A short story in slides – I attempt digital fiction

This is my first stab at “digital fiction”. Scroll down to read about how I made it, and why…

So…What an inspiring and mind-numbingly frustrating few days.Over the weekend I went to another excellent workshop organised by the lovely people at East Kent Live Lit. This one was all about digital storytelling. At the helm was Andy Campbell, a master of the art.Hearing Andy talk about his work was truly inspiring. He produces great stuff and is an incredibly patient teacher.Andy showed us a few simple ideas for telling interactive stories, which involved a little bit of raw html coding. Surprisingly easy, so I thought I’d give it a go.For my own efforts, I decided to jump straight into the – very, very – deep end, downloading a trial version of Flash Professional CS5.Andy uses this software to create beautiful, engaging dreamscapes – I used it to make a word follow a block around a screen. It took two hours, but I did get it to happen. Behold the masterpiece that I call Block/Words (note, I can’t make it loop – duh!):

Next, I tried to get a bit clever, adding some images and textures to my creation. Lord, it was a nightmare. I gave up in frustration.Then, refuelled with caffeine, I fired up the MacBook and made my own Flash message for the people at Adobe:

After a fitful night worrying about Timelines, Stages and Layers, I decided to try again in the morning.I gave up on Flash and tried to combine the inspiration from Andy’s workshop with the low-fi, DIY, punk attitude that I took away from my previous Live Lit session. (Thanks to the excellent Matt Rowe, who gave my brain a cold rinse in February)I set myself a simple challenge: make something creative; spend only one hour doing it; use only the tools at your disposal; put it online, however crappy the end product.I took the text of a story that is about to be published in Cent magazine and mixed it up with some photos I shot at last year’s Latitude festival. The aim was to produce a simple slideshow. How hard could that be?I used Keynote – the Mac alternative to PowerPoint – to make the slides and edited the images in iPhoto: just basic cropping and colour-fudging. I exported the whole thing as a QuickTime movie and – bingo! – I had my first piece of interactive fiction.That all took an hour.Then the hard work started: how to share it online?I tried to upload the movie to Blogger, TypePad, Tumblr and elsewhere, but each platform’s video conversion gizmo stripped out the “clickability”: the slideshow ran straight through each time, like a crappy five-second movie. No good.What next? I exported each slide as a jpeg from Keynote and imported them into Soundslides, a neat app for creating online slideshows. This worked really well, except that the only export was to a bunch of html files and folders; I had nowhere to upload them.Next step, I thought I could put the jpegs on Flickr or Picasa and create an embedded slideshow. I could, and did, but couldn’t retain the “clickability” – each slide changed after a three-second interval; too quick to read my text.Finally, I tried Slideshare, a site for sharing presentations and other stuff. (I kind of like the idea of sneaking a bit of fiction onto a site meant for corporate stuff)First up, I tried to upload a Keynote version of the story. Slideshare struggled to convert this, so I produced a PowerPoint version instead, which it dealt with in seconds.The result looks a bit rubbish. You have to click the little maximise arrows in the bottom-right corner if you want to see it properly. But here it is:

After many hours of algorithmic crunching, Slideshare finally spat out the Keynote version, which is below (and looks much better):

My conclusions:

1/ The best version of my story remains the QuickTime movie, and that just took an hour to make. But I can’t work out how to get it online, and even when I emailed it to someone the sound failed.

2/ The technology was a nightmare, but the creative side of mixing words and pictures was fun and rewarding. I will try again.

3/ The workshop was great. If you live in my part of the world, and  get a chance to attend anything that the Live Lit people do, I’d recommend it.

Must go and earn some money now….

(oh, for the sake of completeness, here is the embedded Flickr version:)

One reply on “A short story in slides – I attempt digital fiction”

  1. Neil,

    So awesome that you tried all of this! I completely sympathize with the frustrations – technology is definitely a mixed bag. From both a digital fiction practitioner and a digital writing teacher standpoint, this kind of feedback from new writers is really useful.

    Maybe in the future some of us will band together to build a platform from which beginners can start!

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