This week we have the pleasure of welcoming Andy Campbell of Dreaming Methods. Andy has written a guest lecture to introduce us to the work of Dreaming Methods and the writing/creating/publishing process. His lecture fits in well with the lecture discussions we've already had about transliteracy and born digital fictions as well as posts like that of Judith's, discussing the *narratives* of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
Please, as usual, add your comments and questions here, to this post as Andy will be checking in regularly throughout this week to respond.
FICTION OF DREAMS
What is Dreaming Methods?
Dreaming Methods (http://www.dreamingmethods.com/) is a website which showcases what I call digital fiction: stories designed from the outset to be read (and/or experienced) only on a computer or other device. It has no print counterpart. It's not tied into a movie, a book, an advertising agency or a TV series; all of the work is original and free to view. The site has been online for over 11 years now.
Dreaming Methods is a project of the charity I work for, One to One Development Trust (http://www.onetoonedevelopment.org). As a day job, I create websites, film graphics and print designs for clients in the national and international arts/voluntary sectors. Dreaming Methods therefore is not entirely without financial backing, but it is still largely a pursuit of passion – with most of the work having been created on very little or no budget at all, and almost entirely in spare time.
Where did it come from? How did you get into digital writing?
I started out when I was about 17 - in the mid 1990s - writing short stories about dreams and memories (topics that have always interested me). I had a home computer called a Commodore Amiga - some of you guys may have heard of this ancient (and cool) bit of kit –and I just started using a very basic Word Processor to write my stories on.
I didn’t like the idea of submitting my work to publishers. So, after learning how to do some coding, I started knocking out short story anthologies that were entirely computer-based. These had soundtracks, moody graphics, menu systems, text-readers that allowed you to change the background colour of the "page" and the colour of the text, to enlarge the text, and so on. And I started inviting other writers to contribute too.
The anthologies did quite well, attracting a cult readership and getting over 60 reviews in the international computing press (although never in the literary press). But they didn't make me (or any of the other writers involved) much money.
In 1996, I moved off the Amiga (which was pretty much dead anyway) and onto the PC and started dabbling around on the internet. Hypertext, web pages and this software called Flash seemed pretty cool.
Using Flash, I started to write in a very fragmented way, designing graphics and writing 'onto' them as-it-were. My whole creative flow became interspersed with shifting around an on-screen environment. I was scribbling – etching – onto virtual objects or into the middle of programming code. I started making words move - fly around the screen – appear and disappear very quickly. The storytelling possibilities seemed very new and exciting.
So I set up a website - initially called "digitalfiction.co.uk" - just to be able to showcase the results of my experiments. After a few years I changed the name to Dreaming Methods (originally the title of one of my short stories) because – well, I just liked the name.
As my writing progressed further into the digital world, I decided to treat the screen as a completely new canvas onto which to write, where stories could potentially be told in new ways and the text itself could explore a wide range of uniquely digital attributes: blurred, obscured, transient, animated and mouse-responsive, the fiction I was creating began to reflect the unstable, continuously fluctuating nature of my favourite and most enduring topics: dreams and memories themselves.
What are the stories actually about?
Inside: A Journal of Dreams (2002) http://www.dreamingmethods.com/inside/ is about an elderly man who lives alone and keeps a dream diary. His dreams and memories are reflected in a virtual "book" which includes overlaid video sequences representing extracts from his thoughts. There's something wrong with his gas fire - it's leaking carbon monoxide. An engineer turns up but he finds it very difficult to fix. Or does an engineer turn up? Is he just a character in a dream?
Nightingale's Playground (2010) http://www.nightingalesplayground.com/ is the story of Carl, a young man who, having just split up with his girlfriend, decides to attend a school reunion in the hope of catching up with his old best friend Alex Nightingale. Unfortunately, Alex isn't there at the reunion, and what's more, non of Carl's other old school mates can even remember Alex. It's like he never even existed in the first place. Did Carl just invent Alex? And if so, why the hell would he have done that?
Changed (2011) http://labs.dreamingmethods.com/changed/beta/ is the story of a young girl who has been recently attacked and is now hiding and reflecting about her ordeal in a sub way tunnel. Her thoughts and feelings manifest against the grotty concrete walls, hanging around enough to be readable, but then fading away again to the back of her mind. She realises she's been hiding for days. Her mobile phone only has a single bar of battery left and a very weak signal. She worries that her vicious attacker is waiting for her outside the tunnel entrance...
