We recently completed our first writing challenge, and it gave me a lot to think about. First, it really showed me what experience in writing can make.
Second, to learn what separates AoI from other settings, I had to see firsthand what it isn't.
Still. I don't think understanding the rules of AoI is what makes a good submission. It's one's skill at writing.
As I stated before, I consider genres to be like a toolset. One needs to learn how to use them, and some personal flair.
AoI has a particular set of tools, and to write a good entry one needs to master them. But if you don't know what these are, how do you learn? This is one of the questions I have been struggling with. How to break down the concept of AoI into concrete guidelines for submissions?
Inspired by our last writing challenge, I think I got some criteria.
Is it immersive?
Does it resemble a credible document?
Does it utilize the journal/interview/letter formats well?
Is the procedure within the story clear?
Is the stories (high) concept unique,
does the entry have a place in the universe, and what the Association does?
Is it Scifi, Alternate History, or Steampunk?
Are the story, theme, and conflict well developed?
Immersion versus realism
Why does AoI use the file format? It's to create immersion. The idea that what is described actually happened. Or better, could happen to you. This goes back to my article on using Journals in storytelling. In other words, the story must resemble a credible file or collection of documents For example
- interviews, either audio recording and written transcripts
- newspaper articles
- random notes, memos
Within the said story, each format has a function, like a tool. Interviews are great to flash out verbal conflicts, having discussions between characters, or witnessing interactions between people.
Letters, or first-person reports, are great to describe events in great detail from the point of view of a single character and get into their heads.
Memos and notes can be used to raise questions, provide foreshadowing or add mystery to a document by providing information about its unknown origins.
Each of these entry types has its strengths and limitations. Switching between these formats within a story is both fun and sometimes necessary. Regardless, it's essential that what happens between the filings of these separate documents is clear. For example, an interview can be a written transcript. If written, who wrote it? But it could also be an audio recording. Why was the person interviewed? It could also be a meeting or a negotiation. etc.
When it comes to first-person accounts, letters or journals are written with a certain intention. It might be an honest attempt to inform. But it could also be an agent trying to avoid responsibility or convince somebody of their policy position.
Then there is the style in which these documents are written. Medival documents have different languages and protocols than let's say modern police reports. Modern Americans speak differently than 19th-century British people.
That said, the goal isn't historical accuracy, it's immersion. Still, historical accuracy is a very important tool.
The concept and its place in the multiverse
The reason for the multiverse is that people can insert their own worlds and ideas into the series. However, it beings a series, stories must explore new topics, or answer questions that have not been answered before.
High concepts are therefore not so much about monsters or machines, but questions. What if? How does the world respond to Construct-456 or Phenomenon 12? The various documents included in the AoI file explore possible reactions.
Writing a story about yet another monster that is powerful, or kills people, isn't all that interesting. These are sideshows at best to give a story an antagonist. The same goes for technology from other worlds. It's a common trap to come up with a monster and then have the story spiral into Fantasy tropes.
Before starting any AoI entry there should be a question. Why does the Association care enough to make a file entry on the topic?
So, here is my AoI step plan to explore the possibilities. If you have a story idea, submit this to me so I can discuss the ideas
What is the central question? For example, What if...?
Is this question already discussed in another story? If Yes, can I approach it differently?
Why does the Association care about this topic? (- It kills people in creative ways is not an adequate answer)
How is it related to the Association's mission to protect Atlas?
Who got the Association involved or requested their aid?
What are its (implied) motivations? Why does it exist?
Is it beneficial or harmful?
What makes it stand out from typical monsters, weapons, worlds, or anomalies?
What are the implied effects of the anomaly in the grand scheme of things?
What other known factions could be or would want to get involved? For example, local authorities. R.A., S.C. Dragoons, The Lions of Judah, The Entomologists.
Do they want to contain the threat?
Do they want to use it for their own benefit?
Did they develop it?
Did they want to hide it?
Did they create the problem?
Why is it Scifi, Alternate history, horror, or Steampunk? (Yes, these can be for comical effect)
What formats, perspectives, or document types do I expect to need to explore these questions.
Is the story/conflict well developed?
This is always going to be subjective. But here are something I pay attention to.
Grammar and syntax
Bit obvious perhaps. However, we have a lot of aspiring writers in the community. And writing being a passion of mine, I am a stickler for syntax. For example, make sure your sentences only contain one action each and don't exceed more than two lines.
For more tips, check out my blog on how to write a sentence.
Also, just because these are file entries doesn't mean you get to throw out the Golden rule, 'Show Don't Tell'.
Characters in AoI are often just vehicles to explore the central theme of the story. Often they are expendable. However, it doesn't mean characters don't have the be well developed. Their motivations have to be clear and must give the reader interesting insights into the mysteries, events, and horrors. Characters can also give the readers various opinions or aspects of complex issues.
Especially when writing in the first person, the motivations of why the character has recorded its story must be clear.
As stated above, the procedural elements in the story/file must be well explained. Who has submitted what notes, or letters, and why? How are investigations being conducted?
Plot, theme, and conflict
Yes, as always. Actions and reactions need to make sense. The themes must be well introduced. The central question should be clear and answered (in part). Bonus points if the story leaves us with a different, even more, terrifying question.
Want a proper introduction to the Association to check out The Wrench in the Machine on Amazon. our first published novel in the series that serves as an introduction to the multiverse of AoI. Or order the e-book or signed copies through our store.