It’s Day Five of National Novel Writing Month, which means that my quest to produce a 100,000 word work of interactive fiction is already four days closer to completion. And what a four days they’ve been.
Since my last NaNoWriMo post came after just the first day of writing, and only included the bare minimum of work-in-progress work necessary to illustrate what I was doing, part of the point of this post is just to say that I’ve got into the swing of things and I’m expecting to have more of my NaNo project online and ready to read almost every day. I’ve found that although philome.la (my Twine hosting site of choice) doesn’t allow me to “edit” stories, it’s simple enough just to delete one and then reupload it under the same name. This means that the most recent version of Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure can always be reached through the same hyperlinks, no matter what version I was actually linking to at the time. I won’t announce every single update (except on Twitter): just check out the story whenever you feel like it and you’ll be able to see all the stuff I’ve added since you last had a look.
If you can find it, that is.
I’m currently writing the story back-to-front, in a sense. Rather than writing the first decision-making passage, then the two passages leading off from that passage, then the four passages leading off from those two passages, I’ve prioritised completing endings over writing beginnings. This is ridiculously complicated to describe, so here’s a screenshot of my work in progress:
The highlighted passage in the top left of the screen is the start of the story: the one containing the “You are Girth Loinhammer…” introductory text, and your first opportunity to decide how the story progresses. The passage far below it, connected by a long vertical line, is one I haven’t written yet (it just contains some NaNoWriMo filler text). However, the vertical chain of connected passages just to the right of that long line is one complete storyline: you’ll see it in its entirety if you choose to mope in the dungeon (or generally not do anything interesting) at every opportunity. Running horizontally along the screen are all the endings I’ve written so far. You can see how some of them branch off that complete “moping” storyline earlier than others.
The upshot of this is that rather than slowly building up more options at the beginning of the story and maybe starting to write endings about halfway through the month, I was able to have a dozen or so endings ready for people to discover on day one and add a dozen or so every day afterwards. I’m actually aiming to complete 16 storylines a day. Working like this has its good and bad points, and I think I’ve been at it for just long enough to get into those now:
- Word count is not a problem. I was originally wondering if I may have bitten off more than I could chew by trying to tackle 100,000 words for NaNo rather than the usual 50,000. I planned my project on the assumption that each passage would average 100 words in length, when in fact most of them naturally come to a fair bit more.
- Ideas are easy to come by. I thought quite a bit about what sort of story I wanted to write before I started. I even put out a poll to gather readers’ opinions. Turns out you guys were onto something: writing a massively branching story that doesn’t take itself seriously has given me a lot of options for endings: everything from alien abductions to death by boredom. This kind of massively branching format makes it difficult (though not impossible) to write yourself into a corner as you can when working on a linear novel.
- Quality seems okay so far. It might be too early to say for sure, but I don’t think the quantity of work I’m trying to produce this month is having too much of an impact on the quality. There are a lot of typos and I’ll want to do quite a bit of fixing up before considering this thing properly finished, but I don’t feel like I’m writing for the sake of it. I’m really enjoying coming up with these storylines and there are a few I’m particularly looking forward to.
- People seem surprisingly invested in the story. I really wasn’t sure what sort of reaction to expect to something I was putting on show in such an unfinished state. Interactive fiction often behaves a little like a machine, in that if parts are missing it won’t work at all. However, I’ve been absolutely blown away by the response. People have said they’ve gone through and read every ending, which even on day one meant sifting through 5,000 words of story divided between 30 or so passages.
- I will probably not finish on time. Despite being likely to absolutely shatter my word count goal at this rate, completing the entire story in November would involve an absurd amount of work. The problem is passages. Words might be easy enough to accumulate, but the easiest way to keep track of the story (for complicated mathsy reasons) is to aim for 31 passages a day. This is the easiest number to aim for, but it’s quite a challenge to write and it’s still not enough for me to finish in November. At this point it’s looking as though I’ll finish something like a week late–and even then only if I really stick with it.
- The story is difficult to organise. Twine is a great bit of software, but it’s difficult to set out a story this large as a readable flowchart. I’ve already ended up skipping passages because I lost track of what I needed to add where, and though I think it’s all fixed now, it’s a problem I just wouldn’t face with a linear novel.
