Today’s Art (12th February 2016)

Woo hoo! There’s quite a story behind this painting. Originally, I was feeling slightly uninspired and was thinking of ending this gothic cyberpunk art series but, since I wanted it to be at least four paintings long and didn’t have any great ideas, I originally thought that I’d just paint a cyberpunk landscape for today.

Of course, after a couple of sketches, I ended up producing what turned out ,in my opinion at least, to be the coolest (digitally-edited) painting in the series so far! So, I might keep this series up for a while.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"On The Streets Of Cyberspace" By C. A. Brown

“On The Streets Of Cyberspace” By C. A. Brown

Narrative Voice And Perspective – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Second person narrative voice article sketch

As regular readers of this site probably know, I tend to write these articles quite far in advance of when they’re actually posted. So, at the time of writing, I’m working on an interactive fiction gamebook project that may or may not have been posted online sometime around last Halloween.

Anyway, I noticed something very interesting when I was writing this gamebook. My narrative voice was different to how I remembered.

Back when I wrote fiction on a much more regular basis, I was very proud of the fact that I had a distinctive narrative voice. I’m not quite sure when it first emerged, but it was probably sometime in early-mid 2009. I’d gone through a few other narrative voices and I’d finally found the one that was perfect for me.

It was the perfect fit for the fiction that I wrote in 2009-11, since most of these stories were sci-fi/ horror/ detective stories that were narrated from a first-person perspective. In fact, my narrative voice was only at it’s best when I wrote stories in the first person. Whenever I tried to write from a third-person perspective, my narration often just sounded kind of dull and “functional”.

As fans of old-school 1970s-90s gamebooks (eg: “Choose Your Own Adventure“, “Fighting Fantasy” etc.. ) will know, these books are always written in the present tense and from a second-person perspective. In fact, this is the only genre of fiction that has to be narrated in this particular way.

Still, having had relatively little experience with writing from a second-person perspective (apart from this, this and part four of this ), the effects that this had on my narrative voice were extremely surprising.

If my usual first-person narrative voice sounds a bit like a twentysomething punk/goth woman from the future, then my second-person narrative voice in the gamebook that I’m writing sounds more like a cross between various American comedy writers, a rather posh old man, Missy from “Doctor Who” and something from this hilariously melodramatic vintage horror movie trailer.

Seriously, the difference really shocked me.

Even so, I can still just about see a few traces of my first-person narrative voice when I’m writing in the second person but, for the most part, my narrative voice is totally different when I write in the second person.

Interactive stories narrated from a second-person perspective have to do both of these things. Not only is the narrator an omniscient figure who is only partially in control of the world of the story, but he or she also has to talk directly to the reader too. I guess that this means that the narrative voice you use for second-person stories has to be tailored to the kind of story that you’re telling.

So, if you’re telling a horror story, then I guess that your narrative voice will probably sound a bit more nihilistic or “evil”. If you’re telling a fantasy story, then I guess that your narrative voice would probably sound more old and wizened. If you’re telling a detective story, your narrative voice will probably sound more “hardboiled”. I’m sure you get the idea.

I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but my narrative voice is certainly a lot more flexible when I’m writing in a second-person perspective.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting :)

How To Know When You’ve Had An Inspired Story Or Comic Idea

2015 Artwork The difference between inspiration and good ideas sketch

Even though this is an article about knowing when you’ve been inspired, I’m going to have to start by talking about my own writing for quite a while. There’s a good reason for this that I hope will become obvious later.

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times before, I’m working on an interactive “Choose Your Own Adventure“/”Fighting Fantasy“-style interactive fiction project at the time of writing this article. With any luck, it will have been posted online sometime around last Halloween. Yes, I really do write these articles that far in advance.

When I was writing this interactive story, I was astonished at just how well it was going. The last time I tried to write an interactive fiction story, it had failed after just a couple of pages. So, why is this one different?

Back in 2013, I’d tried to write a “serious” sci-fi gamebook, but it quickly felt like “too much hard work“. Whereas, with my current horror/comedy story, although it certainly has it’s slow patches – it never really feels like “hard work” in that same way that my abandoned story from 2013 did. So, why is this?

Personally, I’d argue that it has something to do with inspiration.

Although you shouldn’t depend solely on inspiration, it is important to know when you’ve had a genuine moment of inspiration. A truly inspired idea can be the fuel that propels your story or comic forward. A truly inspired idea can make the notion of spending hours typing or drawing feel more fun than spending hours doing anything else.

So, how can you tell whether you’ve had an inspired idea? There are lots of possible signs and they’re probably different for everyone, but here are a few good ones to look out for:

– It seems like the kind of thing that you and only you could have ever thought of. You feel that if you don’t follow up on this idea, then no-one else will.

– It seems as cool as, or cooler than, many of your favourite movies, stories, computer games etc…

– If you have a short creative attention span, then it’s when the prospect of spending a lot more time than usual working on just one project actually seems genuinely exciting.

