Tag Archives: new media

How to Write For Video Games Part 1: World Plotting

Final Fantasy III for the Nintendo DS, a singl...

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As some of my faithful readers from the old days at thePuckWrites may remember, I wrote the story, quests, and designed the classes for an upcoming online game called Ghostees!. It was a lot of fun and a lot of work, and since I know that many young creatives feel drawn to games (I know I do) I thought I would do a series about what is necessary when writing for a game.

For the purposes of this series, we are going to assume your game is a role-playing game because these require the most writing. If you are writing for action or strategy games, you will need to tighten up your dialogue and plot a great deal, but you have much less to worry about in the long run because there are fewer possibilities. While in an RPG each decision and will have different possible results, your average FPS or RTS has only two possibilities: live or die.

How to Build a World

Your client or boss has a basic idea of what kind of game she wants. A number of other titles are thrown at you as examples. Genres are considered and abandoned. Finally, all that will be done for you is done, and you have to create your world plot. Now what?

A world plot is the story that the player, whether with others in an online game or alone, has their story take place within. This is the background history of the world, the basic conflicts at work in the big picture, and the basis for your general quest progression. An example is in Warcraft: the storyline originally comes from three real-time strategic games and was adapted for World of Warcraft. This background story defines the locations of gameplay (Azeroth, the Outlands) and establishes the basic factions (Human, Orc, Undead, Night Elves, Dwarves, etc) and their various conflicts. Additionally, the events of the prior games established even more history, defining new conflicts and specific enemies.

Now examine how all of this world plotting works to create the rest of the game. Once you have your world plotted you have a place for the player’s characters to be from, groups for them to both identify with and have conflicts with, and a set of larger plots for them to take part in as their characters become more powerful. In the case of WoW, their world plot has given them an almost endless supply of material for expansions, quests, races, classes, and locations. So when first conceiving your world plot you have to take all of this into account.

So what does it take to make a good world plot?

Consistency

Your world plot must be consistent in its history and rules. This doesn’t mean things can’t change, but it does mean they have to change for a reason. In the plot of Warcraft, the orcs went from demon-worshipping necromancers bent on destruction to tribal warriors profoundly concerned with honor and loyalty. The game mechanic that drove this decision was a desire to make  players better able to identity with the orcs and to render the duality in Warcraft, which had before been about good and evil, a bit more ambiguous. This was a money-decision…they wanted more sides and races so they could attract more players. However, in-game they made sure to justify the change using information from the game lore. Always make sure the events in your world plot are consistent, because contradictions make for a weaker story and a weaker game.

Fertility

A good world plot is defined enough to make writing quests easy but flexible enough to give birth to new sub-plots, creatures, and NPCs. More content will be the cry you will hear from happy project managers, supervisors, and players, so if you wrote yourself into a corner you are screwed. You can’t have there be a single big bad boss, because then you have nowhere to go when your players beat that boss. You can’t have the whole world divided up between two factions and then introduce a third as the project leads you. A closed story, however easy it becomes to build your conflict and plot your quest progression, is a mistake. Instead, build worlds where there is plenty of information to add depth, but plenty of unknowns to leave yourself room for expansion.

The game Mass Effect does this perfectly: the main storyline is truly epic, with a plot spanning millennia. However, the world plot of the game allows for new races, locations, sub-plots, and now a sequel to branch off convincingly. This is because the world plot of Mass Effect is open…its basic premises define it without limiting it. Do likewise.

Tropes and Atmosphere

Tropes are repeating motifs that exist in stories. They are things like “the haunted house”, “the wise old man”, “the lover lost and regained”, and so on. Specific genres have specific tropes, so science fiction has the monster that turns out to really be a man and horror has the man that turns out to be a monster, and both of them, once identified by the audience, can be predicted. However, tropes are useful; they are like cliches in that they sort of work. The secret is not to avoid tropes, but to use them sparingly and well to create an atmosphere that guides the expectations of the audience. You can’t lead them by the nose, but you have to let them know there is something to be led to, otherwise they will get bored.

In a game, tropes are often used to establish the kind of game you are playing. A science fiction game like Fallout 3 will use different kinds of monsters and plot devices to characterize what sort of story it is than Oblivion, another RPG made by the same people using the same engine. An easy way to figure out your tropes is to think about the monsters and locations. While Dead Space and Silent Hill both feature themes of isolated locations with visually disturbing enemies, and both are indubitably horror games, they use the “abandoned town” vs the “abandoned ship” motif to characterize their genre. This example is meant to be obvious, but tropes can be very subtle (and should be!), and also illustrates the proper use of tropes: tropes characterize and establish atmosphere, they are not a replacement for real characters and stories. In your world plot you must use tropes to quickly and easily create the player’s expectations and allow them to see what kind of game they are playing, but avoid simply using generic tropes as your plot points.

