Halloween 2020 IF,  Interactive Fiction

Halloween I.F – “Final Call” – Author’s Notes / Story Q&A

[Author’s Notes / Story Q&A]

Thank you, everyone, for joining me in Final Call! Whether you hopped in or just read (or are reading this in the future), I’m so grateful for your time and presence with me. It was a lot of fun to write, and I hope you enjoyed reading it!.

The final length of this story was almost 40,000 words (around 90 pages in gdocs)! Which is a lot, but I also achieved my goal of not trying to hit NaNo wordcounts during this hell year, lol. If and when you want to reread it, you’ll be able to find this story linked from my Interactive Fiction page. Feel free to check out some older interactive stories there too!

If you enjoyed the story and are looking for ways to support me and my work, you can learn about and pick up my books over here. Read some already? Leaving a good rating or review on Goodreads or Amazon can make all the difference. I’ve also got a tip jar over at Ko-Fi if you’d like to buy me a drink! And please, feel free to follow me on social media to see what I’m up to: Personal Twitter and Book Twitter.

Now that that’s done—let’s do a story Q&A! Feel free to ask me anything you want about the story, whether it’s about what my writing process was, how I got the idea for certain events or characters, things people may have suspected but not had confirmed, other ‘routes’, etc. Wonder what would have happened if you’d done X instead of Y? Ask it here! (Lurkers are totally allowed to ask too, you don’t need to have participated to ask!).

I think, also, the story managed to hit the full list of tropes you turned in way back at the beginning, whether in the play within the story or within the story itself. We had a betrayal, a monster who-isn’t-that-monstrous, unrequited love AND secret longing, a costume that’s more than a costume, a duel, a sudden earthquake, a key that refuses to be used, two characters mistaken for each other because of their startling resemblance, crossdressing for flimsy plot purposes and, of course, an emotionally-fraught kiss.

Thank you once again… and happy Halloween!

[Ask Me Some Questions, I’ll Tell You No Lies]

5 Comments

  • Noelle

    First: thank you so much for running this! It was a blast, and a delight to read.

    Second: we obviously spent a great deal of time with Lord Crow, whom I adore, but in the process we didn’t get to know the other Lords as much (aside from the Moonlit Lord and Peacock at the end) or how they would have interacted with Lucien. So I’m curious about the other Lords personalities and how they would have approached Lucien. What were the End and Vine like?

    • Meredith Katz

      Thank YOU so much for playing with me! I was always so happy to see your comments (What could go wrong??).

      The problem with choice games is always the paths not travelled for sure. Hopefully I’ll get to play around in this world again and develop them out some more, but:

      The End: The End is…weird. Strange. They’re uncanny and odd and calm. They’re very calming, and comforting, and soothing, an embracing presence, someone who makes you feel entirely at ease and a bit … subdued. They think about things simultaneously very short term and very long term: the time that humans have to make their impact on the world is so, so small, but it’s what they do that survives them that’s so impressive, and there is an eternity of time beyond this to see how it all plays out. The End is a tender lover, gentle, who will hold you as you drift off to sleep. But if needed, the End can and will be brutal and cold, and utterly merciless. Physically, the standard manifestation of death (skeleton, in a robe), or a human who is icy cold, dressed in a shroud.

      The Vine: Vine is chaotic. Lord Vine is basically an archfey, to use d&d terms, and loves to meddle. They’ve got a rich and luxurious personality, wild and free and chaotic. They’re overgrown in every sense, almost too much: too much personality, too much presence, always in motion, never really still. An awfully messy person! They love duality: rose petals and thorns, weeds and gardens, pleasure and pain. They’re interested in everything and want more, more, more. They can be incredibly sweet or can strangle anything that attempts to sprout in their path. Has an asphyxiation kink, probably. Physically:… whatever, really. Lots of long ivy hair, moss skin, flower eyes, but they can shapeshift as easily as a thought, because plants take a huge variety of forms. Thorn nails and teeth. A rose for a heart. A human body, so normal that it makes you uneasy. Whatever.

  • Prince Charming

    That was great! Amazing! 😃 Thank you so much. I love the story! ❤️ And what a great ending! It was so much fun to follow along every day. I have same questions how the story would have changed with different suggestions.

