Choose your own

I've been meaning to try my hand at hyperfiction, interactive storytelling reminiscent of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" stories I once loved. Once upon a very long time and many versions of the Mac operating system ago, I messed around with "hypercards," a simple means of creating a stack of virtual "cards" containing information that could be linked together. This was pre-internet, and the idea of taking static pieces of information (or narrative) and creating a meta-structure of linked meaning was an early glimpse at what we now take for granted. 

Anyway, another writer in my circle created a game/story in the application Twine that gave me a sense of the possibilities (she has since taken it down for editing). The first time I played/read it, I happened down a rather short trunk of the narrative and really didn't get a strong sense of the story. The next, I went down a different branch and thought "whoa." It wasn't just that I liked the second story more, it was the sense of diversity of story lines, with entirely new narrative lines and world-building that was specific to certain outcomes. 

When you write a story like this, you have to acknowledge replays as part of the game mechanic. A strong, satisfying story might allow the reader/player to walk away after one play-through, but it doesn't tap into everything that makes a hypertext story different. Choice isn't the only unusual quality of this type of story - so is the reader's ability to manipulate and alter the flow of time by redoing their decisions. 

You think editing a single short story is a chore? Try editing your interactive story in which each revision alters facets of dependent branches of the decision tree.

Try a couple games: 

Chinese puzzle balls

Puzzle balls are carved concentric spheres, each of which rotates independently. It's almost unimaginable how much concentration and skill must be required to carve this one out of a single piece of material (in the past, often ivory - currently, jade or synthetic materials). The example below, which I found in a display case being ignored by virtually every bustling traveler in the Memphis airport, is claimed to have forty-eight nested spheres. More about them here and here.

I'm sorry about the silly filter, which actually makes it harder to see the detail in the ball. I'm trying to walk back my use of the filters. 

I'm sorry about the silly filter, which actually makes it harder to see the detail in the ball. I'm trying to walk back my use of the filters. 

Stop talking so much and speak

I've always rather liked this music video, but when I came across it again after several years, I realized it exemplified a problem that has been a struggle in my writing. Watch it and get back with me below. 

I never realized what bugged me about this until I viewed it with the benefit of more writing experience. The video doesn't trust the viewers to figure out the plot from the visuals, and inserts an annoying set of subtitles to make sure we get it. Everything that is displayed in the on-screen text is either 1) easily conveyed through visuals, or 2) not essential to the story. 

This is a really tough line to push in speculative fiction. When you spend time developing an exciting setting/world, you want the reader to have full access to all the cool stuff you've come up with. You want to not only show them the front of a character's house, but also let them go through the ornately-carved door, ascend the stairs, open a closet, push aside the clothes, thump on the back wall, open the secret compartment, and rifle through the collection of mummified insects hidden inside. But you can go too far.

When you explain everything, you kill the wonder of figuring it out, and the awe of knowing there's still more left to know.  

On the flip side, I have a tendency to leave so much mystery that some readers are left foundering. Trusting the reader doesn't mean teaching them to swim by booting them off the deep end of the pool and watching them make funny splashes.