Stay Tuned!

That’s it for this installment. Next in this series we will cover lore writing and the details of how to write good background stories. Please feel free to ask questions on world plotting or add pointers of your own below.

Earn Some Money and Notice at the New Docstoc

Docstoc is a neat little site for sharing professional documents, which puts the focus on essays, studies, transcripts, and articles. From the site:

Docstoc is the premier online community to find and share professional documents. Docstoc provides the platform for users and businesses to upload and share their documents with all the world, and serves as a vast repository of documents in variety of categories including legal, business, financial, technology, educational, and creative. All documents on docstoc can be easily searched, previewed and downloaded for free.

Docstoc functions as a sort of YouTube for documents, but the simple fact is that while videos are entertaining and can even be informative, documents are about business. Docstoc has sample contracts, forms, and other “getting things done” documents that will save you time and effort. You get to help publicize your work, as well, with no upload limits and a maximum file-size of 50 megabytes. They have desktop applications for uploading in bulk and allow you to store and preview your documents without sharing them.

Revenue-Sharing

Docstoc recently added some features that makes them far more attractive to writers in new media who want to add to their income stream:

Offers you a way to profit from the documents you upload. Simply sign up for DocCash and we’ll split the revenue generated by the Google Ads that run alongside your documents. Earn recurring and passive income from your documents, and get a check sent to you each month.

That’s right, Docstoc has decided share their add revenue with users. Sign up for a Google Adsense accounts, sign up for the DocCash feature, and you can get paid. This feature is not related to the license on your document, so even if you have put your work into the public domain or licensed it as Creative Commons, you an still make ongoing money on the ads running alongside your work.

This is a great program for writers like me, who sometimes write things that are more scholarly or functional. The demand for such material from online publishers is pretty low, simply because the odds of “A Treatise on Implied Definitions in Paraconsistent Logics” going viral on Twitter are pretty low. Docstoc provides a market for such pieces, allowing writers to collect residuals on work that would otherwise go unwritten or sit in a slushpile somewhere.

Full API

For all you code-monkeys out there, Docstoc also has a full API, which allows you to build your own applications for the document-based social sharing network:

Most functionality available to a user on the site can be accessed through the API. The API includes functions for registering new members, uploading, downloading, updating, and searching for documents, manipulating a member’s folder structure, and setting up ads.

Community and Fans

Finally, for those writers who enjoy social media and the benefits of social networking, Docstoc has all the normal features you would expect. You can subscribe to users, add friends, tag documents, and add reviews and ratings. There are widgets and tools for sharing documents through networks or posting on your own profiles and blog, and there is a strong community of writers and infophiles that welcomes new members.

Share Your Experiences and Links

If you have used Docstoc and have any comments on their service, I want to know! Feel free to also comment with links to your profiles and documents…we do-follow our links! Great pieces will get reviews here on WriteNewMedia, so get yourself some free traffic and, if you have DocCash activated, a chance to earn some money.

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5 Incredible Superhero Fan Videos You’ve Never Seen

One of the most exciting examples of new media is the video revolution. Thanks to cheap technology and social media sites like YouTube, it is possible for people to create and distribute shorts, movies, and even full series as compelling as anything on mainstream television or in the theaters. A lot of the people involved in the projects get recruited by agents and headhunters, but even for those that don’t get “discovered”, this is a great way for independent scriptwriters and other creatives to see their vision come to the screen.

There are some amazing talents at work in these videos, and because of how much information is out there, a lot of it gets lost in the shuffle. Everyone has seen Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog, but some comparable writing (with admittedly lower budgets) slips through the cracks. Most superhero films made by amateurs are just mashups of other movies, but these five are real winners, created (almost) wholly from scratch.

Enjoy!

Grayson

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQyfQ7RMOXs&w=480]

Batman is dead and Dick Grayson, the original Boy Wonder, is investigating his murder. With appearances by heroes and villains from all over the DC universe, including Green Lantern, Batgirl, and Superman, this trailer to a great comic book movie that never got made is a testimony to how far an idea, a little cash, and some serious costuming can go. This is some especially fine scripting because so much has to be conveyed with no real dialogue. As anyone who has tried to write a play or script can tell you, having to convey your story in images and motion is very difficult. Grayson is an amazing piece. It will never get made (Robin in a movie is a hard sell since the nineties), but we can hope. A few scenes in Grayson fall flat because they were poorly executed scenes (Commissioner Gordon for the intro was a risky choice, I would have gone for Alfred) but overall it works very well.

