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I am writing a mystery with multiple endings using John Truby's 22 steps. Originally I thought that I could do it like so: The playable character is not the hero but still has a narrative drive. There are two other "Heroes" who I'm banking on the player's interest in them being the narrative drive. These heroes are whom I'm writing the storylines on, meaning the beats in the mystery would lead to them having the revelation. These storylines are what has to occur for them to have a specific moral revelation (which I have my own problem with but that later) that is "canon." Then I'd write the alternative choices, storylines, and choices based off of this main storyline.

Then, I realized that the narrative drive has to occur to the hero of the story.

And that if I want the playable character and by proxy the audience to have a moral revelation, I must have them go through a specific storyline, not the other two original "heroes." Still, this brings up a fear: I do not want the playable character to have a personality in the beginning. Rather, I want the choices of the player to influence the story with a specific set of choices that results in a specific ending + moral revelation. How would I go about writing this with Truby's system if no one player has the same faults/values?

Next, and this is more applicable to any story written using this system If I have multiple heroes, should they all have the same moral revelation? Or should they have moral revelations which are similar but applicable to their situation?

  • I don't know Truby's system, but is it feasible for the player to end up becoming one of a few different characters depending on the choices made? That is, you start out as a generic player, and maybe your choices lead you down a path in which you become the charismatic leader, or maybe they lead you down a path in which you become the wise counselor, or... ? Is that kind of thing done? – Monica Cellio Apr 30 at 16:07
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    That's the system I was thinking of, though I haven't played any VN's which have it implemented. Truby's system is complicated. But one portion involves working backwards in creating a story, starting with the revelation of the main character. This revelation is either something about how people should act towards others (A moral revelation), how a person views themselves (Psychological) or both. Then you create your main character's weaknesses and need based on the psychological and moral revelation. These weaknesses and need is where I am caught though I know the moral revelation I want. – Greg Apr 30 at 16:43
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When structuring your branching narrative, try to separate your character arcs from "stuff that happens". Allow your heroes to retain their moral character, and give the reader control over the action.

Decisions should not be easily lumped into morally "good" and morally "bad". Instead they should be compromises, both good and bad. The player attains a goal by sacrificing something else. It's not a matter of "Should I help these poor villagers, or be selfish?" Instead choices should be about managing resources (time, food, energy), trading one thing for another, and being tempted by shortcuts that have both benefit and risk.

Following a plot-event system like Truby's means that you can always suddenly surprise the player with a complication at the appropriate story beat to get the characters back on their moral progress.

You can't force a reader to have the intended moral conclusion to align with your heroes – that is a bit too much for any writer in any media. Assuming the reader might wish to re-read the story and make some different choices, they should not have to subvert their own moral judgement just to get a different ending.


You have multiple heroes. It seems like a missed opportunity to give them all the same arc.

Alternatives include:

Characters experience the same ambiguous situations but have different reactions, suggesting that people are individuals and there is no definitive interpretation.

Characters have very different paths and moral reasoning but arrive at roughly the same conclusion, either by coincidence, providence (authorial message), or choosing however temporarily to follow the plan of the most charismatic hero.

Characters are foils for each other. Their arcs are designed to contrast, but work together as a whole. No individual is a moral paragon, but as a team they balance.

Characters are similar temperament but at different points in their development. They react to the same situations differently because of experience (and hormones). The oldest might understand the longterm consequences, while a fighter in his prime is less willing to lose or sacrifice, and the youngest is morally uncertain. Each has a different "scale" of revelation, and see the next as a role model in the cycle of life.

Some characters fail their moral arc to show the consequences of failure. Only the hero who stayed "true" to the path completes their moral arc.

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First off, having played around with many different "ways" to write stories for many years I've come to the conclusion that if I don't pick and choose what works and do my best with it my writing career will only consist of having read how-to-books on writing...

So, in general, focus more on writing a story your readers like than how you write it.

A few thoughts on your questions. (I've actually read John Truby's 22 Steps, but I can't recall any of it :S ... so there's always that...)

...the narrative drive has to occur to the hero of the story.

If "narrative drive" means that the character is the narrator and has POV then the answer is "no."

You have two types of characters in a story: the main character (owner of POV) and the protagonist/hero (owner of conflict).

They don't have to be the same person.

But in most stories, the main character and the protagonist is the one and the same.

If I have multiple heroes, should they all have the same moral revelation?

What is the purpose of writing this text? Do you have something you want to say? A message you wish to relay?

If so, I can only assume you want the moral revelation to be similar regardless of the path taken... Otherwise, your story will mean different things depending on what choices the reader makes and I think that would be confusing.

It will also be a problem for you with regards to target-audience if the meanings are very different. (E.g. one ending resonates strongly with single moms, the other with grandparents... instead I'd suggest going the J. K. Rowling path making eleven-year-old boys crazy about your book and then let them sell it to the rest of the world...)

Let's say your moral revelation is: he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.

Then, one of your heroes is a violent one who likes to fight it out, while the other is a diplomat who likes to make compromises.

If the reader lets the story end in the way of the first hero, perhaps the heroes should end up dead, just after having realized that living by the sword means you die by the sword.

However, if the reader lets the story end in the way of the diplomatic hero, maybe the hero can get the local constable to arrest and execute the villain, making the villain realize he lived by the sword and now he dies by the sword.

Regardless of the ending, you're relaying the same message.

In fact, coming up with several disparate, and logical, endings that relay the same message will probably make that moral/truth seem almost universal and inevitably true.

Great for you if you have something important to say!

Just make sure you don't fumble the logic of any of the endings, or you risk sounding preachy...

Or comical: So, you want to smoke pot? You end up in the drug swamp, then you die! Wanna make out with the hot cheerleader? Sure, you end up in the sex swamp which leads to the drug swamp, and then you die! Sneaking out at night for mischief? Sure, you end up in the naughty swamp and from there it's just a short step to the sex swamp and... you guessed it, you end up in the drug swamp and die!

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