The making of Zed

Between the second and fifth of July 2017 I ran an interactive story called Zed in real time on Twitter. It was so much fun! Lots of people got involved in advising seven-year-old Zed as he searched a zombie-infested forest for his missing father. If you were one of those people, then thank you so much for joining in! If you’d like to read or re-read the story, it’s still available and free to all via @ZedAndDaddy on Twitter. Simply scroll to the bottom of Zed’s timeline and read upwards to see how events played out.

Now, in this post I’d like to explain how I went about bringing Zed and his plight to life. Following on from my stories X and Wye, I wanted to conclude what is essentially a zombie anthology series (all of these stories stand independent from one another) with Zed. With X and Wye I tried to write stories that were fresh and original and I wanted to continue this trend with Zed. I actually had the idea to write Zed as an interactive Twitter story whilst I was writing Wye, but it took two years (and the introduction of a Twitter polling system) for me to figure out exactly how to do it!

I knew the story I wanted to tell and so the first job was to write a script. Quite a weird script actually, it was just a list of short sentences and timings across four days. A few redrafts and I still felt the story was lacking. Twitter’s 140 character format doesn’t lend itself to description, and therefore the eerie forest setting I had in mind for Zed just wasn’t coming through. Eventually, I decided I needed to pair some of Zed’s tweets with images. Luckily, I live in a village surrounded by ancient woodland and, whilst the forest is mostly a pleasure to walk around, there is a lot of creepy old junk rusting and decaying amongst the trees. I realised it was the perfect photo fodder for a zombie story!

Taking the pictures was great fun. I visited old houses and caravans, woodland junkyards and abandoned forest machinery. Experiencing my locations for real also made me see that there would be multiple actions and routes for anyone in Zed’s situation to take. That’s what gave me the idea for “picture puzzles”: photos combined with a what should I do now everybody? tweet. A few more drafts of the script to tie in my photos and I was ready to go.

It was with a great deal of trepidation that I sat down to deliver Zed’s first puzzle and poll. I was terrified no one would talk to Zed and that my story would fall flat before it had properly started. Thankfully, people got involved straight away and the first picture puzzle was solved in seconds. Zed was off to a good start and I was incredibly relieved!

Over the following three days Zed moved from place to place in search of his father. Overall, reader interaction was good and I was very pleased. I was tweeting throughout the entire day and evening though, and I began to notice when Twitter users were generally online and when they were offline. There were definite peaks and troughs in participation and timing the big story moments for maximum impact was very difficult! The reader tweets coming in also changed the story in ways I hadn’t anticipated. For example, I hadn’t expected the amount of tweets there would be asking Zed to acquire a weapon (silly of me, I know) and so I had to write one into the story on the fly. In fact, I was rewriting parts of the script constantly and there really was very little respite over the four day duration.

However, Zed was a fun and rewarding experience overall and I was genuinely touched by all of the lovely messages people tweeted to Zed. There were lots of funny and heart-warming moments and I would certainly recommend the experience to anyone considering running their own interactive Twitter experiment!

You can view Zed on Twitter by clicking here.

6 thoughts on “The making of Zed

  1. It was so much fun! As a participant, I was amazed at how easy it was to believe there was indeed a small child lost in the forest, on the run from zombies. Of course, I was in complete denial at the end of the story and genuinely wasn’t ready to believe it was over.

    1. Thanks Mandy! And don’t worry, I was starting to believe it myself and I was there writing the thing! Also, when lovely tweets came in I started to feel terrible at what I was doing to poor little Zed!!

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