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Writing for Interactive Theatre

Writing is hard. Scriptwriting is harder. Scriptwriting for many different possibilities is extremely hard, and yet also extremely rewarding. Let me explain.

My name is Craig and I am the Company Producer here at 1UPSTARTS. I also have my fingers in a number of other pies, including acting and writing which I have done for a number of theatre companies. However, I am not your traditional playwright. I did not study English beyond GCSE and I have never had any formal training in theatre. But I love a challenge and when I first got into writing I adored it: creating characters, expanding facets of personalities I see in those around me and turning them into complex human beings. Coming up with their worlds is the part of writing that drives me to keep going. However, up until recently, I only wrote for traditional theatre: two acts, one core narrative thread, a few plot devices sprinkled in with dramatic twists and suspensions of disbelief. Then 1UPSTARTS afforded me the opportunity to write something a little different. An interactive piece of my own devising with many avenues for the plot to go down. I won’t reveal any narrative details of the show as I do not want to spoil it, also I am not 100% finished with it yet so I will save myself writing into a corner and not mention any of the plot. What I will tell you is the story of how I should have used my studies in physics a lot sooner. Writing this piece started off very smoothly, almost too smoothly. Within a few weeks, I had my main narrative down, the initial story arc, the characters, the locations, all sequenced and written. I then started to work on my branching pattern by figuring out what questions were to be answered by mechanisms I had devised for interaction. After some very crude drawings and embedding the imprint of a HB pencil on my hand the structure was in place. Next to write the branching arms so they make sense going forward.  I decided to write the plot down one specific branch to the end, then move onto the next and so forth. Again, this was smooth, the first full branch down worked, so I started on the second branch and the problem I had created for myself hit me harder than a cricket ball straight to the face. Due to the mechanism I had devised for my branching, allowing negative actions to be later redeemed by positive ones, as works with human nature, I had created a horrific mathematical issue which would cause a writing one. Instead of my branches being individual and distinct where I could apply a new script to each branch, I had created branches which interlock on themselves meaning there were significantly more routes to the end than there were endings. By significantly more I mean two orders of magnitude more. Triple figure variations of script, for single figure number of endings. This would mean having to write hundreds of script branches and must cross reference with every single other possible route to ensure there was no logical clashes in the script. I had given myself a deadline of a few months, what I had accidentally done was create a piece which would have taken 3 or 4 years just to get the script together, before any editing took place. This has since been revised and I am looking at my branch patterns in a bit more detail and ensuring I don’t accidently end up spending the rest of my twenties writing hundreds of versions of the same piece. To think this all could have been avoided if I spent a little more time thinking about the maths of a branching narrative. So, when you have the chance to do some branching writing, have a look at the maths first.  Craig Smith is 1UPSTARTS' producer and also has also acted in Passenger Car 425 and Ripper Quays.

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