Sunday, February 12, 2012

Week 6: Guest Lecture

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.


What is Dreaming Methods?

Dreaming Methods ( 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 ( 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 "" - 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) 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) 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) 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 ( 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 ( 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:
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 ( 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 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 -


  1. Why do you think digital fiction like that which you're producing hasn't become more mainstream? I find it more entertaining that printed words on an e-reader. Is it the lack of marketing that comes when there is money to be made such as there is for a popular movie or book? Is it too arty or hard for people to classify it as a book or a movie (or game) - since it is something in between? What are your thoughts in this respect?

    I have become very interested in digital fiction, and I was surprised by its quality and value when I began to view some of the digital fiction/new media narratives through this course. I intend to look for more, beyond this course. Thanks for sharing your work.

  2. Hi Barb,

    Interestingly this was the first question that was put to the discussion panel at the New Media Writing Prize 2011 Award Ceremony in December by a keen member of the audience. The response - from Matt Locke, who used to be head of multiplatform content at Channel 4 - was that the concept of a single 'main stream' in the multi-faceted digital world is one that no longer applies - so it was pretty pointless talking about it. JR Carpenter, the digital writer on the panel, responded with "well, how do you know digital fiction is not mainstream? I've heard of this thing called football which is supposed to be popular." Interesting and entertaining responses, but I do know what you mean by the question, and I think it's a valid one.

    Personally I think digital fiction is yet to have its time. The world of writing and literature is staggeringly slow-moving and hopeless at taking risks. The flip-side of that is that it's quite an exciting (if not very finacially rewarding) time to be involved in the development of this kind of work - there are boundaries that can be pushed and explored and new concepts uncovered. And eventually when tablet devices become less expensive, more powerful and more open to development through web-standards, we could even see an explosion of very intimate, powerful digital fiction works from authors in the field.

    The seemingly unshakeable association that digital fiction - even now - retains with 'books' I think is one of its biggest downfalls. As is the fact that it seems virtually impossible for people to get their heads around hybrid forms of media. Also, a lot of digital fiction springs from the academic world and is quite experimental/inaccessible - which is generally the exact opposite of the concept of something being 'mainstream'. Rather than floaty e-poems and black-text-with-blue-links hypertext works, we need to see some really exciting, gripping stuff being developed, that will really capture even the most cynical reader's imagination. This doesn't mean we have to 'dumb down' or fall back to well-established genres and techniques (although maybe that would be a start); we need to really think about what digital fiction does best - what its full storytelling potential might be - that no other singular media type can achieve alone.


  3. Andy, I am thinking about your note that either you have created content yourself OR you have worked with photographers, coders etc... What kind of skills do you think one needs in order to communicate effectively across such disciplines? How do you explain your *vision* of a work to a photographer or coder when you ask for their help? I am thinking of the idea of transliteracy and what implications that might have in the creative process itself rather than the interacting/reading process?

  4. Hi Jess,

    For the most part when I have had a very specific vision of what I want to create, I have set out to achieve it myself, without collaborating. This stems from working alone for years; not in a sad, lonely way! but in a very densely focused way which has simply matured out of writing. Writing is often a solitary practice.

    When photography, music, code or film has been difficult to self-generate, I have sought material from the internet, either from free resources or from low-cost stock photography sites. This has suited me well. I've worked like this for years. The process is very much like scrap-booking. I stock-pile resources, media elements and code snippets long before embarking on a project. Often this carves out/influences what the final result will become; what the story will actually feel like, right down to changing the writing part of it to suit the other media. I am not a coder, or a photographer, or a musician, or a film-maker. I have no formal training or qualifications in any of these things. I'm a compulsive dabbler in software and an experimenter with web scripts and media. Stories emerge from tinkering, stitching, blending, messing around.

    When I have collaborated, I've often given a lot of creative freedom to the other person or persons involved - either that, or they may already have produced material which I then ask whether I can use. A good case in point would be The Flat, which was created out of a set of 9 year old photographs that had already been taken. With Clearance and Inside, the video footage was edited out of film footage that already existed and just needed trimming, manipulating, bits taking out of it and affecting/looping.