    Would the story have been very different if he had chosen a different Lord in the beginning? Lord Vine or Lord the End?

    Did the double murder on stage change the story?

    What if he had gone out with Shuni and Katarin after the play and not met Lord Crow?

    Would the experience with Lord Crow have been different if Lucien had asked different questions?

    What would have been Lucien’s experiences with Lord Vine or Lord the End on a date?

    What would have happened if Lucien had gone to Katarin or home after meeting Lord Crow?

    And what would have happened if Lucien and Shuni had not switched roles?
    Would it have made a difference if Lucien hadn‘t slept with Shuni?

    What if he hadn‘t snooped in Shuni‘s room and not seen the writing and the box?
    Did the clothes he chose to wear make a difference?

    What would have happened if Lucien told Katarin about the role switch before going on stage?

    Would it have made a difference if Lucien had dedicated the switched play to Lord Crow or the Moonlit Lord instead of Lord Vine?

    What if he hadn’t gone out with Katarin after the switched play? Would he have met Lord Vine? Or what if he had followed Shuni instead?

    If he had confronted Shuni outright after the talk with Katarin. Would they still have become friends?

    What if Lucien had ignored the missing pulse and not asked Shuni about his heart?

    What would have happened if he hadn’t helped the Moonlit Lord in the dream?

    What if Lucien hadn’t gone to the Moonlit Lord when she asked him to come to her booth? And if he hadn’t slept there and hadn’t had the premonition dream?

    What if Lucien hadn’t gone to Katarin after he couldn’t find Shuni, but instead home or back to the theatre? Or if he‘d told her about Shuni‘s missing heart?

    What if Lucien and Katarin hadn’t gone to the theatre, but instead to Shuni’s home or elsewhere?

    What if Lucien hadn’t gone searching the box seats but gone elsewhere in the theatre? Would he have found something?

    Why was there a white and black card for the box seats? I mean why two different colours?

    Would it have made a difference if Lucien had let himself be seduced by Lord Crow? Could he have performed in the play afterwards?

    Could Lucien have used his key in a different way, or somewhere else?

    Could Lucien have opened his inner eye somehow and changed the dream?

    Was there a possibility for Lucien to not play Katarin‘s role but search the Director‘s office instead?

    What if Lucien had snatched the knife and killed Frederik?
    Or if Lucien had just thrown the heart to Shuni before attacking Frederik?

    What kind of Lord would Shuni have become? Or Katarin if she did it?
    And what would have become of Frederik if he‘d succeeded?

    Could Lucien have interacted with Frederik at some time and learned more about him?

    If Lucien had become a Lord, would he really have destroyed the world? And how would he have looked like the Lord of Survival?

    Was the memory Shuni sacrificed to Lord Endless about the affair he had with Lord Peacock?

    How did Lucien‘s parents die, and how old was he at that time?

    Could there have been a story line that explained why Lucien and Shuni look so alike?

    How did you get the idea for the story and characters?

    Thank you, again. I had so much fun!

    • MeredithKatz

      Thank you again for playing! There’s a lot to get into here so let’s get started.

      First, for context, it’s not like I plan the full story out in advance for these. I have a premise and then I adapt them to what’s being given to me in the suggestions. So the answer to ‘would it have changed the story’ is ‘yes’, every time, because the story didn’t exist until I was building it out of the things you all chose to do! In addition, trying to anticipate every possible outcome of your choices before they’re decided by 4 pm that day is a loser’s game and just takes a lot of energy I don’t have to spend, so in a lot of cases the answer to ‘how would it be different’ is ‘I don’t know, because you didn’t do it.’ (In other cases, I do know, because it relates to the main concept in a way that I had an idea about already.) The tl;dr is: I wasn’t trying to steer it overly much so I just kind of had an idea of the frame it would fit in, then built pieces that would fit within that framework as you all made decisions.

