Archives: reflections

Why Attend a Con in 2013?

+Rebecca Blain is only my second guest blogger here at Worldbinding, and I wanted to be sure I properly introduced her.

A fantasy novelist and freelancer, Rebecca has recently fallen in love with calligraphy and started a thriving Google+ community, Writing Resources. A no-nonsense supporter of her fellow writers, Rebecca inspires others to keep writing, and occasionally develops a pen fetish when procrastinating.
Her post below makes me want to attend World Fantasy Con, but it looks like we’ll have to wait until it’s in the US. I’m pleased to introduce you to Rebecca in this final post of 2012.

This is a Wordle created from the 2012, 2013, 2014 and main WFC websites.

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Is Interactive Fiction the Next Storytelling Format?

Is Interactive Fiction the Next Storytelling Format?

There’s plenty of buzz about something called transmedia storytelling — stories that exist on multiple platforms, allowing the audience to enter the world whichever way they prefer. This could be through a novel, a movie, a console video game, a board game, short webisodes, web comics, interactive fiction, and so on.

As a writer, I find it hard to wrap my head around some of those (I never paid much attention to screenwriting). So interactive fiction sounded like a good place to get my transmedia toes wet.


You may be wondering what interactive fiction (IF) really means, but you’ve probably had some experience with early forms of it yourself. Did you ever read a Choose Your Own Adventure book as a kid?

One of the most common so-called gamebooks was the Lone Wolf series, which operated a little different than CYOA books by allowing you to choose character attributes, much like Dungeons & Dragons.

And IF is similar to a MUD, but a bit more limited.

These all still exist, and as many of us grew up on them, it makes sense we might seek other forms of interactive fiction (IF) now.

To me, interactive fiction is the ultimate “What if?” format, making it ideal for science fiction and fantasy.

Modern Forms of Interactive Fiction: A Reader’s Perspective

We’ve had printed books for centuries. We had Choose Your Own Adventure books as kids and MUDs as teens. Now we’ve got ebooks. Is interactive fiction the next storytelling format?

I started looking into modern interactive fiction and its advantages and disadvantages from both the writer’s and the reader’s perspectives. Stumbling over to the Interactive Fiction Database, I poked through some of the IF recommended for newbies like myself.

Two of the three I tried left me stumped. I assumed I didn’t have to know any commands for them, and that I could just go through with natural choices like “Open the door,” and “Go north.” Most of the time, that worked, but in two of the three games, I found myself at a loss for what I was allowed to do next.

So one of the major disadvantages for the reader is the feeling of being funneled through fake choices. In one game I couldn’t leave the house because I had to take a shower and change clothes first. But in trying to do so, other stumbling blocks tripped me up.

After that, I discovered an interesting IF called “First Draft of the Revolution.” In it, you role-play as long-distance husband and wife whose only form of communication are letters they write each other. You revise the letters, and the story changes as a result. Try it out.

One thing I really like about “First Draft of the Revolution” is the visual appeal. In a sense, it’s also text-based, and yet it’s formatted very nicely on a parchment backdrop with beautiful typography. After a little initial confusion, it was clear to me what parts of the letters I could choose to change (or not), and it went smoothly from there. I didn’t need to know any esoteric commands. Plus, I was able to play it in the Chrome browser, both on my PC and on my Nexus 7 tablet.

So as a reader, what would my ideal IF experience be?

  • Provide clear choices: Don’t make us guess what we have to do.
  • Create real choices: Our choices should actually mean something and change the story in some way, not just funnel us back onto a pre-determined path. 
  • Avoid long gaps between choices: If we wanted long-form prose without much interaction, we’d just read a regular book.
  • Create an inviting visual: Like a real book, we want to see an attractive cover, typography, and interior pages, to put us in the imaginative mindset. 
  • Forget page numbers: It breaks the fourth wall, especially when we don’t have a physical book in our hands in the first place. Just link us to the next piece of the story. 
  • Offer the ability to bookmark: Since IF is similar to role-playing games, save points before a life-or-death choice would allow us to return and change our minds. 

Writing Interactive Fiction

Writing an interactive fiction story presents some unique challenges. Keeping up with various plot lines in a novel is bad enough, but to keep up with all the potential story threads in a interactive story is mind-boggling. Luckily, some developers have already paved the way to help us writers out. I’ll touch on two.

Inform7 is an incredibly complex piece of software, yet is very intuitive and user-friendly. You don’t need to have any programming skills to use it, although I recommend you read through the extensive documentation before trying anything out. You’ll need to arm yourself with the basics.

Alternately, you can try your hand at Inklewriter. This one’s choices are more clearly defined, in the vein of the Choose Your Own Adventure books. The reader usually has two or three options to move forward.

Writing interactive fiction requires a change of mindset. You not only have to keep in mind what all your characters motivations are, but now you have to guess what your reader’s desires are. Blogger Nicole Pyles has some advice on this balancing act. And the Brass Lantern offers some resources for both writers and readers of IF.

It’s hard to tell if IF will ever become a dominate entertainment form, but I think it makes a good supplement for readers between books, or in addition to them. I intend to try it out soon, so get in touch with me on Google+ or Twitter and let’s commiserate.

Check out what other writers have done with this new storytelling format below. Then dive in and start your own interactive fiction with Inform7 or Inklewriter!

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The Dark Knight Rises movie review

The Dark Knight Rises movie review

I loved Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. I liked their dark grittiness, their villains, and their plots. But I came away from The Dark Knight Rises with “meh” kind of feeling. It took me a few hours to put my finger on why. There were plenty of things I also liked about this movie, but I’ll try to go from negative to positive in this post. Which, you know, means SPOILERS.

LOADS AND LOADS OF SPOILERS. SERIOUSLY. STOP READING NOW if you haven’t seen it yet.

