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What does storytelling software Twine have to offer young writers?

  

After a chance bit of Googling this week, I stumbled across Twine - an interactive storytelling platform for building text-based games. It is a platform with potential for developing narrative in our schools.

⌚ 6 minutes
 

I have spent my summer reading. After spending lockdown in Thailand with a rapidly deleting selection of books (reading A Casual Vacancy was a last resort), coming back to a house of full bookshelves was a treat. It felt good for the soul to escape the worries of the present by slipping into another, fictional world whose problems were not my concern. I have also been playing a lot of computer games, revisiting many of the games that I enjoyed as a child: The Settlers, Civilisation, Frontier Elite, Rome Total War. If you're not a 1990s computer game fan then, no, you're not alone but please indulge me as I reminisce. This summer, with time on my hands, I started to think seriously about why it was I enjoy playing these games, and why they seem to offer the same level of escape and deep immersion as reading a book.
 

As a teacher of writing, I have a deep interest in how we lose ourselves in stories, how we 'narrativise' our thoughts and how we play in fictional worlds. The games I like are open-ended and allow me to choose the narrative path I follow. In playing them, I find I am internalising a narrative about myself as the storyteller. I am the mastermind behind the strategy for global dominance in Rome: Total War, I am the master architect of the village in Settlers. Yes, unbelievably I am also married.

Playing games is like daydreaming in the world of a book, something I am also guilty of. They are fun but they are more than a simple distraction. Open-ended strategy games are absorbing - the 'flow' of engagement as it has been termed. These games encourage a growing and satisfying mastery of the skills - satisfying because you feel in control of how the game is panning out. They require strategy and tactics to complete, strategies that can be refined or experimented with over time. In many ways these types of games link to my interest in teaching children the power of authorship and the satisfaction of creating an imaginary world.

In primary education, games are used to teach the skills of coding (Scratch animation) or as a form of engagement (Mathletics, Reading Eggs) but seldom are they taught for their narrative qualities. Minecraft might be an exception and even then it is not universally used in schools. We don't necessarily use games as a form of play (digital play) and it is children's imaginative play that is key to being creative, to stepping beyond what is possible and into a creative space. So, do games and digital storytelling platforms have something to add as we try to nurture children's creative talent? I think they do, and I will return to this theme again over the next few months (I feel a vlog series coming on, try not to throw up).   

Get to the point! What is Twine?
 

Searching for something that encourages digital play but also helps children discover narrative, I stumbled across Twine www.twinery.org. Twine is a free online platform that allows users to create online text-based adventure games (similar to choose-your-own adventure books). The software is free to download and fairly intuitive to use. I watched this short video www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnARX2ToqYc and had started playing around with it about 10 minutes later. 

 

What is interesting about Twine is that it doesn't require you to have extensive knowledge of coding or programming - a few simple codes are enough to get you started. You write short paragraphs of text, just a few sentences long, and then you present the reader with two or more options as to how the character should progress. This is called a 'branching narrative' as each option looks like a forked branch of a tree. This starts to build a step by step story where all the potential choices are mapped out - it is this narrative map through which your reader has to navigate. At a more advanced stage, images and photos can be added.

The start of my interactive story map - note the different paths through the story.

And this matters because?
 

There is strong potential for using this in primary literacy throughout KS2. I think it has the following benefits:

  • helps young writers deepen their understanding of character development - the choices characters make impacts the outcome of the story
  • it encourages genuine experimentation with narrative - this seems to be an obstacle for achieving greater depth in writing at KS2
  • promotes independence and control over writing process - children can determine several outcomes for their stories
  • gives purpose to writing - these stories can be shared online for others to read
  • encourages collaboration, negotiation, discussion - this platform is ideal for children to writing in teams
  • digital literacy - allows children to engage with a digital technology in a meaningful way

An example story step in draft mode. Notice the two choices in the double square brackets - these are the options for the reader.

So what?

I am considering using this software as part of a creative writing workshop in a primary school, possibly as an after-school club. I think it would be interesting to observe how children use this platform and in what ways, and to what extent, it impacts on their identity as writers. I think it could be a lot of fun too.


For now, I have started work on a story for my nephew to try out inspired by the classic text-based game Sea Base Delta but with a twist. I'll share some updates as I go along. In the meantime, if you have used Twine or have some suggestions, please get in touch.


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