World’s Finest

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtXD2HR5jgw&w=480]

All you comic fans out there know exactly what that title means: Batman and Superman, together. And that is exactly what you get. This movie probably will get made; it’s just too good to pass up, and it will make a killing in the theater even if it is awful. Until then, this trailer is pretty damn good. There is a lot more dialogue in this one, and it’s important to note how the writers used characterization in dialogue to empasize and bring out the minor characters while allowing Batman and Superman to work off of their costumes and movements. Every moment Lois is in a scene she is talking, and they manage to throw in her nickname for Clark Kent (Smallville) without it seeming forced. While the scene choice and physical work is not as heavy as in Grayson, World’s Finest certainly makes up for it in dialogue and direction.

Green Lantern

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIyx09htG8U&w=480]

This one actually is getting made right now, but this video is not related to the movie. Here we have no dialogue at all and it was mostly done with 3D modeling and bits of footage from movies, so the creator had to imply his tale through his choice of images. We see that he deals with this by creating tensions and quickly switching from one establishing shot to another; anyone familiar with the Green Lantern comics and cartoons will be able to put together a possible plot just from the imagery of the Guardians of the Universe and Sinestro alone.

Son of Batman

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFScW8zvIM0&w=480]

This one is a little dark. OK, it’s a lot dark. The next one is funny, I promise. As far as the writing…you aren’t going to get much better; this scene is taken from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. For those who haven’t read the book (you should), it takes place in a dark, dystopian near future where Batman is old and tired, Superman is a tool of the government, and a gang of vigilante punks have taken up the cowl…in a fashion.

Batman Gets Pwned

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ks8PZ8X6Yo8&w=480]

Told you the next one was funny. Respect the funny…writing funny is hard.

Suggestions

If you make videos or can recommend good videos, I want to see them. They don’t have to be about superheroes, but it helps!

Three Online Portfolios to Promote Your Writing

A bit ago I wrote on getting paid and my old friend Dustin over at Voodoo Knickers noted that I made it sound like getting paid is the end all, be all of writing. This is not the case at all; the astute readers among you will note I am not getting paid to blog here or on the Social Media Philosophy Project, and that my writing appears in various places on the net in the form of guest-posts and commentaries. I am also extremely active in social media and the online technology scene and am constantly putting out content of various types, all for free. Why do I do all of this? Well, it got you here, didn’t it?

As my colleague Brett Borders put it in the comments to this post:

The web is ultra-competitive and with 30,000,000 free channels for people to surf… they’re eventually only gonna be able to focus on the ones that are the most unique and interesting.

This is blunt but true. To make it in the new digital world you have to be able to get people to notice you. While social media is a great way of doing this, eventually that client or editor is going to want to see something you have written, and “7 Ways the Terminator Could Fail #terminator #fail ‘shortened link’ PLEASE RT!” isn’t going to cut it. You are going to need a portfolio, and you are going to want it public. While you can host it yourself like I do, that isn’t always an option for a starting writer, so what you need is a good site where you can host your portfolio and get noticed. Here are three sites where you can display and promote your writing online.

Behance Network

The Behance Network has a truly remarkable range of creative talents on display. They cover just about every field you can imagine and their site is very sharp and professional. From their site:

Behance is a company that designs products and services that empower the creative world to make ideas happen. Behance is founded on the principle of “Productive Creativity.” Too often, great ideas never materialize. Creative people are rarely lacking inspiration; rather, they lack effective processes and tools to make their ideas happen. The Behance team studies exceptionally productive people and teams working in creative fields. We document the methods and resources that these productive creative professionals use to push their ideas forward. We then develop products and services based on the best practices that we discover through our research.

Behance allows users to create groups called “Circles” and follow other users, similar to most social networks, but differentiates itself through its overall feel, where it tries to pull the mystique of the gallery and museum into everything they do. The work there is highly visual, but their writing section is nothing to sneer at.

Redbubble

Redbubble is a great site and up for a Webby. While they are very focused on visual design, art, and t-shirt designs, they also have a creative writing section that allows for a fast-moving, very Web 2.0 delivery. From the site:

RedBubble is a vibrant global community of people with creative interests. It’s something different for each of us:

  • a place to share the illustrations you create at night,
  • a forum to seek feedback on the story you’re writing,
  • a creative antidote to the day job,
  • lunch break entertainment,
  • a gallery to inspire,
  • a marketplace to buy and sell unique works of art and,
  • a place to be inspired by like–minded people.

RedBubble is a forum for self expression, an inclusive art gallery and a supportive and welcoming community.

While they don’t let you sell your writing, they have a great following and your writing will get seen. The community and quality of the work varies more than Behance, but that is part of the appeal of the site, which provides an more modern, anarchic online atmosphere.

