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Lessons from the Immersive Writing Lab

The Immersive Writing Lab was a week-long intensive seminar and workshop series staged last year at Ravensbourne, London. This development program for immersive and interactive storytelling and transmedia experiences was a partnership between Portal Entertainment, leading practitioners, writers and producers as well as technology companies and institutions such as Varytale the BBC Writers Room

Coming out of the IWL program, Portal Entertainment (where I’m serving as head of story development) instituted an international Storyworld writing competition for writers keen to engage with the possibilities and potential of multi-platform transmedia. The challenge was to construct a dramatically sustainable Storyworld with broad and rich potential across platforms; a Storyworld that offered dynamic contexts for compelling characters and dramatic events as well as opening up roles for the viewer to take on within that Storyworld in an immersive experience.

Certainly it was no easy task. We received hundreds of entries and the challenges, pitfalls and problems of rendering such writing was clear and apparent amid the rich and fantastic ideas submitted. In some ways the short-comings of many entries were really no different than those of traditional writing and I found myself at times penning much the same feedback on the Storyworld proposals as I would on a feature film screenplay. At other times the weaknesses of the proposals were much more specific to the demands of interaction and transmedia.

Having read through all the entries in the competition and written hundreds of pages of coverage and feedback on them, I feel somewhat like I’ve obtained a glimpse of the Transmedia writer zeitgeist - a macro-level snapshot of where the worlds writers are at right now in attempting to embrace and exploit the opportunities of a Transmedia world.

But to be more pragmatic and specific I’ve compiled my list of the top 6 tips that emerged from judging the IWL Storyworld Competition for practitioners and future proposals in this field. Some a glaringly obvious but evidently need to be said, some are more intricate and speak to the complexity of writing in this arena.

So the top 6 are…

1) Put a NAME on it..! 

I was staggered as to how many entries failed to have either a Title on the project or Name of the author present on the actual proposal (let alone contact details). And just because you’re uploading through an online submission system doesn’t mean you can assume that the reader will know your title and name. Put it on the Page…! Better yet, put it in a footer on every page. 

2) Loglines should be Short.

Your Logline is your first shot to get the assessors attention and prompt their curiosity. Assume whomever is assessing your proposal is also reading 100’s of others. In fact it’s safe to assume they are probably looking for any excuse to put as many projects on the reject pile as quickly as possible so they can spend more time on the good ones. So it is crucial your Logline gets to the exciting/intriguing/interesting central idea as efficiently as posisble. If your logline is 4 paragraphs lines long, you’ve probably missed the point of a logline. A Logline is a distillation, a concentrated expression of the central idea that compells the reader to read more. Its not about detail, its about clarity!

3) Be Relevant.

If the competition is specifically for multi-platform and immersive transmedia experiences run by a company with an obvious focus is on new technologies and interactive entertainment, please think twice about submitting your proposal for a Storyworld consisting only of Novels, TV shows and Feature Films.

4) Succinct and Focused. 

Your Storyworld shouldn’t be a bucket for every idea you’ve ever had. Complexity of itself wont make your Storyworld stronger. A strong Storyworld should have a single compelling, driving, motivating, binding central idea from which any other layers of complexity hang together. Without that central idea being clear and apparent from the Logline and Synopsis, your project can easily become impenetrable to read and comprehend.

5) Motivated Interaction and Role-Play. 

Please DO NOT write “the audience can interact with the characters online” unless you can clearly state;

a) What the Interaction is? 


b) Why the audience would Want to or Need interact? 

Audiences need good reasons to become interactive in a meaningful way, they need to be motivated to interact and be rewarded when they do. Interaction is not an abstract, its the undertaking of specific actions, so define what those actions are and why the audience wants to perform them? Interaction in a narrative is effectively Role-Playing, so by allowing your audience to interact you are giving them a Role to Play. Define that role, be specific about it, what is the viewer’s job… to Solve? to Find? to Fight? to Choose? to Strategise? to Moderate? to Contribute…?

6) Multi-Plot Potential

A Storyworld built around a singular discreet plot rather than the dramatical potential for numerous plots wont work over long-form or across platforms. Design your Storyworld to be a pressure-cooker of opposing forces, ready to boil over so that when an assessor reads it they will immediately begin imagining possible plot-lines and scenarios rather see the dead-end of a single resolution.

The opportunities of narrative writing in the Transmedia, Interactive and Immersive space are matched only by the challenges and difficulties. This shit aint easy. Thankfully for any writer wanting to jump in, the good old interweb coughs up all sorts of great resources to ensure you don’t have to be reinventing the wheel and can stand on the shoulders of giants. In particular a refined online seminar video series has been produced directly from the original Immersive Writing Lab presentations and the entire set is available as an online course from Imaginox. At just £30 its a bit of bargain and offers a depth of insight you’ll rarely find elsewhere.

The overview to the IWL seminar series reads:

“It’s an exciting time to be a writer. Not only are the audiences’ attention changing around how you tell a story to them, you now have a much wider palette than ever before in which to draw them into the worlds you create; from new digital platforms (social networks, tablet computers) to reinventions of old forms (such as e-books).

This event is about helping you understand that wider palette to tell a story. Inspirational talks, demos which will help you develop stories that push the boundaries of what is possible for a protagonist, drama and audience involvement in the digital age. 

Watch the Immersive Writing Lab if you are interested in:

- Writing & Technology

- Interactive Fiction

- Storytelling that is told on more than one platform at a time

- Linear vs. Non-Linear Narrative Drama

- Character Development


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