The Story Engine
The Story Engine is an experiment in hypertext as a model for active readership and collaborative authorship. Users will create hypertexts that are not just linked nodes of text, as the Web, but a single self-organizing text block composed of different strands contributed by different authors. The Story Engine differs from the wiki model in that editorial additions will not replace existing text, but exist alongside it, so that the total story is navigable along multiple lines. With enough authors contributing, a single narrative may contain nearly infinite potential versions of itself.
This project has two primary influences. The first is the range of conversational games, such as round-robin storytelling or Exquisite Corpse, in which the immediate play of a small community results in shared narrative. The second is Vannevar Bush's seminal essay "As We May Think," in which he posited the importance not just of storing information for easy retrieval, but of storing the trains of thought that led contributing scientists to capture this or that data. The capture and analysis of users' reading habits lies behind Google's search algorithm, for instance, but it is hidden from the user's view; the Story Engine will make other user's thought processes immediately visible, in the shared form of an ongoing story. Participants can thus collaborate in exploring, redefining, or subverting existing stories, as well as co-writing new stories of their own.
The visual form the Story Engine takes is a three-dimensional chain, of which each word is a link. A reader can choose to split off from the original chain at any given word, creating a sub-chain leading off from that point. Subsequent readers can choose which strand to follow, add their own new strands, or view the entire project, including all existing strands, at once. Thus not only can the reader explore different versions of a different narrative, but the text as a whole can be simply viewed as an abstract aggregate of words, growing denser as user activity increases. The project interface will allow the user to make sense of this conglomeration of story, even as the combined conversation that has gone to make up all the alternate versions of this text will form a single unreadable image.
The Story Engine will be built in Flash and XML. In the beta phase, a small group of writers will be invited to participate in writing projects through the Story Engine, using pre-existing narratives as a starting point. For instance, a communal project centering around Little Red Riding Hood will allow various re-interpretations of this highly loaded tale—political, sexual, modern, nostalgic, personal, cultural, et cetera. Each of these projects will be stored for presentation on the Web; in their visual, three-dimensional form, they may also be physically presented as large prints. In the final phase, the story engine will be made public on the Web, so that multiple users can participate in any one of many ongoing narratives.
These are technical diagrams only. They will open in a new window.
|viewing a single story||viewing the story's children||adding a new branch to the story||alternative views of the main character|
Links lead to work samples in a new window.
an artist's book, made using a dynamic structure generated in Flash.
a series of dynamically generated prints, drawing on a compendium of stories inspired by The Parliament of Birds.
|a small book of new animals
a series of stories determined by the random generation of mythical animals, using a Flash engine. This project was recently a finalist for the Calvino Prize.
a narrative in which landscapes are made up of the story that happens there.
|Sense Imagination Reason
a sister project to Kunstler's Anatomy.
Summer-Fall 2007: Phase I will constitute the building of the engine and the interface.
Fall 2007: Phase II will see the beta-testing of the engine, with the collaboration of guest writers, especially graduate students from the award-winning writing program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Early 2008: Phase III will be the public Web launching of the story engine, along with the projects created in beta.
Additional programming by Tamara Bowman.
Additional authorship in the beta phase will be contributed by graduate students in the Art and Creative Writing programs at UNC-Greensboro.