    It depends on the nature of the collaboration as to how best to work. I've always believed in developing digital fiction rather organically. With Lynda Williams on Changed, I was inspired by a half-written script that Lynda was working on, immediately had a strong vision of what the project would be like, and then asked her to carry on writing the script but with the walls of an underground subway in mind, and to think about the text slowly disappearing. She adjusted the way she was writing the piece to suit the medium and I edited it down, sliced it up, from what she provided me with.

    At the moment, I'm working with Kate Pullinger on Duel. We have evolved a workflow which involves a script that emails back and forth between us with (a) a visual image of what the project might look like in each 'scene', (b) Kate's dialogue/writing for that 'scene' and (c) footnotes/technical scribbles on how each 'scene' may vary depending on what sort of device/set up it's experienced on. As it goes back and forth, the visuals change, the writing changes, and the notes change. It's a process of reacting to each other and to the evolution of the project.

    I think being open to letting each element of media influence others, including the writing, are key - and really important. Otherwise, as usual, each part of a work remains static and separate, and what evolves is not truly 'digitally born'.


  5. Andy, thank you for sharing your work with Dreaming Methods and One to One. Really interesting stuff!

    I've been thinking about your comments about writers "questioning the technologies" they use, and the fact that digital writers came to rely on one proprietary technology (Flash) which is now becoming less accessible because of other proprietary technologies (Apple's mobile operating systems in particular).

    It reminds me of the situation that graphic designers find themselves in. I have a library of Quark Xpress files that I hang on to - but they're essentially unusable digital artifacts, because I no longer have a system that can open them. In fact, many digital files that are over a decade old are locked inside their outdated technology. The keys to open them - e.g. floppy drives, or obsolete software - are lost, malfunctioning, or incompatible with other parts of the system.

    This situation leads to some interesting questions around our reliance on technologies and the commercial interests that control them. I've been wondering if our current situation - in which we rely on very specific and often proprietary technology to write, design and create art - is historically unusual. In the past, weren't the technologies we used for these activities more stable, and less subject to corporate control? You could use paper from the previous century, and though you might run out of quills, ink, or typewriter ribbon, you probably would have been able to find a substitute, and no one company had proprietary control over paint. I know that it's hyperbole to equate Adobe with Monsanto, but I sometimes wonder if we aren't entering an era in which the life cycle of creative seeds will be controlled by a distant corporation.

    What do you think is the way forward in this environment? Will digital writers find or develop open source solutions that will free them from the cycle of planned obsolescence?

  6. Hi Andy,

    Thanks so much sharing your work with us. I worked my way through Nightingale’s Playground and I must say I really enjoyed it.

    While going through your work, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to a number of interactive, digital comics based on video games I’ve been seeing pop up lately. Fully voice-acted and user-controlled, they change the medium of the story, but keep it digital so as not to lose the fan base. I’ve also noticed a lot of interactive e-books based on original properties on the iTunes store, mostly in the children’s section.

    I feel like the main link between these two examples of interactive literature is that they’re both aimed at seemingly younger demographics. I wonder if where a lot of youth are being brought up in almost exclusively digital contexts they’re more likely to pick up digital fiction? If so, I imagine we’ll see a lot more exclusively digital works in the future.

    Like Barb, I wonder why this kind of digital fiction hasn’t become more immediately popular, where e-books continue to thrive. Do you think it as anything to do with the accessibility of the medium? While I certainly enjoy it, I can understand how it could be challenging for someone who isn’t as technologically literate.

  7. Great questions guys, thank you.

    Komori - in general, in my experience, there are always ways to translate data between file formats and technologies. I have my entire Amiga 1200's operating system and data on a hard drive attached to my PC right now for instance; I can emulate the exact same environment using software called Amiga Forever and have even managed to uncompress/extract very obscure Amiga-only archive file types using 3rd party PC software. It's amazing what's out there.

