“…the primary source for serious hypertext” – Robert Coover, The New York Times Book Review

Storyspace for the New Media

Gloria Stern is a Los Angeles-based writer, story consultant, lecturer, and literary agent. She is the author of Do The Write Thing: Making the Transition to Professional. She is active on the Internet as a freelance electronic journalist, and as a chat lounge host at the Hollywood Network site, where her special field of interest is writing for interactive media.

As an experienced writer, I was faced with new challenges upon being asked to create a work of fiction designed for a CD-ROM. Particularly, I faced the task of giving continuity and shape to a multi-threaded story, while also providing maximum interactivity. Storyspace was the ideal tool for the task. It allows a writer to organize, outline, and flesh out many text bundles without sacrificing content, control, or sequence. It can also track all these processes while identifying and controlling the active links. Notes in Storyspace can store informal comments and memory-joggers.

My first task in creating this complex work of fiction was to prepare the structure. Interactivity permits many more kinds of storytelling--what can be said, and how it can be presented, radically differ from traditional literature. For a fiction writer whose stock in trade is finding a "what if" and developing a pathway to its resolution, this plethora of "what if's" can be both an exhilarating and a daunting proposition. Storyspace does not impose a single fixed order, and allows random access to the story elements, and these features supported my work at this stage of development.

I could mix with impunity the apples of storyline with the oranges of multiple variations.

It helped me to think of the narrative in circular form, rather than as having a beginning, middle, and end. At first relatively crudely, I gathered major elements that I wanted to include. My (unordered) list grew with ideas related to my theme. As they coalesced, I began to see some continuity. Two things were needed: the formation of a through-line containing numerous potential resolutions for my story, and a way to explore the many inherent variables within the model. My challenge was to control the storyline while exploiting the interactivity. To do this, I created a number of fictive elements, or text bundles, based on events, locations, and characters. These elements provided the underlying structure--similar in concept, if not in form, to a novelist's chapter outline.

Once I had gathered my thoughts on the linear content, I enlarged on ideas surrounding that content. Taking advantage of Storyspace's flexibility, I could mix with impunity the apples of storyline with the oranges of multiple variations.

With Storyspace, it was easy to see these elements in proper relation.

With my major story points in place, I searched for various internal factors to promote as key areas: an event that affected all the characters, a call for action, an object that became crucial to the story. These fed into my essential design for a cluster with the major plot line at the hub, and off-shoots as satellites. With Storyspace, it was easy to see these elements in proper relation to each other. Seeing all the text bundles simultaneously with their associated links helped in making sure that all major points were developed, a special consideration when working with multiple storylines. To ensure that the basic conformation remained intact, I constructed the beginnings of each new text bundle with a handle to the preceding one. This format for my work allowed me to control the unlimited potential present in interactive fiction.

In the finished version of the work, no part of the "play through" portion of the narrative is optional. This establishes a skeleton which all the potential interactivity can build from. Vertical opportunities are components of major divisions; like musical variations on a theme. Finally, each of the unique story alternatives represents a pathway for the reader. In choosing a particular path, all parallel paths are precluded for that session. But because the storyline is non-linear, other choices are available with each new reading, allowing the reader to find a new storyline each time.