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It’s great a feeling to have your say on how a story develops. That while you’re reading, it evolves, and your own character is created according to your choices. This makes it a lot more personal. So I was eager to try out a multiple choice interactive novel from Choice of Games and see if it lived up to its recommendation.
When I first opened the Choice of the Pirate app [I was surprised: stark, without the usual razzle-dazzle one associates when we hear the words “interactive e-book.” But I quickly realized it didn’t need any of that: the quirkiness was in the way it approached you directly.
The stats column, on the left side of the screen, informing you of your character’s development, is written in pirate. (Please, tell me you know what I’m talking about! There’s even a day for it. “Arrr, me matey! I’m yer captain!”)
Being a fan of all things pirate—it all began with Pirates of The Caribbean I have to confess—when I got hold of Choice of the Pirate by our very own Alana Joli Abbott, I was intrigued.
At first I didn’t know exactly how it would play out. How would the graphics on the column get filled? I read the “landlubber’s guide to the terms” but I was still curious! And it was with a childlike pleasure I started to see MY character emerge from the story. Yes, my character. Because I’m sure that if you read it, even if you decided to copy my general characteristics (such as name, moniker, flagship, flag and even signature clothing), your character would be different in some percentage. The delight of being an honorable but 91% pirate woman! To have this sassy young lass navigate the flow of allies and enemies, trying to figure out how to improve her skills at the art of Cambiar—a special kind of magic—all connected to my own choices.
The Status column!
I got stuck looking at some paragraphs, rereading the options given. Would I ruin my reputation? Would this be too definite for the character, or would there be another chance to follow a similar thread?
Oh, how I wished I could read ahead! Or go back and change something.
There’s an increased level of responsibility when reading a book like this. You read knowing that what you answer might only control the order of info given, or how quickly you reach a certain goal, but it also might mean an abrupt change of wind.
I admit sometimes I needed an extra choice, something that wasn’t there. But here’s the thing: the narrative has already been written; you’re just navigating your way through the different choices the author has created. Think of it like a sneak peek of how the multiverse theory would kind of work out. Parallel universes where what doesn’t happen here will fracture outward, creating a different timeline and therefore a new universe where your unchosen option will play out.
Sometimes you can feel the hand of the writer steering you, limiting your choices. These moments break a little bit of the “oh, I have freedom!” feeling that you embark on. But without these confinements, there had to be an infinite number of hypotheses that would in turn lead to uncountable plot points. So, to sum up: not feasible, deal with it, and enjoy the sweet playful compromise, bargained between you and the author.
I had a blast! If sometimes I felt restricted, others I felt like I had too much on my shoulders: the name of my character? I wanted it to be something meaningful. Her flag? It definitely had to be special!
And that’s how I found myself delving into lists of marine flora and feminine names. “Too strange. Too predictable. Oh… I don’t even know how to say that,” were some of the things that crossed my mind. I easily lost twenty minutes searching for a name fit for my character.
But the flag and the clothing? That came out instantly! I had already begun to discover Noziroth, she was becoming more and more visible.
I loved the idea of incarnating this person, so I made the choices against what I usually do—which is set up to make completely bold choices that I’d never dare in real life. Here, I actually put on the salty battered leather boots and decided to be me (well, as “me” as possible, of course!).
I felt the yearn to kill a certain character. But when the time came to press the “Next” button and make it my final choice, I would change for the merciful option I knew I would actually go for as “me.” Nonetheless, I was pleased to end up with a bold, fierce character that had a lot of me in it. I had the opportunity of seeing how I would behave in a sea filled with scavenger rats and dubious captains. I got to be a PIRATE!
And yes, I wished I could try another choice; see where the other road would have led me. That’s the magic of it: if you want, you’re free to reread the book and play it out as a complete opposite character! But you know what? I think I’ll wait for awhile: I’m just too caught up with the web I created.
See how possessively I talk about the narrative? It seems as though I wrote the story myself. That’s the beauty of these books. Alana creates a rich, involving universe with strong characters that you—as a reader and as a character yourself—get to play against. She allows you to feel at ease to explore this world she created at your own pace.
And it is magical. I felt as surprised as I felt responsible for some outcomes. There were cliffhangers, some intriguing characters, and it made you want to read faster: why? Why can’t I read just a little bit ahead? The answer is simple: it would ruin the whole experience.
When talking about this book, I always talked about the things I had chosen and what that had gotten me. I didn’t feel like I was just reading. I was creating alongside the author. Isn’t that powerful? I have to say that as a writer it must be really scary to share this power with the user (reader/creator). As Alana said in her article “Sharing your world: game writing,” you have to be open about how the story will play out. Not much different than a Game Master on a quest. Your players will define their own characters and blaze through a path of their own, although inside the possibilities of the universe you’ve built.
It’s a much more immersive way to experience a narrative. I felt embarrassed, excited, disappointed: as the choice is yours to make, so is the rejection or the pain that results from it.