    The conveyor belt of technologies coming in and going out is ripe for software developers to cash in on niche conversion programs. To translate your Quark files to InDesign for instance you could use this -

    It's even possible to emulate Flash quite accurately on the iPad via the iSwifter app/browser. The problem here is less about how the work looks and feels and more the fact that it hasn't been designed for a touch screen environment. iSwifter has to emulate 'clicks' which don't really work too well on tablet devices.

    I've been a huge fan of Flash for years and I'm really sad to now be leaving it behind, but to me the future lies in an open source approach to development. HTML has experienced depreciated tags and inconsistent browser rendering, but with the introduction of HTML5, CSS3 and jQuery, cross-browser and cross-device development is starting to become very possible.

    There are theories that Apple - despite claiming to support open web standards on its devices - have been letting 'web apps' quietly suffer performance-wise on the iPhone/iPad so that developers continue to 'choose' XCode (their own development language). Apple claim that the iPad completely supports HTML5 and the like - which it does - but in actual fact it applies its own 'rules' on top of this general support which are hellishly hard to work around and cannot be emulated unless you actually own an iPad device to test your work on!

    Developing digital fiction should be a lot less complex than it currently is, and it staggers me that it's so difficult sometimes to achieve even the most basic results.

    I have jumped ship from all kinds of software packages, devices, technologies, computers and languages over the years. I've always managed to extract the data and bring it with me, but I'm really keen to stick to open web standards now to try and avoid such ridiculous amounts of leap-frogging. I've spoken recently to senior managers at companies such as Nokia and the BBC and they've all echoed the same sentiments: shuffle away from proprietary as much as possible - and get into open source.


    1. Andy, your comment about iSwifter sent me off on an unanticipated quest to make my ipad more usable. I downloaded an app that allows me to control my desktop mac via ipad, and revisited "Floppy" from Dreaming Methods through this new interface.

      On first viewing / reading of Floppy on my desktop, the story had given me a strange feeling of voyeurism - I was reading the thoughts of a character who was himself in a strange voyeuristic role. It reminded me of a form of fiction I've always enjoyed, stories written using the device of "letters" between characters. The letter device in books adds the possibility of visual and tactile richness through incorporating the appearance of envelopes, postage, handwriting, photos, etc. (Nick Bantock's Griffin and Sabine trilogy come to mind.)

      The familiar but almost forgotten sounds of the floppy drive and the appearance of Notepad and Picture Viewer added to my sense of looking over the character's shoulder, but also added a strange sense of technological disconnect - as if I had been transported back in time to look over his shoulder.

      In my second viewing via iPad, the additional layer of technological disconnect - having to swipe instead of click, etc. - heightened the feeling of having stumbled, uncomfortably, into someone else's story. As you pointed out in your lecture, Andy, digital writing is "stitched" into its medium. The medium really is (at least part of) the message.

      I wonder how my children, who have grown up in a post-floppy world, would navigate such a story. As our digital interfaces continue to evolve, earlier interfaces will come to seem antiquated - but, as evidenced by a resurgence of interest in film and Polaroid cameras, this is not necessarily a bad thing. When adopting a new interface we see the last version as outdated - and often fail to recognize that, in time, we'll look back nostalgically on the way things used to look or sound, and see that the quirks or limitations of the medium added richness and authenticity of time and place to the story.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on open source, and on Quark conversion. (One of these days a client will come looking for an update to their stuff from 2002. I'll be prepared.)

    2. Hi Komori - Thank you for your detailed thoughts about Floppy. This particular project is very much attached to a technological time - even in its narrative (references to CDs packed with illegal software and so on.) Even when Floppy was created (around 2004) floppy disks had pretty much vanished, so this felt almost like a 'period piece' even when it was created. Which is odd really. I still have a lot of old floppy disks lying around.

      Interestingly, Floppy is one of the projects I have adapted to open source already (it's relatively simple compared to many of the works I've done) - so you need not have browsed the original Flash project via your desktop mac!