      What I had in my notes prior to us starting was this:

      CONCEPT
      Tone: Like Fallen London/Cultist Simulator meets The Last Door. Surreal otherworldly gaslight victoriana
      The Actor (Lucien Iomorphe) must go and put on the play every night. The play is constantly changing in response to the demands of the audience but the final act can only be performed on the last day of the run. The play is incomplete until then. This play must serve a purpose
      Two co-actors, Katarin (female), and Shuni (male).
      Someone is a shapeshifter.
      Someone is missing their heart.
      Someone is a changeling.
      Three possible noble love interests: Lord Crow (The Carrion-Eater), Lord Vine (The New Growth), Lord End (the Dying and the Dead)
      Cycles of 3 stages:
      – Prep for the play
      – The play, where the trope is sacrificed to one of the nobles
      – Being courted by the lord to whom the trope is sacrificed.
      – If you date the same noble more than 5 times the story shifts
      – When all tropes are done it’s time for the final act.

      Obviously, not all of this was kept (the cycle was too slow to be a cycle, and impossible to date the same noble more than 5 times). Everything else was sort of worked in on the fly based on the tone that was developing, suggestions given and ways I could imagine paying them out, and things that I had worked in so far. So again, any questions that involve ‘did it make a difference’ is an unequivocal ‘yes’, because the outcome didn’t exist until you made the choice in most cases. Let me answer the rest below (or occasionally some of those, if I have further specifics, since in some cases it’s ‘I never even imagined an outcome until I wrote it for the thing you picked’).

      Would the story have been very different if he had chosen a different Lord in the beginning? Lord Vine or Lord the End?
      I think the story itself would have probably played out much the same, but that’d totally depend if you all became more attached to one of them and sought out every moment to be with them or not, you know? Haha. The story could have been much more focused on a monster romance if you’d picked things like, ignore Shuni, go off by yourself, shun the other humans at every opportunity and seek out chances to be with one of the Lords. Lord the End is very laid back and Lord Vine is very manic. Crow is sort of a split between the two, chaotic but chill.

      Did the double murder on stage change the story?
      I mostly used it for explaining how the dedications could work. Since there was a main dedication and two ‘spreading the wealth around’ afterthought dedications, it mostly meant you didn’t end up snubbing Vine or the End, and they were more likely to respond favorably to you if you talked to them directly (but you didn’t).
      What if he had gone out with Shuni and Katarin after the play and not met Lord Crow?

      Would the experience with Lord Crow have been different if Lucien had asked different questions?
      How you interacted with Crow determined whether or not he was interested in Lucien (I don’t mean romantically, I mean whether or not Lucien bored him). Crow’s really a creature of play and doesn’t like people who act too overawed, things like that.

      What would have been Lucien’s experiences with Lord Vine or Lord the End on a date?
      They’re extremely different people. I’m not sure Vine would have been a Walk With Me This Fine Night type so much as kidnapping Lucien into a bush and start harassing him with questions. The End would have walked with him, but might have to collect someone’s dying soul mid conversation. I didn’t think it through into fine details because it didn’t go that way, I just have a sort of impression of who they are and how that would be shaped if I had to write it.

      What would have happened if Lucien had gone to Katarin or home after meeting Lord Crow?
      Basically, you could develop a main relationship (romantic or platonic, depending on how it was played) for Lucien with one of the actors and a secondary relationship with the other one. Because you went to Shuni, you had the option to explore Shuni’s living situation and get a better impression of him. If you’d gone with Katarin, you’d have got the same. Katarin isn’t down to bang Lucien, though, she is not interested. So essentially if you imagine having attention to split, you were going to guarantee at least a 60-40 split rather than a 50-50.

      And what would have happened if Lucien and Shuni had not switched roles?
      Shuni would have been annoyed with Lucien and kept him at arm’s length, and Crow would have been more likely to show up for Lucien specifically that night.

      Would it have made a difference if Lucien hadn‘t slept with Shuni?
      Not really (laughs). Shuni at this point doesn’t care that much one way or another. It’s a ‘why not’ sort of situation. (When I realized that, this is when I decided that Shuni was the one who lost his heart. Obviously people can do that without having no heart, but it just made it a good fit too). I guess it made a difference in that it shaped how you the readers responded to Shuni going forward and made him more important to *Lucien*.

      What if he hadn‘t snooped in Shuni‘s room and not seen the writing and the box?
      Then he probably doesn’t see Shuni’s secret and the story goes forward without making Shuni a priority.

