A Dark and Stormy Entry

by Emily Short profile

Slice of life

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Number of Reviews: 5
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
If on a Winter's Night a Writer..., October 1, 2023
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)

A Dark and Stormy Entry was an entry in LOTECH Comp 2001, a competition in which the most important rule was that the games had to have a multiple-choice parser. The title of the game, and the fact that it appeared under the pseudonym of Lord Lobur-Bytton, suggest that it will be a send-up of the bad, purple writing associated with Lord Bulwer-Lytton and his "It was a dark and stormy night" opening sentence. However, there are only a few story branches (the Scotland/gothic ones in particular) that actually present overwritten prose. And a good thing that is too, because that joke would have worn thin very quickly.

In fact, A Dark and Stormy Entry has less to do with Bulwer-Lytton and more with Italo Calvino's book "If on a Winter Night a Traveller...". In that book, Calvino tells the story of a reader who, in their search for a book, comes across opening chapters of many different books. Again and again a story is started that is then abruptly cut of and never finished. The stories are in widely different genres and styles.

This is what Short does in A Dark and Stormy Entry too, except that the player takes the role, not of a reader, but of a writer. We are looking at a blank page, and our job is to make decisions about which story to tell. These decisions lead us into widely different directions, from Calvino-like stories about a philosopher who ties himself to a kite, only to be rescued by a sensual queen; to autobiographical stories about teenagers having to confess that they have had sex to their prudish parents; to clichéd Macbeth-like stories involving witches on the Scottish highlands; to strange explorations of a world that is a cube. All the branches are short, and we are clearly supposed to play the game many times. Sometimes, we are told that the ideas will lead to a novel. Sometimes, we end up with writer's block, or the writing process fails for some other reason.

It's fun and inventive, but I'm not sure it throws any real light on the creative process. Has any writer ever sat down before a blank page with no idea about what to write? This is the opposite at least of my own experience. But my experience need not be universal. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine that anyone's brainstorming process would be as chaotic and random as what happens in A Dark and Stormy Entry.

One's feeling at the end of If on a Winter's Night a Traveller... may well be frustration that the author didn't finish any of the books he started. And that may also be one's feeling at the end of this piece, although it's much less pronounced, since here most of the stories are only outlined, without much of the actual prose appearing. I feel the piece might actually work best for a discussion group, where the topic of discussion is: which branches would you most like to see turned into a real story, and why?

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