Tools of the Trade

Samurai of Hyuga Book 2 Update:
Book 2 has been released!
Follow me on twitter for updates and release dates:

No writer of interactive fiction should use the genre as a gimmick to excuse bad writing. Creating smooth and clear prose is not a matter of style, but the result of techniques and fundamentals. Luckily for the amateur writer like myself, there are decades of eternal teachers out there in print.

Beware of the ‘bad fanfic effect’: where readers willfully ignore poor writing out of sheer love for the characters. Because of this I decided to spend this summer in training—after which I’ll emerge as a half-hearted yet doubly-sober Hemingway!

In all seriousness, I know I can improve. So to start my training I wanted to learn the tools of the trade, and I came across Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark. I can’t explain the benefit of implementing each tool, but I can show you:

Tool 1: Branch to the Right
(Clarify subject and verb first for clarity and narrative energy!)

Ronin like me took these advantages without hesitation. A loose sandal strap during battle was a trip to the ground and the afterlife. The samurai gasped beneath my shadow.

Tool 2: Use Strong Verbs
(Active verbs create action and save words!)

He gave pause, but was far from quaking in fear. A veteran soldier would save his trembles for after the battle had been won. And he would give no thought to the other outcome.
He paused, but didn’t quake in fear. As a veteran soldier he saved his trembles for after the battle was won, giving no thought to the other outcome.

Tool 3: Beware of Adverbs
(Don’t use an adverb when the sentence implies it!)

The ninja stalked quietly atop the rooftops.
The ninja stalked atop the rooftops.

Tool 4: Period As a Stop Sign
(The slight pause magnifies the first and last words of a sentence; hide the less-important ones in the middle!)

“A devastating loss,” the general announced to his men, inside his tent where each man crammed shoulder-to-shoulder. Fear reeked like stagnant sweat after the failed siege.

Tool 5: Observe Word Territory
(Give key words their space and don’t repeat them!)
(However: repetition has it’s use and foundation words like ‘said’ or ‘that’ are often the best to use!)

She discovered an unmistakable sight, finding the ruins of a forgotten people.
She discovered an unmistakable sight—the ruins of a forgotten people.

Tool 6: Play with Words
(Don’t be afraid to use words that are known by readers but avoided by most writers!)

Hatch and I had developed a hankering for the stuff in the mornings. The dark and bitter brew was like liquor but with pep instead of buzz.

Tool 7: Dig for the Concrete and Specific
(Don’t be vague! Write details that make your reader see!)

The mountain air was thin enough to where we each made excuses to stop. I took one sprinkle-less piss break after another, while Toshie fiddled over the same sketch of map. Masami made a habit of impromptu meditation sessions. We wheezed onward at a sluggish pace.

Tool 8!!!: Seek Original Images
(Using cliches is a substitute for thinking!)

This dream had just become a nightmare.
A vision of mine this sweet was destined to turn bitter.
This dream was ruled by my imagination, and I had run out of pleasant thoughts.

Tool 9: Prefer Simple to Technical
(Complicated ideas don’t need to be communicated in complicated prose!)

“Gavelkind,” Toshio explained, “is a law enacted when a ruler dies. His eldest son takes over, and the younger children become vassals. Land is divided equally amongst the heirs, though disputes are as common as they are violent.”

Tool 10: Recognize the Roots of Stories
(Identify and utilize narrative archetypes, but don’t get consumed by them!)

Common archetypes to consider: overcoming obstacles, loss and restoration, a blessing becoming a curse.

Tool 11!!!: Back Off or Show Off
(Resist the urge to show off how clever you are when serious or dramatic things are happening! = UNDERSTATEMENT)
(You can show off more during less crucial moments! = OVERSTATEMENT)

UNDERSTATEMENT: He scraped his fingers across his face, with long nails left unclipped. They left blood trails in their wake. Screams of agony, too.
OVERSTATEMENT: His yellowed nails were sharpened like daggers, though no knife could etch red ink half so well. Recovery was a hope as dashed as a hoed rice paddy.

