Suddenly I find myself having to write some fiction to a deadline. A deadline that isn't Nanowrimo, that is. This isn't something I've had to do since my English language GCSE. I deliberately avoided pursuing creative writing in any formal or academic manner, for fear the joy would be sucked from something I love; for fear it would become a chore, or an obligation.
But this semester I've imposed this on myself out of determination that my supposedly 'interdisciplinary' masters actually deviate from Web or software development at some point. Not that making writing fiction a part of my final project has in any way reduced the programming. Indeed, I've just added it on top of an already substantial project outcome.
But making an Interactive Fiction engine feels much more valuable if I actually write some fiction for it, doesn't it?
Suddenly, realistically, I have mere weeks to get this done. My subconscious has been working on it since about December of last year, but I haven't had many committal thoughts. So it's time to make (and justify) some decisions.
I already decided that, quite obviously really, the piece needs to revolve heavily around the city of Edinburgh. (Obvious, as the reader will be experiencing it whilst wandering around the city, and I'm studying the affects of physical environment on immersion in a text). As such, I figured doing research about local myths and legends, particularly stories relevant to specific places, is pertinent. Look out for updates on that. Historic and mythical local characters might be useful too.
Ian Rankin has famed the Edinburgh streets with his novels, but I'm no crime writer, nor mystery nor thriller. I write science fiction and fantasy; imagining new worlds comes far more naturally to me than conjuring stories in this one. And my time is too short to venture into an unfamiliar genre. So this leaves me trying to figure out how to set a story on the real world streets of Edinburgh whilst maintaining a fantastical element so that I keep my sanity and confidence in the prose.
One potentially helpful aspect of Interactive Fiction, is that generally the stories are written in the second person. The main character is a perspective taken by the user/reader/player. This means there is a primary role that I don't have to develop too much as a character. Just enough to fit in with the context of whatever plot starts to develop, but with adequate openness to allow the user to project themselves into the character's place. Nonetheless, I'm going to need some attachment to this character in order to engage myself in the writing process. I know from experience that I'm far less motivated to write about/for characters who don't interest me, but when I discover a character I feel really involved with, I miss them and desire to write more.
That's the interesting point, really. I don't feel much as though I'm writing characters or their stories, but discovering them and learning about them through the writing process. I've lost control of characters before; they've behaved unexpectedly or undesirably, sometimes even changing the whole course of a previously loosely planned plot. The same might apply to imaginary places or even objects.
Because I don't have time to find a fresh character, world, setting that I love, I have concluded that I need to hook this story back to something I've written in the past. Something I'm already invested in. This connection is only meaningful to me (until the glorious day the still unfinished, few-year-old novel gets published!) so it needs to be loose. But enough to give me context. The connection I have settled on is Milo's World, the subject of my 2008 Nanowrimo; my only successful attempt at reaching fifty thousand words in thirty days, though I have yet to write the ending to the story. Also part three needs rewriting completely, those were dark days. Not to mention the rest of it. But that's neither here nor there.
The important thing is, I met a couple of characters with whom I had great fun. I hung out with them for massive chunks of their childhoods. I learnt what makes them tick, and I learnt their secrets.
The point-of-view character in Milo's World is Dusty. I first met him as a four year old, and quickly discovered he had access to a secret world, where he regularly snuck off to play with a boy his own age, Milo, who seemed to live full-time in this world. They had all sorts of innocent adventures, and gradually met other occupants. I spent time with Dusty and Milo again aged eight, to find that not much had changed. They had befriended some strange creatures, and were privvy to experiences they could not understand yet. At age twelve, they were growing up. Dusty has gained a few home-world friends, has developed an amazing talent for drawing caricatures, and his parents have long since assumed that he's over the 'imaginary friend' stage. But his grip on their 'reality' is disjointed. There are more kids around in Milo's world, living in a network of tunnels and working and playing together, and with the creatures of the world. One species of creatures in particular have introduced curious technologies and ways of thinking. When Dusty is sixteen years old, he is balancing regular high school drama with other-worldly adventures, but just barely. He and Milo are working with one of the creatures to learn about a contraption that they played with in their youth, and have dubbed The Reality Machine. Using it is hit and miss, and many of the things they find out about it, they learn the hard way. When Milo's world and Dusty's home-world begin to bleed together through misuse of the Machine, things start to take a turn for the confusing. Cue the hilarious, semi-cliffhanger ending, strongly linked with Dusty's drawing skills, I haven't written yet.
So where am I going with this? In my Palimpsest story, Dusty is grown up. Long since grown up. He is old, mad-scientist-proffesor-ly, and living in a world that bears the consequences of his actions as a child. Right away we have the existence of and ability to cross between alternative realities (via an understood and controllable Reality Machine, in case you hadn't cottoned). Splendid. I'm in my comfort zone already. So how about... the playable character is Dusty's lab assistant. Their age, gender, appearance, don't matter. Their temperament matters probably only a little bit. What matters is the fact that they have the ability to zip around in space and time. Whaddya know? Every single exciting era of Edinburgh's history is open to us to explore.
All I need now is a reason Dusty might have sent his assistant across to Edinburgh in our version of reality; something to pursue, something to figure out. Or just a malfunctioning Reality Machine.
I call this a start.
As always, comments and suggestions welcome!