January 1st, 2015

silent sigh

Yearly Fic Review and Yuletide Reveals 2014

As always, my Yuletide reveal stories first! There were a whole four (4!) of them this year. I honestly wasn't trying to write this much. It just happened, man. Yuletide. It gets into your head.

Gotham City Blues (9790 words) by Anonymous
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Gotham Central
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Characters: Josie MacDonald, Marcus Driver
Additional Tags: Case Fic, Character Study, Female Character of Color
Summary: A week in the life of Josephine MacDonald. Gotham's not an easy city to love.

My assigned fic! I was really excited for Yuletide this year because I was going through a bit of a writing dry spell, and I always like the way that Yuletide always tosses me something that throws me for a loop. This year was no different. Gotham Central, in terms of characterization, tends to do the most interesting things with Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen, which means that a lot of other great characters fade into the background. Josie and Marcus, even though they do get a lot of narrative attention, never have quite the same level of compelling drama. The best part about writing this fic was getting to meet them in a way that reading the comics didn't give me a chance to. I love Gotham Central as a whole -- I think it's of the best kind of fanfiction, loving the original material while also willing to explore and undermine it -- and I loved this chance to dig deeper into it.

It took a while, when writing this, to get into the flow. It wasn't until I got to the pure plot of the case that it felt like the story really started to gel in my mind. I think that difficulty shows a little bit in the fic, but I think the character study bits of Josie's weekend still work. I'm glad that I wrote them, and I'm glad they're still in there.

Also, the weirdest thing about this was that I was like 'oh, I'll write a simple case that is easy to solve.' but then it turned out that the case, despite having a simple(ish) explanation, was not actually easy to solve, and it ended up taking 70% of the fic to get to the resolution. I've written case fic before, but this is the first time it's actually ever felt natural to write, probably because the case in my head was supposed to be simple. It's easy, as a writer, to want to make it convoluted and twisty, and for it to come out feeling like you're trying too hard. Sometimes, it pays to keep things simple.

An Ever-Fixed Mark (11702 words) by Anonymous
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: How to Get Away with Murder
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Oliver Hampton/Connor Walsh
Additional Tags: Alternate Universe - BDSM, Rimming, Anal Sex, Flogging
Summary: BDSM AU. "So," Connor says. "Just say the word and I'd be happy to kneel for you."

Ah yes. This one. This was picked up as a pinch hit about two weeks before stories were due. I was like 'oh, hey, Connor/Oliver. I can do that.' and so I volunteered for it. I was mulling over what to do with it, because the prompt was pretty open ended. On a lark, I saw that the Yuletide Writer letter had mentioned D/s and D/s AUs, and I was like 'ha, wouldn't it be funny if I wrote that?'

And then I did end up writing it.

One of the first things I had to do while writing this is sit down and write out the most bare bones outline I could make it. I needed to keep the word count (and the number of sex scenes) down, because I was on such a tight timeline. I wish I could have put more scenes into the beginning, to really put a lot more into building that relationship, but I needed to make sure that the backend had enough development so that it could build to the ending that I wanted/needed.

I had a lot of fun writing this, even though it was pretty much non-stop writing for a week. A lot of BDSM AUs are either about subs who resist submission or subs who embrace their submissiveness wholeheartedly. It was fun to write about Connor as a sub who isn't conflicted about his identity at all, but who doesn't quite fall into the usual mold, either. Also, writing sad and needy Connor will never not be fun.

userspace (1084 words) by Anonymous
Chapters: 2/2
Fandom: Transistor (Video Game)
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Characters: Farrah Yon-Dale, Lillian Platt, Niola Chein, Bailey Gilande, Transistor - Character
Additional Tags: Interactive, Interactive Fiction, Character Study
Summary: A modern computer operating system usually segregates virtual memory into kernel space and user space. This separation serves to protect data and functionality from faults (by improving fault tolerance) and malicious behaviour (by providing computer security).

So after barfing out 11k of fic for a pinch hit, I decided it was a brilliant idea to take on doing something interactive. Ahahaha. It's a terrible idea. Don't do it.

Twine 2 had just been released, and I wanted to put it through its paces. I have a whole post about Twine that I want to write coming up, I think, so I'll save a bunch of rambling for then. But yeah, I ended up glancing through the list of people who said they'd be happy to get interactive fiction for Yuletide, and this Transistor prompt jumped out at me.

Transistor is one of those games that hooked itself into my brain this (last?) year, and I had already been thinking about writing Yuletide treats for it. I love the weird world that the characters inhabit, and it was nice to poke around a little bit at it. And that ending. Jeez. I wanted to capture some of how that made me feel.

