Great Writing Conference, 2009

Well, it was exhausting and nerve-wracking, but I gave my first presentation amongst actual professionals in my field today. I barely got the presentation done in time – isn’t that always the case – and I managed to have several anxiety attacks in the week prior about various and sundry, but today went a long way in validating the work I’m doing. So that was cool.

In my 20 minute presentation, I introduced my PhD research: practice-based, writing a print ‘novel’ (interlinked short stories), and the digital version concurrently. Then I showed a video demo, the exact same as below. The audio is a reading of the print story (the first 1000 words or so of a 7500 word story). The visuals are a ‘voyeur’s experience’ of the digital version; due to the nature of the demo, of course, the audience could not click through the digital story themselves, so I asked them to think of it as though they were looking over someone’s shoulder as they moved through the text.

(yes, the YouTube quality of the images blows – I’ll get a quality vid up when I can)

Obviously, there are other limitations to the video, such as the linearity as it parallels the reading, the inability to explore each visual/scene at length (there will be Easter Eggs and mouseover events), and the lack of depth provided by music or other audio. But I hope it helps to demonstrate, on some level, what I’m working with.

After the video, I went on to talk about why I’m doing this. One, I really really like it! It’s a new sort of creativity that lets me expand beyond the printed word, to do something experimental but that is still accessible.

Second, and a better reason to give to funding bodies, is that the trends in entertainment are toward more multimodal and interactive media. In the 10-24 age range, more people get their entertainment from games than from film, print, and music media combined. Games are nonlinear, interactive entertainment, falling further along the scale toward engagement than immersion. Tapping into an audience that is already prepped for nonlinear interaction is a great idea for an author like me, still trying to find a niche. Add in community and collaborative elements within an ongoing story world, and I think this will be extremely exciting.

I then chatted about the challenges I face in this project. For one, creating a story to exist in print and digital media at the same time poses unique challenges. Print is linear, and primarily immersive, whereas digital has elements of nonlinearity and incorporates more engagement. No worries if I’m creating a story for just one or another, but trying to put something together that works in BOTH, at the same time, is requiring quite a bit of innovative thinking, particularly with regard to structure.

It also means adjustments to my creative process. My writing process, after all these years, is fairly well-set at this point. It’s a whole new ballgame, however, to create the digital story. I have to think less about creating depth through words, and more about depth through image. It’s quite easy to fall into the trap of simply illustrating the story I’m telling, without adding anything through the visuals. It’s closer to cinematography, which is a concept I hope to explore soon.

The tools I have to engage with for the two different media are also quite different. For print, I merely need myself and my ‘muse’ as it were – a sense of inspiration, idea, motivation, etc. – and something to write with. For digital, I can’t get away with a napkin and a golf pencil. I have to have computer, internet access, software. I have to have a skill set that allows me to design and build the story. I have to have source materials in images and audio, whether original or borrowed under Creative Commons. I have to find new resources for distribution.

I ended the talk with a slide labeled “To be continued…” with URLs for my home site and this blog. The questions after showed me how well the audience warmed to the topic – most were quite enthusiastic, about the business model for distribution and revenue (which I should post my thoughts on at some point), about my initial digital fiction influences (which flummoxed me for a moment, then I finally decided they really were just games – it wasn’t until I started this project that I started seeking out things like Inanimate Alice and Dreaming Methods).

I had good chats afterward with several people who’d like to help me find equipment resources (yes, please!), who loved the story, who were emotionally invested in both the print and digital story, who wanted the chance to move through the story themselves to explore the images presented, who want to trade similar work.

In all, it was a wonderfully positive response to a talk I was worried would flop like Showgirls, or would be horribly sophomoric. I’m heading in the right direction, and I can’t wait to get there.

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