Wednesday 22 April 2015

Guest Post from Andrea Phillips

Andrea Phillips is an award-winning transmedia writer, game designer and author. She has worked on projects such as iOS fitness games Zombies, Run! and The Walk, The Maester's Path for HBO's Game of Thrones, human rights game America 2049, and the independent commercial ARG Perplex City. Her projects have variously won the Prix Jeunesse Interactivity Prize, a Broadband Digital award, a Canadian Screen Award, a BIMA, the Origins Vanguard Innovation Award, and others. Her book A Creator's Guide to Transmedia Storytelling is used to teach digital storytelling at universities around the world.

Her independent work includes the Kickstarted serial The Daring Adventures of Captain Lucy Smokeheart and The McKinnon Account, a short story that unfolds in your email inbox. Her debut novel Revision is out on May 5from Fireside Fiction Co. and her short fiction has been published in Escape Pod and the Jews vs. Aliens anthology.

You can find Andrea on Twitter at @andrhia

Andrea dropped in to talk about her new novel - Revision

Revision is my debut novel, but when I started it back in 2009, I'd already been a professional writer for four years. I'd written stories for games, interactive experiences, and sprawling film and TV marketing campaigns. I'd done things I couldn't have dreamed were possible when I was a little girl: recruited people into my secret conspiracies, sent them to pick up confidential documents from a stranger on a street corner, made my audience feel responsible for an innocent (fictional!) woman's murder. Good times!

And I thought, I thought, after all that, writing a novel should be dead simple. Right? It's only one piece to keep track of, after all: in my case, one Scrivener file. A piece of cake when you're used to telling stories through fragments of evidence, social media streams and video clips and emails. You don't need to worry about your readers making an unexpected choice and throwing the story in a whole different and unexpected direction. You are the god of that universe, and everything bows to your will.

HAH! I'm sure you see where this is going.

Sure, I had a good handle on some important tools in the writers' toolbox — particularly the fine art of characterization. An alternate reality game is a performance art as much as a written one, and in order to develop distinct styles and voices for your characters, you wind up deeply embedded in their minds. And that translates really well to novels, it turns out. As a writer, when you're clear on what all of your characters want and why they make the choices they do, the work only benefits from it.

But other elements translate poorly. Pacing, for example. I'm used to writing short and snappy for a digital audience. I've had to convey even the most complex plot points in a three-paragraph blog post or email, a 30-second video script, even a single Tweet. But a novel is a longer love affair. It needs space for the action to breathe; even the most action-packed adventure novels aren't all speedboat chases and leaping from helicopter. You need that other stuff so the action means something.

And the actual process is different, too. There are no "notes from the client." There's just you and the page and your brain, which is wonderful in that there's nobody to stomp all over your creative vision, smashing the metaphors and leaving muddy footprints on all your lovingly polished subtext.

But it's horrible, too, in that… you are the god of that universe, and so the universe is only as good as you are. If you're stuck, nobody else can pull you out. In a good collaboration, everyone is challenged to produce a whole far greater than the sum of its parts. When it's just you, it's just you.

But the absolute best part of these two different kinds of writing are identical: it's the audience. There is no thrill, no delight, no electric joy like knowing that you have made a reader feel something. That you reached out through the infinite spaces between us and touched someone else. A difficult task no matter what you're writing, but when it works, everything else just falls away.

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