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Fanboy Comics Interviews James Renner and Marco Arsenault on StoryShift

The following is an interview with James Renner and Marco Arsenault regarding their work with StoryShift, an exciting, new app that allows readers to participate in the storytelling process of an author by voting on the direction of the story. In this interview, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor Barbra Dillon chats with Renner and Arsenault about the inspiration for StoryShift, how it enhances the storytelling process for the author and the reader, and where interested individuals can find the app.

This interview was conducted on March 26, 2014.

Barbra J. Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: Marco, as the platform developer of StoryShift at Evil-Dog Productions, what inspired you to create this app?

Marco Arsenault: I actually started working on StoryShift over a year ago, so the details are blurry in my mind, but thinking back I’m pretty sure the initial spark happened when I was looking back at a slightly animated storyboard for an old animated series I was working on with a friend called “Freak.” Looking at the simplistic, quickly drawn, yet awesome-looking, panels made me think about how cool it would be to make some kind of progressive, comic-based game where new content would be added constantly, with the same kind of simplistic style, allowing the artist to draw the content fast. The whole idea very quickly evolved into the idea behind StoryShift, a platform for episodic comics and written stories with a choice at the end of each chapter, where the community votes on what should happen next and the authors continue the story based off that. The fun I had with “Choose your own adventure” books and D&D-style games really made me believe in how fun StoryShift would be, taking all those ideas to a large scale community.

BD: StoryShift provides a new and exciting way for readers to become involved in the storytelling process.  How would you describe the interaction between the participating authors and their audience?

MA: I would say it’s like CYOA books on a global scale, without the “failure” paths where you open a door and you die from an arrow in the head. It’s also comparable to D&D games, where a good game master gives you choices and makes the story interesting based on that choice. So, the authors are the game masters, the community members are the role players.  And, although I made the app, the authors have full freedom on how their stories go, so, in the end, I’m still a reader and I can tell you how I feel when I vote on the stories. I feel like I have control on the core of the story, like my choices actually drastically alter everything that will come afterward in the story.  Like choosing one character to follow the main characters leaves a vast universe of possibilities behind and everything that will happen would have happened completely differently had I chosen another character. That’s very cool to me. So, unless an author “railroads” the story (forces a choice on the readers, which is BAD), I think the interaction is as interesting for the readers as it is challenging for the writer.

BD: How did the creative team behind Evil-Dog Productions come together, and how would you describe the creative process involved with maintaining such a successful enterprise?

Marco: Over a year ago, when I started working on StoryShift, I wanted about ten “launch” stories to work on the process and build the app with everything it needed to make it work. So, being a long-time member and contributor, I made a very vague announcement on the writing and artist forums about a project in which I needed dedicated and passionate writers and comic artists. I didn’t give any details, I wanted to attract people who would actively seek an opportunity to write. While the app was originally thought out for comics, I knew that written stories had to be a part of StoryShift and that writers were more easily found, so I expected about 6-7 writers and 3-4 comics to launch with, which I got.  

Delays in the project happened, which brings us a year later.  Most of the writers were still in but, unfortunately, I had lost a few comic artists.  So, I did another wave of recruiting, but, this time, the app was pretty much complete, so I gave a lot more details. I was able to gather some more writers and have a nice “launch” roster of 12 stories, 2 of which were comics, one made by my long-time partner, Jim Kidwell (a.k.a. SickDeathFiend). When the app launched, a lot of writers wanted to join in and some of them were approved; we now have 5 more authors than when we launched, for a total of 17 authors/stories so far. I feel bad not mentioning them all individually; they are a crucial part of StoryShift.

As far as the maintenance, it’s a daily process for me. I manage the updates, the decision “reveals,” the new chapters, proofreading, etc., while the authors work on their new chapters and send them to me when they’re done, every couple weeks or so. They are passionate about StoryShift, that’s what make it a success so far. We also have a Skype group, where most writers hang and where we have a lot of (sometimes completely immature) fun.

BD: James, when did you become aware of the app, and what motivated you to become involved with its launch?

James Renner: I have a six-year-old son, and, at the end of the day, if his homework is finished, we surf the web looking for cool online games. I noticed the StoryShift app on the NewGrounds site and realized right away what it was all about. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Choose Your Own Adventure stories. As a reader, I loved the sense of control. StoryShift is like Choose Your Own Adventure in the same way crack is like cocaine. I had to have some right away. I had to be a part of this. Essentially, what Marco did was create an entirely new medium for storytelling. Something closer to comics than a traditional novel.

SSAndroid02 1 7e2BD: How would you describe your experiences in working with the app and its users, and how do you feel that it has impacted your storytelling?

JR: As a writer, it’s like playing a game of chess with the reader. I write the introduction, they choose a move for a character. I then write a new chapter in reaction to their choice, setting up their next move. And, back and forth it goes. They can try to trap me or challenge me with a choice, and then the fun for me is how to make it work for the next chapter.

BD: Is it possible for authors of various levels of experience to participate and reach new readership through StoryShift?

MA: Definitely, 5 new authors have joined the project since it launched. From Isabella Oakenhill, a 17-year-old hobbyist writer to James Renner, a professional and published author and various levels of experience in between. Being an author in StoryShift is a pretty big commitment, though, with regular updates for a long time, so a certain level of skill and dedication is required to join.  So far, the new stories got really great exposure when they popped in the app, their vote count and subscription list caught up with all the other stories. That’s the great thing about StoryShift: the nature of it, the update cycle, and the community aspect bring everyone back to the app regularly, and that’s awesome for cross-promotion between the stories. Readers will come back to see a new chapter in a story they subscribed to and will also see either new chapters in other stories or new stories altogether.

BD: Are there any exciting updates or plans in the works for the app that you would like to share with our readers?

MA: Definitely, I’ve got a huge to do list of features and ideas I want to implement.  More filtering and sorting options are coming.  One of the big features is a soundcloud-like comment system where people can leave comments on stories on any page, so people can discuss on the choice pages  interesting moments in the stories, any specific point in a story, etc.  We also want to add to the reader’s account and voting power system, with a level, title, and badge, a username and avatar that people will see in the comment system, etc.  More fancy ideas include audio books, motion comics, linear stories, more platforms to use the app on, Blackberry, Windows phone, etc.

BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about StoryShift?

MA: We’re a happy bunch of folks who enjoy storytelling and love the community’s involvement in the shaping of all our stories. We have a constantly updated Facebook page, where you can get all the updates when the stories are revealed, when new chapters come out, and when new stories are added. You can also contact me there if you think you’re a good candidate to join as an author.

StoryShift is available on the web and various other sites, as well as on phones and tablets:

Google Play

Apple App Store

Amazon App Store

Marco  Arsenault is the app developer  of StoryShift as well as the head of Evil Dog Productions. Evil-Dog Productions is a Montreal-based company that make flash and mobile games about zombies, music, ninjas, space, and lots of other cool things! Marco Arsenault is Evil-Dog, the head of the company, and has been making music and games for a while now!

James Renner spends his spare time hunting serial killers and writing about his misadventures. His true crime stories have been published in the Best American Crime Reporting and Best Creative Nonfiction anthologies.  His debut novel, The Man from Primrose Lane, was published by Sarah Crichton Books in March, 2012.  He lives in Akron, Ohio.

Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief




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