A modular story is one that can be experienced in any order. Generally you’ll have a beginning point and an ending point (maybe several ending points), with a series of ‘adventures’ that can happen in any order in between. So if A is the beginning, and X, Y and Z are possible endings, then the rest of the alphabet can show up in any order between those points.
It seems like it’s becoming a more common pattern for games, because it gives a stronger illusion of agency to the player. It’s more open world. But how does it work in writing?
When I’m editing a piece, I’ll sometimes think of it as fractal-like. A story-fractal, if you will. You can start by editing the story, the structure, the monster as a whole. Then you get into arcs and chapters. Peer closer and you’ll find that the scenes are paragraphs. Magnify it again and edit the sentences. Then look at the words and the letters that shape them.
Now, if I was working on a modular narrative for a game, I might look at the story-fractal in a chapter sort of way.
What I’ve been working on is what happens if you look at modular narrative at the sentence level of a story-fractal.
So I picked someone walking down a path for this first experiment, honestly because it was pretty easy — as long as nothing stops you from walking down the road, the order of events on the road doesn’t matter. I also tried the same thing with a fight sequence and with a conversation (the conversation was supposed to be a little disorienting — and with that crutch I think it worked. An interview would also be an interesting format that should work with this formula too).
From this first experiment, I expanded it into a larger story: multiple loops made of sentence modules. The loops can also be played in any order. I’m working on editing that now and will put it up when it’s done.
Challenges/Things I’m Considering:
- I want the finished version to feel like a story. Or at least retain the satisfaction we get from experiencing a story that ‘arcs’ well. How do you build towards an ending when you don’t know which bricks came in which order?
- How do you include the details which make good worldbuilding/setting without ever relying too heavily on past or future details?
- How repetitive can you go without losing interest? How is repetition effective in a story like this? Is repetition effective in a story like this?
Things I want to experiment with or would like to see:
- Other experiments with narrative told through modular sentences. If you build one on Twine or something else, let me know. I’d love to see it.
- Can we get rid of the beginning and end points? How effective is it, and what does it do to the structure?
- Because humans experience time as linear, no matter how modular the story is, it still gets experienced in a linear way. Is there a way to break this? How? I know it may be a super non-practical question, but I’m curious. Have a few ideas I want to try in the future.
- Physical variants on this idea. You could have a deck of cards that did the same thing. Would that be cool? Some board games do really neat things with modular narratives. But they also usually have a social component that enhances that experience. What percentage is there in seeing (physically) that something is random? Does that enhance the wonder of the storytelling?
What storytelling stuff are ya’ll up to?