Monday, November 23, 2009

I, Storyteller

I have recently started to slowly chip away at the look of my blog, figuring it's time for a few "home improvements" around here. No major renovation or face-lift, but just some tweaks to clear out some boxes that have been kicking around unused for a while and a good dusting of the cobwebs.

I'm starting at the "top" of the blog and eventually working my way down the very crowded right nav side-bar.

A few weeks ago I revised the header blurb. Just updated it from a "this blog is new" sort of feel to more of a "this blog has been around the block a few times" feel -- nothing much else.

I also removed a banner from the header that has been there since 2006.

My "I, Death" banner.

Sad to see it go, but man, it's been 3 years since that adventure in storytelling. I suppose I've been reluctant to remove it, particularly since it took me a while to figure out how to generate a "moving" gif for it.

But what a fun adventure it was.

I took a 1700 word story that I wrote back in high school and converted it into a "live" novella length tale told through the main character's blog.

With the story being told in real time as if Peter O'Mallick, a young man who discovers he was born with a bizarre "death curse" were a real person blogging, all I really knew when I began was that the story was going to end about 6 months later and in a specific way. I started it on January 18, 2006 and the final post was Oct 24, 2006, so I ended up stretching the tale into 10 months, partly because so many other plot elements ended up getting added to the story along the way that I had to wrap them up before the story could conclude.

Here's the first post:

It’s over. I can’t believe it. Sarah won’t speak to me. It’s as if she blames me for her father’s death sentence.

I can’t say it’s a new feeling, though. It’s like all my life death has consumed the people in my life. First my parents, then my best friend, now Sarah’s dad.

I’ve been where Sarah is now, but she won’t let me help her -- hell, she’s not even talking to me.
Ever since her father announced to the family that he had an inoperable cancer so far advanced that the doctors were giving him a 50-50 chance of living beyond one more month, she stopped talking to me, refused to see me and ignores my phone calls

It’s been four weeks now. Four long, painful, horrible weeks. I think I’m going to die. I wish I was dead, actually, like so many of the people I’ve cared about.

Our school’s guidance counselor suggested that I start this blog in order to try dealing with it.

So here I am, typing, trying to come to terms with it. But I don’t want to write about how I feel -- I keep stopping and just sit here smashing my fingers down on the keyboard. I want to smash my fists down on the keyboard. I want to break something, smash something, throw my computer monitor through the fucking window.

This is bullshit.

I even tried audio-posting the first few posts in my "Prelude to A Scream" podcast. You can listen to this post and the next few (slightly edited from written blog to audio-blog format) here.

The story begins with a love-sick Peter O'Mallick harping on about his girlfriend refusing to speak with him. Once he begins using the blog as therapy to deal with this stress and some other stresses in his life, he starts revealing more details about why he believes he is cursed, and the reader begins to see a pattern emerging which support his belief.

Throughout the posts written between January 18, 2006 and October 24, 2006 there were lots of characters, plot twists and sub-plots that I never originally anticipated. And THAT was one of the cool things about writing a "live" story in that fashion.

One of the other really interesting things for me as a writer was that I had people leaving comments (some real people who I emailed to ensure they knew Peter was fictional, and some friends and other bloggers who were playing along entirely unscripted) -- not knowing what the comments were going to be, I actually had Peter react to some of them.

In fact, there was a "sort-of" scripted moment when, for a fund-raiser for Hamilton Literacy Council, I auctioned off a chance for someone to be killed off by Peter O'Mallick's death curse. For that, the "winner" participated by agreeing to begin taunting Peter in comments left on the blog. That was about the extent of it -- I told the winner (a blogger who happens to be named Pete who is now a buddy of mine) that his death would involve a camera (he's a photographer) and what day it would happen. Other than that, the whole death and taunting was ad lib.

Peter reacted to the negative comments, which got pretty ugly, and then had the following dream about his death. The next day, Peter realizes it actually happened when he sees a post about the other blogger actually dying -- he killed someone through the internet.

The whole experience of rolling out a story in real time in this fashion and reacting to input from readers as the story was unfolding was a lot of fun. It was a neat blend of writing and improv. I'd love to try it again some day, though, admittedly, it took a great deal of effort and work.

I'm actually surprised more writers haven't tried something similar -- the ability to tell a story in real-time and allow the readers to help the tale unravel and potentially affect the direction the story ends is fascinating to me.

I have since written the sequel to this novella and have attempted to package it into a novel-length work with the first third being a slightly revised version of the blog (to protect the innocence of the real commenters, for example), and the next two thirds to be what happens next.

In any case, I've removed the header banner from my blog, but am leaving the story up there. It's pretty much a first draft, which is kind of a scary thing to be putting online. (I usually never submit a story to an editor without having first re-written it half a dozen times) But for a first draft it's not all that bad, if I can say so myself. And I'm rather proud of the intriguing and twisting tale I was able to spin in that "first draft" release of the tale.

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