Twine for Beginners: Pen and Paper Stories

If you’re writing interactive fiction, you’d be hard pressed to find a better tool than Twine. It’s incredibly simple and incredibly powerful, with a reassuringly shallow learning curve. With a little know-how you can use it to create very sophisticated role-playing games, but even with no know-how at all you can jump right in and write a fully functional Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style story. I’ve already written a tutorial that shows how you can get started in just four clicks! This one will pick up where that left off and show you how to convert your Twine story into a format that can be read on plain old paper without the aid of a computer.

Just like these!

I do very much recommend having a look at that first tutorial before beginning to follow this one, by the way. At least keep it open in another tab to refer to. Nothing in here is going to be particularly complicated, and if you’ve already had a fiddle around with Twine 2 then chances are you could probably follow along well enough. However, having my Getting Started in Four Clicks tutorial handy would probably save some confusion, as I’ll be referring back to it here from time to time.

In Getting Started in Four Clicks I made the case that merely by knowing how to link passages in Twine using double square brackets, you’ve got just as many options available to you as Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone did when writing the Fighting Fantasy series back in the ’80s. However, though these simple Twine stories would in theory work perfectly well on paper, there are a few extra steps involved in converting them from Twine’s (far superior) system of hyperlinks into the (slow but printable) system of numbered passages and “Turn to…” instructions used by pen-and-paper gamebooks.

Step One: List Player Options

One advantage of Twine’s hyperlinks is that they can be embedded within the text of the story. The player sees a bit of text highlighted in blue that changes colour when they move their mouse over it, and that’s their clue that clicking that bit will take them to a relevant chunk of story. Here’s a screenshot from Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure as an example:

There are no explicit instructions, but in the context of this passage whoever’s reading this thing can have a pretty good guess that if they click the first link, they’ll see a passage in which they receive half the orc’s alcoholic booty in exchange for their silence, while if they click the second, they’ll see a passage in which they shove the orc in the dirt and steal all his alcohol. This is, overall, a pretty elegant, streamlined way of making a story interactive.

However, this doesn’t work well on paper because paper isn’t clickable. In order to get the reader from one passage to another, you’re going to have to provide them with a clear list of options, and tell them which passage they need to read next depending on which of those options they want to take:

When it comes to writing your story this is the way to start. As long as you keep all the player’s options in a little list at the end of each passage, rather than tucked in as part of the text, you’re good to get on and write the whole thing. You’ll have to make some further changes before it’ll work when printed, but I find it well worthwhile to at least start with an easily readable hyperlinked version. You can make any big changes you like without too much trouble, and as an added bonus you’ll have an elegant electronic (HTML) version ready for anybody reading online. Compare the electronic version of Inquisition with its pen-and-paper equivalent. I know which one I’d rather be reading, given the choice! Start with what works, save a copy, then worry about following the rest of these instructions.

Step Two: Save a Copy

Did you catch that bit at the end of Step One about saving a copy? SAVE A COPY. I’m not kidding. My previous tutorial covers how to save a playable, editable HTML copy of your story. Do that. Do it now. Hit the “Archive” button in the Story List just to be safe. Because that elegant, neatly laid-out flowchart of your story? In Step Three we are going to DESTROY that thing.

I find a good rule of thumb when doing anything with computers is that you can fool around as much as you like as long as you’ve got a spare copy of anything you might break. In this particular case, the entire point is to break it. We’ll be taking this story, which currently works perfectly well as an electronic HTML story, and converting it into one that works on paper but isn’t quite as convenient overall. Hit the little house icon to head back to the Story List, find the story you’re working on, and click the little cog next to its title.

You’ll see that one of the options that comes up is “Duplicate Story.” Pick that, and name the new one something like Penny McPaperface (numbered). Strictly speaking this should be all you need to make sure you can keep hold of the version of your story with the neat flowchart, but I feel as though it’s not good practice to rely on that alone. Make sure there’s an HTML and/or Archive version of your current story somewhere on your hard drive that you’re not about to monkey with. Is it there? Can you find it reliably from outside of Twine? Then move onto Step Three.

(Fun fact: While writing the example story featured in this tutorial, I accidentally started editing the version I’d intended to keep the way it was. Me. The guy telling you how to do this. It’s easy to screw up. Make sure that when you do, you’ve got a backup saved somewhere out of harm’s way.)

