Interactive Fiction: Read it, write it, share it!

Anyone who attended the excellent “Writing for Games” talk last Saturday as part of the Dublin Writers Festival will remember the writers (Rob Morgan, Antony Johnston and Joe Griffin) onstage talking about the rise in literary games. While “literary video games” may seem like an oxymoron to the uninitiated, personal experience attests that they really are out there, and one tiny branch of this mighty tree holds the games classified as “interactive fiction.” On this delightfully sunny day in Ireland, I’d like to open a window into the world of interactive fiction for you:

So, what is interactive fiction?
In the struggle for a definition, an easy gateway is to think of interactive fiction today as the evolution of choose-your-own-adventure books that many children of the 1980s will remember. That is, interactive fiction tells a story that changes depending on the choices you make during your reading of it. This makes interactive fiction a fertile ground for many types of experimental writing and intensely personal explorations in which themes of sex and identity feature strongly.

Over the past few years, the global game development community has latched onto the potential of interactive fiction, especially as a “gateway drug” into game design. We can find visual novels, hypertext fiction and more complex forms that use player text input to determine the next steps of the game … and all of these can be classified as interactive fiction. To ease our way in, we’ll focus on hypertext fiction for today. As I’ll show you later, the most popular tools for creating hypertext fiction are free and so simple that a novice user can create and publish their first game within a day.

I’d like to read some interactive fiction, where should I start?
My interests skew experimental, so I’m going to point you towards three of my favourites in that arena (all are free and playable/readable in your browser without the need to download anything):
Howling Dogs” by Porpentine
Sacrilege” by Cara Ellison
Even Cowgirls Bleed” by Christine Love
Of course, there is so much out there across all genres, that the pieces that speak to me may not resonate with you at all, in which case you can take a look at Emily Short’s comprehensive list that will help you to find a piece that speaks to what you personally are interested in.

OK, I like this! How can I get started and make some interactive fiction myself?
The most popular entry-level tool is called Twine. It’s free, open-source, works on both PC and Mac and is relatively simple to use. By simple, I mean that if you are familiar with using Microsoft Word and have any experience at all with HTML/code, the learning curve is not steep. You create branching stories in a diagrammatic way, and when you are ready to publish, you can upload your game or story as a simple HTML file either to your own website, or for free on Philome.la.

Once you have a basic grasp of Twine and are bitten by the interactive fiction bug, there are many other established formats for creating more complex interactive fiction, including Ren’py, Inform and ChoiceScript. There’s also a wonderful new way of creating graphical interactive fiction called Fungus, created by Irish designer Chris Gregan who has put the time into creating some seriously helpful learning resources to help newcomers.

If you need a bit of help getting started, I’ll be teaching an interactive fiction workshop at the Circa Words experimental writing festival taking place on June 15th, so get in touch with the Irish Writers Centre if you would like to attend. After that, my friends and I held a day-long Twine-based game jam last year in Dublin and it was so much fun we are likely to run another one over the summer, so if you try Twine out and enjoy it, let me know and I’ll add you to the contact list for the event.

Can I adapt something I wrote already to interactive fiction?
Absolutely! By doing this, you can learn a new way of presenting your work in addition to increasing the chance of your work being read by others. Creating interactive fiction is free, easy and brings immersive, experimental writing to many people who would never buy a poetry chapbook, even if the contents are exactly the same. To show this, check out the contrasting experiences of Dan Waber (who wrote “A Kiss“), between the response he got to the same work via literary journals versus the viral promotion of it through the interactive fiction community.

I hope I’ve convinced you that giving interactive fiction a try is well worth the effort. If you do go ahead to make something in Twine, please do send it to me, I’d love to be immersed in your story!

 

 

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Artist Date

G_W_Russell_BathersI first came upon George William Russell on a sunny June day last year. I was reading The Artist’s Way, which recommends that participants take themselves out on an “artist date” each week, something that will help them to further their own work. Something beautiful, something alone.

On that day, I was struggling, finding it hard to drag my creative energies and desires into the material world. I had recently left an all-consuming and high-responsibility job within the tech industry in order to spend a few months on pursuing “my dreams”. Such as they were, these dreams involved putting pen to page with laser focus and finishing the novel I’d started the year before.

