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My E-Lit Workshop at Festival of Writing

What are playable stories and how to start writing them

Computers and the internet have given birth to a new literary genre – Electronic Literature, or E-Lit for short. The genre covers a wide range of forms, from digital poetry to literary games and playable stories. The one thing all E-Lit works have in common is that they’re created on a computer and meant to be read using a computer or mobile device. Many are freely accessible to read or play on the internet. In this workshop, we’ll look at some examples of e-lit, playable stories that I’ve created, and how you might go about starting to write your own.

That was the title and description of the workshop talk I gave at the Festival of Writing 2013 in York on Sunday 15 September. I showed some of my own e-lit works and discussed how I approached writing them (e.g. about writing Fitting the Pattern or a peek into the process of creating Underbelly). Then I shared some suggestions of useful tools for writers who want to start creating their own born digital works.

Want to start writing your own digital stories or poems?

Here are some suggestions of web apps and writing tools you might want to try:

  • slid.es – a web-based editor for creating presentations. Here’s a wonderfully witty example from renowned e-lit author, Alan Bigelow, My Life in Three Parts, which he created using the source JavaScript framework that slide.es is built on, reveal.js.
  • Prezi – a powerful zooming presentation tool that you can use online, on your desktop or on your iPad/iPhone. Böhmische Dörfer is a very moving example of what can be achieved, created (in English) by Alexandra Saemer:

“Böhmische Dörfer” is a piece, created in Prezi, about the impossibility of reconstructing the failing memory of a traumatic historical event : the “March of Death” of the Sudeten Germans from Brno in winter 1945.

  • Storynexus – a platform for exploring interactive story worlds and writing and creating your own.
  • Scratch – a platform for programming your own interactive stories, games and animations.
  • Webmaker – “a global community that creates the web by making, teaching and remixing” – an open source project from Mozilla.
  • Varytale – a publishing and writing platform for interactive books.

Useful tools for writers and digital writers alike:

  • Scrivener – a “complete writing studio”, it has just about everything you need for researching, writing, structuring and revising your projects.
  • Scapple – a freeform text editor, similar to a mind-mapping tool.
  • Evernote – a powerful notetaking, web clipping, scrap-booking that helps you “remember everything”.

Underbelly on The Literary Platform

The Literary PlatformMichael Bhaskar, Digital Publishing Manager at Profile Books and one of the judges of the Poole Literary Festival’s New Media Writing Prize, describes my winning entry, Underbelly, as exceptional in his article in The Literary Platform. He goes on to say:

Underbelly is an intense, educational, visceral experience, that delves deep into new media territory and transforms our expectations of what could be called literature. Exploring the experience of women miners in the nineteenth century the look, sound and writing of the piece are all magnificently distinctive and skilfully designed. I learned a lot “reading” and it hung around for days. This is powerful stuff.

He has lots of good things to say about the other shortlisted works too and I would encourage readers to go and explore the whole shortlist.

Underbelly wins New Media Writing Prize

Underbelly

Halloween turned out to be a great night for me! While I was giving a live performance of Underbelly at Inspace in Edinburgh, Underbelly was being awarded the first ever New Media Writing Prize at the Poole Literary Festival in Dorset. My lovely husband, Dane Gould, was there to pick up my prize, which included a brand new iPad! Since I created Underbelly in Flash, I can’t play it on the iPad but it’s ideal for exploring my Underbelly Cabinet of Curios.

Lorenza Samuels won the student New Media Writing Prize with her splendid interactive mystery, Evidence, also created in Flash.

Many thanks to everyone involved with the New Media Writing Prize and Poole Literary Festival 2010.

Underbelly shortlisted for New Media Writing Prize

I am delighted that Underbelly, my latest work of playable media fiction, has been shortlisted for the first New Media Writing Prize 2010 established by the Poole Literary Festival in partnership with the Media School at Bournemouth University – and amongst such great company too:

General Shortlist:

Naomi Alderman – The Winter House

Jim Andrews – On Lionel Kearns

Alan Bigelow – My Summer Vacation

Katharine Norman – Yes Really

Anna Pitt – The O2 Tales

Christine Wilks – Underbelly

Student Shortlist:

Lorenza Samuels – Evidence

Emily Hollingsworth – Anonymous

The short listed entries will be displayed in an interactive gallery at the Lighthouse, Poole’s Centre for the Arts, throughout the festival, from 29th to 31st October.