- Many choices are inconsequential. I’m actually playing this for laughs quite a bit, but ideally interactive fiction should make you think about what you’re doing and what effect your choices will have. However, the sheer number of choices I have to write for this thing means that they can’t all be significant. The fun of Exponential Adventure will come primarily from exploring its multitude of storylines, rather than getting seriously invested in the fate of its protagonist.
- Interactive fiction gives me nightmares. This hasn’t so far been an issue with Exponential Adventure, but it happened with both Blacklight 1995 and Outpost, and I think it has more to do with format than genre. These things are all multidimensional worlds rather than linear stories, so it’s a lot easier to get wrapped up in them. On the plus side, though, I hope that also makes them more interesting to read.
So that’s how things are going so far. I’m on track to hit my target of 100,000 words, but at the same time it looks as though that target won’t be quite enough to get the story done during NaNo. However, it’s all going well so far, and if you haven’t checked it out since day one, Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure now includes nearly 20,000 words worth of silliness for you to explore. Also 64 unique endings.
Those things add up quickly.
It’s Day One of National Novel Writing Month, and so far I’m on track to reach my goal of a 100,000 word interactive story by the end of November. At this rate I’m actually expecting to exceed the word goal by a considerable margin, but only because it’s proving more challenging to keep passages short than to let them grow to however long they need.
I got the idea for this story while on the way to a Halloween event yesterday, so it’s maybe not as well planned out as it could be. Still, with 16 of the 512 planned alternate endings already finished, it seems to be going smoothly so far.
Find the work-in-progress here, if you dare.
It’s worth noting that I’m prioritising complete storylines over early branches, so at the time of writing your only option for the first five passages is to sit in the dungeon moping. However, there is already a lot of variety after that point. Enough that I hope people won’t be disappointed by this very early version of the work.
Also, if you’re doing NaNoWriMo yourself and would like to add me as a buddy, my profile is here.
You wake with a pounding headache. Your mouth feels like an ashtray. An ashtray full of vodka. Vodka that’s been flavoured with spicy cat farts. You can’t remember what you did last night. If it even was last night! You feel like you’ve been asleep for more like several weeks…
I’m pleased to announce that a new chapter of Beyond the Black Throne is now available to read, and the next one is now open for suggestions! I’ve actually been sitting on the text of this update for quite some time: the main thing that was stopping me posting it was the difficulty of getting the images together, and the knowledge that even if I did, I’d be unlikely to find the time for the next few.
However, I think I’ve now solved both problems. I’ve got my unholy homemade tripod golem set up in the same room as my computer, which makes it easier to shift things back and forth, and I’ve settled on posting a new chapter every other Friday. I really didn’t want to do that–partly just because it makes it harder for people to follow–but relying on a (mostly) free day every Thursday/Friday simply isn’t realistic just now. Also, I’m expecting to have help from Cory Simmerson in the form of a spinoff series of comic strips. Any day the site is due an update but I can’t manage one, I’ll (hopefully!) be able to post an already-written comic to keep things rolling.
It’s really fantastic to have this kind of option. For one thing, it’s exactly in keeping with the idea behind the Black Throne saga, to which anyone can contribute, and for another it makes the fortnightly update schedule way less daunting. The main thing that was putting me off doing that earlier was that missing an update (which is still reasonably likely, I’m afraid) would mean either waiting one whole week and screwing up the schedule, or waiting two more and leaving it an entire month. I realise that it’s kind of weird to think that far into the logistics of a low budget BDSM-themed fantasy/humour series, but apparently that’s what I do now.
Oh. And I also spot food that looks like my cutout characters. In honour of Burns’ Night, here’s a scotch egg that looks like the Head Goblin Slave:
Here’s the link to the new chapter of Beyond the Black Throne. If you fancy making a suggestion as to what good old Girth Loinhammer should do in the next one–he’s in quite the pickle just now!–that would be fantastic. And if you’d like to also spread the word about it, that would be even better. More readers mean more hilarious suggestions (and there have been some great ones already)!
To keep up with the ongoing exploits of everybody’s favourite Dungeon Lord, just head over to Beyond the Black Throne where there are giggles, groans and goblins aplenty. I won’t be regularly announcing Black Throne updates on this blog, so if you want to keep up with the story in future then you might want to follow that blog or @BlackThroneNews on Twitter. Alternatively, Beyond the Black Throne will be updated every Thursday, so you could just check back once a week.