TalentTrove

These are the underdogs of the list, an up-and-coming site who I was originally a bit leery of but grew on me as I delved. TalentTrove, like Behance, does a whole lot, providing just about every kind of creative amateur or professional a venue for their work. From their press kit:

TalentTrove.com is a unique platform that fuses characteristics of social networking communities and media sharing websites to form an all encompassing talent portal completely devoted to artists. Users of TalentTrove.com are provided a space to showcase their talent(s) and be heard and seen worldwide. The nature of TalentTrove.com supports an environment where people can collaborate and find other like-minded users, all the while presenting themselves to scouts and talent agents who are utilizing the site to find the next big star. A user’s homepage (called their MyStage) serves as a virtual resume where they can upload four different types of media: audio, video, images, and text.

Their site is slick and fast, full of social features, and they have started holding contests to promote the work of their users. They are also a truly international site, with users from all over the world, so for those of us (like myself) who find interaction with a lot of different personalities and ideas necessary for creative work, this might be just the site for you. They are bit younger than Behance or Redbubble, so don’t expect them to be getting a Webby or hitting the Techcrunch50 this year, but keep an eye on them, we could hear a lot of good things in the near future.

Go forth and promote yourselves!

Your homework (yes, there is homework; editors administer the exams!) is to go out, to either these sites or some other, and make your portfolio. Post the links here and the best work will get a review on thePuckWrites (paltry reward, I know, but the best I can offer). Now get out there!

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Associated Press Declares War on New Media. Isn’t That Just Adorable?

Well, it’s happening again. A long while back I wrote on this issue and then heard very little about it. I was hoping the AP would submit to the inevitable with more grace, but it seems that is not the case. The AP, with all of its venerable power, has decided that the best way to deal with its own looming obsolesence is to go the route of the RIAA and the MPAA: they are going to sue people that threaten their monopoly. Let’s break this down a bit.

For a very long time, the market for intellectual content was dominated by the machinery of production and distribution. Record companies were the only ones who could afford to record and distibute music, studios did the same with movies and television, and the publishing companies did it with books, comics, and magazines. The Associated Press is an organization like the MPAA and the RIAA. It is a collection of news companies that was very used to having absolute control over their medium and market. They do not exist for some altruistic purpose of keeping people informed…they exist as a quasi-legal cartel, able to operate only because their activities do not interfere with competition (amongst themselves).

This organization, like its siblings in the other markets, got broadsided by the new technologies of the internet. Their entire means of controlling their markets, which was the control of production and distribution, is gone. Kaput. Obsolete. They no longer control anything at all. We can do it ALL ourselves. We can make the media, distribute it, promote it, and profit on it, all without their vast machinery created over a century of profiteering. They are, in a word, irrelevant. They could realize and embrace this, creating a new business model for a new era, and realize that the thing they used to sell is now available for free so they need to sell something else. But instead they want to try to hang on, to enforce their traditional market domination by an act of law rather than real competition.

So this is what I am going to do, and I advise all other bloggers and new media people to do the same: show the AP the truth of its current position. Ignore them. Don’t link to them, don’t spread any story that links to them, and in general show them that their little club of middle-men is irrelevant. They want to declare war (have you ever noticed there is a certain demographic in the USA that is always declaring war on things?) on new media, as if such a thing was possible. This is like primitive neanderthals declaring war on modern homo sapiens…what are they going to do, print stories about how nasty bloggers are in their newspapers no one reads? Maybe they will take out an ad in a magazine no one buys? In the end, however, they are irrelevant. We can do quite well without them. The only reason any of these industries existed was because of a limitation on production and distribution that no longer exists.

So boycott the AP. Link to nothing, spread nothing, post nothing. Let them die without any of our lives being destroyed by meaningless lawsuits meant to be object lessons. Show them just how useless and irrelevant they are.

End of rant. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

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Four Sites to Sell Your Writing Online

Hemingway posing for a dust jacket photo by Ll...

Real writers get paid.

You hear me? Remember this, always. Want to know when you can call yourself a writer? The first time you get paid to write. I know this sounds mercenary as hell, but think it through. Carpenters get paid. Plumbers get paid. Surgeons get paid. Only in the creative fields do we say that someone can (and should) pursue the field, with all of the effort and study necessary to do it well, simply for the love of it, without expecting compensation of any kind. Too many of us help other people make money with our writing for free. This is unacceptable.

Hemingway got paid.

Show me the money.

I have already covered places to bid for freelance writing jobs, and I stand by what I said there, they are great sites and allow you to bid on some good jobs. The problem is that you have no way to assure yourself of an income on your terms and schedule. You may or may not win the bid, and there are people out there willing to write for next to nothing on those sites, ready to underbid you. Sometimes you just need the cash, sometimes you don’t want to deal with the bidding, and sometimes you already have things written that you can sell, and you need places where you know you can get paid.

Associated Content

Associated Content allows users to both submit articles for them to make an offer on and puts out calls for specific articles for writers to claim. From their site:

AC’s platform enables anyone to participate in the new content economy by publishing content on any topic, in any format (text, video, audio and images), and connects that content to consumers, partners and advertisers.

