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Author: Lyle Skains

Founder of Wonderbox Publishing. Writer of speculative fiction and digital fiction, and researcher in digital fiction and e-publishing.

Opening Up Digital Fiction Writing Competition 2.0

Opening Up Digital Fiction Writing Competition 2.0

Deadline for submissions: 15 Feb 2018

Announcement of winners: 31 July 2018

Entries accepted in English and Welsh.

Wonderbox Publishing, in conjunction with Bangor University (Wales), is sponsoring the second annual competition to discover the best “popular” digital fiction: digital fiction that appeals to mainstream audiences.

See last year’s winners here!

Digital fiction is fiction that is written to be read/played on digital devices. Importantly, digital fictions are different to e-books. Rather than existing as a digital version of a print novel, digital fictions are what are known as “born digital” – that is, they would lose something of their form and/or meaning if they were removed from the digital medium.

For example, they may contain hyperlinks, moving images, mini-games or sound effects. In many digital fictions, the reader has a role in constructing the narrative, either by selecting hyperlinks or by controlling a character’s journey through the storyworld. Digital fictions therefore require that the reader interacts with the narrative throughout the reading experience. Hypertexts, text-adventure games, multimedia stories, interactive video, literary games, and some mobile apps are all examples of types of digital fiction.

See our Digital Fiction Resources guide here.

There are no restrictions as to types of software you can use to produce digital fiction; everything from HTML, Adobe Flash, Inform7, Twine, YouTube, Twitter, and more have been used to make digital fictions. For the competition, please submit links or files that are openly accessible on any computer (Mac or PC), and that will run in a web browser.

Wonderbox Publishing is a new publishing endeavour that seeks to provide commercial space to digital fiction, and the Opening Up Digital Fiction Writing Competition is therefore designed to expand digital fiction readership to include a broader segment of the public. Therefore while the competition is open to all writers (rookies and veterans) and all types of digital fiction, we are seeking entries of works that are broadly accessible, both in terms of intended audience and device compatibility.

This competition is funded through a Bangor ESRC Impact Acceleration Award, in partnership with Wonderbox Publishing, Literature Wales, and Jisc Wales.

The prize categories are:

  • Judges’ Prize
  • People’s Choice
  • Welsh Language Prize*
  • Student Prize
  • Children’s Story

*Welsh language entries are eligible for all categories.

Winners will receive a cash prize (to be announced) and an option to publish with Wonderbox Publishing.

For ongoing details of the competition, please watch this space, and subscribe to updates!

Ready to submit? Click here!

Digital Fiction Resources

Digital Fiction Resources

Quicklinks:

What is Digital Fiction?

Digital fiction (DF) as we understand it here at Wonderbox is:

Fictional stories that are written and read on digital devices, using some element of digital interactivity or expression (e.g., links, multimedia, gameplay). DF stories would lose something – or everything – if they were expressed in print form only.

For more thorough (and scholarly) overviews of what digital fiction is, have a look at the [S]creed for Digital Fiction, and Reading Digital Fiction’s overview.

Examples of DF include (but are definitely not limited to!) interactive fiction, text adventure games, hypertexts, Flash fictions (the ones built in Adobe Flash), multimedia fiction, mobile story apps, enhanced books, and more. We review a lot of these across a breadth of styles and platforms here on Wonderbox.

Writing Digital Fiction

(Previously posted on the Reading Digital Fiction website.)

Digital writers have historically used a lot of different platforms, often proprietary software that was both expensive, and repurposed for digital fiction. Luckily, a lot has changed as digital fiction has grown in popularity, and there are now a number of really great, inexpensive/free/open-source, built-for-purpose platforms for burgeoning digital writers to choose from.

The first step is always to check out existing digital fictions (start with our suggestions for readers and reading groups, and also review those collected at the Electronic Literature Collection and the Interactive Fiction Database), to get familiar with how digital fiction works, and be inspired by the different styles and genres you can write in.

Twine

If you are new to creating interactive texts, programs, or websites, it’s best to start simple. Twine, an open-source platform for creating hypertexts (called “Twine games”), is an excellent tool. You can build a Twine game in just a few minutes, and there is a fantastic community posting tutorials and sharing mods. The great thing about it is that as your skills advance, so does Twine; it can be adapted to work with conditionals, JavaScript, CSS, and html.

