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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The World of Self-Publishing: First-Hand Insights

books upstairs windowWhy self-publish?

A number of years ago I wrote a book of fifty essays about various different aspects of life in Dublin. I sent it to a relatively small number of publishers and was somewhat surprised by the feedback…

While a lot of positive insightful comments came back, nobody wanted to run with the book. A writer I knew suggested self-publishing as an alternative.

In those days I believed, as I still do, that the publishing industry works quite well (if you can get into it). You submit a manuscript, it is accepted and then goes on its own mysterious way out into the world. I like this idea because, unlike self-publishing, it doesn’t 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)

ONE CITY, ONE MIC – MILK & COOKIES

Getting your foot in the door of performing in Dublin’s various nights of music, spoken word and poetry can be mildly daunting. Going to the events themselves is definitely a start, and most of the performers/organisers are usually very willing to pass on advice, but there are a select few nights that make it their business to encourage new performers, and by far the nicest is Milk & Cookies.

Milk & Cookies is a night of open-mic storytelling that runs on the second Tuesday of every month in various locations around the city. The entire night is designed to be welcoming – it’s free in, the venue is liberally strewn with duvets, blankets, cushions and enough fairy lights to illuminate a moderately-sized elven workshop. Free tea, coffee and various baked goods are also supplied – indeed, a crucial part of the proceeding is the M & C Bake-off. Guests are encouraged – it’s not mandatory – to bring confections of their own creation, and you can sign up your produce to go head-to-head with others, with a box of chocolates and certificate up for grabs.

It’s also a non-drinking, child-friendly (at least pre-watershed) environment, and occasionally the whole event will be aimed towards kids, which makes for a nice change from the usual, although there was an incident where one storyteller launched into a story about how they discovered Santa wasn’t real, failing to notice the three six-year olds sitting in front of them. Do a quick sweep of the room if you’re planning to orate something more X-rated.

M & C are very keen to bring in new storytellers – you get between seven and ten minutes, and the crowd are the nicest and most supportive I’ve ever experienced in Dublin, so I’d thoroughly recommend signing up at least once. They try and encourage storytelling, as opposed to a comedic set or poetry, so keep that in mind, but after that the definition gets pretty loose so almost any subject is up for grabs. The nights are themed, if you need inspiration, but these are usually guidelines only.

Milk & Cookies has been running for over four years now, making it one of the more established nights in Dublin, and they have an eclectic mix of featured acts on rotation. They’ve also branched into a summer festival and the occasional ‘After Dark’ event with musical acts where alcohol is permitted and the stories get a tad more loquacious.

As the event moves around, I’d recommend liking their Facebook page here and giving it a shot. Storytelling and sugar buzz – what’s not to like?

M&C runs on the second Tuesday of each month in various locales – doors at 6.30, show at 7

https://www.facebook.com/milkandcookiestories?fref=ts

Dave Rudden

One City, One Mic – The Monday Echo

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It’s a badly-kept secret that half the pubs in Dublin have a poky little back room or a hidden staircase leading to an upstairs bar and you’d be surprised just how many of these hidden treasures have been taken over by enterprising people with a mic stand and an idea.

If you’re looking to gain a toehold into Dublin’s thriving spoken word and literary scene, you can’t go wrong by starting at the Monday Echo, downstairs in the International Bar.

The Echo features a selection of spoken word and musical acts, all hand-picked by the event’s curator Aidan Murphy. Most of the acts are Irish-based, though occasionally artists passing through from further fields are hooked in to perform a set.

There are a few things that make the Echo unique. The first is that the place is consistently packed, which is admirable for a weekly event. The event is unplugged, meaning the performers rely on their own lungpower and the goodwill of the crowd (there is a rule of respect and silence in play, which Aidan will cheerfully remind you of for no charge at all) and the close quarters mean that if you liked a particular act there’s a good chance you’ll be sitting beside them in about five minutes.

The acts are reliably good, well-chosen for the venue and the crowd. The Echo is only the latest incarnation of a long-running tradition of spoken word at the International and half the crowd are regulars, the other half drawn in by the sounds of guitar and the smell of stew. Many of the performers run their own nights as well, so your Tuesdays and Wednesdays could end up filled as well.

That’s a more mercenary plus to the night – the Echo has no cover charge, and the International Bar are kind enough to provide bowls of stew for only €3, if you don’t mind swatting away the starving artists.

It can get a little packed in there so arrive early if you want a seat. If you’re of the performing persuasion then bring a guitar or a poem as Aidan runs an open mic directly afterwards where singers get two songs and poets five minutes.

All in all, if you want to dip your toe in the world of backroom poets and staircase spoken word, there really isn’t anywhere better to start.

The Echo runs every Monday downstairs in the International Bar – doors at 7, show at 8

https://www.facebook.com/themondayecho?fref=ts

Dave Rudden