      Did the clothes he chose to wear make a difference?
      Mostly in how other characters (Shuni, Crow) perceived Lucien’s choices.

      What would have happened if Lucien told Katarin about the role switch before going on stage?
      Good question! I never thought it out. I think mostly it would reduce Shuni’s willingness to trust Lucien and also throw Katarin into confusion, since she’s investigating right now too, like, whaaa…?

      Would it have made a difference if Lucien had dedicated the switched play to Lord Crow or the Moonlit Lord instead of Lord Vine?
      What if he hadn’t gone out with Katarin after the switched play? Would he have met Lord Vine? Or what if he had followed Shuni instead?
      The answers to these two questions is sort of the same thing. It didn’t end up making a difference because you decided not to go out and make yourself available to the lord you dedicated it to. If you’d done that, you’d have met Lord Vine (or got another scene with Crow, or a first scene with the moonlit Lord). Since you went with Katarin instead, it didn’t make a difference. Lord Vine stopped showing up at that point, though, nobody likes getting stood up. (If he’d followed Shuni instead, he’d probably have got jumped by Vine before he got there, but could probably have talked Vine into stalking Crow together, and you could have seen the scene Shuni later describes.)

      If he had confronted Shuni outright after the talk with Katarin. Would they still have become friends?
      I can’t say yes or no exactly, since you’d still have the chance to salvage it, but Shuni wouldn’t have loved being put on the spot.

      What if Lucien had ignored the missing pulse and not asked Shuni about his heart?
      Then you wouldn’t find out about the heart that way, and it would only come up again at the finale.

      What would have happened if he hadn’t helped the Moonlit Lord in the dream?
      She would have died and the the Lords would be thrown into a panic. This would come up at the next performance, which is of course shortly after Lucien wakes up.

      What if Lucien hadn’t gone to the Moonlit Lord when she asked him to come to her booth? And if he hadn’t slept there and hadn’t had the premonition dream?
      Then Shuni wouldn’t have been so disappointed, and he’d have had the chance to explore with Shuni today. Possibly you’d have learned more about who broke his heart.

      Basically, the Lords and the humans are sort of …narratively in opposition, in that if you spend time perusing the Lords, you start to lose touch with your human contacts, and if you spend time with your human contacts, you don’t get time with the Lords, who very much want you to come alone. You could theoretically do an entire run where you say no to the fellow humans at every turn and take every chance to spend time with a Lord, and have a very different story, or spend every chance ignoring the Lords and spending time with the humans, developing out their relationship but losing any insight into what’s going on at a higher level and only having a sense of this ominous presence. (It’s part of why I feel like this ‘promise ending’ was a viable choice for this ending, tbh, because you split the difference).

      What if Lucien hadn’t gone to Katarin after he couldn’t find Shuni, but instead home or back to the theatre? Or if he‘d told her about Shuni‘s missing heart?
      If he hadn’t gone to Katarin but had gone home, Crow would have been waiting there, demanding to know what just happened with the Moonlit Lord. If he went back to the theatre. Hm. I don’t know. Definitely a Lord encounter, though, not Shuni (who would have just been home in this case and ignoring you, because you stood him up).

      If he’d told Katarin about Shuni’s heart she would have actually suspected Shuni way more. Katarin is more focused than Lucien, honestly, and that whole bait and switch implies a personal motive she would have pursued in a way Lucien didn’t. But Lucien kept the context from her so she didn’t quite have enough pieces to put it together. On the other side, Shuni would have felt betrayed and instead of having a big showdown over it, he would have just shut Lucien out emotionally more (the lack of a heart means he doesn’t have big Hurt Reactions, he just goes MM, NO THANKS basically).

      What if Lucien and Katarin hadn’t gone to the theatre, but instead to Shuni’s home or elsewhere?
      If they’d gone to Shuni’s home, Shuni would have been there instead of at the theatre. If they’d gone elsewhere, probably nothing big or useful? It’d depend where you sent them.

      What if Lucien hadn’t gone searching the box seats but gone elsewhere in the theatre? Would he have found something?
      He would have, but it would have been something different, some hints about Frederik or about Lord Peacock.