      Try visiting with your iPad and see what you find. Floppy should be there, natively done in HTML5, jQuery and CSS3. The same results (on desktop) can be found at

      Thanks again


  8. Hi Jarett,

    Yes I think there's a huge backlash against 'books' being tampered with from the established reading generation - almost globally. e-books thrive because they're basically still books.

    Digital fiction, as I've said before, certainly in my opinion, is something else. Something new. And new things - especially those which appear to challenge conventions that have been around for hundreds - if not thousands - of years - generally don't get a good reception.

    That said, digital fiction is still finding its feet. Much work that has been produced so far does require, as you say, a level of technological literacy. A lot of e-lit work refuses to open its arms and welcome in the reader - you have to persevere and be willing to take a risk/be up for a challenge to get anything from it.

    In a short video that digital writer Alan Bigelow put together recently (, Alan ponders over why he has become a 'digital writer'. He reflects that it's 'been one of the most freeing experiences of [his] life'. He also asks himself whether he might go back to producing more traditional writing again (which is where he came from; his background). 'Right now,' he says. 'I don't think so.'. So why does he continue to write electronic literature? 'Frankly,' he says. 'Because I can't think of doing anything else.'

    There is something very addictive and rewarding about producing e-lit. To me, it feels like 'writing 2.0'. A blank word processor page doesn't seem very appealing or dynamic any more.

    Is this because I've lost my ability to conjure up stories using only words and my raw imagination? I don't think so. I've never felt like my imagination has been more on super-overdrive than it is at the moment.


  9. Thanks Andy for the interesting postings and – wow – your work is really amazing. My first experience was that of Changed. Moving through the pathway of the story was intriguing. I found myself pulled into the encounter – I think it was the combination of the narrative, the digital imagery, and the music. It is a truly unique experience. I took a look at Floppy and Nightingale’s playground – all very engaging. One major difference I experienced between your digital literature works, traditional books, and the visual experience of movies is that of time and space. What I mean is that, with a book, you can always get of a sense of the end with by the number of pages remaining or in total. The works I looked at didn’t provide a sense for how long I could be involved in the experience. (Unless of course I missed something … Books provide that predictability with chapters and page numbers, movies by giving the viewing length. What are your thoughts about providing some sense of time and space within your works?

    1. Here is an extract from the post I mention here which may relate to your question LJ -

      "The use of [time/lack of time related] techniques in literature may be so alien to readers' usual habits of having a steady flow of pages and the ability to control their reading pace that the immediate reaction is likely to be one of disruption and frustration. For many, there is something highly unsettling about the physical movement or transformation of writing. The written word with its history of having been honed down to high quality and published in a fixed and 'final' manner tears up its own roots and wanders a good distance out of its comfort zone when introduced as a transient/changeable/unreliable form.

      Yet surely this is a powerful reflection of how human memories and personal histories fluctuate; how perceptions mutate and adjust; and how sometimes, painful as it is, there is no going back in quite the same way to that original relationship, memory or experience.

  10. Hi LJ. Thank you very much for your comments and question.

    Digital fiction has a frighteningly open canvas when it comes to time, boundaries and 'beginnings' and 'endings'. It's something I've often struggled with and pondered over. I'm not sure that it's appropriate for all works of this kind to declare how long they would take to 'read' or 'experience' - some of them do not end or have specific routes through them like the pages of a book or a DVD player's remaining time indicator - however the alternative is that the reader has to make the decision themselves about when they think it's ended - and thus close the browser window/tab of their own accord. Is this good? I'm not sure. Probably not actually. There may be a distint lack of satisfaction in doing this.

    In my work 'The Flat', there is a very definite time-frame which is declared from the outset in the form of a digital clock/count-down in the top right hand corner. Once it reaches zero, no matter how far the user/reader has got in the narrative, they are ejected out and shown the final few scenes before the project ends.

    According to feedback, this works quite well - the required investment of time is declared up front, and the reader is enticed to 'go back in' and check the work out again, perhaps using their allocated amount of time differently this time around. However it does give a sense of lack of control. You can't 'take your time' in The Flat.

