Drama Isn’t Optional

Us interactive fiction writers have a unique enemy. A foe capable of tearing apart our stories at the seams, like a vampire that drains all of our carefully-crafted tension and drama. What’s worse, that emotion-sucking monster is inside you and me. The desire to avoid conflict is very human, and when given the choice—even in fiction—we have a tendency to avoid clashing with others.

Talk about boring! This article is going to detail what drama is, why every scene needs to have it, and why us readers crave it—all while trying to avoid it at the same time. But before we continue, your input for the following question will be very useful:

Your first ronin in SoH, is he/she Impulsive or Calculated?

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What is drama?
Drama is conflict, and occurs whenever our main character rubs up against opposition—be it in the form of a samurai, bad weather or himself/herself. This rubbing can take a thousand forms, and is required for both tragedies and comedies, and everything in between. Drama needs opposition and an uncertain outcome.

This is at the heart of what causes your readers to turn the page. Creating characters who are naturally at odds with eachother is a fantastic idea. It’s why writing scenes with the pragmatic MC and the idealistic Masami/Masashi are so easy and fun for me to do.

Every scene needs conflict (drama)
‘Conflict’ has a stigma of being something negative, but it’s not. It gives your actions meaning and gives value to the outcome. And this doesn’t just apply to fictional characters. Look at the obituaries to see just how much we value the result of our struggles. Be it raising a family or raising up the ranks to vice chairman—it’s worth writing down!

“Every scene needs conflict” is a very useful mantra to have. It forces you to think beyond what happens in your scene, prompting you to ask yourself “Why does it happen?” and “What meaning does it have?” Here is where character motivations should spring up, and when they don’t come easily you know you need to rework the scene.

[Spoilers for Samurai of Hyuga Book 2 ahead]

Look for this feedback
“I wish I was given the option to not [insert something that causes drama here].”

It’s a valid critique but be careful—the worst fix is to write an additional choice that subverts the drama and intensity of your scene. Choices should raise the stakes and add energy into the room. The solution I’ve found is to make every choice feel reasonable, even if none of them are. You want a protagonist who is aware, and no fool. Even when he/she acts foolish!

A great way of making every choice feel reasonable is by having MC explain his/her reasoning to the reader. By doing this at the start of each choice branch, we can’t help but agree and get carried along with his/her thought process:

“I’m sorry, but this isn’t a vacation. Stay alert.”

I couldn’t look at Masami without seeing a blade against her throat. The fear of losing her was etched into my mind as permanently as a cow’s branding. The truth was that Junko was still out there. Still hunting me. As long as both of Sensei’s pupils still drew breath, my shugenja was in danger.
———
“Don’t let me stop you. Go ahead and have some fun.”

Masami deserved a break more than any of us did. Anything to help her forget what had happened in Jijinto. Though I didn’t think any amount of festivities could erase the terror Junko inflicted. I could only hope the kid’s spirit recovered cleaner than my body did—with less scars to show.

 
Impulsive vs Calculated
I’m going to feel silly if I’m wrong, but my guess is that a decent majority of players opted to play a Calculated ronin in their first playthrough. This ties in with risk and conflict aversion, which often means being driven by thoughts over emotions. It’s very natural to want to “not make mistakes”, but that sort of thinking doesn’t lead to much drama.

The solution is that being logical shouldn’t kill the tension. You should think of it as a different approach to setting up and escalating conflict. In this example, Hatch has just blown the team’s ryō on a set of smelly armor for MC:

Toshio obliged. “Hachirobei-san has fallen victim to a forgery. In exchange for Kiso-chan, our horse, he was offered a black suit of obsidian armor said to have been used by the Emperor himself.” The ninja let out a sigh before adding, “Satsuma-sama has never adorned armor, especially not a suit covered in soy sauce.”

I took a deep breath to calm my nerves. After taking in a noxious whiff of the sour smell coming from Hatch’s rucksack, I spoke.

#(CALCULATED) “Obsidian is brittle, sharp and heavy. About the opposite of what you look for in protection.”
#(IMPULSIVE) “Mind explaining why you felt we needed a suit of smelly armor in the first place?”
#“I’m just surprised how someone born in Jijinto can be so trusting.”

 
This tiny conflict hardly ends up in a fistfight, but it does enter into a climax when Hatch reveals his intentions were good: “Just didn’t want you gettin’ hurt again.” The resolution is that MC can’t hold a grudge and can’t believe someone else is worried for his/her well-being.

11 Comments

  1. I chose calculated ronin ^^ I usually don’t like to play as impulsive characters, but your writing is SO good that I enjoy every combination of MC’s personality.

