November 7, 2016
MarkBernstein.org
 
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Patterns

Interactive Fiction critic Em Short discusses “Small Scale Structures in Choose Your Own Adventure,” a discussion that applies to all sorts of hypertext fiction in which the reader’s choices affect the story. (In Those Trojan Girls and most other hypertexts in the literary tradition, most choices affect how the story is told: Troy is destined to fall and no on can change that, but amid the wreckage every one has their own story.)

Short’s patterns are fascinating and useful. I wrote a piece about patterns back in the 90s (and another about patterns in spatial hypertext in 2011), and these are terrific, insightful elaborations on what I called split/join and tangle. I especially like the Chapter One Sorting Hat – which Stuart Moulthrop invented for Victory Garden even before the sorting hat had been created – and its end-of-story mirror image, which Em Short calls the Endgame Time Cave.

Also pertinent: Adam Gopnick discusses the recent spate of interesting novels based on the plots of Shakespearean plays. He points out the obvious point that no one talks about: why are we so interested in the plots of these plays when we have no reason to think Shakespeare himself was?

As the “ordinary poet” of a working company of players, he sought plots under deadline pressure rather than after some long, deliberate meditation on how to turn fiction into drama. “What have you got for us this month, Will?” the players asked him, and, thinking quickly, he’d say, “I thought I’d do something with the weird Italian story I mentioned, the one with the Jew and the contest.” “Italy again? All right. End of the month then?” These were not the slow-cooked stories and intricately intertextual fables of the modern art novel.

What Gopnick overlooks is the energy generated by the friction of a new account rubbing against our memory of the underlying story. Mysteries work because we know where they’re going, but we can’t quite see how on earth we can possibly get there. A retelling like Vinegar Girl gets energy by touching Shakespeare and then flying away so we nearly forget we’re somewhere in The Taming of the Shrew. I think we’re very interested in narrative energy right now, and so the energy of the twice-told tale is worth exploring.