When reading a common book, you get to imagine the whole thing in your head, and we all know that no two readers will get the same exact experience of a particular story. However, here you’re bound by the information and descriptions given. The characters are all fleshed out, or at least not as raw as in this choice book.
Don’t be fooled: Choice of the Pirate is no ordinary “Choose your own Adventure” book. Alana borrows the core idea from ol’ creative Edward Packard, but allows you to actually create your character—nearly—from scratch. And that, for me, was key for all the rest. I was captured. I assumed the role of the protagonist: buying the ghost ship against common sense, maintaining cordial relationships with as many people as I could, trying to find out the truth about the Pirate King’s identity. Yahima Noziroth was my avatar in the island of San Alfonso and the Lucayan sea.
Can’t wait to start reading one of Alana’s other apps, Choice of Kung Fu. Being a Pirate: check! Now, let’s be a martial artist, shall we?
Have you already read any of these titles? No?!? Then click here and try it.
And please, please share your characters in the comments. I would love to see how your pirate turns out!
You should already know I’m a noob in the game universe. Following my post “RPG: Hearthstone, my newest addiction,” some of our readers pointed out to me that Hearthstone isn’t exactly an RPG, but first and foremost a TCG.
I made my case, they made theirs, and in the end we still had doubts.
While Hearthstone is based on as hardcore a roleplaying game as World of Warcraft undoubtedly is—or is it? We’ll get back to this—Hearthstone itself is more of a card game. You do get into character, but you don’t create the whole persona—I mean, you can’t even edit or change their speech bubbles during games. You’re stuck with the personality that each class has been given.
You can’t actively trade cards with other players either. You can disenchant yours, get dust and then craft new ones, but it’s not like your friend can entice you with three awesome cards just so he can have your Ragnaros.
However, when you’re playing against your friends, be it a friendly banter or the ultimate challenge, you’re not “you.” There’s this Mage, Warrior, Hunter, or Rogue who molds your actions—and therefore how your personality comes through. Of course you will have a determined gaming strategy that sets you apart. Maybe you like to attack the Hero directly from the very beginning instead of wiping all its minions off the table. Nevertheless, one can argue that you are indeed playing a role. You don’t have as much creative freedom as you get in other RPGs, but you are in character nonetheless.
“How about the cards?” I can hear some of you shouting. “How can you not see that you’re playing freaking cards?!?”
Well, yes, cards are the gateway to your actions, they’re how you express yourself—outside of the speech bubbles. You can change the backs of the cards, and you can choose whether or not to use the golden ones, giving your personal touch to the game. Hey, you can even buy new characters that will, in turn, grant you access to new card backs. And don’t forget that you can interact with the different settings where you’re playing.
Then again, what makes an RPG or a TCG? Wait. You didn’t think there were just these two terms did you? Because there are more to count, starting this small list—and this is just concerning the CG part as a constant:
BCG: Battle Card GameCCG: Customizable Card Game
ECG: Expandable Card Game
LCG: Living Card Game
OCG: Official Card Game
OCG: Original Card Game
TCG: The Card Game
XCG: Expandable Card Game
This IS confusing.
Even worse, did you know some people claim that WoW goes by the name of TCG? Hey! Don’t crucify me! I have yet to play it to reach any conclusion.
If you look for definitions of each of the aforementioned terms, they vary from source to source. Opinions differ and the rules get hazy when you scan through different forums.
So… Here I am. New at this and without certainties about nomenclatures. But you know what? Even though most of you would probably smack me in the face for saying this, I do have to admit that I don’t really care what it is called. The important word on that fancy and—sometimes confusing—pot of acronyms is the G word. I simply want to enjoy myself playing GAMES, no matter if they’re slightly more TC based or RP oriented.
May I just add how interesting this whole acronym thing is? It makes you feel like you’re an old soul gamer. No? Is it just me? Well, at least it impresses non-gamers… Anyway…
What do you think? RPG or TCG? Weigh in with your opinion in the comments and see if you can convince me!
The city was bursting with people wearing badges. You could spot your kindred souls just by seeing the blue lanyards. Finding yourself in Lisbon, here in Portugal, you’d think we’d be speaking our own language, but no: from November 7-10, the first contact you’d have with ANYONE—be it the lady from the teeny tiny fruit shop to the conference speaker at the MEO Arena—would be in English.
Lisbon transformed itself to welcome the more than 50,000 geeks that made their way to Web Summit. Taking into account it was the first event of its kind and size to take place in our country, I think we behaved quite well. Yes, 3,000 attendees were left outside the main stage on opening day and that was a big shock for everyone—believe me, I had paid my ticket, was psyched to be at the opening ceremony… and stood freezing on the steps amidst the crowd watching through a screen.
But let’s not get caught up in the logistic details and cut to chase: all the tech revolution.