It may only be the second part, but I’m already hugely enjoying writing this thing. It’s a form I have virtually no experience writing in, so I wasn’t sure what kind of start it would get off to, but I’m happy to say that all the suggestions receieved were extremely promising, and that on this occasion I’ve made use of every single one of them. That almost certainly won’t happen every week, but I will be making an effort to work in as many as I can. Do get them in quickly, though! If I’m going to keep to my planned schedule, I’ll need to start coming up with new chapters at least a day or two in advance. Anything coming in as late as Tuesday or Wednesday is unlikely to make it in (though there’s always a chance it could be relevant to a future update, so don’t give up hope!). Also, from this point onwards (if I’ve set things up right) you should no longer need to provide an email address in order to leave a suggestion. That might change if I start to get floods of spam, but ideally I’d like to make things as easy as possible for anyone who wants to contribute.
This week also marks the first chapter to include animation, and there is quite a bit of it! While that did significantly increase the amount of time it took to put this chapter together, I feel that the extra character it adds is well worthwhile and I’m likely to get quicker (and better) over time. I’m also still cutting out new puppet parts—even for the Dungeon Lord, who I initially designed to be as versatile as possible—so once I’ve established a cast of characters things will hopefully get easier. At the moment, cutting new shapes accounts for roughly half the time spent creating images and animation.
Already, it’s clear to me that reader input is going to completely change the way I write this. I already knew that I was giving up control of the plot as a whole, but what I hadn’t considered was how much of an influence suggestions would have on the humour within it. That’s going to be interesting to explore in future. However, to do that I’m going to need a steady stream of suggestions, so if you haven’t already, tell your friends! The more people get involved, the funnier this will be.
You might recall The Dungeon Lord–aka. “Girth Loinhammer”–from some of my flash fiction stories earlier this year. More specifically, he featured in the Black Throne series: Before the Black Throne, Rebranding the Black Throne, and Black Throne White Noise. Well, he’s back again, this time with his own blog all to himself. He’s even got his own twitter account. The thing is, even though this is a reboot of sorts, he’s still dealing with the same old problem.
While good old Girth just wants to run a nice respectable dungeon–torturing heroes, stealing their gold, all that honest dungeoning stuff–a lot of the people who’ve been turning up recently have some very strange ideas about what kind of dungeon he’s running. It’s starting to look like his whips and chains and black leather armour are giving the wrong impression entirely, and this makes him very, very uncomfortable. Long story short, he’s fed up with the situation, but he’s out of ideas as to how to fix it.
This is where you come in. Leave a comment over on Beyond the Black Throne, or shoot @BlackThroneNews a message on twitter, and give the Dungeon Lord a suggestion as to what he should do next. Your feedback will dictate the course of his story! But naturally this is a big problem, and he’ll need lots of advice, so be sure to share the site with any friends you think could help (or, failing that, anybody you think could get a laugh out of the situation).
Where this goes next is up to you!
If you liked the stories I posted every day in July, you’ll love this: you can now download the entire collection–Bionic Punchline–free to enjoy on your e-reader, tablet, phone, or just any old computer.
For those of you who didn’t catch every single story this year (and given how many there were, I’m guessing there’s more than a few of you), this is a great opportunity for you to catch up. For any die-hard fans who managed to read all of them, you’ll be pleased to find a never-before-seen introduction to and statistical analysis of the collection. And if that comes as a surprise to you, you may also be interested in OCR is Not the Only Font and Red Herring, because I’ve done this twice already. But don’t worry: it turns out different every time!
Flash Fiction Month 2014, Day 26
Challenge #11: Write a story based on the work of David Bowie, featuring a cross-dressing, transgender or androgynous character. The story must begin with a hook and end with a twist.
The barmaid slid the mug across the bar, watching in fascination as the leather-clad patron tipped his head back, angled the drink over the slotted faceplate of his helmet, and poured. It wasn’t exactly neat, but the chugging noises suggested that it was at least effective, and that was something.
“Hey, honey,” said the regular with the ample bosom and prominent Adam’s apple. “That’s quite a talent you’ve got there. And I like your style. Want to make me scream like a baby?”
“No.” He set the mug down and sighed.
There was a pause. The barmaid dunked a dirty glass into a bucket of water.
