Fiction is a Three-Edged Sword

Fiction, interactive fiction and narrative

The long way round

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Sometimes, I think I start too many projects and leave them unfinished – or more often, leave them barely begun. I have on various computers about six text-games, three hypertext stories, two half-written novels and a pile of semi-decent short stories.

Other times – when I dig something up from the pile and realise that, with just a little more work, it could be really good, I wish I’d spent more time when I had more time knocking out bad stories, ready for a future version of myself to pummel remorselessly into shape.

Redrafting after a gap of, say, six years, is pretty much the perfect length of time. It’s short enough that you can basically remember why you wrote the thing, who the characters were meant to be and what the story should have been about. But it’s long enough that you feel no great attachment to any of those ideas, and no sympathy for their author.

Not to mention, after that much time, you pretty much can’t fail but make improvements.

So right now, in a sort-of gap between projects, I’m going over a short border-line SF story I wrote in 2002. At its heart is one good idea, and a couple of good ideas attached to that idea. The pace is good and there are a few good lines. The dialogue is terrible, and much of the detail is irrelevant, frivolous and throwaway.

It’s going to be great. Rewriting it feels like a holiday.

I’ve tried this occasionally with IF projects, and never found it quite so satisfying, though. Perhaps it’s that, picking up an old coding project, you have to spend so long working out how anything worked – and working out what’s a bug, what’s a missing feature, and what’s a plain oversight. Or perhaps it’s that, however much you rewrite, you can never quite get to every line of text, and a few survive from the very earliest days.

The last IF project I resurrected this way was Make It Good, which I (quite sensibly) decided I would never be able to finish, in about 2005. Some of its strangenesses can be attributed to this, I think, not least the slight confusion over quite where and when it’s set.

(Now I’m looking at another old project, Charon, and wondering if it can ever be made decent. If it will ever compile, even, since it was written with I7’s very first release.)

Another day, maybe. Right now, I’ve got at least 2,000 words of tosh to throw away, and I don’t even have to apologise to its author.

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Author: joningold

Jon Ingold is a writer and games designer from Cambridge, UK. He is co-founder of inkle, a company specialising in interactive narrative for mobile devices. He has written prose, plays, short films as well as interactive fiction, both in hypertext and parser-based systems. His short stories have appeared in Interzone magazine and his IF works have won competitions and awards.

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