You’ve got your lesson plan done, maybe even written a few Real Life Scenarios (RLS) based on headlines you found. But that blank white page in Write Script … how do you get started?
Do you have a set of characters in mind? Great! Go ahead and compete the Titles & Characters section of the Write Script workflow. If not, think about your RLS – are any of them great starting or ending points for the story? Thinking about these aspects may get your creative juices flowing.
If you’re still stuck on how to start the process, or if you got partway through your script but now need some help figuring out how to finish it, these ten steps to create a branching script should help you get a completed script. These steps are not the only way to create a branching script, but whatever your approach is, the list provides some useful suggestions on how to proceed.
Step 1: Set up the start of your story.
First, think of a starting point: what’s the event or decision that sets things in motion? Create a scene with a short name that sums up that starting point, and add just enough detail to the scene text –who, what, where–so that you’ll remember what you were thinking.
Be sure to make it a starting scene, and put that scene in the top left corner of the script canvas.
Step 2: Create the best ending for your story.
What would be the absolute, best possible outcome given that starting point? This time create an ending scene with a pithy, summary title, and add the just essentials of what is going on. Put that scene in the top right corner of the script canvas.
Step 3: Create the worst ending for your story.
What would be the very worst outcome imaginable from the starting scene you created in Step 1? If every possible thing went wrong, what would the ending to your story look like? Create another ending scene with minimal information, and put it in the lower left corner of the script canvas.
You now have three anchors for your branching script: the start, the best ending, and the worst ending. Time to start creating those branching paths!
Step 4: Create a sequence of scenes to the worst ending.
Now backtrack from your worst ending scene: what sequence of events or decisions gets you from your starting scene to that ending? For each event in that sequence, create an intermediate scene. Put the scenes in order, and position them in a column between your starting scene and your bad ending scene. Don’t worry about connecting scenes now, just identify as the individual scenes needed to arrive at that worst possible ending, creating a sequence of scenes that will become your story’s “worst path”.
If during you think of other not-so-great outcomes while doing this, document those scenes now! Put them in a horizontal row to the right of your original worst ending scene.
Step 5: Create a sequence of scenes to the best ending.
Now go back to your best outcome scene: what are the events and decisions that lead up to that best ending? As before, for each event in that sequence, create an intermediate scene. Put the scenes in order, making a row from your starting scene to your best ending scene: you now have a “best path” sequence of scenes.
Again – if you think of other endings, add those scenes now! Put them in a column under your original “best ending” scene.
Step 6: Character development.
If you haven’t before, now is the time to seriously think about your characters. Is your main character a do-gooder, a hero, an average Joe/Jane struggling with the digital landscape, or likeable but clueless slacker? Developing the personality of your main character now will help you see choices and create paths that fit your character.
Also think about your target audience: what characteristics will speak to them? Are there other characters that will help (or hinder!) your main character during the story?
Step 7: Build a branching path to the best ending.
This is where you start going deeper into the story. Go back to the first scene in the story and add the full details into the script of who says (or does) what to whom. Add the end-of-scene question and all the choices for that question.
Your story will be richer if you have a wide variety of choices, not just two or three. If you’re stuck, play “Simpsons Bingo”: consider what each of the primary characters from the television series “The Simpsons” (i.e., Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggy) might do–these personalities are quite distinct and should lead you to some interesting choices. Remember, at least one choice in that first scene should connect to the “best path”. Go ahead and connect that choice to next scene in your best path.
While you’re deep into the scene and choices, this is a great time to start ranking the expertise and quality for each choice, and associating learning objectives for each choice. Do what you can –what is obvious to you– but if you get stuck and aren’t sure what to do for any given choice, leave it and get back to working on the larger script. These details often become clearer when the script is more complete.
Repeat this process for each of the intermediate scenes in the sequence of your best path: add details in the script of who says or does what to whom, add the end-of-scene question and several choices, with at least one connecting to an existing “best path” scene. Rank both the choice expertise and quality –since this is the best path, the quality of the choice should be easy– and associate learning objectives to choices wherever possible.
Step 8: Build a branching path to the worst ending.
At least one choice in your starting scene should connect to your “worst path”. If you haven’t already created that choice, do so and connect that choice to the next scene in your worst path.
As in Step 7, repeat this process for each of the intermediate scenes in your worst path: add specific details to the script, add the end-of-scene question and choices, and connect at least one choice to the next scene in your worst path. Rank the choice expertise and quality, and associate learning objectives to choices wherever possible.
At this point, if not before, you’ll probably have to start shuffling scenes around on the canvas to have enough space to see and work with all the choices and scenes. The canvas will automatically expand vertically or horizontally as you move scenes to create this space.
Step 9: Build branching story paths for other outcomes.
You now have two completed paths with some unconnected choices and perhaps some additional ending scenes. Take a deep breath, look at the scenes and choices, and try to connect some of the remaining choices in the best and worst path scenes to existing scenes, where it makes sense.
You may find that with a little adjustment in wording, some of the unconnected choices can lead back into different scenes in the existing paths. By duplicating an existing scene, you can create a small variation in a scene that makes a good fit for some other choices. Don’t forget that a scene in the worst path could have a good choice that leads back up to the best path–and vice versa.
You will probably need to create a few new intermediate scenes to logically get from unconnected choices to those other end scenes. Look for cross-connections, where one choice connects to a very different path, or places where the story can loop back on itself; Comic-BEE can support very complex story structures.
Sometimes a choice just leads to a dead end. It is fine to create a “sorry-bad choice!” type of abrupt ending when you’ve run out of ideas. And you don’t have to use everything you thought of: if you have an interesting ending but can’t figure out choices to get there or how it aligns with the lesson plan, you can remove that ending.
Step 10: Refine your script.
Now it is time to step back and take a look at your script graph as a whole.
Do you have any orphaned choices or scenes? If so, consider if there is a way to connect them to your script, even if it means adding a new scene or creating a variation of a scene? Consider asking a colleague or friend for input. If you still can’t make it work, just remove the choice or scene.
Does every choice have a red, green or yellow shape in the middle of it? If not, you need to edit that scene and rank that choice quality and expertise. If the choices all have strong red and green shapes, but no pale tones or yellow shapes, you may want to revisit scenes and reassess your ranking or the choices themselves.
Don’t forget to open up the slider window at the right of the canvas to see what learning objectives you have used, and which you have not. You probably won’t use all of your learning objectives, but if you have 40 choices and have only used two learning objectives, you should figure out if you repeatedly used those two objectives or just skipped associating learning objectives for most of the choices.
I hope this strategy helps you get started with your script, or assists in getting you past a problem spot. Keep in mind, this isn’t the only –or the best– strategy for creating a branching script. In future posts, we’ll share other approaches that can help create scripts intended to support very specific use cases.