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Progress Report: The Art of Putting Words on the Mutha F%^&ing Page, Jack!

July 10, 2011

Not as much progress plotting The Art of Words as I wanted to have by now, but definitely progress, by the strictest definition. I’m beginning to get the insane branching structure problem resolved, which is to say, I have the start points figured out, and the rough format of the story is taking shape around them, as hoped for. Now what I need to do is arrange the separate strands and start thinking about how I actually want things to resolve, insofar as you can shape resolutions in an interactive narrative.

The trick is not to plan any strand in too much detail, but to put together the right elements and let the proximity of the strands resonate the background details organically, without welding any threads together. For starters, I’ve returned to my modular philosophy of interactive plot structure, only on a smaller scale than the interlocking episode concept I have for The Shadow Sygne, or the complex interactive comic panel mechanic I have in mind for The Arcolopolis.

Instead of using modular ‘chapters’ with contextual variations based on which chapters you played (and your results within those chapters) and in what order (as in Sygne), I’m devising word sequences as individual story units, and more or less structuring the stories as a kind of DIY sentence generator. There will be different subroutes through each strand, with varying narrative results to each part. The bit eluding me is how I’ll dovetail the results to feel like a complete and satisfying arc no matter which way you go, without resorting to a Little Nemo closing panel.

I’m struggling to decide what, if any, status quo there will be, given that my main character and certain specific guest stars are supposed to be alive and reasonably well for the commencement of the regular series (if I ever make that happen). My first instinct was to make this episode a standalone, but the main story is still too sketchy, which leaves so much empty canvas, it’s like painting two separate family portraits at the same time… or more like simultaneously weaving two ropes with which to hang yourself instead of one.

You’d think after all this time that I’d have the world building finished, but in fact, there was so much juxtaposition to do with all three series I was planning that I never quite finished banging all of the tent pegs into the ground. I started to separate those stories a little more in later attempts at the project, but ultimately, The Gas Mask Chronicles was the one that stumped me the most. I at least knew the stories for the pilot episodes of Full Moon Memoires and Hero.

With Gas Mask, I only had the general outline of the series and a rough idea of how the opening arc was supposed to go. I was never certain of precisely how I wanted to tell Eden High, since it was supposed to be the set-up for a story that doesn’t happen until fifteen or twenty years later. Nothing that hasn’t been done before, but try it while matching and balancing motifs and structures with two other series, and see how easy it looks.

Anyway, point is, I’m getting there, at long last. I’d show you something, but really, how interested would you be in seeing a dim photograph of 269 little slips of paper organized in something like twenty narrow columns on the backs of three very large sketchbooks, vaguely grouped in sets of two-to-five words, which, when arranged in certain formations, suggest all or part of roughly a dozen separate sequences of events? The only things very clearly delineated are the separate opening sub-heading logos (think of them as chapter titles), which tell me what each thread is about, but would mean very little to you.

So if you can hang on to your shirts for another day or two, I’ll finish organizing these threads and see if I can’t generate a rough graphical representation of the shape of the story. All I can tell you right now is, for a story with less than three hundred words in it, it’s definitely comparable to scripting an entire year-long graphic novel, rather than just a single issue. If I do my job right, it will have enough information in it to feel like you’ve read a complete graphic novel.

Dinner’s being served shortly, and I am starving, so I’ll leave you here. Good night.

Lee.

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