There were thousands of startups from every sector you can imagine: Entertainment, Health, Sports, Fashion, Socializing, Learning… What held this diverse group together was the fact that they were using new(-ish) technology. Whether touting apps made from scratch or adaptations of existing software and hardware, people showed how innovation can be achieved in the smallest of ideas.
But there weren’t only startups there. You could see and experience new ventures of household names like Microsoft, Google, or Tesla.
You always know that going to a conference (or convention) is going to test your agility. How’s your sprinting time? With the stands of companies changing on a daily basis, plus the huge number of presentations, I found myself running franticly to catch all I wanted. Needless to say, sacrifices were made.
But I managed to hear some captivating speakers on a variety of topics that truly interest me. There was time for new marketing ideas and tools at the PandaConf, tons about the importance of continuing to make relevant content for your increasingly demanding audience at ContentMakers, and more VR and AR enlightening at the TalkRobot stage, while FutureSocieties and Modum offered different views on how we can learn and teach people to be bolder and embrace tech innovation by applying new methods to old business and creative models.
All that was asked in return was that you remembered their words and took their advice into account when your time came. People want entrepreneurship to move forward embracing the technological advances we continue to conquer.
At Night Summit, when you had worn yourself out all day, it felt nice talking to the other attendees about work, yes, but more about the countries they came from and what they thought about current events—remember that a certain election happened right in the middle of the conference, so that was a topic that immediately permeated every conversation from then on.
I could go into detail at how excited I was to finally meet Paddy Cosgrave in person or how cool it was too listen to Joseph Gordon-Levitt talk about film and creativity. I was disappointed to miss an interview with Sophia, the AI robot created by Ben Goertzel—that looks disturbingly like a character out of Ex-Machina…
My head bubbled with ideas upon listening to Baobab Studios’ CEO Maureen Fan and film producer Michael Shamberg, and I got many ideas strolling down the Entertainment aisle of startups. I felt the urge to do something. To act. To be part of this moving innovative cluster of people who’ll bring you the Future, no matter what field you work in. Because in the end it will all spread through our lives, from the way we dress to how we talk to friends or how we drive a car.
When I was in high school, I ran my first D&D game. I hadn’t been gaming very long, and I had a ton of fairy tale tropes that were stronger influences than the D&D cannon. My game did not really fit the D&D archetypes, and while I did a great job rolling with the way the players took my material (because, hey, they were upperclassmen and veteran gamers and it was my first DMing experience), I learned a lot about the difference between writing—and writing for gamers. The core of the difference is that when you’re writing a work that stands alone, you know where the story goes and where it’s going to end. When you’re writing for gamers? Well, be prepared for everything.
As a game master, one of the nicest tools in the arsenal is the ability to go off script. So, your tabletop Shotguns and Sorcery gamers have decided that they don’t want to do the mission given to them by the Dragon Emperor, and instead want to spend the day shopping in Gnometown? You roll with it. That may mean arresting them and getting them back to the hook (because when is saying no to the Dragon Emperor a good idea?), but you humor them. It may mean changing the adventure to be about evading the Imperial Dragon’s Guard, and taking the bones of the adventure you designed and changing all the flavor so that when they get chased out of Dragon City, the zombies you prepped are there for a different reason than the quest they were supposed to go on in the first place.
But what if you’re writing an adventure, or interactive fiction, for players you’ve never met? If you’ve played with gamers who like to go off script, you know how challenging it can be to anticipate their options. But that’s exactly what adventure writers and interactive novel writers are asked to do. I’ve written my fair share of tabletop adventures and I’m now three apps into writing multiple choice novels, and I still don’t know the best solution to this conundrum. But I know the first thing that I have to do when I start writing is realize: I’m not the only writer.
Is that a surprise? If you’re a gamer: congratulations! I’m not writing my story when I’m writing a game. I’m trying to write one for you to make your own. And that’s the real key. Any game story I write, the player should feel like the star. As the player, you should be able to make choices that suit the backstory you’ve created, beyond the text I’ve written. You should be able to tailor your character to reflect the culture and romantic inclinations you think suit them best. You shouldn’t be held back by my imagination.
Am I always going to have all the options everyone would like? In a word: no. My playtesters will tell you, though, that if they present an idea I haven’t thought of, I’ll work it in if I can. And—to some degree—if it suits the framework of the story as I’ve envisioned it. Because that’s your job as a gamer too: you’re the star, but we’re working on the story together. I hope you’ll see some of me in the world I give to you.
If you’re a game designer or an adventure writer yourself, this can be one of the most mind-wracking, brain-twisting challenges you’ll ever have—and you’ll come out on the other side better for it, because your imagination has to expand beyond a single point of view to encompass the potential points of view of thousands of players. And when you walk away, you can guess that as memorable as your NPCs are, as great as the details are in your world, the character the players will remember the best are the ones they created. And that’s exactly as it should be.
For a long time, RPG was a foreign word to me. I knew it from my so called geek friends, from the newest CGI games, and from hearing references of classics like Dungeons & Dragons. But I didn’t really know what it meant.
