nonlinear storytelling

October 21, 2007 at 8:22 pm (fiction, gaming, meta, rant)

okay, so this is going to be a bit of a rambling rant of a post. feel free to skip it if you have no desire to hear my (rather unorganized) thoughts about nonlinear storytelling. well hell, i figure everyone can feel free to skip ANYTHING i post about. after all, the majority of it isn’t really earthshaking news.

but i’m getting off topic.

lately i’ve been thinking a lot about nonlinear storytelling.

i think this started because of a thread over on the story games community. it started as a discussion about whether or not advancement is necessary in a campaign-style role-playing game. it got me speculating about a game in which, instead of doing the tradition “zero-to-hero” or “farmboy-to-king” kind of storyline, you did the reverse. at first i was thinking about a game in which the character or characters started at the peak of their power and declined… but then i started thinking about a game that would be more in the style of the movie Memento.

for those who aren’t familiar with Memento (and if you aren’t, get out there and rent it! now!) the movie begins with the final scene. we witness the ending of the story, but we don’t know how the characters got into that situation. then, the movie goes backwards, scene by scene, until we’ve seen how things began.

i think this would be a really really cool thing to do in a role-playing game, if there was a good system to use for it.

then, i got to thinking about this supposed novel i’m working on. it wasn’t too long ago that i was meeting with my advisor and we were talking about it, and i said that i wanted to write the end to the story so that i knew where i was aiming. i said that i was concerned if i didn’t have a destination that the novel would just ramble without direction. he said that he’d heard some authors say that if they didn’t write the ending first (or early) they could never finish a book. he said he’d also heard authors say that if they wrote the ending early they would never bother to finish the book.

as always, writing is a pretty personal thing. everyone has their own way. but i did a little writing last night and started writing what is either the end of the book or at least a climax towards the end. and i started thinking more about this idea that if you know the ending, there is no reason to write the beginning. i think it seems pretty strange. i mean, i was making up all kinds of crazy stuff when i was working on the ending. i decided that a character i was writing about a week or so ago was dead (or at least that another character BELIEVED her to be dead) and that all kinds of horrible things were happening to the world.

BUT i hadn’t yet determined how things had come to that point! i mean, it would be as if i was going to read the last Harry Potter book (which i probably will do at some point… i’ve read the first 6 after all) and someone told me that Harry dies (i actually have no idea if he does or not, please note) at the end. i’d still read the damn book because i’d want to know HOW that comes to pass.

in other words, the journey is AT least as important as the destination. why do i care how things end if i have no idea where they started or what happened in between? without being able to see the entire thing, the ending would lack depth and meaning.

so. hmm. i’m not sure where to go with this now. :) except that nonlinear storytelling is nifty. structure is important, of course, and the way most people are used to understanding a story is linearly, but there’s no real reason this is truly required. knowing “the ending” early doesn’t have to ruin anything, not when true comprehension of the story requires experiencing every point along the way. does it really matter in what direction you travel the path as long as you see all the sights along the way?


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novel stuff

May 21, 2007 at 8:30 pm (meta)

well it’s time. i finally sat down and wrote a small scene from what i’m hoping will eventually turn into a novel. i’m aiming for 80k words in a year. getting that many words written in that time frame shouldn’t be a problem. the challenge will be making it a coherent, solid story.

i’m willing to share what i write for the novel on here, if people would like, but i’m not really sure HOW i want to share it. i’m not sure i want to do it as normal posts, but if i post them as separate pages, i’m not sure that gets sent out on the feed at all. anyway, since i don’t feel like experimenting with it or even thinking too hard about it right now, i’ll put this first scene up as a normal post, with the normal password. if i do decide to put it up in a different way, i’ll probably use a new password for it too.

but anyway. here it is. tentatively titled “traumstadt”

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holy crap, the semester is over . . .