– It starts out as a great idea for a parody or a fan fiction/fan art piece and quickly turns into something original instead.

– You spontaneously start scribbling down parts of the story or making some sketches less than ten minutes after the idea first appears in your mind.

– The idea becomes something of an obsession. It feels like the coolest thing in the world. You can’t stop thinking and daydreaming about it. So, you have to set it down on paper.

– The story/comic/art idea is in a genre that you absolutely love. Or, even better, several genres that you absolutely love.

– When you start writing, you notice that you are following the story as eagerly as you hope your readers will.

These are just a few of the ways that you can tell whether you’ve had an inspired idea or just merely a good idea. As I said earlier, this isn’t exactly an exhaustive list, but if you notice one of the things on this list happening to you then it might be worth grabbing a pen and a notebook quickly.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful :)

Four Ways To Add Humour To Interactive Fiction

2016 Artwork Interactive fiction humour sketch

Well, after writing yesterday’s article, I was in the mood for writing some “Fighting Fantasy“/”Choose Your Own Adventure“-style interactive fiction.

(Edit: If you’re interested in my interactive story, it can be read here. And, yes, I write these articles fairly far in advance of when they’re posted.)

As you might have guessed, it’s a horror story – or at least it was going to be a horror story. Of course, it seems to be some unwritten rule that whenever I try to write horror fiction, comedy quickly emerges instead.

Still, there’s something awesome about writing comedy in interactive fiction that you don’t really get if you write comedy in “ordinary” fiction. This is mainly because there are a few comedy techniques that only really work well in interactive fiction. So, I thought that I’d give you a few quick tips about how to make your own interactive fiction funnier.

1) Player dissonance: Interactive fiction is typically written in the present tense and from a second-person perspective (eg: “you open the door”), since the reader is meant to be the main character. A good “serious” interactive fiction story will try to make the main character an “everyman” and/or “everywoman” kind of character. They’ll make the main character into a generic, reasonable person that the reader can easily superimpose themselves onto.

However, if you want to add some humour to your interactive fiction, then you can make the main character a little bit more eccentric. You can make them do slightly silly things or even act in a downright bizarre way. Yes, this breaks player immersion in the story slightly, but if it’s handled well, then it’ll amuse your readers to no end. Good comedy comes from the difference between your readers’ expectations and what you actually show them.

For example, most horror-themed interactive stories (like this excellent one by Steve Jackson) involve an “ordinary” character exploring somewhere scary. My story begins with the player enthusiastically preparing to join an evil secret society that lives in a creepy old mansion. No real explanation for this is given, but it’s the last thing that you’d expect in an interactive fiction story.

2) Silly options: This one is pretty self-explanatory, but when it comes to adding options at the end of a page or paragraph, feel free to throw in a slightly silly or random one too.

If you’re feeling really evil, you can make the silly option the one that the player needs to choose in order to succeed. If you’re feeling slightly less evil, you can make this option result in the main character’s death.

If you’re feeling even less evil, then choosing this option could possibly just make the reader loop round to the previous options page or something like that.

3) Death scenes: In most interactive fiction stories, the player’s chances of winning aren’t 100%. If the player makes the wrong decision, then the main character can end up dying or being trapped somewhere or something like that. Like in all games, winning is more enjoyable when there’s a very real chance of failure.

However, these scenes can be kind of annoying to read for obvious reasons. So, they are the perfect place to add humour. If you can make your readers laugh during one of these scenes, then they’re less likely to stop reading. So, be sure to make your death scenes hilariously inventive or make sure that they’re narrated in a humourous way.

For example, in my interactive fiction story, choosing one option can leave you stranded in the middle of a field filled with undead skeletons. The scene in question ends with these lines:

Fun fact: Skeletons are nowhere near as evil or fierce as horror movies often make them out to be. In fact, they’re actually rather hospitable to anyone who happens to stray upon their ancient ground. But, well, what kind of host would leave their guest standing on the roof in the middle of a thunderstorm, when there’s warm tea and crumpets waiting in the coffins below?

In fact, skeletal hospitality is so well renowned that one hundred percent of their guests quickly end up becoming skeletons themselves. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I guess.

4) Narration: Traditionally, the narrator in an interactive fiction story should be as “neutral” and descriptive as possible.

If you’re telling a serious interactive story, then you want to put as little distance between the story and the reader as possible. This is why the narration in many interactive stories can sometimes be a bit “functional” and “matter of fact”. *Yawn*.

Of course, if you actually want to add some humour to your interactive story, then just give the narrator a bit more personality. Let your narrator make sarcastic comments occasionally, or even “break the fourth wall” every once in a while.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful :)

Today’s Art (9th February 2016)

Well, I’ve decided to take a break from practicing painting realistic fog. I know slightly more about it than I did a week or so earlier and I felt like moving on to something different.

So, for today, I thought that I’d make a gothic cyberpunk painting because … well, do I really need a reason?

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Cyberpunk Diner" By C. A. Brown

“Cyberpunk Diner” By C. A. Brown