Ironing Out My PhD Pitch

What exactly am I trying to do? On a basic level, I can call it a digital story, or digital novel. I will have “digital” elements such as photographs, audio, possibly film. But when I google “digital storytelling,” what I come up with are all these classroom tools and teacher articles for getting students involved in digital arts. These stories aren’t much more than a picture slideshow with captions and music. Not exactly what I’m going for.

So…Interactive narrative? These stories primarily seek to engage the reader on an intellectual level. Games, for instance, are often interactive narrative: they have a storyline, and the “audience” interacts with the text by playing the game. Again, not the focus I’m looking for: I want some interactive elements, yes, but to me the story and its emotional engagement are more important to me than any “quest” or puzzle.

Multimedia novel works, too, but carries the same incompleteness factor as “digital novel” – you don’t get a sense of the interactivity I’d like to include.

There will be some hypertext as well – links to follow, paths to choose. It could ostensibly be a “hypernovel” in the sense that it is simply more than a novel. But the issue gets confused when we consider what “hyper” has come to mean in modern lexicon, its relation to the web, as well as its definition within the new media research community. The word “hypernovel” suits, but only in its most literal sense; the many meanings various individuals will assign to the word make it a poor choice.

I want to post it on the web – does that make it a web novel? What then happens with my print novel? They will be related.

Which leads me to:

Multimedia interactive hypernovel.

That’s just plain ugly. And scary. Who would want to read/watch/play with something they can’t even get their mouth around? Those who shy from technology won’t even touch it; those who love technology won’t be able to figure it out.

I haven’t found a suitable example yet of what I want to do. Inanimate Alice comes pretty close, and I see they faced the same issue: nowhere on the site do the creators name the type of story. The reviews they have quoted call it an interactive narrative, digital storytelling, e-book, flash fiction (which could be confusing – it uses flash media, and I suppose the word count is below 1000 words, which lets it fall into the definition of flash as a short short story), multimedia, flash-based kinetic novel (I like the “kinetic” bit), story/flash vid, animation, hypertext story, digital drama, web-based interactive games/art.

You see the problem. What the hell do we call these things?

I would start with Espen Aarseth‘s umbrella “ergodic literature” – text which requires a bit more effort to traverse than your ordinary book.

From there we fall into genres. From there, we create an insane Venn diagram where every genre leaks over into every other. Bookstores couldn’t sell us – it’s far more complicated than figuring out where vampire romances go.

Wikipedia, for the moment, lists:

Electronic Literature
Hypertext Literature
Collaborative Literature
Participatory Literature
Digital Literature
Interactive Fiction/Storytelling
Kinetic Novel
Visual Novel (fits my idea very well…though the history of the concept is, er, not terribly lofty – they began, it seems, as “dating sims” in Japan – dating simulation stories)

If you’re a bit more visual, like me, it helps to look at them this way (click the image for a larger, readable version):

At the moment, I plan for this novel to fall under both print and digital. The digital version will be electronic, participatory, kinetic, interactive, and likely hypermedia. Perhaps the best term to use for it is Visual Novel. It doesn’t immediately connote every meaning I intend, unless of course you are familiar with visual novels – and at the moment, it’s mostly only the Japanese who are, and fans of anime and Japanese visual novels. But when the novel began, I’m sure no one knew what anyone else was talking about, either. Forget about paranormal romance (which I still don’t really get, BTW – when did bloodsucker come to equal sexy???)

My definition for now?

Visual novel: a digital text incorporating hypermedia and often participatory elements such as game play, forums, and collaboration. Visual novels, unlike many ludic narratives, place high importance on the reader’s emotional connection to the story, and therefore character and story are the primary focus, rather than game play and experimental format.

2 thoughts on “Ironing Out My PhD Pitch

  1. Lyle,

    Might want to try when we launch — we’re doing some very interesting stuff around the ‘digital storytelling’ meme — and a lot more robust and powerful than you’ve seen elsewhere.

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