    Most of my work has an end point - but often the time it takes to get there, the route the reader decides to take to find it, and whether the ending when they reach it is neartly wrapped up/makes sense narratively or not is completely open to question. Sometimes the reader would get a sense of completion upon finishing each 'part' of a work - such as Nightingale's Playground. There are 4 parts to that piece - and you can experience them in any order. Once you'd experienced them all, you'd consider it 'finished' - even if narratively you were perhaps left hanging somewhat.

    I absolutely love the way that digital fiction allows words to move, change, transform, vanish, mutate and so on - over time. This to me is one of its most fascinating and powerful aspects - and one which makes it completely different from any other reading/writing experience.

    I have written about this quite extensively here in a blog post from 2010 -


  11. Andy, thanks for explaining your work and your processes to us.

    While I was experiencing the pieces of digital fiction, I was impressed at their ability to create an atmosphere for the reader even through a computer monitor. When I entered the story, Inside, I was immediately drawn into the narrative. I am a fan of thrillers and horror movies, and the eerie imagery and sound captured my attention. Unfortunately, the ticking clock always ended before I learned the rest of the story. It was frustrating to be stopped in the middle of a story, and after three attempts, I gave up.

    During my first read of Inside, my boyfriend heard the sounds, saw my screen and put down the controller for his game of Modern Warfare 3 to see what I was doing. I was surprised that anything could pull him away from it and I asked why he came over.
    “It sounds cool,” he replied. He has never read digital fiction and does not read much printed fiction, but it felt almost like a video game and he liked it.

    Barb’s question asking why digital fiction isn’t mainstream brings up more questions than answers. I would argue that the majority of digital consumers would be open to the concept but have not been exposed to it. Is there a work of digital fiction that would be the equivalent of a bestseller in the print world? Similar to an online Harry Potter? People could use that piece as a frame of reference when referring to other pieces of digital fiction. From my readings, the most widely known piece would be Michael Joyce’s Afternoon, a story, but that was published over 20 years ago. Is there a more popular one today?

    I would argue that digital fiction is similar to experimental films. They can develop a cult following but their uniqueness challenges the viewer and that prevents them from being accepted by the majority of audiences.

    Thanks for sharing Alan Bigelow’s video. I agree with his statement that the story, regardless of the format its told in, is the most important part. I think this applies to so many things, including digital fiction, films and books.

    1. Hi Hillary,

      Thank you very much indeed for your insightful comments. I think the work you are referring to may be The Flat rather than Inside (there is no ticking countdown on Inside) - there is a distinct ghost/horror story feel to that work and it's a piece that has often resulted in strong love/hate reactions from readers.

      One of the most fascinating things about the project Inanimate Alice ( by Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph is that it has engaged students who have very little interest in books and literacy. This is a wonderful argument for the validity and strengths of digital fiction. In the latest Alice School Report ( there is a quote from David Puttnam: "I’ve talked at length, and on many occasions, about children and young people needing to be smarter, more adaptable, better prepared than ever before. I’ve talked about the need to harness the immense power of digital technology in order to capture the imaginations of today’s students. Brought up on television and video games, they feel they have to power down when attending school. That is a problem. Here is a terrific reading-from-the-screen experience that talks the language of digitally literate educators. Kids will read this when they won’t read from books."

      Inanimate Alice to me is one of the strongest examples of an accessible work of digital fiction online at the moment. I wouldn't say it's the equivalent of a 'best seller' particularly, but has proven successful across a very broad readership base.

      I think so far digital fiction does fall into the experimental category (and personally I like this; I'm a great fan of experimental literature and films), but I also think that this will change over time. It's already becoming accepted that e-books can now have 'enhanced editions' with extras such as audio, video and even bits of interactivity; the next step is to actually author work with the enhanced bit in mind rather than bolt it on as a DVD-like extra.


    2. Thanks Andy, yes, you're right. I meant the Flat - sorry about that.

  12. "Like writing on a liquid canvas" - what a great simile. Thank you for your insights into the unique creative process involved in creating digital fiction. Your likening it to scrapbooking and stitching brought out its craft aspects and how much more interactive your digital fiction is than a book. The text moves, shifts, blurs...but remains recognizable as text.