This summer, I was introduced to Hearthstone. It had something to do with the universe of World of Warcraft. Ok: a familiar name. I had never played it myself, but had seen people addicted to it and talking about how awesome it was.
My first reaction: cool graphics, but… so many cards with… numbers… and what do they all mean? There’s the little diamond shape thingy and then the other two on the bottom… And the ones with a skull have “Deathrattle”? My inner monologues ended pretty much with “Wait. Why did that monster die? No! Wh-why am I dead?!?”
Yup. Not the easiest game ever, I give you that. Especially if you have no experience with card games or RPGs in general. But I was hooked. I continued to try. I had help building my first decks and got used to playing with the same character: Mage (c’mon, you’ve got to love a good Flamestrike!).
But besides the everyday ranked games, daily challenges and solo adventures, there’s something that, sometimes, is incredible: the Tavern Brawls!
These consist of a weekly challenge that changes its rules every time and is only available for three days. You get games that go from cooperating with the other player in order to destroy a common enemy to using only one type of card to destroy your enemy—or even to using chess pieces.
Something that captured my attention was the cooperation game. In a question of seconds—and without the use of chat—strategies were made and put into action. Just by playing a certain card and maybe highlighting your partner’s hero power, you gave each other signals and you were in fact working towards a common goal from across the world. It seems something ridiculous, right? What’s so important about destroying an imaginary monster in a fantasy game?
Well, picture this: it’s not a random monster, it’s a problem that two people who have never met are joining forces to solve. Within seconds, tactics are created and acted upon.
This shows how we are more than capable of solving problems and collaborating. We just have to be on the same side—and that’s the tricky part of any conflict.
See how this quickly went from mere game to world cooperation? Ok, ok, I’m not preaching RPGs as a solution to World Peace—everyone knows that the answer to that is tickling; we are just afraid because it’s so obvious, as comedian T.J. Miller pointed out.
Anyway, back to Hearthstone!
I am now proud to say that I have conquered my good share of victories, currently trying to push myself beyond my comfort zone by playing with other characters. I know the difference between a Battlecry and a Deathrattle and more or less how to prioritize my mana spending and energy losses.
I love that it is a game that needs more than sheer luck, that you have to actually think when playing if you want to create certain combos and get cool cards.
But there was another thing that helped me get addicted: the possibility of playing with friends from around the world! It’s fine to chat on a regular basis to keep tabs on how everyone’s doing, but it’s much cooler when you’re able to share these funny moments in an RPG. Challenging your friends for battles, arguing about what characters have the best powers and cards, giving tips and advice on how to improve your decks or what web pages to visit for extra news—it’s all part of a shareable experience. It’s something that takes the game to a new level and makes it less impersonal.
It’s almost like having that cosy boardgame night where you just goof around and have fun, using the game as an excuse.
The funny characters, the subtle humor on the card descriptions, and the whole sound and graphic landscape make Hearthstone an enjoyable experience for anyone wanting to give the digital RPG world a try. It’s free, so why not take a chance?
Are you an avid player of online RPGs? Which ones would you recommend?
Let us know! I’ll be playing the ones you suggest and writing my impressions here. Yes, I’m a complete newbie but that’s why it’s going to be fun for you to hear the struggles and nonsenses of a rookie in worlds you’ve traveled so many times.
After reading Susana’s confession about how she came to comics, I feel like I should have a confession of my own. Here it is: I think I’m addicted to serial fiction. Not series fiction—those ten or twelve or how-ever-long-Game of Thrones-will-be-when-GRRM-is-finished—although I love those, too. I mean serial fiction, the type of fiction you can take in at bite-sized. The kind of fiction you get in webcomics, which have been doing it brilliantly for years, stringing along a story one day at a time and keeping the readers hooked with little claws of awesomeness dug into our brains. The kind of fiction that’s easy for reading online or reading on your phone.
The kind of fiction that’s becoming ever so much more popular for prose stories these days, as well as webcomics and episodic television series. I keep an ongoing updated overview of “The Best Serial Fiction You Should Be Reading” where I write over at Den of Geek. But while I’m waxing eloquent over the prose tales I’m loving to read, and listen to when the audio versions are available, I haven’t gotten into something I’ve been considering for awhile: how much serial prose fiction is like the webcomics experience—and how much it isn’t.
If you check out the philosophy espoused by Serial Box Publishing, which produces most of the serials I’m reading right now, you’ll see that the inspiration behind these serials is the television writing process. Each serial has a team of writers who storyboard, work out the main thrust of the story’s season, and take the head writing assignments for different episodes. The result is that the serials feel like television, except with all the action going on inside your head. The pacing is very much what you’d expect of an hour-long TV drama (or, in the case of Whitehall, a bit more than an hour, especially in audio, which makes them feel a bit like a PBS-run British mini-series; it’s appropriate for that story).