Step Three: Order Your Passages

It doesn’t matter too much what order you put these in. Personally, I try to lay them out in the same order I wrote them, with the early ones appearing at the top and the endings appearing at the bottom.

Your opening passage should definitely be at the very top because that’s invariably the one the reader should start with. From then on, however, it’s up to you. Keeping closely-related passages together will minimise the amount of page-turning the reader has to do to get where they’re going, but it also increases the likelihood that they’ll accidentally end up skimming the outcome of one option when they chose a different one. For your first attempt at this, I strongly recommend trying to place the passages in the order in which you wrote them as it’ll likely make Step Six quite a bit easier for you.

Step Four: Annotate Your Options

Okay, this might look like a lot of extra work, and you may be wondering why I didn’t ask you to do it way back in Step One. The reason is that Step One gave you a fully functional electronic version of the story, which is worthwhile in its own right, and if at any point you’d had to make changes to the range of options on offer, you’d have had twice as much text to rewrite had you done this to begin with. For now, just trust me: write out the text of every hyperlink just in front of the link itself. The reason you’re doing this is about to become very clear indeed.

Step Five: Number Your Passages

Now, starting at the top of your ordered list of passages, rename each one with a corresponding number. Whatever it was called before, the top one is now 1, the one below that is now 2, the one below that is now 3, and so on. While you’re at it, write the same number on a separate line at the top of the passage itself. This. THIS is why we went to the trouble of typing all those options out again.

You see, a handy feature of Twine 2 is that when you rename a passage, all the hyperlinks pointing to it change too.

What you have here is exactly what you want to see in the finished pen-and-paper story. You’ve got a number for the passage you’re on – 1 – and numbers corresponding to the options it’s possible to choose at this point. If the reader wants to end each passage with a list of options, they know to turn to 2. If they want to keep the links in the text, they know to turn to 3. Every single link in the story now reads as the appropriate passage number, and all you had to do was change the names of the passages themselves! The only thing left to do is clean it up.

Step Six: Format Your Story

Ultimately, you want your story to look like this version of Inquisition: a complete list of all its passages in numerical order. If your story is fairly short, you might find it practical to simply copy and paste each one into a document individually. Hovering over a passage and clicking the little bug icon that appears will allow you to “Test your story starting here,” which means you can bring each one up individually (free from the double square brackets and whatnot) without having to click back and forth between them as a regular player would. However, there is a (potentially) easier way:

If you click the story title in the bottom left and choose “View Proofing Copy,” you’ll get a neat list of all your passages probably in order.

On this occasion mine are arranged as expected, and I think it’s because Twine adds passages to the HTML file in the order in which they’re written and – as this is a very short story – I’ve managed to arrange them the same way myself. Your experience may differ. The thing to bear in mind, however, is that if the proofing copy has your passages in at least roughly the right order, it’s likely less hassle to rearrange the ones that aren’t than it is to copy and paste every single one of them individually yourself.

It’s possible to select the entire story with Ctrl+A (or equivalent), copy it, and paste it into a document. However, I’ve noticed strange things when doing this. Sometimes only the title will appear. Sometimes you’ll get the text, but no paragraph breaks between passages. It’s very hit-and-miss all round, but (again) if you can get anything remotely readable out of it, that’s likely to save a lot of time.

The most reliable method I’ve found is to copy and paste the story into a text editor such as Notepad or Gedit, then copy and paste the story from that text editor into your word processor of choice. Shuffle the passages into the correct order if necessary, then tidy up the story however you like! I recommend at least using “Find and Replace” to get rid of the double square brackets around each number. As long as you don’t actually change any of the numbers themselves, you can be confident that Twine has linked them all up properly and you don’t have any dead ends.


If you’ve followed these instructions closely, you should now have both an electronic HTML copy of your story suitable for reading on a screen, and a pen-and-paper version that works in print. It’s entirely possible to do this sort of thing without using Twine at all, but I find this method is extremely reliable – it eliminates a whole lot of opportunities for human error – and it makes it very easy to tell which hyperlinks point to which passages while you’re actually writing, which should let you be a little more adventurous when editing. You’re free to set up your story with actual, readable hyperlinks you can click through and test, then replace them with numbers once you’re confident you’ve got the whole thing set up to your liking. All in all, even though there can be a bit of fiddling around involved in getting the text Twine’s proofing copy to behave, it’s far simpler than trying to keep track of a whole bunch of nameless, numbered passages from the start.


One comment

  1. Pingback: Penny McPaperface | Damon L. Wakes

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