In the domain of electronic media the job of the writer has always been a challenging and evolving craft. Traditional media presents its own demands, but the writer of interactive content must not only possess the skills of a good wordsmith, but also have a keen understanding of the multimedia production process itself. The interactive writer must be a designer, adept at creating stories, design documents, treatments, scripts, proposals, outlines, sitemaps, walkthroughs, and any other material related to the concept, theme, and development of a project.
Beyond words alone, the interactive writer is frequently responsible for the development of the design scheme for what ultimately becomes the final media experience for the intended audience. Interactive writing is multidimensional; the task of writing for multimedia is a left and right-brained process that extends beyond the written word. Interactive writers are designers who have a solid understanding of project management, software development, interface design, graphic design, software engineering, and human factors. The diversity of skills required for an interactive writer is reflected in job titles that include "Information Architect," "New Media Journalist," "Multimedia Designer," and sometimes more commonly recognized titles such as "Web Designer," "Producer," and "Project Manager."
If not for "interactivity", interactive writing might be nearly the same as traditional writing. Interactivity, which continues to be an evolving concept, refers to the process of designing electronic information so it may react or respond in some fashion to human action or input. Well-designed web sites are popular examples of interactive media, and are often replete with interactivity. Hyperlinks, images, and navigation menus are activated by some means, and the system reacts by loading another page, or in some way tailoring the content to more closely match the request. The process of organizing and integrating multimedia content so it is intuitive and useful to the end-user is an art that is rarely straightforward, but effective structure and design is integral to effective content, regardless of the medium.
Traditionally, a webmaster or webmistress is thought of as the architect of information "linking," for a web site, but that job is mostly about the mechanics of posting and maintaining content, and making sure it works to the desired criteria and specification. Without the interactive designer, the webmaster has little content to post, the programmer has no reason to write specific code, and the artist, voice talent, and composer have no context or script to work from. Web design is only one field where the interactive writer is essential. Game development, which is now a larger industry in terms of annual gross revenues than the film industry, relies heavily on interactivity and design for its success. A written design specification is often the blueprint for both large and modest budget game titles.
The path to producing the final design scheme varies from project to project, and there is no single software tool that facilitates this iterative process. The interactive writer and designer must be well-versed with a variety of software tools and techniques. A typical software arsenal for the interactive designer might include a word processor, a flowcharting program, an illustration program, a page layout program, an image editing program, and an animation and scripting tool such as Adobe Director or Flash.
Here is a listing of specific programs that are common to interactive planning, design, and production:
AbiWord – An excellent open source, cross-platform word processing program with unparalleled ease of use.
Adobe Software – Illustrator and Photoshop are standard design tools. Director and Flash are scriptable multimedia and animation content tools. Dreamweaver is almost a staple web development tool, and Fireworks is extremely useful for mocking up and developing design schemes.
Celtx - A free and powerful media pre-production software designed for creating and organizing media projects like screenplays, films, videos, stageplays, audio plays, documentaries, machinima, comics, games and podcasts.
Canvas – An integrated illustration, flowchart, and word processing tool.
CopyWrite – A writing and project management tool.
Inkscape – An open source vector graphics editor, with capabilities similar to Illustrator, CorelDraw, or Xara X, using the W3C standard Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) file format.
Inspiration – An easy to use outlining and flowchart creation tool.
MacJournal - This is a unique writing and design tool that makes it easy to collect and categorize ideas, organize them conveniently, and publish content to a blog.
Microsoft Office – The Office "suite" tools aimed at business and productivity cannot be left off of this list. Arguably, Word is the most popular word processor available.
Microsoft Project - (or MSP) is a project management software program developed and sold by Microsoft which is designed to assist project managers in developing plans, assigning resources to tasks, tracking progress, managing budgets and analyzing workloads.
OpenOffice – A free, cross-platform alternative to Microsoft Office with features essential for conceptualizing, designing, and developing interactive media.
Books Emphasizing Interactive Writing and Design:
Alessi, Stephen M. and Trollip, Stanley R., Multimedia for Learning: Methods and Development, 2001. ISBN: 0-205-27691-1.
Bonime, Andrew and Pohlman, Ken. C., Writing for New Media, 1998. ISBN: 0-471-17030-5
Crawford, Chris. Chris Crawford on Game Design, 2003. ISBN: 0-13-146099-4.
Elin, Larry. Designing and Developing Multimedia, 2001. ISBN: 0-205-31427-9.
Garrand, Timothy. Writing for Multimedia and the Web, 2006. Third Edition. ISBN: 0-240-80822-3.
Miller, Carolyn. Digital Storytelling: A Creators' Guide to Interactive Entertainment, 2004. ISBN: 0-240-80510-0.
Samsell, Jon and Wimberly, Darryl. Writing For Interactive Media: The Complete Guide, 1998. ISBN: 1-58115-005-9.
Stansberry, Domenic. Labyrinths: The Art of Interactive Writing and Design, 1998. ISBN: 0-534-51948-2.
Ken Loge is a Production Manager and Designer at the Oregon Research Institute Applied Computer Simulation Labs. He also teaches Writing and Interactive Design, and other media design and production courses at Lane Community College in Eugene.