Downsides: The pay is very low. Upsides: You get traffic payoffs from them, so if your articles do well you will get ongoing payments. This site is perfect for the beginning writer who just needs to get some credits under their belt.

Bright Hub

Bright Hub focuses on tech and science articles and has a set payment per article. You apply for a contract with them and then join a team of writers working within a specific channel. From their site:

With an expert writer network and an active community of life-long enthusiasts Bright Hub provides a level of technology transparency rarely seen in high tech. The team of writers and managing editors utilize deep domain expertise to focus on creating valuable information for both novice and advanced consumers. With a content inventory of thousands of science and technology articles, software and hardware reviews, buyer’s guides, blog entries and forum discussions, Bright Hub is able to provide readers with a dependable resource to make informative technology decisions.

Downsides: You have quotas to meet and the editors can be demanding. Upsides: Bright Hub is solid, dependable work, you can work in multiple channels (though you end up having multiple editors, each with their own expectations and personality), and you are able to set your timetable by their schedule. While it is not going to make you rich, writers can make a full-time living from Bright Hub if they are motivated.

Demand Studios

Demand Studios is a subsidiary of Demand Media, and is a bit of a cross between Associated Content and Bright Hub. You apply for a position and once you get your contract you are able to claim or suggest articles from their internal menu. Each kind of article has a set price, and you claim and write what you want. There is a limit to how many you can claim at a time, but that limit increases as you write for them regularly. From their site:

Demand Studios enables talented freelancers to create valuable content, reach an audience of millions and earn money. Qualified content specialists can take part in the process, from making high-quality titles to editing finished content. We currently employ writers, filmmakers, copy editors, transcribers and title proofers, and we offer unique promotional opportunities for experts in all disciplines.

Downsides: Sometimes articles take a long time to get approved, meaning you can’t accept more assignments; this can really mess up your working timetable. Upsides: Demand is another low paying but dependable writing gig. You know you can make money there whenever you need to, and you can, once you can claim enough articles at a time, make a living from them.

Constant Content

Constant Content is a clearing house, allowing people to purchase and sell online content among themselves. Writers can sell different rights to their work to content publishers hungry for fresh content. From their site:

Constant-Content is a consignment shop for articles and pictures. Publishers can peruse the archive of articles, find the articles that they are looking for or use our system to reach out to authors and publish a request for new articles on your topic. Keeping content fresh on any site can be a lot of work, especially if you’re aiming to post new content very regularly. Constant-Content has a massive archive of articles and a community of writers who are keen to fulfill your content needs.

Constant-Content is unique in that we do not allow search engines to index our articles. As a consequence, when you purchase a unique or full rights license for one of our articles you can be certain that you will be the first on the Internet to post this article and you will receive the benefits of having unique, interesting and link-worthy content.

Upsides: You can get paid much more, sell work you already have sitting around, and get your work published all over the web. Downsides: Your work might not sell at all.

Tell me more.

I know there are a lot of other sites out there, these are just the ones that I like best and think are the best way for starting writers to establish themselves, get some credits, and most of all…get paid.

What about you? Tell me about your favorite sites to sell your work and I will feature them in a later post and give you credit.

Update (4-5-09)

It seems that Associated Content doesn’t pay out to non-U.S. residents. You just get traffic residuals.

Who is eligible to be paid?
You must be at least 18 years old to be paid by Associated Content. If you are also citizen or legal resident of the United States, you are eligible for both Upfront and Performance Payments. If you are not a citizen of legal resident of the United States, you are only eligible for Performance Payments due to U.S. tax regulations.

How very self-centered of them. I would like to apologize. I know that a lot of my readers are outside the US (that’s right, I’m watching you! *peers around*) and I don’t want to lead you wrong. My job is to help you get your career as writers going, and a non-paying client is exactly what I am trying to steer you away from. So please be advised:

Associated Content only pays residents of the United States of America. Non-US writers should seek other entry-level markets.

Special thanks to my buddy Mark Dykeman for the tip. He’s written for Louis Gray and Mashable and is an overall smart guy who says smart things. Check him out over at Broadcasting Brain or follow Mark on Twitter.

  • New Revenue-Sharing Content Site: Bukisa (onlinepublishing.suite101.com)
  • How To Find More Ghostwriting Jobs (ghostwritinguncovered.com)
  • Are You A Greedy Writer? (ghostwritinguncovered.com)
  • A Freelance Writer’s First Experience With Elance (danaprince.blogspot.com)
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Three Strategies for Success in New Media

PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 29:  Copies of The Chri...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Concern about the death of traditional print media is all over the blogosphere. Newspapers such as the Christian Science Monitor have been forced to take up online strategies in order to compete, and from this new approaches such as the New York Times social network have arisen. In light of this, the question arises:how can the modern writer be successful in a world where the traditional writing jobs are fading away?