I thought I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t really. I just launched in on day one and Continue reading

Take Your First Writing Step

Review stock photoI love festivals, those concentrated bursts of shared energy that set thoughts alight and creative engines humming. If you’re anything like me, events such as the Dublin Writers Festival leave you with twofold desire. Firstly, you’re craving more of the literary drug. Secondly, you’re hankering to cobble together some words of your own.

It’s easy to let that dizzy fervour fizzle out on the workaday Monday following such an event, your seed ideas (so carefully sheltered from the rain on the long commute) falling prey at the office door to that familiar refrain of “Sure, what am I doing? Nobody wants to read what I wrote.” Then, with a sigh and a shaken-out umbrella, it’s gone.

Don’t let that happen this time! Everyone has something unique to say. Today, I’d like to tell you about a few Irish literary journals and writing courses that could give you the impetus to nurture your seed idea into a finished piece that showcases your voice to an eager audience. So, after this year’s festival, you have no excuse not to sharpen up that those gathered words lurking in the back of your mind, waiting to be written. No excuse. NO EXCUSE.

Writing Courses

There are loads of writing courses out there. Check out Writing.ie for a complete list of all courses happening in Ireland over the next while. Here, I’ll just highlight two course providers that worked really well for me personally.

Irish Writers Centre
The Irish Writers Centre offer many courses, from one-off workshops to weekly classes for beginners, there’s truly something here for everyone. I’ve attended Dave Lordan’s course in experimental fiction for the last two seasons and cannot recommend it highly enough. From the quality of the instruction, the calibre of the participants and the intoxicating material, I’ve been inspired and entertained in equal measure.

Big Smoke Writing Factory
I loved the courses I took at Big Smoke Writing Factory. Claire Hennessy’s patient and supportive mentoring style is invaluable for nervous beginners and seasoned writers alike. With courses in screenwriting, playwriting, speculative fiction and more, the tough choice is which one to take.

Irish Literary Journals

In the interest of wordcount, I can only go into some detail on my absolute favourite few of the current journals, but there are so many great ones out there; from Wordlegs to Gorse to Number Eleven to The South Circular and on and on!

The Stinging Fly
A thrice-yearly print publication since 1997, The Stinging Fly seeks out the best new Irish and international writing. The launch for the latest issue was held in the Irish Writer’s Center last week, where attendees got hot under the collar for Dimitra Xidous’ poem “Ovum” before the incredible two-for-one tale from June Caldwell. I recommend everyone purchase it for the joy of the reading, and if you want to submit, they are open to postal submissions.

Colony
Colony is a new contender on the block. In just its second month of operation, there is great talent on show. It’s an experimental, online-only journal based in Ireland that incorporates translation, music and spoken word. Submissions are open now for their “Trans” issue. The latest issue features a clever and thought-provoking piece by Roisin O’Donnell called “Twenty-Four Hours In Tahoma”.

The Moth
A quarterly arts and literature magazine, The Moth features poetry, short fiction and art by established and up-and-coming writers from Ireland and abroad. Beautiful copies are available in print for only €5. The piece “Paperchase” by Thomas Maloney from Autumn 2013 still haunts me.

The Bohemyth
Run by Michael Naghten Shanks, The Bohemyth is an online-only literary journal based in Ireland that features short fiction, poetry and essays on a monthly basis. They are open to submissions right now. I was really impressed with their last women-only issue for March, especially the stellar pieces from EM Reapy and Lucy K Shaw.

(Charlene Putney)

Two New Bloggers Hop Onboard

Blog PhotoSay hello to Charlene Putney and Lynne Nolan who join our list of contributors.

Charlene Putney is a Dublin-based writer. She’s currently focusing on a speculative fiction novel along with creating experimental games, running fun events and lecturing on digital marketing. Find her at www.alphachar.com and on Twitter.

Lynne Nolan is a Dublin-based journalist, writing mostly about business and technology. An avid reader and film fanatic, she hopes that combining both interests will result in some interesting blog posts for the festival.