This week, in my Creative Writing Masters, I was assigned a task for my craft and technique module. The assignment was to write something but to use a structure or form that we have never used before. On the surface, it’s an interesting concept but in reality it’s quite difficult to find a form that is inherently different from the normal structure or standard. Sure, you can just take out the paragraphs or create a story consisting entirely of dialogue but to actually find a form that is unusual and innovative is quite challenging.
In my piece, I wrote a story of a thousand words just as I normally would for the class. Then, rather than messing with paragraphing or just inserting images, as I had originally thought that I might, I decided to do something completely different. I turned the story into a visual novel. It’s really more of a visual short story because it’s not really that long. Under 10 minutes in total. And you can view it here.
It took at least a day to make, and I don’t think the result is perfect but I think it came off very well. The repetition of the rain creates a sort of depressing back track to the argument between boyfriend and girlfriend so the entire mood of the piece is rather sombre. The main character, Bridget, who is leaving her boyfriend, adamantly tells Michael that she can’t come back and he can’t come with her. These are things which she never relents on. She backs down and admits why she’s leaving by the end of the piece when he becomes frustrated and she sees how much the secret is hurting him. The truth doesn’t go down much better than the lie. This is all represented by the dialogue and some light description. That’s no different from any other short story.
How the story really differs in the transformation of written word to a visual novel is the use of audio and visual representation to give a fuller picture of what is happening. The picture behind the words highlights the setting, and I’ve already commented on the use of the rain to reflect the sullen atmosphere. The picture had to change along with the characters point of view though, so I changed the background to a starry sky in order to emphasise the motif of the stars in the sky, which Bridget continually looks to. At another point, the background picture changes to reflect the fact that Bridget is looking directly at Michael. I wanted the eyes to by grieving but also angry. The mixture of emotion was difficult to capture when all I was really doing was looking for images off Google search. I chose the best option.
If I were to do a proper visual novel, which would be if I had enough time and a story that I think would really benefit from a more visual representation of the story, I would probably go out and take the pictures myself. Taking the pictures myself would allow me to really pick up on more subtle aspects of the story and the environment, or to underline certain character traits. I’m quite happy with how the audio in this story actually reflected the tone of the story, but in a longer version I’d probably experiment with various audio clips to reflect the atmosphere or setting. Techno music with some loud celebrating in the back ground would go well with a club scene or a busy mall scene with lots of noise if I wanted to emphasise the stress in a character. Those are the kind of settings that I think could be implemented if I were to expand upon the existing format.
Perhaps one of the most difficult parts of creating the visual novel was that I had very little to use as a basis upon which I could build. Most visual novels that I know of are games, such as anime dating simulations, which can often be found as browser games on the internet, or the Ace Attorney games. Both of these versions differ from my attempt in that they’re very overtly interactive, whereas my visual novel was intended to be engaging purely through sight and sound. The images and the audio attempt to compliment the writing, not to create a setting where in you are then expected to make choices based on what you know. That’s basically the premise of the Ace Attorney games. You get a case, search for evidence in the same way you did in the old style point and click adventure games and then you make decisions based on the evidence you’ve accumulated.
To move closer to the literature field, as opposed to gaming, would be to consider something like the Choose Your Own Adventure books, which, under the same premise, involve reader participation. But they still aren’t really visual novels, because they lack the necessary visual attributes. So while there is previous work with in the form of the visual novel I still feel like my attempt is inherently different from most of what has already been done. Perhaps this is because the visual novel as a form is a relatively new invention. It seems like it’s a box from which television, film, literature and gaming can all launch themselves off. As a form it seems to straddle multiple mediums. It seems strange then to use it in a creative writing course perhaps, because it doesn’t emphasise the literature aspect as much as the short story or novel form might. But I think as a change of form, it was an interesting challenge.
There are various other forms and structures that would be interesting to use, and in fact it might be fun, at some point, to either write an entire story in the form of a choose your adventure book (or is that a genre?) or just to write the storyline for a game as both would require much more awareness of the reader and their expectations than I think is generally expected of prose. But that’s a challenge for another day.