May 7, 2007 at 3:22 pm (meta)

a little hard to believe.
this is finals week.
i gots a paper to revise
a paper to write
and a take home final
then it’s over
for one week
then summer class starts

hmm. anyway. i may have mentioned before that i’m going to be working on a novel throughout the next year. was going to try to kick it out in one semester, but for various reasons, since i’m going to do it as an independent study “class” or whatever and get some college credit for it, it’s getting spread across the year.

that’s good in some ways. gives me more time to work on it. on the other hand, it could be bad. it means i’ll have to set deadlines for myself. i gotta make myself write about 25 pages a month. not all that much at all, but the fact that it’s so little means my procrastination gland kicks in and i run the risk of not actually doing it.

so everyone should harass me about it whenever you talk to me or send me a message.


i’m going to put up a word-count meter once i actually have something written (been doing some planning, but haven’t actually written anything yet. starting once the semester officially ends) and if you don’t see that thing increasing and you’re talking to me or communicating with me in some way, you should be asking me why i haven’t written any more.

also, if people are interested, i have some other stuff i can put up here. the odds and ends i wrote for advanced fiction last semester (all kind of connected to “self-control”) and a short story i just did for an assignment for my introduction to literary study class. not sure how great that one is, personally, but i got an A on the assignment, so it can’t be too awful. i’ll try to get some of that stuff up in the next week.

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March 15, 2007 at 6:37 pm (announcement, meta)

well it’s official. both “sense of self” and “self-control” are going to be in the next publication of the st. ambrose creative arts journal quercus. that’s pretty cool, i guess. i’m fairly happy with how the whole thing turned out, and i’m glad that i’m not the only one who likes what i write, though i did gather that my stories were a bit controversial. its not like the group was unanimous in wanting them in. still, they did get in, so all in all, i guess i win, or something. whatever.

now i gotta decide if i’m going to read them at the reception/showing thingee they do at the end of the semester. i probably will, i guess, though i’ve always been a bit hesitant to read in front of groups. i doubt the quercus reading/showing is attended by huge numbers of people, but i’ve only read my stories to the 10 or so people in my fiction workshop last semester and like 4 people who came to a creative writing club meeting a month back, and in both cases i knew most everyone there pretty well. oh well. according to one of my favorite writers, greg stolze, doing readings is something you generally gotta do if you want to try to be writer who makes money at it, so i suppose i might as well get used to it.

anyway, once i confirm that the last things i submitted are the official, final versions of the stories i’ll do updates here so everyone can see what made the final cut.

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on the value of the conclusion…

March 12, 2007 at 6:02 pm (meta, rant)

so i’ve got two stories on here right now that i consider more or less complete. “sense of self” and “self-control.” “sense of self” has a definite conclusion. a paragraph that wraps everything up. “self-control” didn’t, originally, but the version on here now does. the final cut of that story, the one that was actually submitted to quercus, has nothing of the sort.

i’ve been speculating on the value of conclusions the last few days, primarily due to this. it’s a bit of an odd thing to be involved simultaneously in english classes which require formal essays and also creative writing. formal essays demand conclusions. you spell out your objective in a thesis statement in your introductory paragraph, then you lay out your points in a nice, neat, well organized, logical manner, then you reiterate everything and hammer it home even harder in the conclusion. you want to make sure everyone gets the point.

i think this tendency has bled over in my habits with creative writing as well. although my stories might not have a “point” as such when i begin, they often acquire one as i go. while i might not be aesop and trying to include some kind of blatant, uplifting, edifying moral with every thing i write, for some reason when i wrote “sense of self” and when i revised “self-control” i felt like i should make sure everyone got the “point” of the story. i think “sense of self” is probably okay as is, and to a certain extent i like the conclusion i wrote for “self-control” but i am also starting to think that putting a conclusion like that on a piece of fiction is kind of silly. after all, people are probably just as likely (if not more likely) to read fiction for simple amusement and entertainment than for intellectual exploration or to ponder moral conundrums. amusement is certainly the reason for which i write the stuff (that is, i write it because i find the process of doing so amusing. i don’t care so much what anyone else gets from it afterward).

so does a short piece of fiction (or even a long piece, i guess) need or benefit from some kind of conclusion? does an author need to spell out the point, the moral, the lesson, etc. to all the stupid, mindless readers or should he or she just let them figure it out on their own, let them take from it what they will?

at first i was upset that they wanted to cut back “self-control” after asking for more. this was partially because, well, they’d already asked for more and i’d given it to them. but it was also partially because i’d kind of liked the conclusion i’d added. i still do. but on further thought i’m not so sure that it actually adds anything or benefits the piece. maybe it’s just better to show some stuff, tell the readers, “hey, this happened,” and then let them decide what they want it to mean.