    I experienced Changing first on my desktop and then on my iPhone and had two very different experiences. I was drawn into the story more on my iPhone, although it was more difficult to navigate (some lag, probably because of the amount of gaming going on in our house at the same time)and I was glad that I had some sense of what to look for. The iPhone experience had the added tactile element of being able to zoom in on aspects of the image, touch and mingle the text and feel the vibration of the music like a train going down the track.

    I read a lot of e-books on my iPhone and am realizing that there is some fiction that I find almost unbearable to read this way: I have no distance from the shorter pieces of text and therefore experience more emotional intensity. So passages that describe cruel behavior, for example, are 'louder' and more disturbing.

    Musicians have adapted their music for the condensed sound of an MP3 player and earphones. Do you think your digital fiction will undergo similar changes as it becomes written for smartphones?

    1. Hi Judith,

      Thank you very much for your comments. 'Changed' struggles a bit on the iPhone as that's a very small screen for it to shoehorn into, but it's quite happy on the iPad and even more snug on iPad2. Tablet devices are definitely a great platform for this kind of work - not too tiny so you can blend media successfully without the reader having to squint to try and keep up with shifting/moving text but also portable enough to be able to experience - like a book - in bed or on the train.

      Speak ( is an 'e-poem' of sorts for iPhone (more can be found about the wider project Poemm here; Strange Rain is worth a look for a more narrative experience as is the very audio/photography based Machine #69

      But I have not come across anything particularly spectacular yet like the kind of thing that exists more in the more desktop-based electronic literature world. If anything, some of these apps appear to hark back to work that was produced 10-15 years ago by well-established e-lit authors.

      From a personal perspective the way I work - and my work itself - is already changing hugely. I do not use Flash any more. I don't use many visual authoring programs to realise my work; most of the digital 'stitching' I do is now hand-coded. And I'm always aware of making things adaptable now for different screen sizes/devices - even if the results in the end don't quite work on everything.


  13. Hi Andy,

    Thanks so much for sharing your incredibly creative work. What I particularly enjoy about it is the way the you effectively touch all of the audience's different senses in different ways at different times in the narrative. What I want to ask you about though relates to the concept of Nonlinearity (somewhat akin to LJ's question).

    When I first started experiencing (read, listen or view are not accurate terms in regards to your work) "Changed" and "Nightingale's Playground," I became quite concerned with ensuring that I experienced all of the pieces of text and that I wasn't missing any part of the narrative. Because we are so used to consuming linear media, we, as consumers, rely heavily on the authors to ensure that we pick up all of the clues that are left. Are you, as an author, worried that your audience members will miss out on significant pieces of text because the miss a clue or forget to click on a particular link. Does it bother you that some people will not get the full experience or the same experience that others do - or is that the point of the work: that each user has their own take on the content based on their lived perspective?

    As a follow-up, how do you ensure in your design of the piece, that users will be exposed to the critical pieces of the script?

  14. Hello Atypical Albertan,

    Thank you for your comments.

    Dreaming Methods is still - even after all this time being online - highly experimental and risk-taking. I do not consider any of the projects on offer on the site to be successful examples of digital fiction yet; some are more successful than others, but none have achieved a true realisation of the form. It could be that they never will. But this does not bother me. I'm interested in the fragmented, often frustrating nature of dreams, memories, experiences and just human lives in general. They are very rarely clean-cut!

    Projects like Nightingale's Playground don't let you progress very far without having 'ticked off' the narratives in front of you (hopefully having read them). Parts 1 and 2 will literally stop you from going further if you have not found the narratives that are there to uncover. Perhaps there is more of a *feeling* that you may be missing something? That's an interesting one.

    Regardless of the 'shape' of a work, I do try to make sure that key parts of each narrative are located in places that are not difficult to miss - or have to be clicked on, like a barrier, in order to further progression through the story.

