Getting started with Protagonize

A guided tour of the site, and how it works.

Fancy meeting you here! Looks like you're a new Protagonize author who's looking for a little help figuring out how this whole thing works, am I right?

Here's a quick introduction to how the site works. This should get you started using the site comfortably. If you have any other questions that aren't answered here, check out our FAQ, or ask a question on the main Help page.

How to use Protagonize

The Anatomy of a Work

Works on Protagonize are made up of a set of sections that we call "work pages". There are two types of works on Protagonize: standard (linear) and addventure.

  • Standard works are made up of a sequence of linear, back-to-back pages, just like a traditional short story, poem, novella or novel. The author of a standard work can decide whether they want contributors to their works to write their own page titles, or if the page title is decided by the author of the preceding page in the work.
  • Addventures are structured like a tree, where the very first "root" page acts as the top of the tree. Addventures are comprised of pages that we often refer to as "branches". These work similarly to a page in a standard story, with one major difference. Each page in an addventure can have one-to-three sub-pages of its own, and the titles of these branches are decided on by the author of the page you're currently reading.

As works on Protagonize are often collaborative, each page can potentially be written by a different author. That's not to say that the original author can't write a few branches too, but generally speaking, collaborative works are open for anyone to contribute to unless the original author has restricted posting in some way (generally via groups). Don't be afraid to jump into a work you find interesting!

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Browsing Works & Profiles

As you may have noticed, there are many ways to read works on the site. Most work links will take you to the main "root" page of a work (the first page), but some will jump to pages mid-way through a work. This is by design, and it should be clear which you're seeing when you click the link.

Most pages on the site will offer you links to works in various presentations or categories. Here's an overview of the five major pages that you're likely to use the most.

  • The homepage serves as an aggregator of all sorts of interesting site information, from the current most recommended and popular works, to the most frequently used tags, to recent activity. Clicking any item title will take you to that work or page. Clicking a tag or category heading will take you to a list of works in that category, or tagged with that keyword.
  • Your Profile page serves as your personal space on the site. You can customize your author profile by adding information about yourself, or an image, and it'll also display your recent contributions and which other authors on the site have added you as a favourite. Other authors can also comment on your profile if they have questions or ideas for you (or if they just want to chat.)
  • The Read page gives you a bird's-eye view of the most popular works on the site. You can see listings of top-rated works (for this week, and for all-time), popular works, recent updates and additions, and you'll also be presented with a big list of all site sections (Stories, Poetry, Writing Exercises, and Other Works), categories and tags that you can choose from.
  • The Authors page is a tribute to our popular and highly-rated authors. As with the main Stories page, you'll be presented with a list of our top-rated authors for the week and for all-time, as well as our top posters for the week and all-time. You can click through to their author profiles by clicking on their handle (a nom-de-plume, so to speak.)
  • The Comments page lets you have a quick look at the current conversations going on throughout the site. All recent story and author profile comments will show up here, for a time. You can also see the top commenters for the current week, and for all-time.
  • The Your Works link from the right-hand navigation menu will show you a listing of all stories, branches and chapters that you've written, in reverse chronological order.

Finally, you can also search the site using the Search Protagonize tool at the top of the right-hand navigation menu. We use Google Custom Search as our current search engine, so searching may be slightly out of date from current content. It can take up to 24 hours before a new content item is picked up by Google.

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Reading a Story

Reading a story is pretty straightforward. When you hit the main root page of a story, read through the body of that chapter or branch. At the very bottom of the green chapter container, you'll see a highlighted box (or two, or three). That's the next chapter's title, and beneath it is the number of chapters or branches left to read. If you're reading a standard story, only one chapter at a time will be displayed. If you're reading an addventure, you'll see either two or three new branch headings at the end of the current page.

To navigate to the next segment of the story, simply click that chapter or branch heading. Your browser will refresh with the next part of the story. To go back, you can either hit the Back button on your browser (assuming you had just read the previous branch or chapter), or use the handy Previous chapters link at the top of the story box. Clicking that link will pop up a dialog window showing all previous chapters or branches in the story you're currently reading, which makes navigating back and forth much simpler. There's also a Back link in the story actions panel right at the bottom of the story. That will back you up to the previous chapter in the story you're reading, even if you had jumped to this page from elsewhere.

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Writing a New Story

Creating your own story is also quite simple. Assuming you've already created a Protagonize account, and you're logged in, just click the big green Write something new! button on the right-hand navigation bar.

