I spoke to Liza Daly about her 4th-place IF Comp 2016 entry Stone Harbor. In full disclosure, Liza is a friend, and we have worked together in the past; she commissioned me to write First Draft of the Revolution.
On this occasion, she was kind enough to talk with me about where her project came from, her ambitions for IF in general, and how she sees interactive fiction relative to the world of publishing and ebooks—including some thoughts on why interactive ebooks didn’t become the cutting edge of interactive fiction.
What were your goals for the Stone Harbor project when you got started?
I work in publishing, and I’ve long been frustrated by how little awareness there is of interactive fiction, or born-digital writing in general, in the publishing community. At best, people think it’s all Choose Your Own Adventure books, or Zork, or navel-gazing avant-garde experiments, or big-budget apps like Arcadia. The objections I’ve heard about IF range from “those are for kids” to “they’re games not stories” or “they cost thousands of dollars to make.” So on one level my goal was to write a relatively conventional genre story—something publishers could could recognize—cheaply and quickly.
Meanwhile my personal projects tend to be short or abstract: Twitter bots or computer-generated “novels” that are devoid of meaning. I wanted to see if I could do the hard work of writing believable characters and sustaining a storyline.
Both goals pulled Stone Harbor in the direction of being longer (by word-count) and less branch-y than is typical for IF Comp entries. I hoped that it would be received as “minimally interactive” rather than “slapped-on interactive,” but I think it’s a fair criticism that I could have made the interactivity deeper without compromising the story-ness. I’m inspired to do better next time.
Literary hypertext has a long history that isn’t always well understood or well acknowledged by interactive fiction authors, even though with the growing popularity of Twine and other hypertext tools, the techniques are more than ever relevant to us.
Recently Eastgate released Storyspace 3, a new version of software used to produce many canonical works of literary hypertext; and, to accompany it, their chief scientist Mark Bernstein wrote a book, Getting Started with Hypertext Narrative, in which he discusses the challenges and the craft of writing in this form.
Whether or not you are interested in using Storyspace or writing literary hypertext, the book is worth reading, not least because it offers terminology and insights from a body of work IF authors seldom study.
In the exchange below, Mark and I discuss various sections of his book, together with other relevant tools in the space. We find some common structures and implementation strategies that cross over from one tradition to the other, and notice that Storyspace 3 might be a viable alternative to StoryNexus for people who want to experiment with quality-based narrative structures but don’t want StoryNexus’ art requirements or styling: what Mark describes as “sculptural hypertext” shares a lot in common with QBN.
All blockquotes are from the text of Getting Started with Hypertext Narrative: I sent these to Mark with my comments, and in some cases he had thoughts in response, so this is actually sort of a three-cornered conversation between the book, the author, and me. Thanks to Mark for supplying the text and taking the time to answer, and also for his patience with how long it took me to bring this together.
People who were interested in Second Person but didn’t buy the hardcover copy may be interested to know that many of the articles are now being presented online over at electronic book review, as a continuation of the First Person thread. Since there’s a large amount of content here and it may not be immediately obvious which of these articles are IF-related, I’ve also added to the Second Person page over at ifwiki with links directly into the IF-specific stuff.
Along similar lines, Dennis Jerz has an interesting summary of Chris Crawford’s talk at Hypertext ’08.