It’s worth noting that game developers often use Twine, or Twine-like environments, as planning and organizational tools for their game design. Even if you choose to go on to other platforms, Twine’s easy-to-use, visual mapping space can be a valuable tool for digital writing.

Twine resources:

Texture

Texture is a more recently developed platform, but it is already showing promise. Texture provides a WYSIWYG platform to create interactive narratives. Check out some of the Texture stories already written, and write/publish your own.

ChoiceScript

ChoiceScript is the platform used for Choice of Games fictions, and is freely available. If you enjoy CoG, or “multiple-choice games”, this is a good option.

InkleWriter

InkleWriter creates interactive stories in a scrolling visual that mimics the look of book pages, a nice crossover between interactivity and print-based stories.

Inform7 & TADS

On the purely text-based front of interactive fiction (a.k.a. text-adventure games) is Inform7 and TADS. Through these platforms, you can create parser-based interactive fictions in the mode of the old commercial games of the 1980s (think Zork or Colossal Cave Adventure). The form has turned to more of a literary bent in recent years, and experienced a resurgence.

Inform7 resources:

Quest

Quest allows you to create interactive fictions of the Inform7/TADS style, but without the need to learn the specific coding language.

Ren’Py & Novelty

Ren’Py and Novelty are visual novel engines. Both are free, and both offer large libraries of VNs to explore, as well as extensive tutorials on how to make them. VNs are more popular in the East Asian market than in the West, as you’ll see from the visual style, but that popularity means they have been around for a while longer, and have more examples and tutorials, than some of the other engines.

Adobe Animate CC (formerly Flash)

Flash was created as a general-purpose multimedia tool, and as such it’s A) expensive, and B) really robust (although finicky). You pay a lot for it, but you also get a lot (probably more than most digital writers need, given its wide range of uses, from multimedia websites to Flash games). A lot of digital fiction has been created on Flash, and some of the…er…”flashier” works use it well.

The limitations of Flash, of course, are well-known, as Flash has had a rocky relationship with mobile devices.

HTML-CSS-JavaScript

Because of the controversy and difficulties with Flash and mobile devices, a lot of digital writers shifted to HTML (and later, HTML5) in the early 2010s. With new attributes and potential for dynamic websites, HTML5, used in conjunction with CSS and JavaScript, enables digital writers to create fictions that work across all devices, with a minimum of adjustment between them. Clearly, working in these “pure” code-based environments requires some digital expertise, but once mastered, they offer a strong foundation for the digital writer to implement a wide array of digital fictions, from web-based dynamic texts to stand-alone mobile apps.

And finally, don’t forget the e-Book

Remember, e-Books have hypertext functionality! Using tools like Sigil and Calibre, enterprising digital writers can create hypertexts that can be enjoyed on any device, and sold through all major e-book sellers (including Amazon and the iBookstore). Our Hyperbooks project has started down this route in order to explore the commercialization potential of digital fiction and hypertexts, and we welcome all digital writers to join us!

Have other platforms or tools you like or that you built? Comment on this post with them and we’ll add them to the page.

Reading Digital Fiction

Resources for Reading DF (includes links to some great introductory DFs)

Resources for Reading Groups

Where to find DF:

Have suggestions for resources? Comment on this post with them, and we can update the page.

Bringing Digital Fiction Mainstream

Bringing Digital Fiction Mainstream

Presentation image.
My very first conference presentation.

I’ve come to publishing through my two-pronged careers as a writer and a researcher in creative writing (I’m still both, so I suppose I now have a three-pronged career?). As a writer and publisher, I get some data on my work here and there: some reviews and ratings on GoodReads, some purchase histories, click-throughs and reads on my sites and blogs, and that’s about it.

As a researcher, though, I sometimes get overwhelmed with data. How many people have cited my work, how many people have googled me, how many people have downloaded my papers. Academia.edu, in their push to become more of a commercial entity, has been urging me to purchase premium options for a while, and their marketing techniques include frequent emails with promises of statistics if I’ll just sign my bank account away.

