Making Interactive Fiction: Anthologies

2018-12-11 · by Bruno Dias
tagged Columns

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, one of my favorite things I’ve worked on, came out this year. And The Silence Under Your Bed, one of my favorite things I’ve played, came out a few weeks earlier. And Cragne Manor came out this week, and has been calling to me. All of these are anthology works, and that’s as good a reason as any to talk about how to put one together.

I’d love to see more anthology-based IF, and there are many reasons for creating it: anthologies are a good way of sharing expertise and easing new people into IF writing; anthologies are a cooperative way of pursuing attention together, as opposed to competitions. And anthologies can highlight different points of view or facets on a theme, contrasting them against each other.

Anthologies are also great for developing new voices and drawing attentions to under-served authors. They allow someone with a platform or a well-known voice to act as an “anchor” for other authors.

There are a lot of questions that arise when thinking about anthologies: How tightly do you stick to a given theme, tone, and focus? Do you include a framing story?

I feel anthologies work best when there is a commonality that joins all stories together, and a few threads of commonality that aren’t necessarily present in every story. That was roughly the model we used in Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, for mechanical reasons, but it would work well as a purely story-based approach too.

Framing stories are very popular because they provide context, a way in, and a format for the underlying stories. They often make anthologies easier to construct and easier to present. Enforcing a certain viewpoint can be helpful in keeping players from being jarred by transitioning from one story to another, too.

Another thing that can elevate an anthology is collaboration between different authors. Riffing on one another’s ideas, and weaving those thematic threads throughout. A good anthology doesn’t read like something disjointed, but like looking at the same thing from different angles. This of course creates more work for everyone; once you’re not just handing in your piece of it, but reading other people’s work so you can collaborate, you have to invest more time.

Anthologies do ultimately come down to someone doing a lot of work. An editor has to knit everything together, keeping the style and voice of the anthology. Anthologies create labor costs and friction, beyond what a similarly-sized work would require from a single author. But I believe they’re rewarding, and worth it, because they can produce works that aren’t really possible as a single-author venture.

In Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, the breadth of perspective brought by a huge group of writers allowed for a point of view that would be difficult or impossible for a single writer to address properly. This is one question where anthologies interest me: What benefits from a plurality of viewpoints? What can you do as a group that you can’t alone?

And I hope this point raises another question: The value of editing, organizing, and just general wrangling in producing great work. I’ve come to believe that giving recognition to those kinds of roles, and elevating collaborative IF and not just individual authors, is critical to advancing the field.

I hope this opens up a discussion about ways of getting IF made that don’t rely on competitions, jams, and other “parallel” formats. Anthologies, to me, represent a nexus of creative possibilities and practical utility that shouldn’t be ignored. And some of my favorite work has come out of them, in ways that make me feel like they’re an underrated way forward for the medium.

Bruno Dias is a writer and narrative designer based in São Paulo. His work has appeared in video game publications (Waypoint, PC Gamer), games (Where the Water Tastes Like Wine) and interactive fiction on Sub-Q and elsewhere.

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