Sunday, January 31, 2010

Thoughts on bifurcations, aka GROUNDHOG DAY!

Last week when we were discussing Borges's story "The Garden of Forking Paths," we talked about the idea of bifurcation, of a choice of paths where something goes one way or another. In Borges's imagined fictional form, all possibilities happen simultaneously, although in any given timeline, of course, only one possibility can manifest. Oh, I am thinking about Tuesday night's season premiere of Lost so very much here! And appreciated the New York Times interactive timeline of Lost with exec producers' audio discussion of time travel, all pertinent to our current inquiry into linear and nonlinear storytelling, which you can see here. More on all of this, soon, but I wanted to share this link now. And remember to watch the film Groundhog Day before Tuesday's class. The possible future in which we have not all seen it does not have as fantastic a class discussion in it as the one in which we all have :)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Garden of Forking Paths: Linear and Non-Linear Narrative

A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, right? It starts in one place, and then continues, like a straight line. Our reading for today, "The Garden of the Forking Paths" by the great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges images something different. It was written in 1941, long before hyperlinks or even much experimentation with non linear film narrative (although the surrealist film made by Dali and Luis Bunuel Un Chien Andalou was released in 1929.)

We can talk about Borges' story as a spy story, and also as an experiment in narrative.

There are a lot of questions we can ask about the story, and an excellent page full of study questions is on Dr. Fidel Fajardo-Acosta's World Literature Website. But here is one question I have for you: The form of the story is still relatively linear, so what does it take to make a narrative that is non-linear? Think about Yu Tsun's experience in the story, how he relates it as a narrator, and what his ancestor Ts'ui PĂȘn's leaves behind. How do you imagine the labyrinth?

Also, let's talk about this blog, our wiki, and what it means to participate in a narrative with agency beyond reading it.

Monday, January 25, 2010


The Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS) in Berkeley, California developed Seven Elements of Digital Storytelling:

1. Point of View What is the main point of the story and what is the perspective of the author?
2. A Dramatic Question A key question that keeps the viewer's attention and will be answered by the end of the story.
3. Emotional Content Serious issues that come alive in a personal and powerful way and connects the story to the audience.
4. The Gift of Your Voice A way to personalize the story to help the audience understand the context.
5. The Power of the Soundtrack Music or other sounds that support and embellish the storyline.
6. Economy Using just enough content to tell the story without overloading the viewer.
7. Pacing The rhythm of the story and how slowly or quickly it progresses.

Props to Propp


1. Absentation: Someone goes missing
2. Interdiction: Hero is warned
3. Violation of interdiction
4. Reconnaissance: Villain seeks something
5. Delivery: The villain gains information
6. Trickery: Villain attempts to deceive victim
7. Complicity: Unwitting helping of the enemy
8. Villainy and lack: The need is identified
9. Mediation: Hero discovers the lack
10. Counteraction: Hero chooses positive action
11. Departure: Hero leave on mission
12. Testing: Hero is challenged to prove heroic qualities
13. Reaction: Hero responds to test
14. Acquisition: Hero gains magical item
15. Guidance: Hero reaches destination
16. Struggle: Hero and villain do battle
17. Branding: Hero is branded
18. Victory: Villain is defeated
19. Resolution: Initial misfortune or lack is resolved
20. Return: Hero sets out for home
21. Pursuit: Hero is chased
22. Rescue: pursuit ends
23. Arrival: Hero arrives unrecognized
24. Claim: False hero makes unfounded claims
25. Task: Difficult task proposed to the hero
26. Solution: Task is resolved
27. Recognition: Hero is recognised
28. Exposure: False hero is exposed
29. Transfiguration: Hero is given a new appearance
30. Punishment: Villain is punished
31. Wedding: Hero marries and ascends the throne

Propp also concluded there are 7 character types:

The hero — the protagonist (can be a hero or a victim)
The dispatcher — a character in the story who sends the hero on his or her quest.
The helper — helps the hero in the quest, appears at critical moment to provide support.
The villain — an antagonist, struggles against the hero.
The donor — gives the hero some magical object (e.g. talisman), frequently the donor is a supernatural creature.
The princess and her father — the King gives the task to the hero, identifies the false hero. The princess marries the hero, identifies the false hero, often is the object sought for during the narrative, or a reward.
False hero — a competitor, takes credit for the hero’s actions or tries to marry the princess.

