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.
Flash Fiction Month 2015, Day 31
Challenge #14: Write a story with a word count divisible by 31, featuring a multi-headed entity. It must include all 31 one-word prompts from this year’s event: Celery, Moon, Forgiveness, Excelsior!, Judgment, Dauntless, Terminus, Amorphous, Barbarian, Flabbergasted, Pulchritudinous, Twinkle, Ennui, Anagnorisis, Ethanol, Skank, Defenestrate, Moist, Summoned, Chiaroscuro, Legend, Elemental, Eldritch, Unfurling, Ending, Cicatrize, Catalyst, Codpiece, Facetious, Carrot, Google.
Girth Loinhammer was not a fan of this new-fangled internet thing. Everywhere he looked, people were gawping at tablets and squinting at phones. Very slyly, he leaned over to check what the barfly next to his left was looking at. “Super Cute Duckling Thinks Carrot is Best Friend,” read the massive headline on the tiny screen. Girth peered over the shoulder of the drunk to his right. It was a YouTube video about cats with boobs.
Girth settled back into his seat at the bar, adjusting the spiked leather straps of his torturer’s uniform. He’d sure like to find out where the internet lived and give it a piece of his mind, whip, and poker. Then again, knowing the internet, it would probably enjoy it. Just like all the other perverts he’d encountered during his not particularly long or distinguished career. There was no place for non-kinky torturers anymore.
He propped his elbows on the bar and lowered his head into his hands. “Another mead, barkeep.”
“The answer to your problems isn’t at the bottom of a mead horn,” said the barbarian barfly to his left.
“Of course not.” Girth angled the vessel over the faceplate of his helmet and tried to tip the drink through into his mouth. A lot of it missed and splashed onto his codpiece, making it look as though he’d wet himself. “The answer’s in all the lovely ethanol floating about in the middle.”
“Cats with boobs!” shouted the drunk, pointing at something just outside Girth’s field of vision. “Cats with boobs!”
A pulchritudinous woman with the head of a lioness marched swiftly over to the bar and roundhouse kicked the drunk in the face, managing to defenestrate him in the process. Continue reading
Last weekend wasn’t my first time at the Winchester Writers’ Festival, but thanks to a scholarship from the University of Winchester, it was the first year I managed to attend the entire event. That really made quite a difference, since the full range of day courses, talks and workshops offered far more variety than I could have got from any individual day. It was particularly useful to be able to get advice on both writing and publishing. Here’s how the weekend went:
Each day of the festival starts (if you get up early enough!) with coffee and an opportunity to chat to other delegates. For the first two days, this was also an opportunity to wander around the Book Fair. I was really keen to make the absolute most of the weekend, though most people didn’t turn up until a little later.
Being there at quieter times was pretty handy, because when it got busy (such as immediately after Sebastian Faulks’ keynote speech) it actually got a little difficult to move about the place. I got talking to Matador (on the far left) who were kind enough to spread the word on Twitter. Continue reading
The following stories were produced for Flash Fiction Day 2015. I’ll be updating this post with new stories throughout the day.
At a glance, the Human Fly wasn’t the most obvious choice of accomplice for a bank job. But X-Ray Ted wasn’t one to make decisions based on a mere glance. The Fly might not have the strength to heave a sack of gold bricks, or the mind-reading powers to get the guards’ security codes, he possessed one trait that no other supervillain had. Or wanted.
Super-corrosive bug vomit.
X-Ray Ted’s incredible X-ray vision had long ago revealed an odd quirk of this particular bank vault. The bulktanium mega-alloy of the door was capable of withstanding lasers, saws, and 99.9% of superhero eye beams, but for some reason had pretty much no resistance to being melted by acid. A can of supermarket own brand orangeade could probably strip the finish off. The Human Fly’s gastric juices could eat right through the hinges.
And so they did.
As the door of the vault crashed to the ground, the bank’s alarm began to blare. They would have only forty seconds until the cops arrived, but that was thirty-one more seconds than they needed. X-Ray Ted’s surveillance had been comprehensive. He ducked inside, gathered up a few choice—priceless—items, and let the Fly take his share.
The Human Fly hesitated, torn between a big bag with a dollar sign on it and a guard’s half-eaten bagel.
“Come on!” shouted X-Ray Ted, “We’ve got to go!”
The Fly took the bagel and stuffed it in the bag, which he heaved over his shoulder. He wasn’t smart, thought X-Ray Ted, but he wasn’t stupid either.
There were sirens in the distance. X-Ray Ted made a dash for the nearest window, the Human Fly buzzing noisily behind him. Ted jumped head first through the glass, did a flip, and landed on his feet in the alley outside. A standard superhero/villain move—banal, really—but it got the job done. He checked behind him.
The Human Fly was still inside, hovering just in front of the window.
BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! He took another shot at getting through the window, but brained himself on the wall next to it. BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP!
“It’s right there!” shouted X-Ray Ted, from seven feet away. “It’s right in front of you!”
BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! The Human Fly caught the top of the windowframe this time. BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP!
The sirens grew louder.
BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP!
Finally, the Human Fly found the window and made his way outside. Then straight back in. X-Ray Ted considered running off and leaving him, but that would seriously affect his bragging rights down at the supervillain local. He hopped back inside the bank and tried to shoo the Human Fly out through the window, but it just freaked him out.
BZZZzzzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!! The Human Fly made a lazy lap around the foyer.
The cops burst through the door.
X-Ray Ted gave up. This was no longer the perfect crime he’d had his eye on, and bragging rights were the least of his worries. He dove back out through the window, and was immediately tackled to the ground.
“Should have used the door,” remarked Commissioner Hindsight, as he slapped the cuffs on him.
10:41 Continue reading
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!”