At this point, you'll be presented with the main story-writing form. Take a look through the posting guidelines on the right of that page, they'll give you a feel for how things work. Then we can move on to the actual story writing steps:

  1. The Story Title is the title of not only your story, but of the first chapter of your story. It'll also be used to create a unique link to your story on the site.
  2. The Story Type is either standard or addventure, as we've discussed previously. If you select standard, you'll be offered the choice of letting follow-up posters write their own chapter titles or not, too.
  3. The Story Body is where you write the first chapter or branch of your story. It can be as long as you want, but it needs to be at least 140 characters long, to avoid spammy posts. You may also want to keep your first story segment to a reasonable length. If you want to post something long, feel free to split it up into several chapters; just keep in mind that this may scare off other prospective collaborators as they'll see one person posting the first several branches of a story and may not want to interfere.
  4. If you're writing an addventure, you'll now be presented with three possible Branch Titles. You can enter two or three branches to the story here — try and make them all different, but equally appealing.
  5. If you're writing a standard story, and you've selected that posters don't write their own chapter titles, you'll see a box to enter the Next chapter's title. This is pretty self-explanatory; it works just like the branches in addventure stories, except it's only for the next chapter. :)
  6. Now you'll see a box where you can enter Story Tags. These are a selection of keywords that describe your story and the atmosphere and environment that you're trying to present. Separate each tag with a space; you can wrap multi-word tags "in quotes", like so. You'll need to specify at least one tag for your story. People will be able to find your story based on these tags, so make them count!
  7. You'll also be presented with a list of Categories for your story. As with tags, people will be able to find your story in these categories, so select up to three that fit your story well. Hold CTRL and left-click your mouse to select multiple categories.
  8. Last, but not least, you'll need to specify whether your story contains mature content. If it's anything behind what we'd consider PG-13, or contains any profanity, you should probably flag it as mature. Keep in mind that mature content doesn't get shown in major public areas of the site (on purpose.)

Once you're done writing and have filled out the form completely, you take a look at how your story will look once it's submitted by hitting the Preview link. If you're satisfied, hit Publish and your story will be created. Ta-da!

More information about writing new works is available in our FAQ.

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Writing Chapters or Branches

If you're reading a story on Protagonize, eventually you'll get to a branch or chapter that's incomplete. This means that you can complete that branch yourself, if you're so inclined.

On an incomplete branch or chapter (assuming you're logged in), you'll be presented with a variation on the story-writing form, as we've discussed above. The key difference here is that in most cases, you won't have as much to fill out as if you were creating a whole new story. That makes branching or adding new chapters a little easier. :)

  • In a standard story, depending on the story's settings, you may or may not be able to write your own Chapter title. If not, the title will be displayed at the top of the posting form so that you know what you're writing.
  • In an addventure, the branch title will already be set, and will show up right above the post body. You can't change it.
  • The Chapter or Branch Body is the same as the main story body box. Use the rich text editor to write your chapter just as you would a new story.
  • In a standard story, you may be presented with a box to enter the Next chapter's title, which works the same way as we've discussed above.
  • In an addventure, you'll now be presented with the standard three branch boxes (only the first two are required.) The difference here is that you may choose to link a branch back to a previous branch in the story, if you so desire. This creates a linkage so that readers clicking that branch title will be redirected back to the linked branch transparently. Use this option at your own risk, as it's possible to create a circular story this way!

Finally, you'll be presented with the standard Publish and Preview buttons. As before, preview your branch or chapter until you're satisfied it's ready to go, then hit publish to post it for the world to read.

You can find more information about posting follow-up branches and chapters in our handy FAQ.

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Keeping Track of Interesting Stories & Authors

Protagonize makes a few tools available to you in order to keep track of interesting content on the site. The two of these that you can interact with directly are called Favourites and Page Markers.

Favourites allow you to track either stories or authors that you find interesting. If you're reading a story, you can click the Add Favourite link in the Actions panel at the bottom of the story's content area to track that story. The same goes for author profiles that you find interesting. Once you've clicked the button, it should update to show that you've added a new favourite. Favourites will provide you will notifications (via email if you've set it up that way), either when one of your favourite stories is updated, or when one of your favourite authors posts something new. You can control these notifications via your author profile. Clicking on the My Favourites link from the right-hand navigation will also give you a sortable list of your favourite authors and stories.

Markers are similar to favourites in a way, but they only work with stories; specifically for chapters or branches of a story. Page markers let you mark your place in a story that you're currently reading, so that you can come back to that spot easily. You can also configure your profile to send you emails if anything is posted after your markers in stories that you're reading. Finally, you can also see a sortable list of your markers by clicking My Page Markers from the right-hand navigation menu.

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Adding a Rating

If you feel like providing the author of the chapter or branch you just read with some feedback, feel free to submit a rating for it! Adding a rating is very simple: at the bottom of the chapter or branch you just read, you'll see the current rating for that story segment, as well as a box entitled Rate This Branch!.

