Urban exploration on the deserted islands of Second Life

Think back to 2007. Remember Second Life hitting the news? We were all meant to be living there, meeting our partners and spending vast amounts of money in its virtual worlds. It's still alive and well but some people moved out long ago.

Fusion recently took a tour through the abandoned college campuses of Second Life. It’s a fascinating insight into what becomes of our virtual spaces as people move out and move on. The urban exploration of the future could be done from your own sofa.


Ira Glass on storytelling

Ira Glass of radio show This American Life talks to Public Radio International in this series of videos. Partly about storytelling but also covers some tips for starting a career as a storyteller. All very interesting.


NaNoWriMo: the good and the bad

On the stroke of midnight, hundreds of thousands of people around the world will begin a quest: to complete a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. For these people, November is National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo for short.

seeded_50000My experience of NaNoWriMo goes back to 2010. I ‘won’, which means that shortly before the end of November I passed the 50,000 word mark and completed my novel. Here’s my experience from that busy month of typing. Continue reading


Who killed Twin Peaks?

When the death of Laura Palmer sent the fictional town of Twin Peaks into turmoil, it also stirred television audiences around the world. It heralded a new era of US drama in the 1990s and took viewers to strange, unfathomable places. For all its cult status today, it achieved this in a prime-time slot with massive acclaim from the mainstream press. But what was the secret behind the show's overnight success, and why did it burn out after only 30 episodes?

Red curtains
Twin Peaks begins with the discovery of Laura Palmer – murdered, wrapped in plastic and dumped in a lake. As the news spreads through the town, it becomes clear that many of its inhabitants are linked to Laura in a variety of ways. As Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) arrives on the scene, it becomes clear that everyone is a suspect. As Laura Palmer’s double life is revealed, events go from the bad to the downright strange. During the 30-episode run, Cooper finds himself plagued by visions of deranged killers, dwarves talking backward and helpful giants. The only thing between Twin Peaks and strange worlds of shadow are the mysterious, whispering woods that surround the town. Continue reading


Video games: do players get in the way of a good story?

Video games contain great tales that take place in detailed worlds and with fantastic characters. But does the player get in the way of the overall story?

A screenshot showing Niko Bellic, protagonist of Grand Theft Auto 4

Niko from Grand Theft Auto 4 is part of a detailed narrative but, with the player in charge, is their game experience true to that story?

In traditional forms of narrative, events are constructed to tell a bigger story. Conventional wisdom calls for the removal of extraneous details that distract from this. Be it a novel, a TV show, a film or a play, you’ll find little flab that doesn’t at least build a character or illuminate an underlying theme. To match this, protagonists commit believable acts based on believable motivations. Video games are different. Continue reading


Twelve ways that stories help people learn

I write for learning, and a lot of my time is in identifying engaging and authentic stories to help people get to grips with new concepts and skills. Here are ten ways that stories can make even the most difficult subjects interesting.

Stories and learning Continue reading


Five obscure and captivating movies

Some movies hold a special place in your heart. They're the kind that you stumble across at 1:30am on a Monday morning, watch bleary-eyed to the end and then spend years trying to remember their names. You spend the next few years insisting everyone should watch them.

Here are five of mine. Have you got any of your own? Please share them in the comments. Continue reading


Ten writing prompts

Stuck for something to write? Here are some prompts to kickstart things.

Enjoy. If you use one, please let me know in the comments. It would be fun to know what you do with them.

  1. A person returns home to find their door off the hinges and their house ransacked – and a note apologising
  2. Two men sit on the edge of a bridge and discuss building the foundations
  3. A man’s estranged wife unexpectedly turns up at home after she’s released from jail early
  4. A group of people are told that due to a hiccup with reality, whatever they do for the next hour will be completely forgotten and rewritten. How do they spend it?
  5. 1967. A milkman finds a dead body in the street. Well, he thinks it’s dead…
  6. The council are angry and they want their weapons back. They’ll take them by force if necessary
  7. The story of a love affair told from the point of view of a piece of furniture
  8. “That place is infested. I’m not going back in until you do something.”
  9. Freshly fallen snow and the hum of an electric fence
  10. They loosened the floorboards so they could hear if she left the room

For more writing prompts, why not check out the prompts and competitions at Writer’s Digest or the hundreds available at Creative Writing Prompts.


Choose a palette that highlights your story’s themes

Themes are what your story's really about and how it affects your characters on a human level. But once you've defined them, how can you make sure that your story builds on them?

Your plot is the chain of events in your story. A theme is an idea that underpins everything. For instance, the plot of Kafka’s Metamorphosis follows a man who awakes to find himself transformed into a monstrous vermin. However one of the novella’s main themes is the effect of money on a family. Many stories have multiple themes that intertwine and play off each other.

You don’t need to be heavy handed – your readers don’t want to be hit round the head with obvious themes. It’s an example of show not tell – show how the themes reflect in your plot and characters.

Artists create harmony and mood in a painting by choosing a palette of colours. You can do the same in your writing to reflect your themes. Continue reading


Is streaming changing the TV show as a concept?

In a great interview with Beau Willimon (the man behind the US remake of House of Cards), The Atlantic explores how original programming on services like Netflix has changed TV.

The article raises many questions about how formats are evolving in an on-demand world. What constitutes ‘binge watching’? Does a season really need breaking down into episodes? Do episodes need to be the same length?

Head over to the site to read more: Is House of Cards TV? on The Atlantic.