of plus-sized people in media is almost always as comic relief.  In reality, millions of plus-sized people live happy lives and don’t appreciate only being portrayed negatively in media. A character who is both curvy and a fitness fanatic would do wonders for representation and could help show the world that there are many different kinds of “healthy” bodies. 

Bisexuals Who Are Serious

Bisexuality is a valid sexual identity, in which a person is attracted to both men and women. In media, bisexual women are usually portrayed as not really being interested in women, or as only being bisexual after a night of drinking. In the real world, bisexuals of any gender are not just sexual playthings, but rather people who fall in love with others for who they are, not what they are.  We’d love to see more stories about bisexual love that acknowledge bisexuality as a serious sexual identity.

Have you read, or even better, written a story with one of these characters in it? We want to know! Our CEO especially wants to hear about the badass with cats! 😉

 

Starting to write interactive fiction can seem like staring into the vast waters, the possibilities within the genre like waves crashing in, unable to steer the boat clear of the storm.
In this post, we’ll discuss five simple steps an author can take when beginning to test the waters of writing branching stories.

1. Read Some Interactive Fiction

Reading interactive stories of different lengths and genres is a great way to find out what has been done before. It is essential for an author to understand how such stories should flow and connect. Some interactive stories are longer and can be more complex than others. We recommend reading a variety of different stories to get a grasp of what possibilities there are. The Sana app features both short stories with relatively simple branchings like “Flyover States” and “Under your Skin”, and longer more complex stories like “The Primrose” and its sequel “The Primrose and the Royal Pirate Brigade”. As for physical books, we would recommend reading “My Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel” by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris or “Romeo and/or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure” by Ryan North. Understanding what’s possible, what has been done before, and identifying what readers find the most interesting is one of the most important steps an aspiring author can take before beginning their own interactive story writing journey.

2. Decide On Your Level of Complexity

As mentioned before, interactive stories can be either as simple or complex as the author want it to be. However, we recommend that authors keep the structure of their first interactive stories simple and not too convoluted. A simple and straightforward “A or B” choice structure will help the first stories not be too overwhelming for the author to write. All published stories in the Sana app are made using a simple 2-choice branching system, and yet there’s no limit to how simple or complicated they can be. Our team thinks that this system is ideal for anyone who wants to create their own branching stories.

3. Make an Outline

Creating an outline is a helpful step in creating any written work, but when it comes to writing interactive stories, creating an outline is essential. An outline helps the author better understand where their story is going and how the choices available to the reader are being connected to the main plot. In an outline, the author defines the basic idea of their story, major plot points, and where and how the reader will be able to interact with the story. An outline helps the author stay focused and allows them to concentrate on how the reader’s choices will connect with one another. This makes it also easier to early on spot potential problems with the story structure or plot.

4. Get Some Feedback

Receiving feedback from people who regularly read and/or write interactive stories is a great way to understand how stories can be optimized and improved. Asking for feedback in the early stages of a creative endeavor might seem intimidating, but feedback gained in the early stages of the writing process can really save time and headaches later on. Keeping an open mind and being open to feedback and critique will help make the story the best it can be! We recommend asking for feedback from places like the interactive fiction subreddit or the Interactive Fiction Community Forum.

5. Write!

Once your story has a solid outline, it’s time to really start writing! While some dialog and other pieces of text might have been drafted out during the outline process, it is now that those pieces and the rest of the story becomes more fleshed out. Remember to keep your writing documents well organized and have your story sections clearly labeled, trust us on this one -writing interactive fiction in a linear matter can get very disorienting very quickly-

Trying something new, and stepping out of one’s comfort zone aren’t always an easy thing to do, but with some proper research, planning, listening to feedback and practice, we think that any author can make the jump from traditional fiction to branching fiction!

Have you thought about creating an interactive story? Are you looking for a tool to test the waters on for your first interactive story? Or are you an already experienced writer who’s looking for an intuitive and simple-to-use tool for you to write your new interactive story on, or are you interested in converting some of your existing work into a more immersive experience for your readers? 

We at Sana Stories are currently developing our own tool for creating branching stories. Right now we are looking for writers who could test our yet unpublished tool and give us feedback. We would be happy to receive feedback from anyone who would like to play around with it. However, should you complete a piece while testing our writing tool and want to publish it in our Sana app, then we would like to offer a testing fee of 100€/118$ or a giftcard for the same sum, to show our appreciation for helping us polish the tool. We would also offer royalties from your story being read in our app.

If you would like to be a tester of our writing tool, or wan’t to know more, send us an email at company@10thmuse.net or reach out to us on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter and we will gladly tell you more!