But, of course, reading prose has very little else in common with television. As Susana pointed out in discussing the difference between novels and comics, with prose fiction, all of the world and character appearance come from the reader, and no two versions of that world are going to be the same, because of the different details readers will focus on, and because of their own frame of references. While I’ve got a cast list to pitch for Bookburners if that ever got optioned for a television series, my cast list is probably quite different from the one the writers would create themselves! (I’d love to find out, though…) More than that, there’s no need for a special effects budget in prose, because the imagination of the reader has a pretty unlimited budget.
So why does that have me thinking about webcomics? I’ve always thought that comics were sort of a middle ground medium. When I first started writing comics, I took a screen writing course to get a better idea of how to create a script. The big difference between film and comics, in my opinion, is that the action in a film is continual. The action in a comic happens between the panels. The action in prose can happen anywhere, but a prose writer has a cheat: the prose writer can tell you what’s going on in the heads of the characters. The action can be internal. Not so with comics! The art has to show you what’s going on in that character development. So if serial fiction and television are similar storytelling experiences, the webcomics, with the art-prose hybrid, could be the perfect middle medium between them.
Generally, though, webcomics are a very different reading experience, unless you’re binge reading. If you haven’t ever read a page of Schlock Mercenary, for example, (and if you haven’t, where have you been?) you could be reading online for hours on end, devouring storyline after storyline. The volume arcs in a long-running webcomic like Schlock do feel a lot like a television season.
But if you’re all caught up, a webcomic gives you a tiny, bite-sized morsel of story every day, every other day, or even once a week. The best of them are able to make that small bite enough to keep your interest, to keep you wondering what will happen in the next post. In an age of binge watching, that ability to sustain a story without the ability to binge read it is an impressive skill, and I admire the webcomics creators who can maintain the kind of loyal readership that so many inspire.
Webcomics and serials both draw on earlier, similar examples. Webcomics come out of a tradition of newspaper comics like Prince Valiant and Spiderman that would give readers four panels a day of an ongoing tale. I always wondered how those readers would manage if they ever missed a day of the paper! Serial prose has been around since Charles Dickens and his peers, though the recent resurgence is closer in many ways to television (or TV movies: some of the bite-sized books are full stories in a single reading). And while they don’t share many similarities in how readers experience them, both webcomics and the modern prose serials are, when done well, masters of the art of keeping their readers coming back for more. That’s a skill that’s valuable for any writer!
Ok. So it’s no news to anyone that the comic book world was something of a novelty for me when I arrived at Outland Entertainment. Yes, I was a comic book fan all along and I didn’t know, but being conscious and actively looking for out of the ordinary titles and cult classics to read was a long way coming.
Here’s the thing: I’m already a Gaiman fan. His collection of short stories Fragile Things grabbed my attention with its lyrically beautiful stories and completely wacky tales. It clearly shows the range of tone and narrative style this author has to offer.
I was enthralled by the radio version of Neverwhere. Yes, it had to do with the talented performances and the whole production value of the piece. However, the metaphorical London I was introduced to, the one where the streets I know and love get a whole new and mysterious meaning was mesmerizing.
But I digress.
With Gaiman, we have an author that writes novels, graphic novels and non-fiction essays. Let’s stick to the fiction so we can try and establish some comparisons.
You can point out how the tone is similar. How Gaiman intertwines complex and bizarre characters and intricately woven narratives the same way, be it in novel or graphic novels.
You get the same satirical incisive critic over the human pettiness. The whole impact is there.
Nonetheless, it’s impossible to deny that the format dominates, I won’t go as far as to say the outcome of the story, but definitely the way it progresses and the freedom you have to imagine those worlds.
Let’s get Sandman’s example back on the table. You can’t avoid the way each character is seared into your brain with each stroke of the artwork that has breathed life into them. The illustrations, the way the panels are laid out on each single page… it all boils down to a specific experience—not too different from, say, watching a movie. You have a visual presence that guides you and influences the way you perceive the story. For better or worse, it has the power to limit your imagination.
When reading a novel, you are forced to construct that unique world on your mind. You devour the descriptions, the actions, the little details about each character or setting and build your own vision of what the narrative is. For even the more detailed and thoroughly descriptive author cannot control the mind of every single reader. The result:
intrinsically unique versions of each narrative.
Graphic novels give you visual inspiration, while novels give you more freedom to reinvent that world written in front of you.
Does that make one better than the other? You decide. For me, they are different experiences. Pure and simple, they’re alternative ways to consume a story.
Maybe there are stories that benefit more or are more adequate to one specific format than others. Even though I think that the potential in both formats is pretty much interchangeable.
Going back to my personal experience of reading Neil Gaiman’s tales, I like to be able to fabricate the look of the characters, the overall settings—maybe even add my personal details into the mix. However, it’s an enriching experience to devour the illustrations with all their colours and characteristic design traits of each artist. Yes, it’s the artist’s vision, not mine. But isn’t it remarkable how you can be deeply moved by the sheer beauty of a simple panel? Having said that, this can also happen with a plain sentence in the midst of a sea of letters.