Tool 12: Control the Pace
(Shorter sentences = more periods = slower pace = clarity + suspense + emotion!)
(Longer sentences = less periods = faster pace = builds energy + gives imagery + metaphors!)

She had gotten away. From them, but not from me. A turn down one alley, back through another. The same direction once and twice over, trying to avoid puddles. Until my splashing footsteps rung in her ears, louder and louder, loud enough to where she no longer dared to look behind her out of fear I’d be there.

Tool 13: Show and Tell
(Use levels of abstraction: low when appealing to senses, high when appealing to intellect!)

The monk swept the floor with vigor, the bristles of his broom making light screeching sounds. Noises to occupy unclean thoughts, the sort which drifted upon the edge of mindfulness and sin. A teetering edge, the monk knew.

Tool 14: Interesting Names
(Writers and readers are attracted to interesting names, make them fit!)

Her name was Sakura Sato, and she was as dull a beauty as the common wallflower.
Her name was Koko Jo, called Kojo by her friends and coo-coo by everyone else.

Tool 15: Reveal Character Traits
(Use scenes, details and dialogue to give the reader evidence of character traits!)

Masashi’s sandals were worn, from use but also from his habit of standing on his toes when he spoke to me. His back would straighten from a slouch, and he would take one or two deep breaths before speaking.

Tool 16: Odd and Interesting Things
(Ironic juxtaposition: when two things, at odds with eachother, are placed side by side and compliment each other!)

For so callous of a man, a nailed club was a back scratcher.

Tool 17: The Number of Elements
(Count your elements: one for power, two for comparison, three for wholeness and four for listing!)

Momoko was quiet.
Momoko was quiet and focused.
Momoko was quiet, focused and determined.
Momoko was quiet, focused, determined and altogether preoccupied.

Tool 18: Internal Cliffhangers
(Place dramatic elements right before a break in action to create a page-turner!)

They needed a bull-headed fool to distract the main force. They needed a disposable samurai, and they hadn’t the shame to hide their stares.

Tool 19: Tune Your Voice
(Be authentic as hell and read your writing out loud!)

I could not have arrived at a more inopportune time, as the bounty on ronin was particularly high.
I couldn’t have arrived at a worse time. There was a bounty out for ronin, and its numbers ran high.

Tool 20: Narrative Opportunities
(Who = Character, What = Action, Where = Setting, When = Chronology, Why = Motivation, How = Process!)

I sank down in my cushion at the center of the shogi hall, late in the afternoon and only for the kid’s sake.

Tool 21: Quotes and Dialogue
(Quotes are heard by the reader, while dialogue is overheard and more intimate!)

QUOTE: “Done some bad things, myself. But I’ve never tried to pawn off katana blades. You see, battlefield looters are maggots to be stepped on.” – MC from Genfu, to Ami the innkeeper’s daughter, for use of blackmail on her father.
DIALOGUE: “Done some bad things, myself,” I comforted her. Put my hand on her shoulder, then clamped down. “But I’ve never tried to pawn off katana blades. You see, battlefield looters,” I smiled, “are maggots to be stepped on.”

Tool 22: Get Ready
(Get as much information as you can before writing!)

SCENE: MC has to inspect and place a bet on a fighter, who will compete in some arena-style battle.
WHAT I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT: arena fighting, body language, combat-desirable physical features, fuedal Japanese weapons, traditions and ceremonies

Tool 23: Place Gold Coins Along the Path
(Give the reader small rewards to motivate them forward! Don’t make everything serious and grim!)

I shuffled slowly forward beneath the shadow of a giant man with an ox-sized axe. On my approach, he spoke with indignant rage, “How can it be that you approach me, Hibiki Adachi, with such swagger and disinterest?!”
I held back a gulp. I wasn’t fearless—my foot had fallen asleep.

Tool 24: Name the Big Parts
(Naming your chapters is important, make sure you can recall all major plot events just from their names!)