Get Diverse

Once upon a time, a writer picked a niche and ran with it. The choice of what you wanted to write and where you wanted it to be printed decided how you wrote, what the best practices and standards were, and how you should attempt to build your career. Books on how to be a writer would differ wildly based on what kind of writer you wanted to be.

Maybe this made sense before the internet, but now it just doesn’t work. As a professional freelance writer, I write in so many different styles and for so many different purposes from day to day that focusing my efforts into only one approach is impossible. In the last few months I have written quests for an upcoming video game, informational articles on computer gadgets at BrightHub, movie reviews, and blog posts on all sorts of topics. Right now my “big” job is copywriting for a start-up. On top of this, I still write my fiction, which will soon be appearing on a new site.

The point of this is that you can’t afford to pigeon-hole yourself into any kind of writing. Now, I know what some of you are saying: “What about inspiration? What about art?” Well, that becomes the difference between writing professionally and being an artist. You can do both, but your attitude is different when you want to write professionally, and you focus on different things.

It is possible that if you are incredibly gifted and lucky, you can write precisely what your inspiration calls you to write and nothing else and make that your career. However, the much greater likelihood is that you need to see your writing as any other professional skill, and thus keep it flexible and open to the needs of the moment. Thus you must diversify your writing and be able to write for any media, as needed.

Get Educated

As the incorporation of new media into the mainstream continues, the needs of the writer’s craft will change. Already we have seen some of these changes, as SEO and social media have become more and more important to online writing. The simple fact is that as the technologies shift, the very definition of what we do changes. Just as I doubt many writers of my generation have done too much of their work on typewriters, I doubt many writers of the next generation will do too much work where search-engine optimization and online technologies do not play a role. If you refuse to learn about these new technologies you are making your skills less valuable, and some other writer who has done their homework will get the jobs that could have been yours.

Get Creative

New media allows for a new kind of writing. As I have written about elsewhere, microblogging has some interesting implications for fiction writers. I think there are even more interesting possibilities with modern technologies, where stories can be structured to unfold over various forms of social media, including video, microblogs, and even leaving trails of social bookmarks and forum posts. Consider the strange tale of John Titor. Ignoring the issue of whether he was really a time traveler, his tale is interesting and the fact that it was delivered across message boards points to hidden possibilities of fiction and meta-fiction. Viral ad campaigns such as that used for Heroes, while used as a way to gain buzz, point the way to stories told across multiple mediums and technologies.

Final Word

Traditional media may very well be dying, or it may become a form of backup media, like we have seen happen to radio. Writers, whether of stories or advertising copy, need to think seriously about the strategies that will allow them to keep plying their trade in the days to come. However, these ideas are just the beginning; what other strategies can writers use to ensure their success in the changing world?

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Dynamic Fiction Through Microblogging

Twitter over-capacity image.As a follow up to my last post, “Picking a Genre in New Media “, where I listed out several of the major genres of writing common in blogs and other forms of new media, I thought I would approach some of the genres and try to share some writing tips. Then I saw this post over at Techcrunch: “Can Twitter Authors Capture The Magic Of LonelyGirl15?“, and decided I would start with my favorite genre: fiction.

Many readers might think that the online medium is not suited to telling a good story, but this is not true. Techcrunch cites the classic tale of LonelyGirl15 as a perfect example of the possibilities on online fiction. For those who are unfamiliar with the tale: LonelyGirl15 was Bree, a fictional character created for a series of YouTube videos which eventually unfolded into a rather epic tale of secret government conspiracies. This was a remarkable example of viral marketing: it turned out a creative agency created the interactive story. This highlights what is possible with fiction when the internet is used as the medium. What begins as a single person’s story can take on a life of its own, remixed, revamped, and expanded by other creative minds working in concert.

So let’s consider Twitter and other microbloggers. We have the possibility for small bursts of tale, added to and changed by followers and retweeted across the net. We also have the possibility for the return of the “serial” and “periodical” in a new form, where a string of updates over time can serve to create tension, invite speculation, and cause readers to experiment with their own explanations of events in the story.

So how can you write the kind fiction that would work through a medium like a microblogger?