    Do you have a favorite character in SoH? Don’t say the ronin, she/he is everyone’s favorite hehe. I think mine’s Jun because he’s really complex and his traumatic past shared with the ronin is so interesting and relevant to their character development. Their romance is toxic as hell but that just makes it more dramatic, especially if your ronin is protective. The whole “I don’t want him to hurt anyone but I can’t kill him”. Because she CAN’T. And I believe Jun can’t kill her either. (Sorry for using these pronouns and names, I’m used to these genders in SoH). I can’t wait to see where this whole conflict leads our ronin.

    Never stop writing, you’re really talented! OH and also: thank you for allowing the player to play as both genders, it means a lot to me because many games only have male protagonists and even though I enjoy them I’d prefer to play as a woman. A badass and sassy ronin woman. (Best MC in the world don’t fight me on this). And the fact that some characters change their gender if you have this or that sexuality is AMAZING. You improved so much in that regard because I played Fatehaven but the whole time it seemed like MC was supposed to be a man and x romantic options a woman, so I stopped playing because it was weird to me. This doesn’t happen at all in SoH, I’ve played as a male and female ronin with every combination of sexuality too and everything feels natural. So thank you <3

    • I’m glad you enjoy playing both impulsive and calculated ronin. MC is far and away my favorite character, and has to be since my entire narration is done through him/her! But second would probably be Masami/Masashi, because there’s always constant conflict with the MC when she/he is around. The shugenja is also the most physically animated when she/he talks, which is fun to visualize.

      Junko/Jun is definitely going to be someone that romance fans can look forward to, but she/he will also be extremely difficult for me to write, given the four gender-sexuality possibilities in SoH. Gender and sexuality dynamics make romance in CYOA games very difficult, creating constant mini-branches and can, in some cases, alter large and future ones. But I am very happy that you have found my efforts worthwhile!

      • I randomly got your book on the store i was bored to death but man i think that was divine intervention right there you gave me a new reason to enjoy reading it almost felt like the first time i played mass effect being able to make my own choices make me feel so damn good ahaha i buyed the second book right after finishing the first i was so nervous for my lil waifu i went straight impulsive your writhing is godlike level and nerve wracking for me but this is what make your so special take your time thinking about each words you tips im looking forward to seeing my badass don’t fck with my masami chan ronnin again

  2. Love reading these “thoughts” or whatever I should call this.
    Samurai of Hyuga is probably my most favourite interactive novel I have ever played and I can’t wait for the third book to finally happen. Until then, however, I’m fairly happy with these little “peeks” into author’s – your – mind. Very very interesting and inspirational!

    And yes, also calculated.

  3. Just discovered your work. The writing is wonderful, and I’m impressed with the protagonist’s strong personality despite its flexibility.

    For the record, yes, my PC is a calculated alligator. But she’s also brutal and a perv, so her “calculations” often lead to hilarious conclusions. I laughed out loud during the Saburo scene where he realizes (to his horror) PC was pondering the physics of suspended sex!

    Being part of a writers’ group, the topic you discuss here is something we’re always bringing up. Conflict is what makes a story, no matter how large or small. Otherwise we’d all be craving tales about the idyllic lives of goatherds instead of scruffy, violent ronin.

    You’ve been doing with the romances, too. Plenty of conflict there. My main interest is Toshio, and the slow burn between him and Ronin is killing me (in a good way). As often as they disagree, I feel like there’s mutual respect and growth there. It was great to see Tosh lower his guard a bit during the beach scene in book 2. I’m desperate for “more” with him, but I’m still not sure where he stands, and the pace you’ve set makes it realistic. I feel like Tosh expresses affection in his own, understated way. He’s always finding excuses to touch Ronin, and I gotta’ think it’s about more than simply wanting to read her palms all the time…

    Masashi is adorable and it’s fun teasing him, but I’d feel wrong taking advantage of my young charge before he has a chance to fully grow up. It’ll take time. The scenes with Jun are super sexy, and I’m eager to learn more about him. I’m hoping there’s a chance to “save” him and undo the damage he’s suffered, but I’m bracing for the worst. Hatch is sweet but too simpleminded and childish for me (even more than Masashi, the actual kid), so personally I can’t see him as more than a friend.

    Can’t wait to read book 3, and it’s a pleasure hearing about your writing process here!

  4. 1st time to comment here , been reading you silently . But this topic , I just had to share my though . Btw , sorry for misspelling .

    This part of your article ”“I wish I was given the option to not [insert something that causes drama here].”
    It made me laugh so much . Why? because it’s something I see ALOT . When you play RPG games (with choices) , it’s an inevitable war that happen more often then one can count . On one hand you have players who want choices (but are afraid of the consequences) . And then you have those who want choices to matter and the consequences to have impact . But once that happen , you have them fight over why the consequences are so Limited . Why didn’t X die instead of Y , cose Y was SO much better then X , and X should’ve been the one to die cose he is lame .