“This is really going to bother me if I don’t ask…are you a man or a woman?”
“Honey,” said the regular, “I can be whatever you want me to be.”
“Hmm…” another pause. “Still no.”
“Humph,” said the regular, storming away with a flourish of his or her bipperty-bopperty hat.
The guy with the helmet stared into his empty mug for a moment. “I could do with another.”
The barmaid poured it out.
“You don’t have to take that personal,” she explained as she slid the mug over. “I’m not entirely okay with it going on in here myself, but it’s just business.”
Another sigh. The mug of mead vanished through the faceplate just like the three before it, and the drinker rested his head on the edge of the bar. He looked unwashed and somewhat slightly dazed.
“So…” the barmaid tried to spark up a conversation in some way that wasn’t painfully awkward. It didn’t work. “You seem pretty down. Want to talk about it?”
“No.” His voice was muffled by the wooden countertop.
“Want to talk about something else then?”
“No.” He rolled his head over to one side, so he didn’t just have his face pressed against the wood. The barmaid supposed it was the next best thing to actually sitting up. “I want another mead.”
“Don’t you think you should pace yourself a bit?”
“I’m not drunk.”
“You’ve had four already!”
“Most of it just soaks into my collar.”
The barmaid set down the glass she’d been wiping. “People who aren’t drunk tend to take their helmets off in order to consume more alcohol.”
“You know how when some people are reckless teenagers, they get bad tattoos and then just have to deal with it for the rest of their lives?”
“When I was a reckless teenager, I got a helmet. Now I just have to deal with it.”
“It’s permanent, yeah.”
“Ah.” She poured another mug of mead and carried it over. He sat up to take it. “My name’s Eleanor, by the way.”
He tipped half the drink through his faceplate. “I’m the Dungeon Lord.”
“Aaaaaaah.” Eleanor winked. “I get you. And that does explain the outfit…”
The Dungeon Lord groaned, slumping forward once more.
“That. Everything. I had an actual dungeon, but everyone ended up mistaking it for something…kinky. In the end I just couldn’t do it anymore.”
“Oh.” Eleanor thought for a bit. “Well ‘Dungeon Lord’ is bound to give the wrong idea. Why didn’t you just use your real name?”
“My real name is Girth Loinhammer.”
A barbarian at the other end of the bar burst out laughing.
“Okay,” said Eleanor. “I’ll admit you’ve definitely been dealt some low cards.”
The Dungeon Lord took an angry gulp of mead. “All I wanted was to get unlimited power and money by hurting people. But it always ends up turning into some weird sex thing. I’ve tried everything! I set up one of those snake cults, I bought my own island, I became a general in the legions of Shagamemnon…”
“Yeah. That was a particularly bad one. After that I went for a whole different genre altogether and took up a job as a starman. Figured I’d join a spaceship crew, then just spend all my time waiting in the sky, beating up anyone else who landed on my asteroid and maybe looking for satellites to hold for ransom.”
“Well what went wrong there?”
The Dungeon Lord took a deep breath. “Green, three-boobed alien women wanting to be taught the Earth-concept of love.”
“I see.” Eleanor rinsed and dried another mug. The Dungeon Lord drained his. “Do you not think your real problem might be that you’re determined to use violence to solve everything? Maybe you’d have better luck if you tried to take up a different lifestyle altogether. If nothing else, you’d be less likely to bump into the unsavoury characters you’ve been meeting so far.”
The Dungeon Lord thought about this. He shook his head. “Violence and torture are what I do. It just bothers me that I can’t do what I do without the situation becoming really, really uncomfortable. For me.” It seemed important to clarify that.
“That’s just it!” Eleanor ploughed her fingers through her hair. “I’m not saying that you should race out and do anything you’re uncomfortable with, but it’s worrying that you seem to be more troubled by the prospect of romance than violence. Maybe if you were just a little nicer to other people, you’d stop ending up in that kind of situation and perhaps find a relationship you actually…”
“You know what?” The Dungeon Lord stood. “I came here to forget my problems. I shouldn’t have to listen to a lecture from you. And I shouldn’t have to change who I am just to avoid everything suddenly heading towards sex. And I…don’t…seem to have any money to pay you for the drinks. I’m very sorry. Dungeoning was my only source of income and that ticket to Space really ate into my finances.”