  1. Consider your limit. 140 characters per update. You could consider posting a whole string of updates in a row, but each post should be complete and move the story all by itself.
  2. “Murder your darlings”. This quote from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch tells us to get rid of every word, every phrase, every bit of writing that does not move the story and is not the perfect words to express what you want to express, no matter how clever or pretty. While it is always good advice (and never easy), it becomes even more important in this medium. Never fall back on empty phrases, no matter how elegant, and never write platitudes or cliches. In the online world, anything that does not move the story is simply ignored.
  3. Allow for the responses you receive from followers to influence the story. This is perhaps the greatest strength of the online world: ease of collaboration. Thanks to the medium you can adjust your tale and answer the desires of your readers like no “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel could ever hope for.
  4. Allow for ambiguity. Part of what made LonelyGirl15 compelling was that no one was sure for awhile whether it was real or fiction. By the time every one knew it was fiction, no one cared and followed the story out of interest.
  5. Update regularly. Your followers need to know when the next installment will come, and they need to be able to pass that knowledge along. If you must miss an update, work the delay into the story.
  6. Avoid explanations. Explanations of the story don’t move the story and prevent it from being open-ended and ambiguous enough to draw virality.
  7. Avoid plot-twists. Plot-twists are cheap when done in serial form…consider the “cliffhangers” of old movie serials, where each episode placed the hero in some deadly danger…only to have it explained away in the first moments of the next installment. People see this tactic a mile away, and will quickly lose interest. Instead of going for overt plot-twists, go for lots of ambiguity where any number of explanations, twists, and turns could happen and make sense, causing your readers to attempt to figure out where it will go next only to be endlessly surprised. Think “Lost” rather than “The Village” and you can’t go wrong.

Final Word

These are only suggestions about how to tackle fiction through microbloggers…I have only begun considering the possibilities. I am very interested in seeing where people go with this as a medium and will be following mylifein140, the account mentioned in the Techcrunch post, as well as looking into “Twittories“, a group creating crowdsourced fiction using Twitter.

Questions for my readers:

  1. Are there any other writers attempting a similar experiment?
  2. Any thoughts on the possibilities of fiction in new media? Perhaps something I haven’t considered?
  3. Are the possibilities for pursing other forms of writing in this way, perhaps poetry or philosophy?

Picking a Genre in New Media

Journal and penWriters in traditional media eventually have to choose a genre to write in. No one can do everything, and so like every other profession, writers specialize. Some genres are defined by the type of settings and plots used, like horror, science-fiction, and fantasy. Others categories are defined by their content, like historical writings, academic works, and poetry. In new media we also have to specialize, but the genre’s are slightly different. This list will cover the basic categories of online writing.

1. Informational Blogging

By far the most popular of online content, informational blogs allow writers to share their interests, skills, and knowledge with interested readers. This is probably the easiest form of blog, as your own favorite subject is all you need to start out. Just pick something you know a lot about, from wine-making to stamp-collecting, and write short instructional pieces.

2. News

Writing news in an online world is a very different beast than writing for traditional media. Speed is of the essence, and deciding what kind of news you want to focus on is key. In addition to this, you must add content to your news, some sort of analysis or commentary, not just repeat your source. To get started covering news, pick a “beat”, a subject, field, area, or industry that interests you. Find your sources, which can be blogs and other social media as well as traditional sources. Find people online who are involved in your “beat” and try and establish contact with them, allowing you to hit them up for comments and thoughts…this is one place where social media and networking can really make a difference. Make sure to always cite your sources, linking to them when possible.

3. Fiction and Fan-Fiction

Many storytellers use their blog as their primary means of getting their writing out into the world. Whether you are writing your own stories from the ground up or using the characters and settings of someone else, you can make a name for yourself that will allow you to make the transition to selling your work to traditional publishers. Another tactic is to use your blog for short stories or short-short stories and then sell your longer works through e-books. If you are technically inclined you can create your e-books yourself, and if not you can use a service such as Lulu, which will allow you to convert your document and add a cover, as well as allowing you to sell printed copies on demand through your site or through retailers like Amazon.

4. Comedy and Parody

Technically a form of fiction, online comedy and parody can become viral like nothing else. Cracked, CollegeHumor, and the Onion are some of the most trafficked sites on the web because people love to laugh and the humor is quick, topical, and speaks to the concerns of the average netizen. However, not everyone can do funny, and you should consider deeply whether you can truly hack it. If so, pick your tactic and have at it, but the competition is steep. Also remember that, in comedy more than any other field, you have to make your content stand-out…while it is fine for just about every fantasy tale to include magic, the net just doesn’t need any more sites specializing in pictures of everyday things with humorous or absurd captions.

5. Collections

The internet is very big, and despite the best efforts of our overlords at Google, it is very hard to find what we want. This means that collecting lists of links, images, videos, and other content and summarizing why they are interesting is its own genre, with its own readers. While sites like Digg and Delicious have taken this genre and run with it, many subjects are obscure enough (and the web big enough) to make collections a very viable genre. Again, go for a niche, some subject that interests you and you can follow eagerly, and then simply collect the best content and summarize it for others. Collections can also be a good way to finish out a week of other posts by using a “best links of the week” theme.

