An Interactive Story

Interactive Story: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How can I download it?
A: Please see the download page.
Q: The story doesn't work in Chinese.
A: This was a problem in version 1.2 of the story. It was fixed in version 1.3, which was released on August 11, 2000. Upgrading to the latest version of the story program is recommended. Click here to download the latest version.
Q: I downloaded the program but it won't uncompress/unzip. The file on your server must be damaged.
A: Actually, the program on the server is fine. The most common cause of this problem is that the file name is "story.tar.gz" but a number of popular browsers truncate the name to "story.tar" when you download it, and then your system treats it like a .tar file instead of like a .gz file. To fix the problem, rename the file to "story.tar.gz" and then unpack it with the (Unix) commands "gunzip story.tar.gz" and then "tar xvf story.tar".
Q: I installed the program. When I try to use it, my browser just says, "500 - Server Error". What is wrong?
A: Any of a huge list of things can cause this error message to occur. You need to find the more specific error message that Perl displays. There are two good ways to find this. One is to look in your web server's error log. The message from Perl should be logged there, right next to a line that says something about "premature end of script headers". The other way to view the error message is to telnet to your server, go to the directory where you put the program, and type ./ to run the program directly. If there is a problem with the program, it should display the error message right there.
Q: I installed the program. When I click on the links, it just shows me the front page again.
A: I've had several reports of this, all from people trying to use CGI on Evidently CGI does not work on See below for the names of several hosts that do offer free websites with CGI.
Q: Do you know of any sites that would let me have free CGI access?
A: I've heard that the following sites do:
Q: I'm getting errors about carriage returns.
A: If you are getting errors about carriage returns in your script, or if you get a syntax error like "Can't find string terminator "EOF" anywhere before EOF at ... this means that you transfered the story files to your server in binary mode. The and storyconfig files are both Perl programs, which are text files. The easiest way to fix this problem is to re-send the files to the server in text mode.
Q: I'm getting an error that says the program cannot write to the file 1.txt
A: This means that one of two things is wrong. Either the $story_dir in your storyconfig file is set wrong, or the $story_dir is set correctly but the permissions for that directory are wrong. Sometimes in the storyconfig file it is helpful to use the full pathname for the story directory instead of using a relative path name. That is, instead of setting it to story, set it to /usr/home/this/that/whatever/story — whatever the actual full path for your story directory is. If your $story_dir directory is set correctly, then check the permissions on the story directory. The web server needs to be able to write to that directory. Generally this means setting the permissions on the $story_dir directory to be "world-writeable", also known as 777. The Unix command to do this is chmod 777 plus the name of your story directory.
Q: Do you mind if I customize the program?
A: I'm delighted to see the different ways people customize the story program. Please do customize it! And be sure to send me e-mail — I'd like to pop by and see what you've done. (Of course, if you've read the various story files, you know that in return for the use of the program you need to send me a message to let me know that you are using the program anyway.)
Q: Can I run several stories at once? How?
A: The easiest way to have several stories going at once is to make different subdirectories in your cgi-bin directory and put a different story in each one. For example, if you wanted to have stories about horses, tigers, and chipmunks, you would make a cgi-bin/horses directory, a cgi-bin/tigers directory and a cgi-bin/chipmunks directory, and then copy and storyconfig into each of those directories. Then you'd need to edit each storyconfig file to use a different directory for the story chapters and possibly different graphics for each story.
Q: How do I upgrade from an earlier version?
A: If you have not customized the story program, all you need to do is replace your story.cgi or program with the newest program. Keep your old storyconfig program, unchanged. If you are switching from story.cgi to, then on all your web pages you will need to change any links to story.cgi to point to instead.
Q: I posted a chapter in the wrong place. How can I delete it?
A: You need to contact the people who run the story where you posted the chapter. Each site has control over their own chapters. I can't make changes on someone else's server.
Q: Can I contact the author?
A: Yes, at, but please understand that I get a ton of e-mail about this free program — and I have a small child at home and an income to earn — so I save up e-mail about the program and answer it every few months. However, as the license information in the program says, I am very interested in seeing your story site! If you have a new story program running, please do send me its URL. When you send e-mail about a new story site, it is helpful if you specifically tell me if it is okay to add a link to your story at, which is the list of sites running the story program. Thanks for understanding!
Q: Can I just pay you to install it?
A: I'd prefer to see you install it yourself, because I believe it's better for people to learn new skills. But if you're really stuck, you can pay me to install the program for you. I charge $120 to do this.

If you want me to install the Interactive Story program for you, here's what to do:

  1. Make sure that your web server is a Unix server (that is, not Windows). If you aren't sure what type of server you have, ask your system administrators. Some types of Unix that the story program can run on are Linux, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, SunOS, and other types of Unix. (I can also install the program on a Windows server, but I charge on an hourly basis for that, so please contact me if you want to do this.)
  2. Make sure you can run CGI programs on your server. Again, you may need to check with your administrators.
  3. Send me the following information:
  4. And send $120 (US dollars). You can either pay with a credit card with PayPal, or by check. If you sign up for PayPal by clicking this button, they will give you $5 off your first purchase. Or send a check for $120 made out to Valerie Mates to: Valerie Mates / 607 Ross St. / Ann Arbor, MI 48103 / USA. Also include a note with your e-mail address, etc.

But, as I said, I would rather see you install it yourself, because learning new things is cool.

Q: Why is this program free?
A: Partly to show people a free sample of my work. I'm a free-lance programmer. You can hire me to work on short- and medium-term programming and web design projects. But mostly because for years I had wanted to play with an interactive story program. I thought it would be fun. And it is! I hope you think so too.


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