    I would personally say that choices with consequences are what make the back bones of the story and make it how to say..stand out . It’s the punch to the gut . And I for one , I would bawl if I have to but I do love consequences because it make the character more realistic , more alive , more human .

    As for Impulsive vs Calculated . I see Impulsive as emotional . Calculated is Logic . I played Both , just as I played the Brutal , finess ..charming , chivalrous ..and I think there were more I don’t remember lol .

    These are all important ‘Traits’ that help us choose who we are playing . And I salut you for giving us so many choices to begin with and I do hope you keep giving them to us .

    I do like them both . Because I do think one can be both at the same time . Depand on the situation of course . You can be calculating if you have the time do so and make your move . Say in a duel . Or you could be surrounded and have no time to think and your instinct kick in and act on your emotions hence Impulsive .

    Junko is a psychopath right ? and where is my sexy Doctor ! Bring her back!

    I hate to be *that* person..but..*whine*..when is the next book?

  5. Funny, I’m playing Nier Automata and I’m just notice a BIG ressemblance between my Yuko (chivalrous, stoïc, calculated, protective and finesse) and 2B in their personnality.

    I love these games and while nier automata isn’t going to have a sequel, I’m waiting (drooling?) for SoH 3.

  6. I’ve played through all your works on this site except Azorus (I’ll get around to it, I promise!) and I have to say your style is maturing in fantastic directions. Mid-points of stories tend be less powerful then beginnings and endings to multi-part series, but Chapter 2 really floored me on how much I care about my merry band of idiots. And they truly are idiots. I based my character on Mugen from Samurai Champloo deliberately, to prevent myself from falling into the trap I’ve noticed when I play these games, that everything seems to go too well. It apparently doesn’t matter in this game, but I find myself so attached to my personal idiot that I continue to play him.

    Actually, playing my character is probably the wrong term. I think I’ve said this before, but it feels more like I’m experiencing a story that has a main character who I crafted myself, then let loose upon the world. I sit back and watch what he does. I laugh when he impulsively jumps into the fire and get watery eyes when he shows he has a more heart then he likes to admit.

    In case you’re curious, my character ended up Impulsive, Perverted, Charming with the other 2 status just barely topping 55% for Drifter and Brutal.

  7. I love your story because no matter what we chose for our Ronin we can understand and feel for our Ronin
    we may have some conflicts with our band of misfits but it make them more alive and more attractive to us because we can SEE them as people and not just fictional caractère
    I love Masami for beaing an loveable anoying know it all making me hope for mankind
    I love Junko because she was the joker to my batman
    I love Hach for being an adorable idiot with a heart of gold and a head of steel
    I love Toshie for her no non-sense attitude and her silent caring for the team
    I love Momoko for her story and her want of redemption
    And you know what the “conflict” with have with them just make the icing on a magnificent cake that i’m going to eat and eat again for a long time

  8. Hi! Now, I bought SoH 1&2 just few weeks ago and still replaying to get 100% attunement 🙂
    I’m surprised most played Calculated, my MC is almost always Impulsive, especially when I played for the first time.
    I love your writing style, it’s easy to focus on events and really envision them. I got really nervous when we played Shogi, got sad when MC remembered about his/her childhood and about Gensai and Jun/ko (I’m really curious about their past). Gensai seems like such an interesting person from what I read, and I hope we will have some scenes from the past, where we can interact with him (like memories or something).
    My favourite character is definitely MC, of course. The only problem I saw with the MC is the level of self-deprecation. He/she lived very difficult life and that would be nice if MC got to appreciate themselves a bit more, in a genuine sort of way. I hope in future books we will get to see that.
    It also would be nice if we could choose a bit about how we feel about other characters. I’m not much of a fan of Masami/Masashi (some part of it because it’s mostly Masashi in my playthrough and name makes me think of Masashi Kishimoto :)), that’s why I generally play Drifter, but still, MC seems a bit too attached to a him/her, which probably has to do with the plot, but it would be nice if we could have any kind of impact on this. Similar with other characters: Toshio/e, Hatch, Momoko. I actually rather liked Basho and sad we didn’t get to spend time with him, although I appreciate that you made it possible to meet Ume-Ume again and visit her (scene with her complaining about her daughter’s husband were really great).
    I read on your Twitter that there are around 6 books planned, right? That sounds like a lot of work and I can’t imagine how hard it must be to plan everything and dedicate yourself like this. It’s really amazing.
    Anyway, thank you for your amazing work! You’re wonderful writer and I can’t wait for the continuation of SoH.

  9. I love playing the impulsive ronin.
    I got heavily influenced by “Mugen”, a character of the anime “Samurai Champloo”

    And the impulsive, brutal, perverted ronin is just so much fun to play

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Your first ronin in SoH, is he/she Impulsive or Calculated?

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