3D street art in Madrid, created by 3D Joe & Max

Let me state for the record, I never read the comics. (Okay, maybe a couple.)

Batman the Cripple

Bruce Wayne is crippled when we’re reintroduced to him at Wayne Manor. Through sheer willpower he gets back into shape, with a little help from a leg-brace, which apparently compensates for all the physical ailments a doctor lists at one point. Batman does a lot through sheer willpower in the other movies, so I suppose I can get behind that.

But then he fights Bane, who cripples him again, messing up his back. In what we’ll call the Pit of Despair, a man punches Bruce in the back to put the “protruding” vertebrae back into place. Ouch. And then Batman’s plan to defeat Bane is to what? To fight him in hand to hand combat again. Really?

That’s not dramatic or even interesting, since Batman already fought Bane, and we already saw the outcome. But surely Batman has a plan that’ll help him defeat Bane this time… And he does: Batman now focuses his attacks primarily on Bane’s mask (whereas in the previous fight he avoided it, probably just considering it as a type of armor). That’s the whole plan? Apparently, yes.

The Twist / Tie-In

The plot twist was a let-down. Bane is the enemy, yes, but he turns out to be more like Miranda’s pet. She’s actually Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter, Talia, the only person to have escaped the Pit of Despair besides Batman. (Which may be unlikely, but let’s just go along with it and say it’s due to Talia and Bruce both being more well-fed and having stronger willpower than any of the other prisoners, who were malnourished and defeated in spirit.)

I don’t think Bane says anything while she’s toying with Batman, which, to me at least, is a sign of subservience. As soon as you make a villain subservient, he loses credibility. He becomes a lackey, which is what happens to Bane. Or as SciFiNow puts it, he becomes “someone to punch.”

And Talia even takes this time to explain their whole backstory, because we didn’t see any of it in the movie. Major problem there. Any good storyteller can tell you the climax is not the time to add backstory, reminisce, or plug plot holes.

And instead of plugging plot holes, they create one. Bane/Talia were kicked out of the League of EvilShadows. And yet it’s only when Batman kills her father that she realizes she wants to do exactly what Daddy wanted all along: Destroy Gotham. Really?

I understand the desire to tie the trilogy together with a plot arc or major reveal, but that was poorly executed.

James Bond-Style Plotting

The timing and methodology of Bane and his crew will leave you scratching your head (see my friend’s review over at anarchy is hyperbole). For instance, wasting time and effort getting ensnared by the CIA just so they can kidnap the only person capable of neutralizing the bomb. Just to kill him in front of a crowd of people who may or may not believe that to be the case.

Miranda hangs out for years so she can weasel her way into the Wayne Foundation and Bruce’s good graces  (read: pants) so she can stab him in the back (read: ribs) later. Smellin’ a lot of “if” coming off of that plan. And of course, she, like every villain in classic James Bond movies, has to tell her story to the hero before killing him. Or, letting her lackey kill him, which is also typical.

And ultimately, Bane also has the same classic James Bond villain downfall: He lets the hero get away. He tucks him into the Pit of Despair and assumes he’ll stay put until he gets around to torturing him some more. Perhaps this demonstrates Bane’s fatal flaw, ego, but it bugged me.

As stated above, Talia’s motivations for wanting to destroy Gotham are suspect. But SFSignal raises an excellent point: “Why would Bane be so obsessed with the destruction of Gotham?” It’s not as evil as it once was, surely, even if greed is still rampant (thus his attack on the stock market). And while we’re talking about motivations — how does Bane inspire such fanaticism in his followers?

In some ways, the order of events in the trailer made more sense than the actual movie.

Things I Liked

There were plenty of other things that bugged me. Bane’s voice, for one. The music drowning out dialogue, another. As SFSignal pointed out, the utter absence of the Joker, even though we see the reappearance of Scarecrow. (The actor is dead, yes, but surely someone could have remarked on why the character didn’t reappear despite all the criminals being released?) The flimsy insertion of anti-Occupy Wall Street sentiment. I could go on, but let’s change gears and talk about the merits.

Catwoman: She had a character arc and stood on her own. SFgate really called it: “It’s the first time someone actually thought through the role of Catwoman in the writing stage and gave a good actress something to play; that is, beyond the demented sexpot of tradition.”

No undermining of Gordon: Blake called his hands “filthy” for his coverup of the true nature of Harvey Dent, but for all that, Gordon’s fundamental goodness isn’t undermined. Nor is his competence. Blake goes to save Gordon at the hospital, only to find Gordon already has things under control.

Alfred’s relationship with Bruce: Although I felt like it came too early in the movie (before Batman had seen any real trouble), I thought Alfred’s role lent the movie some much-needed verisimilitude.

Batman’s death: While I would have been happy with the way Batman died, when Alfred says he failed him at Bruce’s tombstone, I hated the movie so much! But then Bruce fulfills Alfred’s dream so perfectly, it was heartwarming. That was fantastic. And the way Fox finds out is great.

Batman’s legacy: This wouldn’t have felt like the proper end of the trilogy without the legacy being passed on. Joseph Gordon-Levitt wouldn’t make a good Batman, but that’s not the point. I was annoyed when he tossed his badge away, but that freed him to take on the responsibility of being Batman.

So in the end, I’d say it’s a good action movie with some great special effects and fantastic acting (really, trying to act with just your eyes showing!?), though it could have used plenty of editing on the script before it was filmed. I found the Avengers (see my previous review) much more enjoyable, and certainly not just because The Dark Knight Rises is more serious in tone.

My note above about spoilers counts for comments, too! I haven’t seen Spider-Man yet, so I’d be interested to hear comparisons to that as well, though preferably without the spoilers. Or come find me on Google+ or Twitter instead.

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