So as you can see, I have yet to be converted to only one type of format. Better yet, I don’t want to! I do not want to be confined to one way of consuming stories. Give me freedom to create my own visions, yes, but also share your beautifully crafted ones.
We’re talking about sharing, about experiences, about taking the most out of a story. Milk a novel till it’s dry. Create all you can in your head. But don’t forget the pleaser it is to be guided panel after panel by streaks of colour, insightful lettering and overall awe worth layouts.
There. Novels vs. Graphic novels: you can compare them, you can have a favorite format, but you shouldn’t confine yourself to only one.
P.S.: Check out the previous posts of this series: I Was a Comic Book Fan All Along and Didn’t Know, How OE changed my perception of Comic Books, Diversity of Graphic Novel Genres: From Biographies to Philosophical Essays and Couture & High Fashion in Comics.
Another SDCC has come and gone. And no, I wasn’t one of the lucky ones to go. Being an ocean away complicates your geek life a little bit. Even though Europe is having a boom of conventions at the moment. But I diverge! Back to San Diego and all the juicy news bits it brought to us.
From brand new comic books to expected TV series’ spoilers passing through highly anticipated movie trailers, there is always something for everyone.
My usual routine of following all the panels, scanning articles and its spoilers carefully, scrutinizing every bit of speculation at the end of each day was not strictly followed this year.
My fandom attention span wasn’t at its best! Too many stuff that I have still to finish watching before sinking my teeth on all the next season details. So this meant, I was more focused on the movies than on TV series this year, for example, and have tried to run away from the panels!
Sure, you can’t miss “Arrow”‘s cast bursting into song Broadway style – Hamilton’s “I’ll be Back”, if I’m not wrong. Or “Sherlock” show runners teasing the poor hungry fans. Nor Eddie Redmayne giving out wands to the crowd.
However I kept my distance from panels and devoured the trailers. I have to confess that I’ve been aloof as for some crucial release dates. Not to worry, though! This trailer overload just seared all the dates onto my brain calendar! Some I was pleasantly surprised to know I was just going to wait till the end of the year while others…well, can’t they launch it already??
The great cosplay, companionship, free goodies and overall geekness overload are key to anyone attending this convention. But there’s also a big camaraderie towards the ones watching from afar!
The cool people who share videos and pics not only from the big panels but also from the general environment. The rich detailed filled Twitter feeds that make you feel like you’re there in the halls. The articles, the friendly debates over the newest info and, you can’t even escape, some annoying bickering. It’s clearly a different (let’s call it…lighter) way to enjoy the con, but it’s still interesting to see how many connections are still forged through all this sharing.
Apart from all this, let’s be honest SDCC is all about meeting your favorite stars (even if it has to be from across a 64,842 square feet hall with thousands of fans inbetween) and building anticipation and hype around some – already – huge projects.
Whatever we may say, SDCC will always have a mystical aura!
Alana Joli Abbott has recently joined Outland Entertainment‘s as Editor in chief, but you’ve probably heard her name long before this new gig. Be it for her novels, her interactive games or her award winning game writing, Alana continues to amaze us with her talent. Let’s try and find out more from Abbott herself!
Who’s Alana Joli Abbott?
Starting off with an existential question like that? This interview’s going to be a stumper! I guess I’m a writer, editor, mother, wife, martial artist, and lapsed musician. I’m passionate about stories and the way that telling stories—and consuming stories—shapes the world we live in. Being a mom has changed the way I see storytelling happening around me, because I look at what stories I’m feeding my kids, and what stories they’re taking in from the world around them. There’s so much power in the way we tell our truths and our fictions, and I try to make sure I’m always on the side of using that power for good!
What was the first thing you ever wrote? Was it a school assignment or something you did on your free time?
The first thing I have a concrete memory of writing was a school assignment in third grade, but it was also fan fiction. It was a short story based on a comic book that my mom had kept from when she was a kid about a group of children and their dog. (Not Peanuts or I’d remember the title!) I inserted myself into their world and wrote a story about playing baseball with them. (I didn’t play baseball. That’s where the fiction comes in.) I think there might have been a rainstorm. Not too long after that I wrote an epic episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, based on the cartoon, because I followed that devotedly, on my father’s electronic typewriter. We didn’t get a computer until the next year or two, and sometime in there I started writing a really long Star Wars piece that’s now long gone. At the time, I was sure that LucasFilm would somehow discover me and publish it in the Expanded Universe. My first “original” novel was a riff on the Indiana Jones pulp style archeologist adventures featuring an Egyptologist with powers she’d gotten from a scarab staff, which I wrote as part of a contest in the old Disney Adventures magazine. As part of a project in for my gifted and talented class, I submitted it out to publishers and learned for the first time how the submission/rejection process goes. It was a definite learning experience!
