How to Write Digital Fiction (Pt. 1)

A screenshot of the backend of interactive fiction platform Twine.

Why Write Digital Fiction?

I recently received an email from a colleague asking me about digital fiction workshops. (FYI, while I don’t have workshops scheduled at the moment, Dreaming Methods does.) While I do think in-person workshops are ideal, let’s face it: writing retreats aren’t offering courses in DF yet, and the few of us who write and teach it can’t be everywhere! A quick Google search showed me that the only articles written on the topic were written by yours truly, and never in sufficient how-to depth.

  1. Getting Started — focusing on currently available technologies, and advice on where to start
  2. What Can Digital Fiction Do? — a brief look at the evolution of DF, established conventions, and common themes
  3. Choosing Platforms and Media for Digital Fiction — tips on choosing the right technology, media, and design for your narrative
  4. Structuring Digital Fiction — a look at the narrative structures possible in DF, and how they can best be put to use
  5. Creating Characters in Digital Fiction — how characters change in digital environments, including perspective and characterization, and advice for constructing DF-friendly characters
  6. The Role of Puzzles in Digital Fiction — how gameplay and puzzles, common elements of DF, can enhance certain narratives
  7. The Digital Fiction Reader/Player — consideration of the interactive, participatory role of the reader/player in DF, and how that can change your narrative
  8. Crafting Metaphor in Digital Fiction — advice on using the interface, multiple media, and reader/player interactivity to deepen the metaphorical meaning of your narrative
  • I can play more with narrative perspective. It wasn’t that long ago that present-tense narration was considered unconventional and awkward. Second-person perspective for anything longer than a short story is almost impossible to maintain. Yet in digital anything goes; perhaps one day conventions will be set, and many of them originate from game standards. For the moment, however, digital fiction is still in a liquid phase that allows many different approaches to telling the story, and play is not only welcomed, it is expected.
Blade Runner’s silver paper origami unicorn.
Blade Runner’s silver paper origami unicorn.
Gaff’s origami unicorn makes us question whether Deckard’s unicorn dream was implanted. (Image source.)
  • The process is collaborative — even if I create my work entirely on my own. I borrow images and music from Creative Commons repositories. I copy code from other sites and libraries. I set my reader/players loose on the narrative and let them find their own path through it. These interactions, both planned and unplanned, can have enormous effects on the story, the narrative, the reader/player’s response, and on my own understanding of what I’m doing.
  • It’s exciting to be building something that is new, to see and craft its evolution. I’m doing things with DF that absolutely no one ever has. So is Anna Anthropy, and Mez Breeze, and Andy Campbell. So is almost everyone who is working in digital fiction. One of the reasons it’s so hard to pin down what it is and what it does, what it looks like and what its conventions are, is that no two DFs are the same. We haven’t settled on any formulae yet. There is no “bible” a la Syd Field to tell us in what minute to have car chase scene #43 or sex interlude #19. We are making digital fiction, right now, what it is and what it will be.
  • Perhaps because it is (not yet) a strongly commercial genre, it offers plenty of room for underrepresented voices. Twine gained its footing as a platform where LGBTQ and other minorities, shut out of the overwhelmingly white male-dominated games industry, could craft heartfelt and personal indie games. Because DF is largely shared with communities of like-minded people, rather than being wrung out by a dominant (misguided) marketing system, it can play a role in culture and society.
  • It’s fun. Do we really need more than that?
Early computer experiences all gave us broken limbs and dysentery. methodshop .com/flickr CC-BY-SA
My eclectic PhD digital novel

Writer/researcher in digital writing, interactive narrative, & digital publishing. Hoping for the United Federation of Planets; worried we’re doomed to the 100.