What’s most interesting about the numbers coming from sites like Academia.edu is what it seems the average googler wants to see. And most often, people seem to land on this conference presentation (for which there is no paper, sorry): “Beyond the Novelty: Creating Digital Fiction for Mainstream Audiences.”

It’s the oldest of my “published”/searchable academic works, and even though it has no citations and no accompanying paper, it remains one of the most popular click-throughs. The title must draw people in. I often wonder what they were searching for. “What is digital fiction”? “Mainstream fiction”? “Creating digital fiction”?

It was my very first conference presentation as an academic, and it was mostly me talking about writing digital fiction, with an excerpt from my then-current project. It was very basic, and very much reflective of my attitude about the digital fiction I’d read at that point: that as a writer I was utterly hooked, but as a reader, I felt pretty meh about what was out there.

Of course, I’ve since come to appreciate the “classic” works of digital fiction, and found a few that I come back to over and over again. But as someone relatively new to DF, my attitude toward it reflected a lot of what I see in students and new readers of DF: that it was experimental, avant garde, and more art than story. That it was created for the writer, not the reader. That it wasn’t written for me to enjoy so much as to admire the genius of its creators.

So when I started my research, I had the same goal as any other writer: to write stories I would want to read. And like a lot of authors, I wanted as many people to read my work as possible. I wanted people to enjoy it. So my goal was to dig into writing DF for mainstream audiences.

A lot of digital writers have told me they don’t care about mainstream reach or commercial success. Awesome. I don’t begrudge them that. But I’m an academic in a time when the higher education system is crumbling; it’s not the safety net it used to be for writers to putter around in their own heads. I’m also a writer in an extremely exciting time for writing and publishing, when the big boys are getting knocked down and making room for the rest of us, for niche writers and more experimental platforms like Twine and Hyperbooks. So it makes a lot of sense to me to pull all these things together (and get more established on the “writer” and “publisher” prongs of my career in case the “academic” prong fongs off).

The best way to make a success of writing and publishing is to reach as wide an audience as possible; that means mainstream appeal. So that’s my aim with Wonderbox Publishing. To nurture digital fiction and help it find its feet in the commercial realm. To help digital writers become a part of that small percentage of fiction writers who make a living with their work. To expand the possibilities of technology and narrative.

The reviews we’re publishing focus on works that appeal to us as readers, for whatever reason. Works we love. Works we think have mainstream appeal. Works we want to see more of. We want to share these with you, and build a resource for readers and writers.

My eventual goal is for Wonderbox to serve as a publisher and distributor of quality, mainstream-appeal, commercial digital fiction. I’m starting with the reviews and the Hyperbooks Project (stay tuned for more on this) as ways to expand people’s awareness of good, enjoyable digital fiction, and ways to make it commercially viable. Bit by bit I’ll ramp it up until Wonderbox is the Amazon of digital fiction.

(Yep, it’s a cheeky ambition. Go big or go home!)

Opening Up Digital Fiction

Opening Up Digital Fiction

As part of the AHRC-funded Reading Digital Fiction research project I’ve had the privilege of working on, I recently hosted the Opening Up Digital Fiction Writing Competition. The competition was a key element to meeting one of the research project’s aims: to introduce more readers to digital fiction.

With that aim in mind, we sought out “popular” digital fiction — the DF equivalent of “commercial” fiction. We wanted works that would appeal to mainstream audiences, which at this point, generally aren’t even aware there’s such a thing as digital fiction, much less have preferences or favorite authors. Ideally, we wanted to build a list of generally accessible digital fiction that the general public would not only understand, but like.

The competition was a wild success in this regard. We were amazed to receive works from all around the world (24 countries!), from established digital writers to university students to families working together. The range of styles and forms and platforms was astounding; no two works were similar, and all made use of the digital medium to integrate reader and narrative.

The shortlist provides a strong reading list of the types and varieties of digital fiction currently being made; the list of winners shows the quality of writing that goes into these works. Any reader new to digital fiction (as well as those experienced in DF!) could make a fantastic start with these lists.

As for the competition itself, my current goal is to find some follow-on funding in order to keep it going, transferring it over here to Wonderbox. I want to continue building on the great works submitted this year, encouraging new and experienced digital writers alike to develop works that can eventually slide into a commercial publishing stream (which is one of the core aims of Wonderbox).