    However, this depends on the nature of the piece. For me digital fiction introduces a very powerful visual element to writing - one which changes whether every single part of a story has to be readable/understandable in order to contribute to the narrative as a whole.

    To quote from a post I mentioned previously (above) in one of my other replies...

    "Dreaming Methods uses the idea of blurred out/barely-readable bits of writing in Capped, the story of a half-remembered childhood memory. There, fragments from the protagonist's recollections hang around in and amongst trees, bushes and bits of weeds as though on the fringes of consciousness. When the project was first launched back in 2006, some readers complained that they simply "couldn't tell what it said" - one person remarking that he thought it must be an error with his computer or within the project itself. Others - thankfully - got the idea that you weren't meant to be able to read it."

    "We used text fragments that animated/changed over time in The Diary of Anne Sykes (2003) (along with maths-generated text "sculptures" reflecting the protagonist's bizarrely ordered thoughts) but its clearest use is in Dim O'Gauble, where the voices of a young boy and an elderly woman ponder over a series of mysterious apocalyptic visions. Words within sentences physically transform into others without warning - sometimes polarising their meaning; at other times, running through lists as if the exact phrases can't quite be found. In this project there are no interface mechanisms in place that reflect the experience of "turning a page" or being able to leisurely return to re-read anything; once the writing has disappeared - and it does, quite quickly, over time - that's it, there is no going back."


  15. Hi Andy,

    The last course I took in my BFA degree was entitled; “Through the Lens” and it involved taking print images and lifting the ink from these images by placing them on a surface covered in gel. When the gel was dry, I would rub the paper off the image leaving the inked image on the surface. I would layer imagines on top of each other, use colour, words and textures to build the art piece. Your method for creating digital fiction is very similar to the method I use to create a painting, multimedia art or graphic design. I start with drawings and sketches; I collect images from magazines or online and write notes. Once I get around to creating the piece I have good idea of where the piece is going.

    One question I have; I have many questions, but is ‘reader’ the right word or is ‘viewer’? These stories /pieces are visual, including more than text and 2D imagery but involve film and audio. Digital fiction becomes something more than just a ‘traditional’ story it’s visual and auditory; a few of my course-mates mentioned movies and the impact movies have had on them in correlation to the digital fiction. I think what sets digital fiction apart, is that they are stories involving visual imagery, film, audio and text. When you are an artist working in multimedia the medium is part of the piece. You mention that these stories have been “born into – stitched into – digital media. Writing for the screen – or perhaps onto the screen.” this is something artists have been considering for years. The medium is influencing the message and how the message is created. I think the digital medium is changing the way people are writing; it’s not just text on a page but encompasses more senses. The text seems more poetic not so structured by grammar and print.


  16. Dear Ilona,

    I posted a reply to your comments this morning but they seem to have been lost! Anyway, I'll try and remember what I wrote. Thank you for sharing the notes about your BFA degree working process - very interesting stuff.

    Because I consider the evolution of my work to have come from literature (I started out 'just writing') I have always considered my audience 'readers', but you are right, perhaps this is the wrong term. There is so much more to experience in digital fiction than the words alone. Reader/user? Viewer/player? Difficult to know how to refer to the 'audience' as such.

    Edward Picot's article Publishing and the Digital Revolution touches on some of the themes of how writing has changed with the introduction of digital. The URL is:

    Well worth a read. He covers how print has changed as well, not just the emergence of new digital-only works.

    Works such as Dim O'Gauble, Capped, Last Dream and The Flat were all written directly into visual/code environments, not into a text editor or word processor. To me the writing is quite intimately etched into those pieces - it was conceived within them - not created separately under the usual bare-bones conditions. Doing this felt very different to writing 'normally'. I do believe there are forms of language that can work/co-exist with other media. But it could be that we have to leave our usual pre-conceptions of a written story at the doorway and progress inside with a much more open mind.


  17. Just to say thank you all for your excellent questions and comments - I have enjoyed doing my best to answer them! Thanks also to Jess for inviting me to the blog in the first place. Much appreciated.

    Please feel free to contact me any time in the future:

    Best regards,