What’s this, then?

Hi there, I’m Jordan. I’m doing my PhD at Bangor University, located in the picturesque North Wales, and this blog is a research aid for said PhD study. It’s easy to forget amazing ideas you have in the early hours of the morning, and I can collect some here. Check the About Me page for more about… me.

I also needed some kind of semi-public forum to put out thoughts on my PhD, to ultimately encourage myself to write something academically productive every so often. This blog was started in September last year, but I had three posts and nothing profound within its digital pages so I am starting again.

What am I researching?

Digital fiction, mostly. I’m coming at this as a practitioner, using a practice-led methodology to analyse the creative process. Almost all of the research I’ve undertaken myself has been practice-led, or practice-based, I’ll stick with one term eventually, and this has served me well so far.

My basic plan is to read the theory in the area whilst I write some fiction in a “born digital” medium, likely to be written in Twine or ChoiceScript initially, and then apply said critical theory in a pre- and post-textual analysis of the created text.

So far, I’ve engaged with the theory from authors such as Espen Aarseth, Janet Murray, Nick Montfort, and N. Katherine Hayles. I think these are all strong places to start, and I’ll be widening the net as I go.

Why Digital Fiction?

Because it’s awesome fun, that’s why! Also, because my interests have lain forever betwixt video games and books, and to drag them together in harmonious unity is pretty fantastic. Except when the code doesn’t work, and then I’m tearing my hair out wondering what I did wrong and whether it’s too late to just write a novel.

But, I like the coding aspect too, actually. It’s great to see something build up from nothing to working code. I’ve made small concept video games, too, and it’s amazing to see it go from *moves left* all the way to *moves in 4/8 directions, picks up items, kills enemies, randomly generates levels, randomly populates with enemies, randomly populates with items, character death, saving, loading… etc.*.

Alright, I think that’s enough to be getting started with. I’ll be writing irregularly, I’m sure, but this is a research blog for my study as I go through this process.

Watch this space!

Or don’t, I’m not your mother.



How digital technology effects differences in creative processes in writers

cutting from method

I’ve started doing something in my academic writing—I’m assuming that it is rather common amongst post-graduates and PhD candidates—which is adding in rather lengthy, and at times biting, parenthetical remarks that are a blend between the research log of a practice-based research project and those little post-it notes you leave yourself on your monitor to remind you to send that email or send so-and-so the document you promised them four weeks ago.

These parenthetical comments are never intended to be a part of the final product, but they’re invaluable drafting tools and I see a remarkable similarity between these and the pre-textual cognitive processes I’m in the middle of reading about.

I don’t necessarily write down what I’m thinking every time I write something, but I do attempt to record my current thoughts as accurately as possible (Evernote is fantastic for this) whenever I do think to record those thoughts.

The purpose of this post is to highlight an idea I had as I was writing the methodology that I, and from the faces my supervisor and fellow researchers were pulling as I talked about it today they all agree, think doesn’t quite fit into the overall research I’m conducting.

So, more about this under the cut.

Continue reading “How digital technology effects differences in creative processes in writers”

The Malleable Nature of Digital Media and Creativity

One of the things I discussed with first year students last semester was the impact digital reproduction has on digital media.

When you have a transmedia text such as the one for this project, you can mould the whole thing to your heart’s content. If I wanted a blog post to have been written in the early 2000s, I can do that. Not sure why I would, but I could.

With the way these platforms and texts work, we can craft the perfect image, the perfect text, the perfect website, all because we can edit and edit and edit, to our heart’s content. It’s like a director of a… I don’t know, a space opera, perhaps, who just won’t stop adding, removing, and changing his film, decades after release.

Now, this function isn’t available on every platform, of course. YouTube wouldn’t allow me to change the upload date, as far as I’m aware, but ignoring that, the video itself can be changed. Only a small portion of viewers would even know something had changed (if they had simply followed a link found in a blog post).

This is probably very interesting to different academics in different ways, but in terms of my own research, there’s one important factor: how it affects the creative process.

I’ve already mentioned, all subtle-like, a traditional media example of when the creator of a text simply cannot let go and allow a work to stand on its own two feet. What happens when there’s no limit to what can be changed, how often it can be changed, and to what it could be changed to?

Normally, in a very broad sense, the writer will take something from their memory, bring it to the forefront of their mind, play with it, and see whether it fits into the current text as it currently stands, before deciding whether or not to keep or lose that idea.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Hungarian psychologist, wrote about flow and the nature of creativity. In his appropriately-named book Creativity: the psychology of discovery and invention, he asks where creativity is. And mostly we tend to think of creativity as an internal process.

Instead, we should think about how we don’t know if a “thought is new except with reference to some standards”, or whether it is “valuable until it passes social evaluation” (p. 23). These are external processes which we judge our ideas by. But, a writer is the judge, jury, and executor of ideas that don’t pass muster. We are the ones who ‘socially evaluate’ the matter.

If a writer has consumed every sci-fi novel, series, and film in existence, their own sci-fi might reflect that; if the writer has researched the exact manufacturing process of the 1850s clothing, that might be apparent, too. But a good writer must evaluate which ideas the audience will care for, and which they will not.

This subtle change in the Systems Model of Creativity gives the writer the power, until the text is in the public’s hands. Then, the author gives up this control, the power to decide what is and is not relevant. Then, the readers will decide if its cultural capital is great enough to be considered amongst the Greats.

The writer always has an audience in mind. I’d venture a guess that this is why most writers refrain from writing, too. They worry about what that end audience will say. Being a part of the audience, and putting a creative piece into the audience’s hands are both vital components of any creative process.

