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How to write an interactive storytelling script

For a Christmas performance, I wrote a script with interactive storytelling elements to appeal to a mixed family audience. It was a children’s show, but adults needed to be engaged, too! Here are some of the simple dramatic techniques we used to make the experience playful, fun and engaging for the audience.

I’ve seen and worked on several shows using interactive storytelling techniques like this. They work well if you need to write a script or storytelling event for a tourism guided walk or visitor attraction. They also work for cross-generational groups.

1. Script your interactive moments

Don’t leave audience interaction moments to chance. Build them into the script.

If you’re writing for yourself and are inexperienced at improv, or you’re writing for amateur performers, you’ll find that plans can quickly evaporate in front of a live audience.

Even highly experienced, professional performers can end up gabbling nervously, rather than giving a clear, bold, targeted performance to engage their audience. Script everything!

So for an interactive storytelling script, map out each story stage really clearly. Cut out anything muddy.

If the script is a location-based tour, map the locations and exactly what happens there.

  • Shop – desk assistant checks in families, asks parents to fill in ‘naughty/nice’ card.
  • Courtyard – start of quest. ‘Find’ Santa map.
  • Path – look for reindeer hoofprints. These lead towards garden.
  • Garden gate – meet elf, who has cold. Big handkerchief and green blob.

Check that each stage escalates the story. Underpin each stage with a clear action or memorable prop. Write short, simple lines of dialogue that use direct address ‘you’ for clearer audience engagement.

Practice your script with props, so that the action and sequence are “embodied” and easier to remember.

Make a prop list, and practice resetting everything that needs to get from A to B. If, for example, a child ‘finds’ the quest map and you put it in your pocket, it needs to be put back in its finding place for the next

Anticipate everything that could theoretically go wrong. Thinking through solutions using a ‘risk assessment’ process will give you confidence, as well as a pre-decided action for different scenarios.

Other ways to use this:

In any “performance” situation, including talks and presentations, use a prop list. Practise the physical movement of getting your kit ready to go.

Prepare a notecard with questions to ask the venue organiser when you arrive – sockets, passwords, printouts?

Treat your clothes as a costume, and have them properly hung, clean, and prepped, so that your mind is freed up for interaction with your audience.

2. Use interactive storytelling cue cards

Remember those script cue cards in the old Morecambe and Wise sketch shows? They work with audience members, too! They also help to keep them engaged, alert and on their toes.

For the Santa interactive storytelling show, we made several cue cards to hand out to adults in the audience when they arrived.

Each had a line of dialogue for an adult to read out in response to the cue word. To make this obvious, the cue word was unusual (parsnip! dandelion!) and accompanied by an elf sneeze.

The adults quickly got the hang of the convention, and enjoyed having a role in the show.

Other ways to use this:

Interactive storytelling can be a lot of fun if you involve the audience in playful ways.

Stick cue cards with lines for the audience on objects and props that are part of the show. Books, toys, hats, handkerchiefs and people’s backs can have lines on them.

Note: If you do this, make sure you establish who’s comfortable at the start, by observing who embraces the idea playfully, and who seems on the shy side.

Not every adult is good at reading on the hoof. Some may have literacy issues, and it wouldn’t do to make them uncomfortable, especially in front of their children.

Alternatively, you may find older children who are very good at this. It’s a good way to involve older children in a family who may otherwise be a bit too old for the show.

3. Gather audience secrets

Gathering information from the audience beforehand will give you material to work with later. For example, we gave cue cards to adults to fill in when they arrived for the tour. This ‘planted’ information had a big ‘pay-off’ at the end of the tour.

The plant technique isn’t limited to interactive storytelling for children. For example, you can also use it when you’re giving a presentation. Prepare cue cards, and give them to people in the audience when they arrive. It will create surprise and interest, and can help with ice-breaking.

When the children met Santa, they were surprised to find Santa already knew something about them. That’s because we asked the adults to fill in naughty-nice slips when they arrived!

So Santa could share lovely gems such as ‘always hugs his little brother’ and ‘shares her toys’ as well as ‘shouts at the cat,’ ‘draws on the walls’.

Santa was able to improv with the kids, and the adults enjoyed hearing about each other’s children. It helped the sense of group fun and cohesion, too.

Other ways to use this:

If you’re giving a presentation, try a suggestion box, or gathering people’s favourite impressions/places/food – something relevant to the theme.

You don’t need to read them all out – just a few to give the audience a sense of surprise and connection.

4. Use interactive storytelling props and objects

Children enjoy clear interactive storytelling with lots of visual interest, and so props are a great help.

We built the whole interactive experience around Santa’s Sorting Office, with letters and parcels for children to sort and carry.

It meant they could help the elves and have an active role in the story, then meet Santa with a sense of accomplishment.

They also saw pictures of things to look out for – for example, blue spots and blue bogeys. These were signs of elf flu, and created a sense of anticipation!

Other ways to use this:

Showing rather than telling is useful in presentations, too.

If you use props, it alleviates attention and pressure, as long as they’re simple and won’t go wrong!

People are so used to seeing PowerPoint presentations that introducing a real object makes a refreshing change.

I’ve used lumps of turf, rocks and swim flippers successfully in presentations. Choose something memorable that’s easy to see at a distance.

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5. Gamify your interactive storytelling

Games are a great leveller, and can cross the generations. Again, the simpler and more physicalised (rather than brain games), the better.

For the Santa experience, we devised a simple ‘Christmas gift’ sorting game in Santa’s mailroom, adaptable to different age groups and numbers of visitors.

We used story techniques including a countdown clock to create a sense of tension. Will the presents be sorted in time?

One of the performers also doubled in two roles, and had a story moment where he could leave to ‘help’ Santa. No one suspected! This doubling made great use of a limited budget.

Other ways to use this:

If you’re giving a presentation, the audience may also enjoy a sense of competition. Try gamification techniques, eg a quiz pitting two sides of the room against each other.

Encourage focus by asking the audience to look out for or count specific things. Encourage a ‘show of hands’ to help engagement.

6. Give people interactive roles and jobs

If people look as though they feel left out, give them a role or job to do, and ideally a prop.

Some of the children at the Santa event were too young to take part in a group game, so they became Santa’s chief sack-holders, while the others filled the sacks.

It’s amazing how quickly people identify with roles and how others accept this. This technique can help to involve shy participants, too.

Other ways to use this:

A common technique for audience engagement in theatre is to choose an audience member as a proxy for an off-stage character.

Someone with a glass to hold can become a pub goer. Or a steering wheel, so that they become a proxy for a cab driver.

The participants don’t need to act or perform in any way – they’re just imbued with the role, through the prop.

This technique works well in interpretation, too – say, on guided walks or in museums. For example, a visitor could carry a fan to represent an elegant visitor.

For more interactive storytelling techniques to use in presentations or visitor interpretation, see Dramatic Techniques for Creative Writers.

If you’re looking for interactive storytelling ideas for audio tours for visitor attractions, see how to write an audio tour script.

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