Hi guys! Tomorrow is the release for a very special book called Post-High School Reality Quest, and to celebrate it, I’m hosting the author Meg Eden with a special guest post she wrote and a giveaway for an ARC and some exclusive swag (they’re great- you’ll love them)! I hope that your summer is going off to a great start, and what better way to celebrate than with another giveaway and guest post?
About Post-High School Reality Quest
Buffy is playing a game. However, the game is her life, and there are no instructions or cheat codes on how to win.
After graduating high school, a voice called “the text parser” emerges in Buffy’s head, narrating her life as a classic text adventure game. Buffy figures this is just a manifestation of her shy, awkward, nerdy nature—until the voice doesn’t go away, and instead begins to dominate her thoughts, telling her how to life her life. Though Buffy tries to beat the game, crash it, and even restart it, it becomes clear that this game is not something she can simply “shut off” or beat without the text parser’s help.
While the text parser tries to give Buffy advice on how “to win the game,” Buffy decides to pursue her own game-plan: start over, make new friends, and win her long-time crush Tristan’s heart. But even when Buffy gets the guy of her dreams, the game doesn’t stop. In fact, it gets worse than she could’ve ever imagined: her crumbling group of friends fall apart, her roommate turns against her, and Buffy finds herself trying to survive in a game built off her greatest nightmares.
Translating Play: Turning Games into Novels
The more video games I watch or play, the more I think about what I can learn about the art of telling good stories through games. Good games, like good books, show and don’t tell. They give you objects to interact with that show you what happened (or what will happen), and make you feel what the character feels through solid mechanics. They let you as the player (reader) experience a story instead of hearing a summary of a series of events. They let you inhabit a character and walk away with memories that feel like they’re own.
When I first wrote my novel Post-High School Reality Quest, it was a story about gamers, changing friendships, and identity inside and outside (mainly role-playing) games. There were interesting characters and some funny moments, but nothing really happened. It was like a body without bones. When my friend suggested the idea of writing a novel in the form of a text adventure, I initially laughed it off. But when I got strep and was bedridden with nothing to do, I put the text adventure bones onto my novel and came up with an older draft of what is now Post-High School Reality Quest.
A few interesting things happened when I added these text adventure bones to my characters. I am very bad at plot, so I usually struggle for several drafts, trying to figure out what inciting action is going to create enough conflict to propel the story forward. The text adventure format pretty quickly eliminated this problem pretty early on. In case you aren’t familiar with text adventures, they are games composed of text. The game will say something like: “You are in a cottage. There is a shovel. Exits are: out,” and then you as a player might respond with “Out” or “Pick up shovel” or maybe “Beat wall with shovel.” The text adventure format then is a dialogue of sorts, between the player and the game, which for my novel instantly created a conflict between Buffy (the main character) and the text parser (the narrator).
Ironically, my introduction to text adventures wasn’t through actual text adventures like King’s Quest or Zork (embarrassing, I know). My first experience was through a translation of text adventures: the Parsley game Action Castle. What is really interesting about the Parsley games is that they are interactive, live-action text adventure games. One person plays the text parser, and the rest of the people play as players, inputting commands. My friends in high school loved these Parsley games. A few of my friends were on the improv team and loved playing the text parser, coming up with clever responses to absurd commands. They made the text parser into its own character, the way a DM brings personality to a D&D quest–and this is something that definitely resonated with me as I wrote Post-High School Reality Quest. As I added the text adventure structure, the text parser became its own character. The text parser is narrating Buffy’s life like a game, and Buffy is inputting commands that the text parser sometimes allows and sometimes refuses. The text parser knows how Buffy needs to play to beat the game, but Buffy doesn’t always want to do what the text parser recommends. This creates a problem for Buffy: she doesn’t appreciate this text parser trying to tell her what to do and wants to escape from a life of being narrated by him.
Another interesting thing that happened as I wrote is that I found myself falling into my writing the way I would fall into playing a really engaging game. I wanted to know what would happen to Buffy, I wanted to know what would happen to me–because writing all those second person descriptions made me feel more closely connected with a character than I ever had before (I say this with Post-High School Reality Quest being the thirteenth novel I’ve written, so I’ve had quite a few characters in the past). I felt like I was playing a game that I wanted to figure out how to beat. That first text adventure draft of Post-High School Reality Quest came out quickly because I couldn’t stop writing.
I have a lot of people ask me if it was hard, writing in second person. It’s a taboo of the writing world, after all. Honestly, I found it freeing. I found it fun. I found that it gave me a new perspective on an old problem. Now, when I get stuck in my writing, I try second person to see if it helps me see things from a new angle. I didn’t find the text adventure format hard either. Dialogue is another great tool for when you’re “stuck” as a writer, as it easily generates conflict and keeps things moving forward. So the second person combined with constant dialogue actually made for one of the easiest projects for me to generate words for.
The challenge that the format did create for me was an intensely emotional connection with my characters. I’m a very character-driven writer, so my characters always feel like real people to me, but these characters felt even more real, like my best friends. The text adventure format not only made me feel like Buffy, but it made the surrounding characters feel like party members in a game. So when my editor told me I had too many characters and told me to cut Ethan out of the novel (It’s OK, Ethan–we’ll find another novel for you!) it was like asking me to saw my arm off. I sent my editor long, gif-filled emails with my justifications for why Ethan had to stay, but it all boiled down to my emotional connection with my characters. I liked Ethan, I wanted him there because I felt close to him. But my editor was right–when I removed Ethan, it tightened my story. It made the tensions and conflicts clearer and more powerful.
In the end, games and novels are very different formats. As my husband and I begin translating the first chapter of Post-High School Reality Quest into a playable text adventure game (stay tuned for details!), we realize there are many changes we have to make. Instead of telling the reader what direction the story will progress, we need to make cues that persuade the player to make the decisions we want them to. Buffy’s goal of delivering a letter to her high school crush becomes an objective the player has to hone in on. It’s challenging me to make clear my character’s want and their obstacles (like I said, I’m bad at plot)–because if the player doesn’t know the objective, they can’t just passively keep reading. They get stuck because they don’t know what to do. That said, making a real text adventure instead of a text adventure-inspired book allows us to have a lot of fun, thinking of all the possibilities of what a player might input. It allows me to revisit my story from multiple angles, which is really fun, refreshing, and strangely addicting. Who knows–my next writing project might not be a traditional novel, but a full text adventure!
Meg Eden’s work has been published in various magazines, including Rattle, Drunken Boat, Poet Lore, and Gargoyle. She teaches at the University of Maryland. She has four poetry chapbooks, and her novel “Post-High School Reality Quest” is forthcoming from California Coldblood, an imprint of Rare Bird Lit. Check out her work at: http://www.megedenbooks.com/ and on Twitter at: @ConfusedNarwhal.
The prizes for the giveaway are some that you don’t want to miss! Meg is giving away a “Have a Romantic Night with Nick Cage and Post-High School Reality Quest” prize pack, which includes:
- An ARC of Post-High School Reality Quest
- A Legend of Zelda themed soap bar
- A Nick Cage pillow case that says “see you in my dreams”
- A nerdy scented candle
- PHSRQ Swag (some signed) including bookmarks, postcards, and more
You don’t want to miss this giveaway! Quick rules:
- Only for US residents. Sorry about that!
- No giveaway accounts
Here’s the link!
There’s also another giveaway held by the PHSRQ Blog Tour you can find here!
Do you have any thoughts or questions?
Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!