It’s so easy, even after one publishes a digital text, to change the contents therein. Amazon ebooks can be edited and readers can download new versions, seamlessly. A website can be changed in seconds. A blog (this one, or this one), can be edited via a mobile phone, anywhere there’s signal.

I’m interested in how to bring readers to the table of a digital text which is definitely malleable. Kate Pullinger in her recent published story Breathe actually uses your device’s GPS location in order to change the text. This kind of variable isn’t quite what I had in mind for this piece, but real people are indecisive, why can’t our characters be, too?

P.S. I couldn’t find a relevant image, so how’s about a nice shot of Ogwen Valley with some nice colour in the clouds? Enjoy!

Thoughts on practice-based research and research focus

One thing that every practice-based researcher will deal with at some point in their academic career is wrapping their head around the concept creation stage of our research.

With most research projects, you can define your research question basically however you want. As long as the focus is appropriate to your project length and you’re not asking a simple “yes or no” question, you’re golden.

But, as everyone discussed today in our group dissertation meeting, practice-based research has a tendency to be bogged down by critical reading and theory, to the point where instead of the practice forming a valid and useful role in the research (a cyclical process of research informing practice informing research), the practice is instead done using the conclusions of the research.

There’s nothing wrong with this method per se, it’s simply not practice-based research, but is practice-led.

In an effort to align myself with a new direction in research, transmedia narratives, I’ve been discussing with my supervisor, and peers, the direction I’m moving toward and the ideal research question I can get from that.

More under the cut.

Continue reading “Thoughts on practice-based research and research focus”

Audio recordings and genre

marts eg 1

One aspect of my Masters’ creative text that I wanted to create but never got the chance to was an audio component. I have a section in the creative text which has a character say “They might even be listening now” (Glendenning, 2016, p. 35), and the way it is presented with an image of an audio wave in the background made it appear as if there was a recording.

I never actually made the audio clips because I was working in a purely textual medium. That’s changed, now, and this PhD was already striding straight ahead into the digital realms where multi-media is the norm.

My ideal for the MArts project would have been a mobile app version of the narrative, which would have had audio and hyperlinks and maybe even video.

marts eg 2

And it’s exciting that I am going to be working in this newfound media maelstrom (newfound for me at any rate). It’s most definitely a maelstrom, because if it were benevolent, it wouldn’t be so bloody difficult to wrangle into a cohesive whole.

However, it’s fair to say that the experimentation I was doing with recording this past weekend will turn into something of an interesting component of the creative piece. I’ll be writing a script for, essentially, a radio play or podcast which may or may not require the use of some other voices/actors, but will create an additional component of this narrative arc that I hope will interest those that come across it.

A note on genre

There is a lot a writer can do to suggest certain themes in their writing, and I think it’s very easy to fall into conspiracy theories as a genre because they’re common knowledge, but also esoteric all at once.

A conspiracy story engages everyone because it has elements of the real world embedded in it as a matter of course, but as writers we have to be careful that this fictional thing doesn’t go beyond the realms of fiction and engage the malfunctioning parts of society in a discourse that believes in these types of conspiracies.

I might look at the literature on this at some point in the future, but there’s probably reams of studies that look at how certain aspects of society will form communities around misinformed individuals or ideas, which will later turn out to be pure fiction, but the proponents of the idea or individual will not cease their desire to believe.

Of course, this ties in neatly with science-fiction, speculative fiction, and even some forms of fantasy and folklore. A fellow PhD today told me of a term she had come across in her reading: fakelore. I like it because it invokes ideas of folklore whilst also acknowledging that they are “fake”.

How do we determine what’s “fake” and what’s “truth” when it comes to folklore? How much of the tales we tell do we believe in? When do we cross the line between storyteller and prophet? This is perhaps outside the scope of this research, but there we are.

Blogging and Transmedia narratives

I’m creating two other blogs right now as the platform for the beginnings of this digital narrative… and I can see how this is a very slippery slope towards a transmedia narrative, and not a simply digital narrative.

Using free tools, such as Google Mail and WordPress, I have been able to create a fictional entity to be the author of the fictional digital archive of letters from an anonymous writer in the early-to-mid 1800s.

I like this beginning and I feel that this has a lot of legs, but, and this is a big but, keeping it in a blog format will inevitably change the focus of the research away from games in text and towards transmedia narratives, which the others in the group have much more of a handle on than I do.

I really do want to look at combining game elements and a text narrative, but I also want to bring this creative idea to the forefront. I’ll have to combine them in the end, somehow, but for now I’m having fun creating and I like that.

Prototyping on the web

It’s that time again where I need to start putting some vague ideas of creative ideas down onto the screen (such a strange expression when you switch it up like that, and I wonder if a new idiom will come about when/if we no longer use paper).

I have been toying with the idea that I would be able to use some kind of web-based technology for the creative piece. Some kind of code/platform which I could program to be much more fluid and useful than anything as clunky as what I can do now.

This would require some time investment in learning a new language, which has not been planned for, and could introduce unnecessary delays.

However, I could conceivably use different blogs for the different threads of story, and link to each one on each blog — giving the reader the option to read whichever they like at one time.

I am hesitating, and I’m unsure why exactly. So, what I will do is a small prototype. I think I’ll start with three blogs, three different themes to easily differentiate between them, and then start writing.

This is not to say that the blogs are diegetic, in this case they are likely only the delivery medium and not, as in a transmedia narrative, ‘found texts’. That may become part of it later, but for now it’s only to try out this medium.