6. Diaries, Opinions, and Rants

While this genre is hard to pull of well, some people really are interesting enough that their general thoughts can compell readers. This is a difficult call to make, because almost everyone thinks their own thoughts and opinions are interesting even though they are not. A good example of someone who can pull this off is Norimoto over at AvenueToTheReal, who blends humor and absurdity with serious social commentary and philosophical questioning. This kind of writing can be very cathartic, but beware: your readership may be low.

7. Reviews and Product Reports

Increasingly, people rely on other people rather than marketing to tell them about the products and services they want to buy. This means that if you happen to read a lot of books, go to a lot of movies, or buy a lot of gadgets, your personal experiences with them and expertise will help others get feedback and information about their interests. The Movie Space is a great example of a blog with multiple authors who have parlayed their collective knowledge of movies into some sizable traffic. Just like with an informational blog, pick something you are very interested in and have a great deal to say about…a book review that says “I liked it” or “It was boring” and nothing else will get little attention.

Final Word

This list is meant to help you figure out not just how to write for new media, but what to write about. It is not definitive, as these categories are coming into existence and changing as you read this. If anyone can think of any genre’s or categories I may have missed, please let me know.

How to Write for the New Media

Writers write, and we like to think we do it well. But sometimes what we were taught in writing classes and have learned from reading will mean death in online media. This is because the medium is so vastly different and people have different needs from the new media than they did from the old. Here are some tricks and tips for developing a new media writing style.

1. Go Short

In school and literature, often we are taught that more is better. If you can slip in more detail, another source, or another idea, you should. Well, this is just plain wrong in the new media. Here we have to capture a reader who with the click of a mouse can be somewhere else. They are not a professor paid to read a paper or a book-reader sitting and relaxing in a nook. They are on a computer and working in a very “hot” (interactive) medium. Keep your posts and articles between 400 and 700 words. If you absolutely must go longer, consider splitting the post up into a series. DO NOT go for the “multi-pager”. It does not work, nobody reads it and if you keep trying to write your magnum opus you will lose readers.

2. Avoid Big Blocks of Texts

Break your articles up into multiple paragraphs. What seems like over-formatting in a book or magazine can be perfect for a post because of the difference in how they are read. People’s eyes react differently to text on a screen. Use pictures, changes in font size, and lists to break your content up into meaningful chunks. The goal is that at any point a person could finish up a section in just a few seconds and easily come back for the next chunk later.

3. Avoid the Passive Voice

In school we learn to speak in the passive voice to record facts. This makes things very “objective” and “neutral” sounding, but is not what people are looking for online. There are a billion other things they could be reading that can all be objective, but they will read your work because it is yours. Make your writing drip with active verbs and your own personality. Let your voice come through so strongly that the reader will hear you in their head.

4. Lead the Reader

The formatting of online content is always a problem, but the best thing you can do is let your content guide the reader’s eyes and mind. Use lists, headings, and text styling to lead the reader’s eyes to the important points. This is what is sometimes called the “Command to Look” from a book by the same name.

5. Make Your Content “Hot”

This is the internet, web 2.0 thank you very much, and we want our content to be dynamic. We want links, video, and the ability to converse. Pepper your articles with interactivity, even to the point of asking questions for your readers to answer. If you refer to something, link it (but only the first time!), if you say there was a video, include it in the post.

6. SEO

Ok, get the groan out of your system. I know plenty of the community has a bad opinion of SEO, but I don’t agree with them. Search engine optimization is simply par for the course; you have to deal with it. Some simple tips are:

  1. Format your post titles to include the most well-known keywords for your article’s subject.
  2. Write your post to include a few repetitions of various keywords pertinent to your article (don’t oversaturate).
  3. If you are hosting your own blog, make sure your post titles come first in your page titles. The reason for this is that search engines only show the first part of the title, so if your blog title comes first then, even if you are on the front page, all people will see is the blog title, which makes them unlikely to click.
  4. Also, if you are hosting your own blog, make sure that you set your title page, archives, and tag pages to show only excerpts of your post contents. Search engines frown heavily on duplicate content.

7. K.I.S.S.

Keep it simple. No, really. Really simple. Avoid clarifying clauses, complicated thoughts, and involved sentences. This is not say you can’t write difficult ideas…just break them down. Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. The reason for this is (again) about how people read on the internet. Since people are always multi-tasking, being able to come back to an article and read it in little chunks without losing the thread of the thought is absolutely necessary.

Final Word

Following these simple steps you can increase your reader loyalty and the uselfulness of your posts. People will be able to get what they need from your content easily and efficiently, which will make your posts and articles appealing and useful, which means people will come back to read more and pass on your work to other potential readers and clients. Help your readers read and they will stay loyal, make them work too hard and they will just click something else.

Does anyone else have any good writing tips for new media?


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