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killing more

March 12, 2007 at 5:48 pm (meta)

so the cool kids have told me that wordpress’s “more tag” which lets a person put a little intro or whatever at the top then a link to, i dunno, “click to read more” or something along those lines kinda sucks when you’re reading a feed reader. i’d kinda noticed this myself with my own reader rss bandit (which is a pretty decent one as far as i’ve noticed. if you use windows and don’t already have a favorite news reader, check it out). with some feeds i can read the whole post right there in the reader window, with others i need to click the post’s link and open it in firefox. this isn’t a big problem – i always have firefox open anyway – but i still prefer the convenience of reading it right there in the reader window. apparently one of the culprits with this problem are things like the wordpress “more” option. so i’m killing it. it made my blog page look more neat and tidy not to have the entire contents of the longer posts splatted right across the main page, but whatever. chances are i’ll decide to switch back in a couple days anyway. i’m like that.

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question for my reader(s)

March 8, 2007 at 2:07 pm (meta)

do you use feed readers/aggregators?
do you have a preference for the feed syndicating whole posts or just summaries?
i ask because i’ve been fiddling around with the feed a bit today as i try to get facebook to import my posts here to my notes there.
so anyway, i’m going to try syndicating my entire posts instead of just the short bits. we’ll see how that goes.

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self-control – the editor’s cut

March 8, 2007 at 12:58 pm (meta)

so this is cool, right?
shortly after i turned in the extended version of “self-control” that was requested by some of the people on the quercus group (because they were confused and said they wanted more information) i am informed that a couple of the votes needed for the piece to get in are contingent on my making another alteration. specifically they want it to be SHORTER again. shorter even than the original!
very weird.
when i first heard this i was frustrated and angry and tempted to tell them where to stick it.
but i also had only had 4 hours of sleep, so that might have been part of it.
anyway, i did cut the story and i guess it still works, but i think i liked the longer version better.
but it does mean that both of my stories are probably (as far as i know nothing is for sure yet) going into the journal. which is cool. i’ll post the final version of both of them here once it is for sure.

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self-control – the extended cut

March 1, 2007 at 12:14 pm (meta)

okay, so i turned in one version of the story “self-control” to quercus and then last night one of the people i know who is on the group that picks the stories that will be accepted talked to me online and told me that some people were confused and wanted more information. so i tweaked it a bit more and added more on to the end. i’m not going to post the story twice because very little about the part that was originally posted here was changed. mostly just stuff was added to the end. so i revised it on here as well, and i’m making this post so that you know to check it out again even if you’d already looked at it before. it’s different now! i’m not sure if it’s improved but it is different. and longer. mostly longer.

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stupid wordpress

February 25, 2007 at 10:21 pm (meta, rant)

okay wordpress isn’t quite as awesome as i first thought. i do like it much better than blogger so far, but i also ran into something the other day that just seems stupid.

when i post something, it puts the date and time i did so. it doesn’t sign the post, however. when i noticed this i thought it was strange. after some exploration and experimentation i realized that apparently it’s all based on the layout that i’ve chosen. some layouts show date, time, and name. some (like mine) just do date and time. some just do date and name.

what the hell is up with this!?

i can customize how my date and time is displayed, and that is cool. but why can’t i chose to have it sign my posts regardless of the layout i’m using? why aren’t date, time, and name options that can be selected or deselected for any blog? hell, why not have those options available for every post? it can’t be THAT hard, can it?

anyway, i’m the only writer on this blog, so having it sign my name is kind of redundant anyway… i just thought it was absurd that i can’t choose to have it do so without changing to a whole different layout.

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