Example: A Samurai of Hyuga meets Fatehaven crossover book
Chapter 1: The Emperor’s Decree
Chapter 2: Maritime Madness
Chapter 3: Operation Sea Lion
Chapter 4: Lost In Translation
Chapter 5: The Shugenja and the Magician

Tool 25: Repeat
(Repetition of key words and phrases creates a rhythm and pace—don’t let it overpower but don’t be afraid of it!)

It was a shrine abused by age, trashed by passers-by, forgotten by monks and squatted by destitutes. By all measures it was no longer a shrine to a god. It was no longer a heavenly site.

Tool 26: Fear Not the Long Sentence
(Long sentences are great for describing long things and in chonological order!)

I grabbed Toshio’s arm so as not to lose him among the crowd, Kondo-filled, which moved in a busying buzz with pauses, directed at me and my katana and my heritage, so sternly that I was now distinctly aware of the day-to-day unease Toshio felt back East.

Tool 27: Riffing for Originality
(All new knowledge derives from old wisdom! Collect and adapt colorful phrases and metaphors!)

IDIOM: ‘Method to my madness.’
ADAPTION: The drunken boxer shuffled about in a delirious dance, wild yet choreographed, with movements precisely as vague as he intended.

Tool 28: Writing Cinematically
(Think and write in terms of camera angles, and shift focus throughout a scene!)
(Camera angles: Aerial view, Establishing shot, Middle distance, Close-up, Extreme close-up!)

Junko placed her hand to her nose, breathed deeply and savored the smell. It was his scent, she knew, left unwashed it had lingered well after their meeting a week prior. It was the only comfort afforded to her this evening, otherwise alone beneath the pouring and starless sky.

Tool 29: Report for Scenes
(A writer must be a reporter for reader immersion! Give readers an experience!)

The sun continued to beam down as my steps slowed to a stagger. I could feel the burn on my neck, left exposed it was certain to turn red. I would be sleeping on my stomach tonight, though I expected no sleep at all. Beneath my kimono was moist and icky. I brushed my palm against my skin and felt the slime glaze. Light-headedness hit me, and perhaps more dangerously, an odd feeling of being purified by the sun’s rays.

Tool 30: Write Endings to Lock the Box
(There are many ways to end: the time frame, the payoff, the epilogue, the apt quote, looking to the future and more!)

And in the throes of despair, amongst perils better left unknown, I felt oddly at ease. I was small, on a single star in an infinite sky that would continue with or without my consent. It wasn’t a numbing peace, but freedom that lit my path ahead.

Tool 31: Parallel Lines
(Single words should be balanced with single words, phrases with phrases, clauses with clauses!)
(Violate the pattern at the end to make emphasis!)

He wished and he washed, he puckered and he plucked, he spat pit after pit of the olives he engulfed.

Tool 32: Let It Flow
(“Why should I get writer’s block? My father never got truck driver’s block.” – Roger Simon)

AVOIDING THE WRITER’S STRUGGLE: Adopt a daily routine, trust your instincts and don’t be afraid if you begin with only vague ideas.

Tool 33: Rehearsal
(Think ahead of what you’re going to write before you write it!)

Whether you’re on the toilet in your bathroom, playing Pokemon Go in the streets, or tossing in bed trying to sleep—think about your next scene! The thinking you do now will pay dividends when you write it tomorrow.

Tool 34!!!: Cut Big, Then Small
(There should be no unnecessary words in your sentences and no unnecessary sentences in your paragraphs!)

What must be cut: passages that do not support story focus, weak quotations and anecdotes, adverbs that intensify rather than modify, phrases that repeat the obvious.

Tool 35: Use Punctuation
(Use punctuation to help pace and space words! Comma, semicolon, parentheses, dash, colon!)

Masashi knew of, and proceeded to instruct me—in his matter-of-fact tone—the rules of mahjong: a tiresome tile-building game brought over by (equally tiresome) foreigners.

Tool 36: Write A Mission Statement for Your Story
(Every writer has some vague aspiration for their work, some lasting effect—write your hopes down!)

Tool 37: Long Projects
(Break long stories into chapters = running 26 miles is easy if ran over the span of 52 days!)

Writing for year-long projects is intimidating. Outline your chapters, have many mini-projects and mini-victories along the way.