“Oh, that’s okay,” said Eleanor. “I’m sure we can…come to some other arrangement.”
The Dungeon Lord stared at her, eyes welling with tears. Then he ran out of the tavern, blubbering.
“Wait!” shouted Eleanor, after him. “I only meant you could wash some of these mugs!”
Flash Fiction Month 2014, Day 16
“Thank you…erm…very much for coming here.” The Dungeon Lord wasn’t accustomed to being polite. “I realise this place is…some would say it’s a little out of the way.”
“Well,” said the interior designer, “I suppose it helps to keep undesirables out.”
“Ah.” The Dungeon Lord raised a begauntleted finger. “Funny you should mention that. You see, while obviously any normal person would consider the rusty iron spikes, booby traps, whips, shackles and torture devices to be a deterrent, I’ve recently had a slew of visitors who mistook my little setup here for something…” he leaned down and cupped a hand to the interior designer’s ear, “…erotic.”
“Oh.” The designer raised his eyebrows. “I see.”
“Now, I don’t want to do anything too drastic. I don’t want to get rid of all these lovely cages with the skeletons in them. But clearly this place isn’t presenting quite the image I want.”
“Hmm.” The interior designer tapped his pencil against the spine of his notebook. “Do you mind if I be brutally honest?”
“I suppose it wouldn’t do much good if you weren’t.”
“I think you probably will have to do something drastic. The whips, the chains…not to put too fine a point on it, but I can see why some might get the wrong impression.”
The Dungeon Lord snorted. “I think you might be reading a little too much into…”
“That skeleton’s wearing a ball gag.”
“The screaming was getting really annoying.”
“Be that as it may, it still sends a message. And personal fashion isn’t really my area of expertise, but your…attire…”
“I’m a tyrannical despot in a crumbling wilderness lair! Spikes and black leather are practically the uniform!”
“Well, on its own you could probably get away with it. But along with all the torture paraphernalia right here in the throne room people might think you were mixing work with pleasure, if you catch my meaning.”
The Dungeon Lord sighed, slumping down in his terrible black throne. “All I wanted was to have uncountable riches and limitless power and an army of goblin slaves. The dungeon was just the easiest way to organise it all, you know? Heroes come in, they get caught in some trap or other, you come in and enjoy a little leisurely gloating. Only now I’ve got it all set up, everyone who comes here is some kind of weirdo expecting a dirty thrill.” He put his head in his hands.
The interior designer raised a hand, moved to pat the Dungeon Lord on the back, then found that there wasn’t anywhere to pat that wasn’t covered in spikes or chains and lowered it again. “This renovation wouldn’t have to change what you do. It would simply present an image that’s more in keeping with who you are as a malevolent ruler.”
The Dungeon Lord sniffed. “You mean…it could still be built around me?”
“Exactly!” The designer smiled. “What kind of tyrant would you be if it wasn’t?”
The Dungeon Lord looked around. He hadn’t really done much to this place beyond just order the goblins to redecorate. With the help of a real professional, he could turn it into something really great. After all, you got what you paid for, and since it had all been slave labour so far anything else was bound to be a step up. “Okay,” he said, sniffing again, “what did you have in mind?”
“Barbarians,” said the designer, significantly.
The designer nodded. “Barbarians.”
The word hung in the air.
“When you told me you had this place way out in the middle of nowhere, that was the first thing that sprang to mind. Seeing it for myself, I’m convinced it’s the way to go: furs lining the walls, big sturdy tables with horns of mead, maybe some ox skulls here and there… It’ll look fantastic!”
“I have to admit, that does sound good.”
“And a few roaring fires would do wonders to brighten the place up.”
“Ah.” That was the deal-breaker. “I should probably mention that if the room is well lit, it makes it way too obvious to spot all the traps.”
“I would really recommend getting rid of the ones in the throne room anyway. You’re the big bad here: corridors and side rooms are one thing, but once heroes get this far it should be all about you.”
“That’s the thing. As a rule I don’t actually…you know…fight anybody directly. My role is mostly administrative.”
“That’s the beauty of the whole barbarian theme! You just hire a bunch of big shirtless guys to take care of that for you.”
“That could work.” The Dungeon Lord nodded. “And the skeletons in cages wouldn’t look out of place. That’s a bonus.”
