Shady Nate

And now for something refreshingly not about games…

Esquire’s fiction contest this year challenged time-challenged writers to pack a story into 78 words. No, I didn’t win that trip to Aspen with Oprah… But I actually liked the timbre of what I finally came up with. Alas, this intro is longer than the story. And so:

Shady Nate, VP of Business That Runs Itself, has a desk photo: Sweet but sassy wife, plump uncrying infant. Finally joining the tyranny of the clueless happy.

Then: A diagnosis.

Meadows become minefields. Every word a restrained scream. Director of Performance Improvement. Bourbon postpones the Bang.

Misrouted email: Niral, in Finance, in thong, smartphone aimed at her hotel mirror. Meant for a luckier Nathaniel, in Sales.

The artifact lets Nate let go. A balloon drifts over the cemetery.

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How to Create the Ultimate Text Adventure

Text adventures usually are cool right up intil the point where they suck. This point is usually when they say a clever form of “You can’t do that here.”

The most delightful part of text adventures is when you try to do something crazy: “Put chicken in bartender.” and it responds to you in a funny way.

So it occurs to me: Why not build the ultimate text adventure by just crowdsourcing?

Step 1: Do the usual stuff: Write the best story you can using any number of interstory tools. Take as long as you can and be a good writer.

Step 2. Again, pretty par per course: Beta test it offline with as many fans as you can. Find actions people do and objects people use do that you haven’t accounted for yet. Fill in as many gaps as possible.

Step 3. Put the engine online

Step 4. Whenever the parser fails, e-mail the author. The author has simple tool to address the failure and come up with a funny response to any edge-case textual situations.

Step 4.5. If you want to get really crazy, open it up to the audience — or some creative segement of the audience. If the parser fails, let them suggest a response. The author can then moderate.

Eventually every possible situation will be covered.

Why hasn’t this been done yet? 

[hastily adding to list of other crazy things I’ll never get around to like finishing my dozens of abandoned short stories, doing something deliberate with my finances, or finding the spirit within in India.]

Vinny’s Story Challenge II

tonycoffin2See the Story Challenge 1 post to catch up.

Story Challenge II began when Vinny wrote an editorial on Gamezebo how much he liked the Sopranos. I agreed — it was the first time a TV series had seemed downright novelistic.

I sent Vinny this great blog post I found about the meaning behind the Soprano’s final episode. It was the most literary analysis of a TV show I’d ever read, and did a great job making the case that the series ended with Tony being murdered in front of his family.

One song in the episode was particularly affecting: “It’s Alright, Ma, I’m Only Bleeding” by Bob Dylan. Turns out Vinny and I also share a passion for Bobby D lyrics.

And so that become our muse-object for challenge two.

His entry: Acapulco Blue.

Mine: Medium Rare.

“Lay it Down” Story Challenge

If you’re like me, and have the gall to consider yourself a writer but haven’t actually written anything worth squat in far too long, I highly recommend story challenges as a much needed butt-kick.

Just pick any muse-object: a photograph, a movie, TV show, other book, a person, a situation, or song.

Then pick a challenger. This part may seem silly, but for me, it’s essential. Something in me just gets kicked into gear only when there’s an element of competition involved — or at least the knowledge that somebody, anybody else is going to read and truly care about what I have just written.

Then have at it. You and your challenger riff off the muse-object. Use that object as the inferno’s spark, the Patient Zero, the avalanche’s first snowball — and let loose.

Then compare.

For my most recent challenge, I was lucky enough to find out that Vinny Carrella, a co-worker I admired for his game design chops and general grin-with-a-grimace attitude about life, was also a novelist who published a wonderfully twisted and originally lyrical novel called The Serpent Box

One day, musing about the life of literary writer as commercial game developer, I tentatively suggested the challenge and he bravely accepted.

Vinny suggested the muse-object: The song Lay It Down by the Cowboy Junkies.

His story is called “The Killing of Clyde”, and can be heard here, on the Bound Off audio-zine.

My story, Cottonwood, started slow then flowed out quicksilver-like. I was in Marblehead, MA on vacation and wrote it sitting in an uncomfortable pine chair overlooking that mean grey-green ocean which even the sunset can’t sweeten.

The Original Story Challenge

When you’ve got a job and kid and distractions up the wazoo, challenge is just what I need to remind me that, beneath it all, I’m a writer.

It’s not the competition of a challenge itself that does it, but knowing that some other sentient soul in the universe has thrown down the gauntlet.

I was stuck in mid-novel hell (that sucker never did get completed).

My soul-brother, the once-novelist and now-prof Mark Cirino, issued a palette cleanser of a challenge to me. “Listen to Romance in Durango, by Bob Dylan,” he said. “If you still can’t come up with a story after hearing that, you’re toast.”

The story result is here. I’d rate it over 5 but way under 10.

As a gift for completing the story, crappy at it was, Mark gave me a CD (remember those?) of Desire, the album from whence this song came. It remains one of my favorite albums of all time.