Tool 38: Polish Your Jewels
(Brevity is a virtue, creating opportunity for wit and revealing the luster of the language!)

I sat and delved into thought. Plopped myself down against a nearby rock. It was mossy and slick, and as uncomfortable as my next decision was to make.
I plopped down against a nearby rock. Mossy and slick and uncomfortable, it serviced as a seat for my next decision.

Tool 39: The Voice of Verbs
(Active verbs draw attention to the actors, while passive verbs draw attention to the ones acted upon!)

ACTIVE: The wind buffeted against Masami’s tiny frame, knocking her around and into a wobble.
PASSIVE: The wind was buffeting against Masami’s tiny frame, strong enough to knock her around so that she would wobble.
(The Actor = the wind, The Acted Upon = Masami)

Tool 40!!!: The Broken Line
(Narrative and analysis can be mixed to great effect, but too much analysis will starve the reader!)

I slid open the door, and in doing so pulled over onto the first page of the next chapter of my career as a ronin.
I slid open the door.

Tool 41: X-Ray Reading
(Be alert to the points of a story that make you eager to read on! Take note and reflect on those techniques!)

TODO: Whether it’s Stephen King, a Choice Of game or Rurouni Kenshin fanfiction—mark down points where I’m most eager to keep reading.

Tool 42: Paragraphs
(Vary the length of your paragraphs! Each should be a contained, single thought or sequence!)

I brought the bottle to my lips, gulped and swallowed the remainder of my rations. The water was stale and odd-tasting, though I savored it all the same. When my tongue brushed the top of my mouth it tickled but not in a pleasant way. It was sore and hoarse, each ridge shaking in a painful sharpness.
Forget saké. I’d have given anything for cold barley tea.
Our tea leaves had ran out a week prior, though our teamaker was more tenacious. Toshio, while forgoing the ceremony, grew creative with all manner of leaves and twigs. ‘Herbs’, he referred to them, though I grew to prefer boiled water to steamed dandelions.

Tool 43: Self-criticism
(Self-criticism is best left alone during writing and let loose during revision!)

FOR THE WRITER COMBATING RESISTANCE: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Tool 44: Save String
(Declare your interests and you will notice and store things about them over time!)

I have an interest in detective techniques that outsmart culprits into giving themselves away. One trick I noticed used by clever detectives, for finding hidden evidence:
“A Scandal in Bohemia”, Sherlock Holmes finds a photograph by faking a house fire.
“Liar Game”, a safe is opened by it’s owner, having assumed it’s contents were somehow stolen.

Tool 45: Foreshadow
(In your initial descriptions of people and places use words that come to life later!)

“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” — Anton Chekhov (Chekhov’s gun)

Tool 46: Storytellers, Start Your Engines
(Good questions drive good stories!)

How does hard pragmaticism clash against soft idealism? (MC and Masami/Masashi)
How does one overcome an obsession over the past? (MC and Junko/Jun)
What does it mean to dedicate yourself to a cause? (MC and Toshie/Toshio)
What are the dynamics and bonds of manly friendship? (MC and Hatch)
What does it mean to be dangerous to those who care for you? (MC and Momoko)

Tool 47: Collaboration
(Take an interest in the roles and the people that support your work!)

Making one of these games requires the imagination of others: my editor, my artist and my proofreader. Getting them involved and interested only ever helps!

Tool 48: Create An Editing Support Group
(Form a group of friends, colleagues and experts who can give you feedback!)

The short history of interactive fiction doesn’t involve much editing, especially when compared to paper printed novels. Still, if you want to set yourself apart and more importantly improve, obtain confidants to help edit your work—be they family or friends both real and internet-like.

Tool 49: Learn From Criticism
(Tolerate even unreasonable criticism by transforming debate into conversation!)

It is hard to resist the urge to defend your creative work as if it was your newborn child. But you have no enemies, only potential collaborators. Explain what you were trying to achieve and understanding will flow from both sides.