Underneath that heading, you'll see a greyed out 5-star selection tool. Just move your mouse over the stars — the potential selections will show up beside the rating tool. One star means that you really disliked what you just read, and 5 stars means that it was spectacular. Please try to rate fairly, as your ratings will be used to create reading recommendations for you later on, down the road. The more accurate you are in your ratings, the better our recommendations will be, so it's in your best interest to rate fairly! Also, please try not to rate anyone badly maliciously, as if it happens on a regular basis, we can easily track down the responsible parties as each rating is tagged with your user information in our database.

In addition, we have a handy tool that lets you keep track of stories you've rated in the past. Simply click on My Top Rated from the right-hand navigation menu, and you'll be presented with a sortable listing posts you've rated.

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Comments & Conversations

One of the most important parts of Protagonize is the ability to converse with other authors. On every story, branch, chapter, or author profile, you'll see the Post a Comment box at the bottom of the page. To post a comment, simply fill in the text box below, and hit Post Comment. If you're reading a story, you can choose to post the comment either for the entire story, or simply for the branch or chapter you're currently reading. If your comment is specific to that story segment, that might be a better alternative.

In most author comments (on your profile or elsewhere), you can click the View Conversation link to view the discussion between two specific authors. This is a handy way of reading the conversation thread between two parties on the site (or between yourself and another author.) You can also post new author comments via the form on this page.

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Collaborating with the Community

If you're not used to social networks or community sites in general, you may not be familiar with the best practices behind belonging and participating in a web community.

The first question you may ask yourself after contributing a new story to Protagonize is: "How do I get people to read my stuff?" While you may feel the urge to shout from the rooftops and tell everyone about your new work, the best method to encourage participation in your story is to join in and participate in the site actively.

Protagonize is a community of authors, ranging from amateur to professional, and there's no better way to generate interest in your own work than to provide feedback or contribute to the works of others. Our community is very vocal and loves a good debate. Feel free to read some of the works of your fellow authors, provide praise or constructive criticism, discuss writing styles, or just say hello on the profiles of authors whose writing you enjoy.

The other added benefit to having people contribute chapters or other feedback — be it comments, ratings, page markers or favourites — to your stories is that the most active stories on the site get boosted up our Hot Stories list, which in turn can generate a lot of attention for your work. So, it pays dividends to participate!

We guarantee that you'll almost immediately reap rewards from your participation in the form of feedback on or contributions to your own writing. And heck, it's fun, and you'll make new friends, so why not?

Tip: One of our moderators, JackRubashevskiy, has a handy guide to Getting Noticed that you may want to check out in our New Members group, too.

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How Notifications Work

If you've interacted with the site for a little while, even if you haven't contributed, there's still a good chance that you've seen notifications pop up on the homepage. There's a good explanation of how notifications work over at the Protagonize blog.

There are two different notifications methods you should be aware of:

  • E-mail notifications can be controlled via your author profile (go to Edit Profile and click the Notifications tab. Based on your settings, you'll receive emails when, for instance, one of your favourite authors posts a new story or chapter, or if one of your favourite stories is updated.
  • On-site notifications show the same notifications as displayed in email, but they're unrestricted. This means that even if you happen to disable a certain type of email notification, you'll still receive it on the site. That way you can still keep tabs on what's been happening on the site and not get emailed about it, if you so desire. On-site notifications are delivered in a couple of spots. On the homepage, you'll see a brief overview of your notifications in the New for you since your last visit... box. You can also click on My Notifications link from the right-hand navigation menu to get a full, detailed list of all of your notifications in the last 7 days.

If you'd like to configure how your notifications show up (particularly email notifications), more information is available in our FAQ.

In the future, we also plan on providing an RSS feed of your notifications. We'll let you know once that's ready to go live!

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Writing Tips from Our Members

One of our former featured authors (and a regular Protagonist), Dysphemism, has some excellent tips on his profile for writing on Protagonize, and we thought we'd share them with you:

  • Tags provide a greatly ignored service to your work. Please add as many relevant tags as possible.
  • Always split big chunks of prose into paragraphs, no matter how disorganized. People will be unwilling to read huge blocks of text.
  • Ratings will rarely ever tell you anything worthwhile about a writer, story, branch or chapter. Comments and readings tell far more.
  • Giving constructive criticism and well-thought praise is far more useful than a rating.
  • When branching, please consider any pre-established level of formality, narrative mode, style and themes. Otherwise, you may be irreparably damaging something dear to someone else.
  • Ending branches and chapters on cliff-hangers is a common and effective technique to keep the reader's interest.
  • If you don't want to see anyone block the direction in which you want one of your stories to go, state your intentions in the comments and trust your co-authors to respect them. Otherwise, anything can happen.
  • Be as gentle as possible when giving advice.

Thanks to Dysphemism for those excellent tips! In addition, we'd like to suggest one last thing: spell-check your work! Taking the time to read though your work and correct spelling mistakes goes a long way to engaging your readers.

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