So stay tuned — we should have updates and a new call for submissions soon!

Review: Porpentine’s All Your Time-Tossed Selves

Review: Porpentine’s All Your Time-Tossed Selves

All Your Time-Tossed Selves
by Porpentine
Digital Fiction – Google Forms
​2016


When it seems as if every book is a copy of The Girl Who ​                   , every film is a sequel, and every TV show is a remake, some writers still write. Still experiment. Still play. Porpentine, most commonly known as a prominent Twine author, is one of these. Her latest digital fiction, All Your Time-Tossed Selves, is a simple experiment, stepping away from Twine as a platform and using Google Forms instead. Its short length, linearity, and thoughtful contemplation make it a great read for those who love poetry with a bit of story, even those who aren’t very familiar with digital fiction.

All Your Time-Tossed Selves is a short, poetic narrative that can be played in 2-5 minutes. The narrative places the reader in a dying city, flitting from memory to dialogue in multiple-choice, drop-downs, and radio buttons laid out as lines of poetry. The work proceeds mostly linearly; the reader choices may alter the subsequent text, but only slightly, and the narrative soon converges back to its main thread again. As it is quickly read/played, it lends itself to re-reading/playing, which allows the reader to reconsider various lines and take different meanings from their choices. While the reader/player agency in All Your Time-Tossed Selves is mostly illusory, the act of reading each line and selecting one that resonates, for whatever reason, gives the impression that the reader-player is diving deeper and deeper into the text, accessing it through one chosen line at a time.

The work itself is not earth-shattering in terms of its poetry or narrative, though there are some very affective moments in which the brief passages allow the simple Google Form interface to fall away into the remnants of a doomed world. Rather, it is the platform and the experimentation itself that are prominent here.

The tradition of digital fiction bristles with experimentation, particularly in the technologies that are used to build it. Historically, digital writers re-purposed digital technologies such as Flash, HTML, JavaScript; and even though some specific DF engines have emerged (Storyspace, Inform7, Literatronica, Twine, Texture), All Your Time-Tossed Selves demonstrates that creativity is always reaching out to play with a new medium.

Google Forms as a medium obviously has some limitations: the customization options in terms of visual effects are few, resulting in a sameness of form. Yet these limitations enhance the more literary aspects of the work, enabling the reader-player to focus less on flash-whizz-bang, and more on the text. The plain, nondescript interface slips away much like the pages of a book; it backs out of the way of immersion in the poetry itself.

By the same token, it permits a modicum more of cognitive engagement in the reader-player than a simple hypertext. As the work progresses through the selection and submission of multiple choice answers, clicks on drop-down lists, and checked options in radio buttons, it offers the reader something more to do than simply clicking on a link. At the same time, the arrangement of these options suits the poetic medium, as each option can be laid out as a line in a stanza. Porpentine has both subverted the medium of Google Forms for creative purposes, and made use of its affordances for affective communication of the text.

Finally, Porpentine has enabled the “See previous responses” function of Google Forms, which enables the reader-player to see all of the options, and what other reader-players chose for each. This pie-chart laden review of the text gives an alternative reading path for the reader-player, and also a sense of community with those who have gone before, and provides fascinating fodder for those interested in reader-player behavior, from psychologists to writers. Why are so many reader-players driven to explore the letter-writing exchange that is alluded to, as opposed to exploring the player-character narrator? What can this data tell us about what readers are looking for in a text — whether interactive or not? What can this data tell us about this text itself?

The bar graphs and pie charts can’t answer all of these questions, and perhaps it would take the pleasure out of the poetry if they did. Nonetheless, they offer yet another path back into the work, sifting through the rubble of the text and its destroyed city. And who doesn’t enjoy pondering a narrative in its aftermath, in some form or other?

Try All Your Time-Tossed Selves for yourself, and add your comments here!

You can find more of Porpentine’s work here.

It’s alive!!!

It’s alive!!!

Nothing is real until it’s posted on the internet. So with a click of the rather apt “publish” button, Wonderbox Publishing’s new site became real today.

We’ve got a couple of projects underway already (check out Normal Deviation, our first anthology!), as well as some ideas for the future, so keep an eye on this space for the future of publishing!