When the moment came, did you need someone else uttering “You are a writer.” or did you know it already?
I don’t think I ever needed that validation, but I also don’t remember a time when I wasn’t receiving it. I was very lucky to have teachers who supported me throughout elementary school, allowing me to put on a play I’d written, starring members of my class, for the grade below us. In high school I had friends who would read my short stories and trade fiction set in the world I’d created back and forth with me. I didn’t realize at the time how exceptional that was, but it definitely established in me that this was something I could do, and would always do, professionally or not.
From novels, to comics passing through short fiction, games, interactive novels and numerous articles, we can say you’ve tried nearly every front of the creative and factual side of writing.
Among these different experiences what striking disparities do you notice from the creative point of view? And how about the actual writing approach?
The big question is about interactivity: if other people are involved in the storytelling, you have to leave room for them to tell their own stories, despite the fact that you’re the one writing it. So with the interactive novels and roleplaying games, there’s a lot of leaving doors open and thinking about multiple options for every scenario. I don’t ever get the feeling that I know the main characters of the story very well, because the main characters are the players. The story has to be about them, and I’m just creating the window dressing. Pretty extensive dressing, but dressing nonetheless. The story is a vehicle for their adventure, not my own vision. The writing format reflects that, too, most significantly in the interactive novel apps I write, which are written in a programming language called ChoiceScript. That’s much, much different from writing in straight prose!
By contrast, with my fiction I almost always start from the characters and then figure out what’s going on with them. The characters propel that story forward, so I get to know them very well, and it’s the motivations of my own characters who drive the plot.
Articles, of course, have completely different rules, and usually start from the research, even in (sometimes especially in) the short blog posts I do. If the data or history doesn’t support the article I thought I was going to write, I have to figure out a different angle. I call this kind of work analysis-synthesis writing: take apart the information from other sources and then put it together in a new and different way that’s interesting to my audience.
Do you have a favorite project? Why that one in particular?
There’s always some project I’m super excited about, and I’m proud of a lot of the work that I’ve done, but the story I’ve written that’s closest to my heart is “Nomi’s Wish,” which was very loosely based on two true events: one, a trip my sister and I took to the Isle of Man (where neither of us fell into the Chasms), and two, a wish that was given to me by Naomi Lewis, this amazing writer and translator of fairy tales who I worked with when I was an in-house editor in Detroit. Over a phone conversation, she told me she sometimes gave young people she liked a wish, and she gave me one. (I used it, and it came true, though whether that’s to the credit of the wish, I can’t say!)
My second favorite might be “Don’t Let Go,” which was published in the now-out-of-print Ransom: The Anthology. I’d always wanted to tackle the Tam Lin story, and I ended up liking my version quite a bit. It might be part of a larger world in which this sort of fairy thing happens more frequently, but none of those stories have been finished yet.
You’ve recently release “Choice of the Pirate”, your third interactive novel game for Choice of Games. How did you decide to enter this gamified format of novel?
I was approached by the publisher for Choice of Games, because he knew me, through friends, as a game writer and a fiction writer; having both backgrounds is incredibly helpful for writing interactive novels! On the one hand, the prose has to be really strong; on the other hand, there has to be a lot of room for the player to experience the story the way they want to, which means the story can’t dominate over the player’s choices. The juxtaposition of both skill sets sounded like a lot of fun, and it has been! I don’t mind telling you it’s also the most challenging kind of writing that I do (and probably the format of that the fewest people are familiar with!). But when I phrase it, “Oh, yes, I had an app come out this year,” people get very excited thinking I’m a video game designer. I suppose that technically I am, but it’s very different from what people expect from video games as well! It’s really this niche format that’s wonderful to play with and work in, and I hope that a lot of people keep getting excited about it.
This methodology resembles a lot the “Choose your own Adventure” books. Were you a fan of these growing up?
I read so many of them! I think a lot of us who work in gaming came from that background. There was one I remember very specifically about finding a hidden utopia—maybe Shangri-La?—where you couldn’t find the city except by paging through the book. There was no in-story route to get there, and it was only by sheer persistence that I got to it. It was both rewarding and kind of a cheat! But it stuck with me.
One might say your fiction work delves mostly on fantasy and sci-fi backgrounds. Do you agree with that?
Oh gosh, yes. I wrote Showdown at Willow Creek for Choice of Games as a non-fantastical interactive novel and didn’t realize how much I relied on fantastical elements to move me through a story and to help design my worlds! A friend of mine who playtested Choice of the Pirate said, on first run-through, “Why does my pirate have magic?” And I said, “Because magic is awesome. Now play.” Storytelling doesn’t need magic or futuristic science to work, but isn’t it more fun if it’s there?
Is there a reason why you’re more drawn towards these genres?
