Absolution
An Experiment in Immersive Storytelling
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Behind the Scenes:
Hold On. This is a Ton of Work!

So I wrote a bunch of stuff and made a high-level plan on what should unfold for the immersive story. Done! Wait. No. With about a month left to go, let's see what I had left to do:

  1. Write dozens of emails from Amon.
  2. Figure out how to make emails look like they were coming from Amon.
  3. Prop: Giovanni's journal pages. What do they say? How do I translate them into Italian? Would Giovanni have even spoken Italian then? How can I make them look old? Where do I take somewhat convincing photos of them once they're ready?
  4. Prop: Note nailed to Amon's door. How do I pull that off? What does it say? What language?
  5. I need a fun and challenging (but solvable) puzzle for Zarina so she can get the name "Ksenija Horvat." What in the world should I do for that?
  6. After Zarina gets the name "Ksenija Horvat," I'd like to give her some more information/backstory on Ksenija. How do I do that in a natural way?
  7. I need a puzzle for Zarina to solve that definitely lets her in on the werewolf theme. How do I pull that off? It should be more challenging than the first puzzle.
  8. Delilah needs the ability to send convincing emails from a Delilah Horvat account. What should I set up to make it believable?
  9. I need letters from Delilah to Zarina that hint at her being in danger from Gregor. What do they say? Also, how is Delilah's English? What about Gregor? If these things are typed out on a computer and printed, they'll feel very artificial.
  10. Delilah needs to leave a voicemail for Zarina. How do I make sure Zarina doesn't answer? Can I use a prerecorded message? Who does that voice? What does the message say exactly?
  11. I want to leave a "Delilah's death" voicemail for Zarina. What does it say? Who does the voice? What sound effects are necessary? How do I put it all together? And, how do I get a random phone number so it's not left from my number?
  12. I will need some kind of in-person puzzle to solve, like an adventure or a treasure hunt! Where do I do that? And, if it's a treasure hunt, what complications are there if I actually bury something? I will have to scope out some places and figure out how to work all of this into a puzzle that's even more challenging than the last two but still solvable.
  13. For the finale, I will have to come up with a fake/old ritual to break a curse. Zarina and I recently had a fun discussion on Aleister Crowley, so I will work his name into it somehow. Based on the story I have so far, what's its origin? It could be Italian, religious, Slovenian, something else? Besides that, what are the ritual details that Zarina can actually do (for that even more immersive feel), and how can I get the details to her in a believable way?
  14. I need a really cool relic that serves as the object that triggers the curse. Oh! Maybe it has a few final surprises in it! Like what, though?
  15. It would be awesome if I could find some way of documenting all of this so Zarina would have both memories of it and some physical things after it's all done. I really should start taking photos of stuff. I'm not sure what I'll do with them, but I'll figure it out.

In addition to that big list, I still had to write and make sure that every detail was rock-solid. As you can see from the list, there were a lot of props and puzzles to figure out and then create, as well as a whole bunch of writing to do. It wasn't going to be like a movie where you can do more than one take. For Absolution, there was only one chance to pull it off.

“Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

With about a month left before I needed to hit "play" on the whole thing, the to-do list looked overwhelming, especially considering I didn't know what to do for most of this stuff.

Have you ever seen the TV show Lost? There's a character on it named John Locke that's my and Tae's spirit animal. He had this thing he always said, kind of like an angry motto.

John Locke from the TV show Lost saying, "Don't tell me what I can't do."
Not angry enough...
John Locke from the TV show Lost shouting, "Don't tell me what I can't do!"
Yep. That's us.

We're both damned stubborn, especially when it comes to anything we think is worthwhile. I gave the props list to Tae with general ideas of what I was looking for, and then I put my butt in the chair and began writing out all those extra details like what Amon, Delilah, and Gregor actually say to Zarina. As it turned out, writing at a furious pace with a tight deadline is a recipe for a ton of mistakes, plot holes, and continuity errors. Good thing I had an editor with a keen eye.