Branching narrative from Borges to Twine


Linear story


Branching story


The problem with branching stories


The most common solution

Or another solution…

From You chose wrong

Your first assignment is a branching story.
The most popular artifacts of this kind are the Gamebooks or Choose Your Own Adventure. Very popular teenage literature in the 80s and 90s.

CYOA diagram – Michael Niggel

PDF here

Or you can check this impressive formal analysis of Choose your own adventure books:

Visualizations, playable books and essay here.

Before computers

We have to go back in time to find more “noble” precursors of non-linear and interactive storytelling.

Apollinaire – il pleut 1916
F.T. Marinetti and the Futurists “Words in freedom” (1909 – 1916)

And the DADA movement

To make a Dadaist poem
Take a newspaper.
Take a pair of scissors.
Choose an article as long as you are planning to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Then cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them in a bag.
Shake it gently.
Then take out the scraps one after the other in the order in which they left the bag.
Copy conscientiously.
The poem will be like you.
And here you are a writer, infinitely original and endowed with a sensibility that is charming though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.
– Tristan Tzara, 1920

Writer William Burroughs in the ’50s applied this technique to his own writing.
(And David Bowie, and Kurt Cobain, and Thom Yorke…)

Jorge Luis Borges

The Garden of Forking Paths (1941)
In the short story a character named Ts’ui Pên tells everybody that he wanted to write a book and build a labyrinth. Nobody ever found the labyrinth, only a very confusing and contradictory book. We then discover that the book *is* the labyrinth. In the fictional book, every chapter is followed by “every” possible continuation.


"In all fiction, when a man is faced with alternatives he chooses one at the expense of the others. In the almost unfathomable work of of Ts'ui Pên, he chooses - simultaneously - all of them. He thus creates various futures, various times which start others that will in turn branch out and bifurcate in other times. This is the cause of the contradictions in the novel"
The Garden of Forking Paths - Jorge Luis Borges


Agusto Boal’s Forum Theatre (1960)
In this process, the actors or audience members could stop a performance, often a short scene in which a character was being oppressed in some way (for example, a chauvinist man mistreating a woman or a factory owner mistreating an employee). The audience could propose any solution, so long as they conveyed it on stage, working, acting, and directing not from the comfort of their seat.

Starting from the Mid-20th century even an inherently linear form like cinema starts to experiment with non linear storytelling and interlocked and contradictory plots.

Kinoautomat by Radúz Činčera 1967 – the first interactive film

“The film is a black comedy, opening with a flash-forward to a scene in which Petr Novák (Miroslav Horníček)’s apartment is in flames. No matter what choices are made, the end result is the burning building, making the film —as Činčera intended— a satire of democracy”

Raymond Queneau

Founder of Oulipo – Ouvroir de littérature potentielle (workshop of potential literature).

Hundred Thousand Billion Poems (1961)

web port here

Also by Queneau: Story as You Like It (1984)

Hypertext


Computer Lib / Dream Machines – Theodor H. Nelson, 1974. Self produced later republished by Microsoft.

Like many early geeks, Ted Nelson saw computers and networks as empowering tools and advocated for the democratization of these technology (You can and you must understand computers now!).Personal computer = personal liberation.

Ted Nelson coined the term Hypertext in the 60s.

“A system of non-sequential writing that would allow the reader to aggregate meaning in snippets, in the order of his or her choosing, rather than according to a pre-established structure fixed by the author.”

Years before the world wide web was implemented. A visionary application called Hypercard (1987-) already tried to make hypertext creation accessible to anybody

Hyperfiction

The concept of hypertext is now familiar to anybody thanks to the World Wide Web (invented in 1990 and popularized in 1995 with the invention of modern browsers) but in the 80s it was a quite exotic medium, especially for non-utilitarian uses.
Still some fiction writers started to experiment with the hypertext as literary form.

Afternoon, a story by Michael Joyce (1987) used a tool very similar to what we are using today Twine.

A cool example is “253” by Geoff Ryman here originally published in 1996.

Interactive fiction

Adventure games popularized another way to control and navigate interactive texts: the parser.

The most vital legacy of hypertext literature and parser-center storytelling is Interactive Fiction.
IF uses more sophisticated structures than the simple branching and a parser for the interaction, usually employed to navigate spaces, interact with characters and objects in a game-like fashion.

IF is a kind of universe on its own which deserves its own course. A great introduction and a collection of resources can be found on Emily Short’s website.

Twine
In the last years a movement of game makers revived the hypertext fiction tradition adopting a tool called Twine. These authors were attracted by the accessibility and flexibility of hypertext creating a variety of experimental and personal works.

Try some of these in class

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