The Book, the Story, the Platform

By Grace Kirk
Screenwriter, playwright, author, coder, tweeter. Do any of these terms matter anymore? Should writers have a platform agnostic approach to writing?

The 2015 Story+ conference panel held at the Queensland State Library asked topical and thought-provoking questions of its audience.

Back for its third exploration, the Brisbane Writers Festival and QUT Writing the Digital Futures program brought together leading creative writers, interaction designers, publishers, transmedia producers and thinkers to discuss the nature of collaboration.

The question that engaged me the most is, how flexible and open should a writer be to competing platforms?

Throughout the insightful day of panels and keynote addresses, Story+ explored collaborative processes amongst writers, the obstacles they face and the opportunities that lie in another wave of technological change.

I have been lucky enough to attend the past three iterations of Story+, and each time I am impressed to find the conversation adapting to our ever changing environment. This year’s Story+ did not disappoint – with a focus on collaborative elements of writing and interactive narratives – it’s made me think of new and interesting ways I can use technology to overcome the boundaries of traditional writing.

The future was yesterday


First panel of Story+ with Naomi Alderman, Tom Uglow, Mike Jones, Sue Swinburne, Christopher Currie and Donna Hancox

The first panel, “The future was yesterday!” brought together Google Creative Lab director Tom Uglow, platform agnostic writer Mike Jones, British novelist and game designer Naomi Alderman, Brisbane-based author and blogger Christopher Currie and interactive storyteller and academic Sue Swinburne.

This discussion focussed on the book as both a physical and metaphorical object and the corresponding audience interaction.

Tom Uglow explained that the idea of the book is problematic because it exists both as a physical form and as a metaphor. This means there is a difference in “making a book” as opposed to “writing a book.

Mike Jones discussed the privileged opportunities in writing a novel. A traditional novel does not have to respond to an audience in the same way as an interactive game or transmedia novel.

“If you write a novel the stakes are very low. Writing is far more audience centric and forward thinking in games writing and screen writing,” Jones said.

To overcome the pressures of writing across platforms in today’s ever changing technological environment, Jones suggests a platform agnostic approach to writing.

This means it’s important not to predetermine the platform during the conception phase of the story.

“It’s pragmatic to recognise that my audience aren’t gathered around one campfire.”

VIDEO: Mike Jones discusses multi-platform storytelling in this Digital Kitchen and Metro Screen interview

Creative writing QUT graduate, Christopher Currie pointed out that “it’s hard to get people to read because it’s an active form of entertainment as opposed to passive”.

Currie is well known for his blog Furious Horses, which sees him posting a new story every day.

Sue Swinburne looking at this from an academic perspective asked “how can factual stories intersect with transmedia? What are people doing with technology and how can the work become more critical?”

Why interaction matters in the stories we tell


Keynote speaker Naomi Alderman

Session Two was a keynote address from Naomi Alderman, who is a British novelist, author and games designer. Alderman is most well-known for ‘Zombies, Run!’ which is a health and fitness phone app she co-created with games studio Six to Start.

Alderman has experience across a range of writing professions, such as, working as a lead writer on interactive games, journalism, novel writing, short fiction and genre writing.


During her keynote address Alderman discussed the different narrative structures available in game design, such as branching and converging.

No matter what structure is chosen she explained that “any interactive narrative is going to have infinite possibilities.”

Interactive narratives are a unique space where the possibilities are infinite. This means it becomes critical for the authors of transmedia stories and game narratives to write clever zingers that can work in different ways based on the developing narratives.

“Story exists somewhere between the mind of the writer and the mind of the audience,” she said.

Alderman gave the audience an extensive list of interactive games, transmedia and digital stories that will keep them busy for the rest of the year.

Some that stood out to me were, the puzzle video game ‘Spider: the secret of Bryce Manor’, ‘Oligarchy’, which is the never ending game about capitalism and ‘Kentucky Route Zero’ a magical realist video game set on a secret highway in America.

Collaboration nation


Final panel with Sue Swinburne, Meg Vann and Oscar Schwartz

The final panel of Story+ at Brisbane Writers Festival ‘Collaboration Nation’, focused on everything from collaborative opportunities for writers and the interactions between humans and computers.

The audience heard from a panel of story makers Meg Vann, Oscar Schwartz and Sue Swinburne on their latest collaborative projects.

Meg Vann discussed her digital fiction work ‘Provacare’, which is a multimedia feminist thriller created in collaboration with QUT researcher and academic Donna Hancox and interaction designer Mez Breeze.

Oscar Schwartz who is completing a PhD at Monash University questions whether computers can write poetry with his project ‘Bot or Not’.

Academic and researcher Sue Swinburne discussed the app she created in collaboration with computer scientists in the UK called ‘Droplets’. This app uses locative and audio narratives to become a story sharing app.

Overall, Story+ 2015 was a highly engaging day on the possibilities of story. As Alderman rightly said, “that’s literature isn’t it – exploring the strange possibilities of what could happen”.