This post is inspired by a post of my friend Max that was originally inspired by our mutual friend Alana who wrote a post about featuring authors in fiction. This post is not actually about authors in fiction, but about interactive storytelling. The reason I mention Max and Alana’s posts is that the circuitous way their blog posts have gotten me thinking about mine is (what I see as) the very stuff of interactive storytelling.
Alana had some thoughts about “the fun and games of featuring authors in fiction” (to use Max’s words). Max reflected on Alana’s thoughts from a metafiction angle with some references to Borges. Alana and I both commented on Max’s post with examples of other situations where people from real life (or, in general, one universe) can show up in fiction (or another universe). My comment brought me back to thinking about interactive fiction by way of the TV show Fringe one of the episodes of which (no spoilers, I promise) is this little metafictional gem where one character re-tells part of the plot of the show to another character, disguised as a steampunk noir musical. It happens that the listener is a kid, and she occasionally interrupts the storytelling to give feedback or even editorial input (“that’s not how the story should go!”).
My claim is that these long chains of writing, responding, and thinking are how stories come into being. This is not a particularly controversial claim: art derives from life; novels, in particular, derive from research of background material, long conversations with fellow writers and readers, editorial feedback, and so on. And yet, when we crack open a novel or watch a TV show or play a computer game, we face not the chain but the product at one of its points. This limits us as information consumers in two ways. First, we miss out on the stuff that came before – much of it may be rough or convoluted, but it may also shed new light on the story we are getting from the product. Second, we are tricked into thinking that the product is “the end” – that’s it for the book, or for the movie, or for the episode. In the broader world, the chain continues – people read, are inspired, give feedback, write their own stories, the author sees their feedback and thinks of a sequel, and over time, the product enters subtly into the Noosphere.
I claim that if we were able to see these chains, we would be able to look at works of fiction a different way. Less like monolithic Products and more like fuzzy Stories. Stories aren’t just about plot and characters; they’re about having fun and making sense of our world. ((In a later post, I might talk about how books, movies, etc. are Products whereas stories are Practices)) I would argue that it’s important to see the Story behind every Product, and that a richer, more contextualized presentation of fictional works produced today would benefit readers, writers and publishers alike. Maybe that’s an overly strong claim, but I am interested in it enough to share it with the world and hear your thoughts – and, of course, to write back!