Diving into Digital Fiction: Locating and Selecting – Part 1

Photo courtesy: metro centric on flickrcc

Photo courtesy: metro centric on flickrcc

The official facebook page of Inanimate Alice is a great place to start exploring other transmedia storytelling. It’s most recent entry featured an article from the Globe and Mail and it mentioned a digital short story that fits the bill for my Year 8 class.

J.R.Carpenter explains about her work CityFish on Facebook:

CityFish is a hybrid word, title of a hybrid work, tale of a hybrid creature. Part classical parable, part children’s picture book, CityFish is a web-based intertextual hypermedia transmutation of Aesop’s Town Mouse Country Mouse fable.

It reminded me a little of another site (not trans media) that I ran across several years ago. It still exists and after reviewing it again I’ve decided to include it on the list. On its front page the author describes it as:

a show of hands is an electronic narrative. The story customizes itself around your reading, using an adaptive hypertext system

Students will need to register in order to use a show of hands effectively and this is one of the considerations I need to take into account when selecting resources for this group. The others are:

  • does anything need to be downloaded
  • will the site be blocked at school
  • will the student have a handheld device to use the resource (some I’d like to investigate are for iPhone/iPod)

One of the transmedia stories I didn’t choose to include was Azrael’s Stop. It looks and reads beautifully but because it was delivered on Twitter and because it is effectively an ‘event’ that is over, there didn’t seem to be much point. Still worth a look to understand what is possible.

In Terms of New Fiction

Hyperdeck-one Henry Swanson flickrcc

Photo by Henry Swanson on Flickr cc

First, I want to pause and consider what I’m doing through the lens of the InformationProcess (always good to take a step back and view the big picture).

1.   Defining: what do I really want to find out?

I want to find out what digital options are out there for  readers, I want to know more about new kinds and modes of fiction available in the online environment. I then need to narrow this down to what’s out there that is appropriate for lower secondary students to look at.

At the end of this experiment/exploration I’d like to discuss with the teacher our observations/conclusions on:

  • If the students weren’t motivated to read something because it was printed on the page, were they any more motivated to read something because it is delivered online/digitally/in a different way?

As I deepen my search for online fiction, I’ve also run into a lot of terms and aconyms that I should document for future reference. Defining the terms now means I can stick to the ones most relevant to my needs.

Online fiction

While this term should be self-explanatory I wanted to be sure and so looked for a definition. There wasn’t one, but I ran across this wonderful article by David Backer that eloquently described the search I was on:

Literature is supposed to be a culture’s conversation with itself. A way of telling the story of its time, its moment. It’s a healthy and necessary thing, an authentic expression of the truth of the age. As a writer and student of literature and of this conversation, I went in search of the new fiction. I wanted to see its extent, the borders of its world. I wanted to do a little cartography to glimpse the map of our conversation with ourselves.

Backer’s article along with some google searching, leads me to believe that the term online fiction describes fiction that stays on the straight and narrow – fiction in its traditional delivery (words in whatever form the piece dictates) but brought to the reader online. Backer’s search did not reach the borders of the world I was looking for, not by a long shot.

Digital Fiction

Wikipedia provides this definition of digital fiction:

… fiction that is written for and read on a computer screen, that pursues its verbal, discursive and/or conceptual complexity through the digital medium, and would lose something of its aesthetic and semiotic function if it were removed from that medium. (definition created by the Digital Fiction International Network at Sheffield Hallam University who support research in the field of digital fiction)

Transmedia storytelling

To my mind, the best definition of transmedia is on Seize the Media and if you go to the link there is also a very useful diagram clarifying how it all works.

Transmedia is a format of formats; an approach to story delivery that aggregates fragmented audiences by adapting productions to new modes of presentation and social integration. The execution of a transmedia production weaves together diverse storylines, across multiple outlets, as parts of an overarching narrative structure. These elements are distributed through both traditional and new media outlets. The online components exploit the social conventions, and social locations, of the internet.

Electronic literature /fiction

Good old Wikipedia saved me from sidetracking to read N. Katherine Hayles’s entire article, Electronic Fiction:What is It? (It’s great but very academic, I have dipped into it several times now).

Wikipedia passes on the Electronic Literature Organization’s definition of electronic fiction (also cited by Hayles):

“work with an important literary aspect that takes advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer.”

It appears to include animated poetry, hypertext fiction, collaborative fiction, chatterbot stories and other forms of interactive fiction.

Interactive Fiction (IF)

This is probably the form of electronic fiction people are most familiar with. Most often thought of as a type of game, IFWiki.org explains it simply as:

A computer program that generates textual narrative in response to user input, generally in the form of simple natural-language commands

So with no shortage of keywords to make use of (and already several leads from my initial reading) I’ve started searching in earnest.

2. Locating: Where can I find the information I need?

I’ve got to admit that even though I’m a trained and true Teacher Librarian I still start with a Google search. But I have an excuse/motive. I look for what I know then use the articles’ background information to drill deeper.  So when googling ‘online fiction’ and I find Backer’s article, I use it to explore the sites he speaks of and then ones mentioned on those sites and graduallly patterns of connection begin to appear. Certain people’s names re-occur or blog sites are recommended and mentioned and I rapidly close in on the expert opinions I’m after. Here are also a couple of sites that I’ve been finding particularly helpful in exploring this new landscape:

If Kate Pullinger is the international guru then Angela Thomas is the Australian expert in multimedia authoring.

Angela has a blog you can access here and a digital fiction wiki that you can access here

I’ve also been able to drill down into this field by following Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling blog.

Interactive fiction has several sites for dedicated fans including:

Diving into Digital Fiction: first dip

Photo courtesy: Mike Baird at flickr.bairdphotos.com

Photo courtesy: Mike Baird at flickr.bairdphotos.com

At the end of term 2 one of the English teachers came to the library to talk about ways of engaging some of her Year 8 students who don’t like to read. She said she wanted to try eBooks but as we talked I discovered it wasn’t really eBooks she meant but online/digital/interactive fiction – something novel (excuse the pun) to hook them back into reading.

I talked to her about Inanimate Alice and a few other possibilities and she’s now keen for her class to sample a variety of online fiction. I’m spending the term break becoming familiar with ‘what’s out there’ and the possibilities for use in classrooms.

Inanimate Alice is the obvious starting place, Kate Pullinger is not only an author but also an educator and many fabulous teaching/learning resources have grown up around Inanimate Alice. There is an official Pedagogy Project containing lesson plans and other educational resources. It is available (free) by registering with iTeach on the website. Some introductory articles are linked at the start of the resource providing helpful background information. The lesson plans themselves focus on the multimodality of the work and multiliteracies:

‘Inanimate Alice’ is a new media fiction that allows students to develop multiple literacies (literary, cinematic, artistic, etc.) in combination with the highly collaborative and participatory nature of the online environment (from iTeach, Inanimate Alice)

Other great resources for Inanimate Alice worth checking out:

But the teacher doesn’t want to focus only on Inanimate Alice so what else is out there?