Here is a nice hyperlinked list of Propp's narratemes.

SEE ALSO: Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, another structuralist approach to narrative, this time to myth:

I. Separation / departure
I.1 The Call to Adventure
I.2 Refusal of the Call
Acceptance of the Call
I.3 Supernatural Aid
I.4 Crossing of the First Threshold
I.5 Entering the Belly of the Whale

II. Initiation
II.1 Road of Trials
II.2 The Meeting with the Goddess
II.3 Woman as Temptress
II.4 Atonement with the Father
II.5 Apotheosis
II.6 The Ultimate Boon

III. Return
III.1 Refusal of the Return
III.2 Magic Flight
III.3 Rescue From Without
III.4 Crossing of the Return Threshold
III.5 Master of the Two Worlds
III.6 Freedom to Live

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Reading across the media sustains a depth of experience that motivates more consumption. In a world with many media options, consumers are choosing to invest deeply in a limited number of franchises rather than dip shallowly into a larger number. Increasingly, gamers spend most of their time and money within a single genre, often a single franchise. We can see the same pattern in other media-films (high success for certain franchises, overall declines in revenue), television (shorter spans for most series, longer runs for a few), or comics (incredibly long runs for a limited number of superhero icons). Redundancy between media burns up fan interest and causes franchises to fail. Offering new levels of insight and experience refreshes the franchise and sustains consumer loyalty. Such a multilayered approach to storytelling will enable a more complex, more sophisticated, more rewarding mode of narrative to emerge within the constraints of commercial entertainment.

--Henry Jenkins, "Transmedia Storytelling"

Jenkins' talk on 7 Principles of Transmedia Storytelling at Futures of Entertainment 4 conference Nov 09

And here they are:

1. Spreadability vs. Drillability
2. Continuity vs. Multiplicity
3. Immersion vs. Extractability
4. Worldbuilding
5. Seriality
6. Subjectivity
7. Performance

One example I have done research on is "IT," which was a concept that Elinor Glyn, kind of an Oprah of the 1920s, but a Canadian in a tiara, first developed in her writing to describe the quality of sexual magnetism. Then she wrote a novella, published in two parts in the magazine Cosmopolitan (then more of a fiction magazine than what it is now), which the characters in the silent film It read and discuss, even to the point of asking her about what she meant when she sweeps into a scene in a cameo appearance. Clara Bow, the star of that film, was marketed as "the It girl," a phrase we still use today. "IT," the perfect meme, really, made the transmedia rounds of the Jazz Age.

It is really a fairy tale, and that brings us to our next topic--Propp and the way he analyzed the pieces of folktales in his Morphology. After studying a body of tales, he claimed that all tales really share the same structure, with variations in the functions employed. Here is a clever Fairy Tale generator based on Propp's functions. Let's give it a spin!

and here is an article about how Propp relates to narrative in games.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Welcome to LHUM P433: Digital Narrative Theory & Practice

This course blends theory and practice in an exploration of digital narrative: how stories can be told with digital and new media technologies. We will work critically and creatively with linear and nonlinear narratives in a range of media: writing, graphics, animation, games, multimedia, virtual worlds, and interactive media.

The overall theme of the course will focus on moving image narratives--both linear and non-linear--that explore ideas about storytelling, time, and memory. In particular, we will consider how interactivity changes narrative, and whether there are new kinds of digital narratives and aesthetics emerging. Students will make movies, websites, DVDs, movies and online installations that illuminate ideas about story, plot, character, time, and narration, comment on their creative work using the critical concepts they learn, and experiment with word processing, graphics, and web design software programs.