      Why was there a white and black card for the box seats? I mean why two different colours?
      The white card was a ‘this box is confirmed empty’ card. So if another lord showed up late they could be put into it.
      The black card was a ‘this box is reserved’ card. So if another lord showed up late, they’d be turned away as it was already ‘claimed’ and thus letting others in would go over the 4 lord limit before space time goes fucky.
      The reason the black card was used is because Lord Peacock was already in the building.
      The lack of additional reserved/white cards is actually because Lord Peacock knew the ritual would attract as many Lords as could fit into the building, so he didn’t bother to get more. This was supposed to point to someone high up in the production crew who knew what was going on.

      Would it have made a difference if Lucien had let himself be seduced by Lord Crow? Could he have performed in the play afterwards?
      He could still perform after, but he’d have a different relationship with Lord Crow going into the end. Lord Crow at this point doesn’t know what to make of Lucien! He is intrigued, and mildly offended at being rebuffed, and amused at himself for being mildly offended. He could have gone either way after this, into either snubbing Lucien or welcoming him, because Lucien is doing a push-pull, so depending on actions you could have been rejected by Lord Crow down the line from this (but you weren’t, obviously). If Lucien had been seduced, Lord Crow would know more of where he stood with Lucien. Which is like, both a pro and a con, I guess? You keep Lord Crow on his toes but don’t get a weird sex scene as a result.

      Could Lucien have used his key in a different way, or somewhere else?
      The key could not be used, because in the Introduction, someone requested a key that refused to be used.

      Could Lucien have opened his inner eye somehow and changed the dream?
      Yeah, if you’d come up with a way to make that work, sure, I’d have made it a lucid dream.

      Was there a possibility for Lucien to not play Katarin‘s role but search the Director‘s office instead?
      Technically Katarin is bluffing. She has the keys but the director’s office needs to be searched. If Lucien calls her bluff and says, no, I won’t do it, then what’s she going to do? Say, fine, then nobody searches it? So, yeah, if you’d stood your ground, you could get that. (I hoped that wouldn’t be the case though, as the tropes requested in the comments to the introduction asked for “cross-dressing for flimsy plot-related purposes” and that was my way of bringing that in.)

      What if Lucien had snatched the knife and killed Frederik?
      Then Lucien just killed a man and Peacock is like HAHA. Nice!!

      Or if Lucien had just thrown the heart to Shuni before attacking Frederik?
      Shuni would have had more time to make his decision, mostly.

      What kind of Lord would Shuni have become? Or Katarin if she did it?
      Lord Empty, the Heartless. Not a very good or happy Lord, that, but a powerful one. I would have found a way for Lucien to prevent the full Apocalypse from happening, probably, but there’d be a creeping empty void slowly attacking the Lords and Lucien would probably be On To The Next Adventure, I Have To Fix This as an ending.
      Katarin would not want to become a Lord and would only do this if it seemed the only way to prevent things from playing out. Again, you kept her largely in the dark, so she wasn’t able to form full pictures like “uhhh no heart = contrast to the heartbreaker; his chest is empty = the empty cracked landscape”. She didn’t know if ANYONE ascending would cause it, too. If she had to become one, it wouldn’t have been a counterpart for anyone. Lord Prophet, the Revelation, maybe.

      And what would have become of Frederik if he‘d succeeded?
      Peacock wouldn’t let him succeed, that would be no fun. There’s no plot outcome where you can help Frederik proceed because Peacock didn’t care about Frederik, he was just a way of getting things set in motion and getting Shuni off kilter so Shuni might make that choice.

      Could Lucien have interacted with Frederik at some time and learned more about him?
      Absolutely! I thought you would do so, actually. Fred watches Lucien (as Shuni) & Katarin talk and watches Katarin leave, and I thought you might seek him out after the play as a result to try to control information (and thus start to get to know him). I also have Frederik come and hover around ‘as if he wants to speak to (Shuni)’ in the green room in the part after, so I figured it might read as ‘oh, Frederik is onto something, better talk to him to make sure he doesn’t tell anyone’. Frederik was also in the dream, so you could have gone early to talk to Frederik as part of prep. Not a lot of opportunities but if you’d taken earlier ones, others would have opened up. Didn’t end up going that way, though.

