Officially, "Interactive and Non-Linear Narrative: Theory and Practice"
Instructor: Nick Montfort, nickm at nickm dotcom
Class times: 1pm-2:30pm Tuesdays and Thursdays
Location: 1-379 unless otherwise announced
Nick's office hours: 12:30pm-1:30pm Mondays and by appointment, 14N-233; Nick is also available on IM/iChat (screen name writingnick) by appointment
The percentages in parenthesis give the value of the one graded test and the other assignments.
The only hard "requirement" for attendance (reflected in your grade) is that you come to class and present when your presentations are scheduled. Beyond that, it is very highly recommended that you come to hear your fellow students' presentations - they may influence the future work that you do, and it is a slight to your fellow students to miss their presentations. Obviously, it would also be great for you to attend on days when lecture, discussion, and in-class study are scheduled, but if you can't make it one day, there's no need to email the instructor to explain.
This page was last updated on Thursday, October 2. It may be updated throughout the semester. If a substantial change is made (for instance, to the schedule) I will let you know either in class, by email, or both.
In this unit we will study narratology (narrative theory) to gain a better understanding of the form and function of narratives - initially, just linear, traditional narratives. This background will be essential to our study of non-linear print narratives and digital narrative systems. The classroom lectures will elaborate on and help to better explain your (required) reading of The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative by Porter Abbott and your study, outside of class, of A Dictionary of Narratology by Gerald Prince.
Because the goal here is to understand a body of theory better, the unit concludes with an in-class test.
Questionnaire on narrative, introduction to narratology, introduction to interactivity, examples of non-linear books and digital interactive narratives.
Abbott chapters 1-8 + selected terms from Prince.
Abbott chapters 9-12.
We will study non-linear print pieces of different sorts. The books in the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure series are probably the most famous of these, but we will also consider other juvenile fiction books of similarly unusual structure; parodies of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books such as You Are a Miserable Excuse for a Hero; literary works along these non-linear lines by Saporta, Queneau, Nabokov, Cortázar, Mathews, Pavić, Coover, and others; and comics along these lines by Jason Shiga and others.
Students are assigned to do a thorough study of one particular work, which will be reported in a paper. They should become familiar enough with all the others being studied that they can usefully compare their main work and the most relevant other pieces. Graduate students taking the class for credit as CMS.845 are assigned to write a paper on two thoughtful selections, both of which should be thoroughly studied and compared in detail against one another and the other works being examined in class; the graduate paper will probably need to be about twice as long as the typical undergraduate paper to do this.
Students are also assigned to write their own creative non-linear print piece, to be proposed by email, developed, revised, and handed in during class on paper.
Look at specific works during class time, prepare lightning reports for next class.
Lightning reports and discussion of works.
Borges's "Garden of Forking Paths," Queneau's "Yours for the Telling / Story as You Like It," contexts of reading, programmed instruction and antecedents, Mathews's "Trial Impressions," discussion of specific works.
Discussion of kinds, forms, and qualities of narrative encountered.
Workshop discussion of creative pieces in progress.
Abhi, Kendra, Kim, and Mats bring a selection from their work-in-progress to class; we discuss these.
Gina, Jaroslav, Jesse, Joe, and Josh bring a selection from their work-in-progress to class; we discuss these.
No class - students may meet to play/read digital narrative systems together.
A digital narrative system is a means of producing narratives by computer. Often, the "user" or "reader" is the one who gets to produce these narratives. It can be a structured document that the interactor can traverse in many ways or a more complex computer program that simulates a world, accepts English input, or does other interesting things. Many computer and video games, including interactive fiction works (a.k.a. text adventures) are certainly in this category (although their narrative aspects may not be their most interesting ones), as are classic and more recent hypertext fictions.
Students are assigned to each give a somewhat formal presentation (slides are permitted, but not required) detailing a digital narrative system.
In addition to completing the other course requirements, graduate studets in CMS.845 are required to submit an additional critical paper during this time that deals with digital narrative systems or another aspect of the course topic.
The major project for the term is to create (write and structure or program) a digital narrative system of some sort. Students will be introduced in class to HTML, Processing, and Inform; they may use other systems and programming languages with instructor approval. Quality of writing, suitability of structure/program and writing to theme, and quality of interface will all be factors in the final grade.
Overview of digital narrative systems for playing/reading and to present: recommended interactive fiction, Façade, The Unknown, 253, "Concerto for Narrative Data," narratives on the Electronic Literature Collection, volume 1. Commercial video games with important narrative aspects (e.g., Indigo Prophecy, Infocom games) and commercial hypertext fiction (e.g., Patchwork Girl, Afternoon, Victory Garden) and may be presented, too; I have focused here on the wealth of work available for free.
Preliminary assignments of presentations.
Presentation about and discussion of Façade with Michael Mateas. (Confirmed.)
Workshop with desk critiques of specific projects and discussion of interesting problems.
Workshop continues, with desk critiques of specific projects and discussion of interesting problems.