As far as interactive fiction goes, this story is pretty simplistic. I wanted to keep things achievable in the timeframe that I had (about a week). Twine 2 was still rough around the edges. But I think I managed to get things into a good place. The interactivity changes how you experience it, and I like to think that I managed to make each of the characters distinct and memorable in their own ways.

Girlhood (299 words) by Anonymous
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Broken Age
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Vella Tartine
Additional Tags: Pre-Game(s)
Summary: This is what Vella remembers.

Broken Age is one of those games that I adore, and I really wanted to write for it. No one else had written anything for it during Yuletide, so I was gung ho about giving it a shot even as burned out as I was. At least Madness opening made it easy for me to keep it short. This came together pretty quickly. I love writing details like this, so it was fun to try to construct an entire ficlet around them. And Vella is so badass. I loved getting a chance to spend more time with her.

You don't really need to know that much about the context since the fic takes place pre-game, but if you want the context, this trailer tells you everything you need to know.

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an ode to Twine

So I've spent a bunch of time with a few other interactive fiction engines. Notably Ren'Py, a visual novel engine, and Inform, mainly for parser-based Zork-style IF. I may take a look at ChoiceScript at some point as well. They're all fine tools, for sure, and maybe I'll actually build real cool things with them some day, but they haven't stuck.

The one tool I keep coming back to is Twine.

I've posted a little bit about it before. It's pretty easy. You construct your interactive fic as a series of passages with links between them, and the software tracks which passages lead to which other passages so that you get these nice tree-like structures, making it easy to visualize the progress of the fic.

There are people who claim that Twine doesn't involve programming. This is a lie.

There are people who claim that Twine is for people who find 'real' programming intimidating. This is probably true.

Twine's syntax is far more esoteric and full of strange characters than something like Inform's attempts at mimicking natural language (which I have a beef with, but that's another post), but that's not why people like it, I don't think. Twine is simple. It does simple things very easily and it makes more difficult things possible, even if they are more difficult than they would be otherwise.

But what I think makes Twine so appealing to me is that it's probably the most writer-friendly tool out of all of them.

What do I mean by that?

The biggest thing that I had to learn to do when writing interactive fanfic was to let go. With simple text, you control the interaction. Sure, there are ways for readers to subvert it, by skipping around or reading things backwards or what have you, but interactive fiction is an explicit dialogue with the reader. It asks the reader to step into your world and interact with the words you put on the screen. Writing interactive fiction made me aware, in a way that I'm not often made aware of things, that I am at the mercy of the reader's time, attention, and interest. To make a story game-y is to put up barriers, to force people to put in effort and make decisions and interact. As a writer, it's your job to guide readers through a story. As a game designer, it's your job to guide readers through the story and also make it seem like it was their idea in the first place.

With Twine, I feel more like a writer than a game designer. Twine allows you to build things in more complicated ways, to create virtual worlds to explore, but I think it's real power is in taking static text and making it tactile, to invite people to play with the words you've put on the page. To be fair, this is mostly a result of the macros that were built for Twine, the ones that will let you build out cycling links and have words that disappear and reappear and replace other words.

So many other tools are about the game part of things. I love Twine because it's about the text. It's about letting you write the way you've always written, guiding people through a story, but adding another layer on top of it instead of having to change the paradigm entirely. World model? Twine doesn't need a stinking world model!

This might be a sort of a weird thing to champion, a looking back instead of a looking forward, but I like that Twine exists in this weird niche, halfway between straight prose and the adventure games that we've played and loved. I hope I get to explore it more.

Oh, and there's a pretty great New York Times article about the Twine community, which I think is pretty damn cool.

Sidebar: The Uncle Who Works at Nintendo

I don't like horror as a rule. I don't like being scared. I don't quite understand what people enjoy about it.

That being said, I kind of loved The Uncle Who Works At Nintendo, which is a Twine work of interactive fiction that mostly exists to scare the pants off you. It pulls out all the stops. There's some background art. There's sounds. There's different endings (one of which is unlockable). There's some pretty great use of Zalgo text.

It's also kind of about #GamerGate. But also kind of not.

Sidebar #2: Tutorials and Resources and stuff

It's hard not to start out this section without the pretty excellent HOW TO MAKE GAMES WITH TWINE, which is still applicable to the 1.4.x versions of Twine available on the website.

There's also a quick slide-based tutorial that could get you started as well.

If you are looking for a good story format to use, I hear SugarCube is excellent and much better than the default SugarCane format. It certainly looks like it. It might now be included by default in the regular Twine releases.

Twine 2 is so new there aren't any good tutorials for it, and it's still kind of unstable in a lot of ways. I might try to write one myself. There is a pretty extensive reference on Harlowe, the default story format.

I kind of wish there was one for Snowman, too, which is the story format that is more flexible about writing straight Javascript.

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