The designer grimaced. “I would very much recommend losing the skeletons.”
“Okay. I will lose the skeletons.”
There was an awkward pause.
“Definitely hang onto the cages, though. You can put more big shirtless guys in those.”
“This sounds like it’s going to cost me a fortune in wages. How will the guys in cages even fight off intruders?”
“They wouldn’t fight, per se, but they would perform a very impressive war dance.”
The Dungeon Lord stared. “Are you…are you suggesting go-go barbarians?”
“Well when you say it like that it just sounds silly. Caged barbarian dancers are an integral part of the look we’re going for, and when properly oiled up I can assure you they’re quite striking.”
“I really don’t like where this is going.”
“You’re right. This was a terrible idea and I should be punished for it. Since I’ve already got the barbarians waiting outside, perhaps you’d like them to help?”
“Goblin-slave!” called the Dungeon Lord. “Escort this interior designer from the premises.”
The goblin slave appeared and began to drag him away.
“Wait!” shouted the designer. “I’ll settle for a light whipping and…” the hall doors slammed shut.
The Dungeon Lord roared to the heavens: “Am I the only sane person in this derivative fantasy universe!?”
Flash Fiction Month 2014, Day 4
There was a rattle of chains as the rusty iron cage dropped from the ceiling. It was accompanied by the rattling laugh of the Dungeon Lord himself. The same mechanism that had dropped the cage over the great stone altar had also raised a false wall, revealing his terrible black throne.
“You may have found my gems of power, thief, but I don’t think they—or you—will be going far.”
“No,” the thief admitted. “This cage looks pretty secure. Very sturdy. Lots of spikes.”
“I claimed it from the Keep of Akragokh, where it once held prisoners of the Thousand Day Siege. Still, I don’t think it has witnessed such suffering as it shall see today.”
“Oh no,” said the thief. “What are you going to do to me?”
Standing, the Dungeon Lord approached an alcove near the throne and retrieved a small coil of barbed cord. “I thought, since you clearly had your sights set on my legendary possessions, you might like to sample the Lash of Khgharghag first hand.” He gave it an experimental flick. “Perhaps after a stretch on the Rack of Zhoug.”
“And… and then what?”
“Then…” The Dungeon Lord had not expected to have to come up with another torture so quickly. “Then I will have you hung by your feet in the viperbat caves.”
“That sounds really bad.”
Sarcasm? The Dungeon Lord wasn’t quite sure. “Your impudence will only extend your suffering!”
“Mmmmmm, yeah,” groaned the thief. “I’ve been really naughty.”
“Yes, you have!” The Dungeon Lord began to pace to and fro in front of the cage. “And I’ll personally see to it that you’re…you’re thrashed with brambles and doused with vinegar!”
“Yes!” shouted the thief, “Yes! Do all that stuff!”
The Dungeon Lord stopped. “Now look here! I can see what you’re trying to do, and I won’t fall for it. You can’t make me let you go just by acting all…unsavoury.”
“What?” The thief was appalled. “There’s nothing unsavoury going on! Just a plucky and impudent young thief who needs to be soundly thrashed by a big strapping Dungeon Lord in spiky leather armour.”
The thief was doing some kind of eyebrow gesture, and while the Dungeon Lord couldn’t entirely grasp its meaning, he sure didn’t like it. “You know what?” he said, “Okay, that is actually kind of off-putting. Maybe I’ll just get one of my minions to kick you down the stairs at the front gate and we’ll call it even.”
“No, wait!” The thief stretched an arm through the bars of the cage. “I don’t have to be a thief stealing your power gems! I could be, like, a noble paladin come to cleanse your evil from this place. Only I get caught, and…oh, come on! You’ve got a perfectly good suit of armour just over there!”
“Goblin-slave?” The Dungeon Lord clapped, his gauntlets clanking together clumsily. “Escort the intruder from the premises, make sure the gates are locked, and…maybe draw me a bath. I’m feeling really icky all of a sudden.”
The goblin slave bowed, his pointy nose almost scraping the dungeon floor. Then, once his master was gone, he made his way over to the cage and unlocked the door.
“I’ve seen people do all kinds of things to escape the Dungeon Lord,” remarked the goblin, “but that was quite the ploy.”
“Ploy?” asked the thief.