§7.9. The Flow of Conversation

All this discussion of conversation commands and ways to model dialogue doesn't address the higher-level design issue: how do we approach writing this material so that it has a rhythm and flow? How do we know when we've created enough conversation? How can we avoid sounding hopelessly stilted when the nature of IF implementation requires us to break our text into small snippets?

While most authors develop their own approaches, there is some general advice that may help, especially for works that have a strong narrative progression.

It helps to have the plot of the game, with all its component scenes, planned in advance. That doesn't mean there can't be any changes later, but having a list of the different scenes can help us remember the different contexts in which information can appear. If we're using Inform's scenes feature, we may even want to restrict some dialogue to be available only during a given scene.

The next step is to go through scene by scene and create the "spine" of the scene. What must be said during this section? Is there anything the player can't leave without knowing? If the player isn't moving the scene forward fast enough, will the other character or characters volunteer information in order to keep the pace going?

It often helps to draft a transcript showing what we imagine as the ideal playthrough of the scene - writing straight through can create a natural flow of dialogue - before dividing the dialogue into pieces for implementation.

Once the scene is complete enough for the player to get through from beginning to end, we can start filling it out. At this point, it sometimes helps to play through the scene a number of times and add new dialogue elements as we think of things that our character might reasonably want to say. Sometimes these additions will turn out to be short tangents from the main flow of a very directed scene; sometimes they might be important branches that lead the scene to an entirely alternate outcome. The main thing is to make sure that, if the scene needs to hit certain points before ending, none of our branches keep the player from returning to the subject at hand.


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