‘This award is breaking genuinely new ground in looking at how digital technology is transforming written communication. As the first award of its kind globally it will be a landmark in the increasingly exciting arena of new media writing and I am thrilled to be involved.’ Michael Bhaskar, a member of the judging panel.

The judges are: Andy Campbell, Michael Bhaskar, Tracey McGarrigan, Jim Pope, Tim Wright. There is also an interesting New Media Writing Prize blog, discussing the future of the written word, that is well worth a read.

The electronic writer as trans[per]former

What’s the ideal skill set for a transliterate creative practitioner? I’m not sure. All I know is it’s very broad, encompassing a wide range of creative, multimedia, storytelling, problem-solving and technical skills – at least it is for an electronic writer/artist like myself, who tends to work alone. Here I’m thinking mainly about the skills and creative abilities you need to develop and create a work of digital storytelling or electronic literature. But what about once the work of e-lit is finished? How can you help it reach an audience? How do you promote it? That’s when another set of skills comes into play.

screenshot of Underbelly by Christine Wilks

We’re used to seeing print writers give readings on the literary festival circuit. Electronic writers need to do this kind of thing too. Self-publishing and submitting work for online publications and exhibitions is fine, but you can’t just rely on an audience finding your work on the web – like musicians and print writers, it helps to go out on the promotional trail, make a live appearance, give a performance.

Later this month my transliterate abilities as an e-lit performer are going to be tested – at Ilkley Literature Fringe Festival, with a great group of poets and fiction writers, and at Inspace in Edinburgh, with a fabulous line-up of digital writers and artists, as part of the International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling (ICIDS 2010).

In Ilkley, I’m performing with a group of creative print writers who came out of the Yorkshire Art Circus writer development programme some years ago. It’s a kind of reunion and to give ourselves an angle, we’re staging it as The Writers’ Group Exposed!!! We’ll be simulating a typical meeting – well, maybe not so typical because there will be an electronic writer in the group. It’ll be interesting to see how my e-lit (Fitting the Pattern) is received in this context.

For any writer, it’s seldom as simple as giving a reading, as the Ilkley gig demonstrates, but for the electronic writer, inevitably, there’s even more to consider. You’ve got to sort out the tech (computer software/hardware, digital displays/projection, sound, etc.) and more than likely you’ve got to be able to operate your tech and read/perform at the same time. Those are the practicalities, but there are also aesthetic and dramaturgical considerations too. How will your live self, your bodily presence, affect or interact with the virtual presence/s, visually, sonically and kinetically? Should work designed for the web be repurposed for live performance?

Canadian electronic writer Jim Andrews has an interesting take on this. Here’s his plan for a work he intends to perform at e-Poetry 2011:

Basically, the idea of the project is to scream my fool head off while playing Jig-Sound and dbCinema as instruments.

You’ve seen musicians play an instrument while they sing. Well, this is similar. Only I’ll be telling a story between (or perhaps during) screaming bouts. And the instruments I’ll be playing are Jig-Sound, which is sonic, and dbCinema, which is visual.

If live gigs are part of the process of reaching an audience, then should one build that potential into the design of the work from the outset (or at least somewhere along the way during the process of creation)? Should one consider it an opportunity for transmedia storytelling rather than promotion and networking?

In Edinburgh I’m performing Underbelly – playing it like an instrument – in an evening dedicated to Language in Digital Performance and, as such, the occasion will give me scope to explore these potentialities. For the most part, Underbelly presents a diegetic story-world that explores a psychic landscape where the predominance of spoken word exploits the intimate relationship between voice and the body, voice and interiority. I designed the piece as a work of playable media but not particularly for live performance so I’ll be adapting it for the Inspace show, mixing my live voice with the multiple voices on the digital soundtrack.

screenshot of Underbelly by Christine Wilks

The ICIDS Language in Digital Performance event is billed as Inspace no one can hear you scream and, since it’s taking place on Halloween, we’ve been invited ‘to engage the spirit of this festival’… so, who knows, I might end up screaming too.

Article cross-posted from Transliteracy.com