I read pretty exhaustively in science fiction and fantasy and always have, and most of my favorite stories (books or films) have either an SFF element or an SFF atmosphere. I realized a few years back that one of my favorite childhood books, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope technically isn’t SFF; it’s historical, and the faeire court involved in the tale isn’t technically magical, just a dispossessed group of humans. But it’s a Tam Lin story, which gives it the flavor of fantasy, even if it technically doesn’t fit. My other very favorite books that have always stuck with me are A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle and Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith. I think that’s a pretty good window on how my worldview on storytelling got shaped.
You’ve done quite an extensive research in Mythology. How did you first enter this world?
Don’t all kids get into Egyptology at some point? That was the entry point for me, and then in high school the drama club at some point assigned Greek gods and goddesses to all the usual suspects. But it wasn’t until college that I realized this was actually a field of study that was valued in an academic sphere. My creative writing prof, Mark Vecchio, taught a course called “Mythic Imagination” that I waited far too long to take. The impact of that course on my outlook and writing cannot be overstated. After I graduated, I went first as a student and then later as a teaching assistant on Mark’s study tours (which he still offers as OCaptain Tours), and through those I studied Arthurian/British, Irish, and Greek mythology in the actual locations where those stories were birthed. Once you start seeing stories in the landscape, you don’t stop. I now live within 20 or so miles of Sleeping Giant mountain and Tuxis Island, both of which have giant legends from the local Quinnipiac people (often much filtered through the Puritan worldview that recorded them). Like many places in England, my area of New England is a land of giants, and though I don’t entirely know the significance of that, it feels significant, deep into the earth around me.
Moving to another very relevant theme nowadays, diversity in writing is one of your battles. How do you feel about the efforts that have been made in this area these past few years?
It’s so nice to have someone give me credit for that, when really I feel on the periphery of the people doing the really important work! I care very deeply about representation in fiction, because, for one, it’s boring to read the same old stories about the same old characters retold with different hair colors or different towns but the same basic tropes. (Of course, after having just talked about how much I love Tam Lin retellings, I probably contradict myself a bit!) I don’t think there’s anything wrong with loving stories that fit into the traditional pattern. I love a lot of farmboy-becomes-hero stories. But I think there are so many other possibilities out there for stories that don’t share the same basic assumptions about the world as that farmboy destined for greatness. And that’s just from my own selfish perspective. It’s so much more important to value representation for readers who don’t see themselves reflected on the covers of novels. I was very lucky to come of age when Alanna: The First Adventure was on the bookshelves of my library’s budding YA section. I think I cut my hair to look like the character on the book jacket, and while I didn’t have copper hair or purple eyes, I saw my name (differently spelled) and a face that could have been mine right on the jacket of my favorite book. That’s an experience that a lot of kids don’t have, especially given how miserable the stats are when it comes to children’s books featuring protagonists of color right on the cover. And this is all just tip of the iceberg stuff. I can’t recommend enough good articles on this topic, so I’ll link to just a few.
That said, I’m a white female writer and I know I come from a position of privilege. As much as I try to be inclusive and critical of colonialist viewpoints in my fiction, I am sure I mess up. I remember when I was working on Cowboys and Aliens 2 and one of the commenter called me out on using the word “yella” to mean coward, thinking it was a slur against the Asian railroad workers. Having grown up with Western movies, it never even occurred to me that someone could read it that way! I did some research and found out that the term came from a different root—but sometimes, that’s not what’s relevant. The way that people perceive what’s written is what they bring to the story, and it’s important not to create a situation where readers feel alienated by a story they love. I just keep trying to fail better the next time.
Do you think we’ve achieved any real progress? Would you say more in terms of gender or race equality?
I want to believe that there’s been progress, but I think that the news lately would tell me that it’s a tough hope to hold onto. And just in games and SFF there’s been this backlash, especially over the Internet, against inclusivity. I want to believe that the reason the backlash is occurring is because there has been progress made that some of the Old Guard don’t like. But the fact that it’s there means that the struggle has to continue, and we’ve all got to keep fighting the good fight so that those undertold stories can reach a wider audience.
And how about the backstage: do you agree that the works we get are a reflection of the lack of diversity of the actual writers?
I think less the writers than on the in house side, honestly. There are many, many excellent writers from all walks of life: race, gender, class, sexuality. One of the big problems, as Daniel José Older has written about (in one of my links above) is that the gatekeepers of writing tend to lack diversity. I know that Lee & Low books and Simmons College have a scholarship for further study in children’s literature for “students from diverse backgrounds.” To carry the metaphor, it’s not just the people backstage, but also the people producing the show. I’m not pointing fingers here, because there are a lot of reasons this situation is what it is (and I certainly want to keep my own job!), but I think if we really want diverse books, we have to have diverse agents, editors, publishers, filmmakers, directors, showrunners, Broadway creators… the list goes on and on.
Then I get all bogged down in it and think, let’s just tell each other some stories! I want to hear them all.
Thank you, Alana, for sharing a little bit of your world with us!
P.S.: Check out all the other interviews with illustrators, writers, game-designers and other authors!