Tool 50: The Writing Process
(Writing isn’t wizardry! Sniff, Explore, Collect, Focus, Select, Order, Draft, Revise!)

The Ideas Process: Observe and pay attention to the stories you read, games you play and experiences you have!
The Mission Statement Process: Condense your collection of ideas to find the essence of your story!
The Outlining Process: Order the major events and drama moments, the choices and their branches!
The Writing Process: Draft without the desire to be perfect; capture onto ideas that spring forth while typing!
The Editing Process: Overlook your own work, read it out loud and make it clearer. Enlist others to do the same!
The Scripting Process: Put the words into choicescript, making branches and variables from the notations you made back in the Writing Process!
The Playtesting Process: Load your game up in a browser. Inspect the ‘look’ of your paragraphs for size, see when a page is too long or short. You’ve still got a ton of mistakes at this point that your proofreaders will help you find!


  1. I cannot wait!! I am a HUGE fan of Choice games, have been since I played my first, “Creatures Such as We.” “The Samurai of Hyuga” is certainly a favorite and I have been hooked to it since the first sentence. Very excited for book 2! The quality of these games shines through in the details, you can certainly tell. From one Ronin to another, best of luck in defeating the Spirits to come.

    -Katsu, The Sword Who Cuts the Heavens.

  2. Will book 2 be available on Android? I sure hope so.

    • Yep, SoH2 will definitely be out for Android too!

      • Fantastic! Thanks a bunch, especially for all of the time and creativity put behind this project!

  3. *excited squealing in the distance*

  4. One of my most favorite COC games and it’s coming out fast! I really want to play it now!

  5. “A Samurai of Hyuga meets Fatehaven crossover book.”

    Don’t play with me now. Really excited for Book 2!

  6. I am more excited than ever for this game!

  7. Speaking of a SoH update, do you have an estimated number of books in mind for the series?

    • It will be more than three, though I can’t nail it down further than that. I don’t know the scope of a book until I start outlining it, and to be honest I don’t know the pace until I start writing.

      • That fine. As long as you don’t overextend yourself it’s cool by me. Just wanted to know if you had a general scope for the series

  8. Please tell me that there’s a Fatehaven easter egg in the sequel.
    Can’t wait till the release

  9. Omg I’m super excited for it’s release – JUST TAKE MY MONEY ALREADY!!
    Hahaha, but no seriously you’re an amazing writer and you make me fall in love for every one of your characters. You have this gift for making me see myself in the protagonist but at the same time see the protagonist as a stand alone character that I must both nurture and walk with on this path, and the fact that two very different points of view collide so beautifully makes your game an incredibly addicting one. While I’m aware romance isn’t something you feel you’re good at, I still can’t wait to see the options and how the choices pan out, both with romance and the overall story. I’d also love to be able to romance the crazed rival, since, common – Junko is a sadistic sweet heart that just needs a hug (and my entrails). Good luck with the process and with all of your stories in general, I really hope the Hyuga books continue to be written. Obviously not forever, but enough to satiate both my own greedy thirst and your own creativity as a writer. Also, as a side note, always take care of your health and happiness before writing and trying to meet some sort of crazy demand (like my horrible relationship goals above, lolz). HAVE FUN!!

  10. Really looking forward to this. Played the first part through many times. I’ll probably have to play it again, at least once, as I have a terrible memory for what characters did between when one chapter of a story is published and the next.

  11. So excited for the new book!!

  12. Oh I just can’t wait. I haven’t even read the sneak preview from a few months ago yet because I knew it would drive me crazy getting into it and then having to stop for who knows how long. I hope it can soon be bought for Android. I do have a Steam too if all else fails but I just prefer reading in my phone over my laptop.

  13. Will there be a discount for those who already purchased Book 1?

    • I know that Choice of Games/Hosted Games usually puts a new game on sale for the first two weeks of its release. I’ll make sure to keep folks updated on twitter so they can get a discount!

      • That’s awesome, thank you! Any new updates on when Book 2 will be released?

        • Final testing for importing Book 1 saves is underway. I should be able to announce an official release date soon!

          • Yay! I’m so excited!

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