      Likewise, you could have tracked the Director down at any time until the very end. I thought that was a big option, like, hey! Your play here is in danger! It’s dangerous! etc. I wasn’t going to suggest it because I thought that’d make the culprit too obvious, but it’s definitely something I considered you might do, and was going to build out “the director” to you if you’d done so.

      If Lucien had become a Lord, would he really have destroyed the world? And how would he have looked like the Lord of Survival?
      Definitely not. Survival and destruction are at odds. I think probably things would be in an odd state. The Lords would need to survive too, and Lucien ascending through this ritual would put them in a position where, like, thirsty in a desert, I guess, but without making it so they CAN’T survive there. He would have been the most powerful one, able to help all of them, but sort of bound up in helping them and not sure what to do with that power? Probably I’d do a scene of him showing Peacock mercy, keeping things flowing for all the Lords, like, make him a critical lynchpin in their survival after this attempt to destroy them. I’d still want to make it a rewarding ending but it’d be a little uncanny or uncomfortable, I think, so it’d really depend, I don’t like to make players choices be a gotcha! now it’s grim! I want to make it really satisfying, and I’d want it to be something fully in Lucien’s hands. Don’t know what he’d look like, I’d really have to get into how the scene felt to figure out how to describe him, if that makes sense, since the Lords’ appearances are based off what they are and how that manifests.

      Was the memory Shuni sacrificed to Lord Endless about the affair he had with Lord Peacock?
      I don’t know what memory he sacrificed, actually. I’d have come up with one if it seemed relevant, but ‘not knowing’ just feels better here. I don’t think it’s the one about the affair because I’d want you to be able to find that out if you’d spent time with Shuni rather than the Moonlit Lord.

      How did Lucien‘s parents die, and how old was he at that time?
      I think they were probably murdered (though it could have been a murder-suicide). Lucien had hid, and when he came out they were dead. He was very young, too young to cook for himself or know(/be able to reach) how to undo the lock and open the front door.

      Could there have been a story line that explained why Lucien and Shuni look so alike?
      I toyed with making Shuni the shapeshifter early on (I hadn’t decided which of the main humans would be shapeshifter/changeling/heartless until after you met and interacted with them) but I decided against it for numerous reasons (for one thing I don’t wanna give a character with a hebrew name powers that relate to antisemitic beliefs lol). But I didn’t feel a huge need to fit one in. I had options: Lucien himself might have been a doppleganger to Shuni and not known it, they could have been lost siblings (but then the characters had sex and while I mean, that is still something that can be worked into a narrative, I figured it’d both change the vibe and complicate the story too much). But like I said, I didn’t feel compelled to put one in regardless. The meanings are already there — Peacock did the casting, and Peacock isn’t over Shuni despite being the one who broke up with him. Shuni and Lucien are reflections of each other and narrative foils, the same way that Logos and Arcane are. They look more alike each other than the actual shapeshifter does to them — because the actual shapeshifter has no confidence in his own identity. And two actors cast to be twins should look alike. Etc.

      How did you get the idea for the story and characters?
      For the story, I wanted to really do something like, Weird. Get into something that is inexplicable, that isn’t built ground up from reality but is tilted. I like narrative games like Fallen London and The Last Door that work with that, and the Last Door itself does some cool things with a theatre cult (which I didn’t use anything of, but was like, I wanna do a theatre cult too!). …also our spare room is designed to look like a spooky victorian office, and has like, vines in a cage, a lamp that’s this crow carrying a light in its beak, and skull imagery, so I basically. Looked in that room and got the idea.

      • Prince Charming

        Oh, wow! Thank you so much for explaining everything. This universe is so interesting, that I wanted to know the different possibilities. And it’s so cool to know how you do this. Thank you a lot. That was amazing. The story is fantastic. I love it so much.

        Frederik is such a tragic character. I felt really sorry for him in the last scene. It‘s my only regret that we didn’t get to interact with him.

        Your spooky victorian office sounds really cool. I would love to have a room like that.
        Thank you, again. I enjoyed it a lot.

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