But, couldn't all of this just been written in a printed book? What's the point? Wouldn't it even be easier perhaps to write these things "traditionally" / "normally"?
I don't believe these stories could just be written in a traditional paper book, no. They've been born into - stitched into - digital media.
Writing for the screen – or perhaps onto the screen - is like writing onto a liquid canvas – where even the text itself no longer has to be considered a static entity. This has a huge effect on the reading experience. Critics would argue that any sort of immersion in the text is lost in reading digitally – there are endless arguments about how books will never be replaced.
I would argue that we are not talking about books at all here. Books are a different medium for writing. In the digital fiction world, text has to work harder and accept some new friends in the form of other types of media; all of which have the right to exist within the same electronic environment.
So how would you justify the stories you mentioned above being “digital” and not “traditional”?
Inside: A Journal of Dreams doesn’t just tell you about the dreams or describe them; it shows you fragments of them, sometimes through video; sometimes by manipulating – animating – the very language/words on the page.
Nightingale’s Playground doesn’t attempt to conjure up using prose where Alex Nightingale actually disappeared to: it literally puts you inside a 3D world where it’s down to you to explore, absorb, participate and uncover the mystery.
And in Changed, the textual memories of the protagonist – as in real life memories – don’t stay still – they don’t remain fixed for referencing later; they physically fade away, transform and disappear. There is no going back. You can’t turn back the page.
How are these works made?
Building this kind of work – certainly the most media rich stuff – isn't easy and often takes a lot of time. Unless you're collaborating, you need a wide range of skills . This is a seriously tall order. It redefines the role of an author/writer. In some ways, this isn’t even a writer’s role anymore. You’re more of a multi-media producer. A media blender.
Most Dreaming Methods projects have been created without spending much on graphics, music, sound effects, photography or video. Most of the material in the projects has been either self-generated or obtained from royalty free sources. Either that, or I've worked with others. Photographers, musicians, coders, even other writers to actually produce the text.
The web is unique in the sense that it’s easy to source just about anything. And the amount of free software available to download, learn and use is massive.
Finding these resources, knowing which technologies to use and how to use them can be tricky – last year I set up a site called Dreaming Methods Labs (http://labs.dreamingmethods.com) which offers links and downloads to loads of free stuff that’s highly useful for producing this kind of work. Also, last month, I established the New Media Writing Forum in association with the New Media Writing Prize (http://www.newmediawritingforum.co.uk) which I am really hoping will take off as a central discussion point for digital writers. Members so far include digital superstars Alan Bigelow, Kate Pullinger, Christine Wilks and Chris Joseph.
Finally, where is digital fiction going? And what are you making?
Most of the digital writers I’m in communication with seem to be going through a transformative phase where they’re questioning the technologies they’re using to realise their work. This is mainly because of the lack of Flash support on Apple’s iOS and the desire for many to get into producing material for mobile/tablet devices. There also seems to be a large pull towards making work more game-like and interactive.
Despite the huge influx of book-tie-in apps being developed by publishers and their sudden interest in e-books and so on, I remain extremely cynical about the potential of digital writer/publisher collaborations. It appears that two parallel worlds have opened up: that of electronic literature/digital writers, many of whom have been around for a decade or more; and the world of publishers who would rather rely on their established titles and authors, and look to high profile design studios for answers to their digital dilemmas.
The recorded history of literature’s hugely delayed shift/transformation to digital could indeed be completely re-written by this division of worlds – and the staggeringly odd lack of communication between them. I’ve written about this more here in an article called Progression or Obscurity: http://if-no-book.blogspot.com/2010/11/natural-progression-or-soon-to-be.html
I’m happy to say that Dreaming Methods is very busy right now – although we’re not being funded by any publishers. We’re firmly behind the pioneering transmedia project Inanimate Alice by Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph (http://www.inanimatealice.com) which is very exciting, and we’re creating an experimental new work called ‘R’ which incorporates plug-in free 3D technology to create one of our most ambitious online ‘dream worlds’ yet. Finally, we’re working with Kate Pullinger on a completely new story, a digital fiction thriller (screen shot here http://www.digitalfiction.co.uk) which will mix an accessible, compelling ‘car chase’ storyline with atmospheric graphics and video, plus it will be compatible with tablet and mobile devices.
Thanks for reading! Hope to see you on the New Media Writing Forum – or you can contact me direct - http://www.dreamingmethods.com/contact/