A GUI Problem

While I’m trying to solve the problems of creating the text for the hypertext thing I’m working on, the Pirate is trying to solve the problems of the workspace to create it and the interface that people will use to read it.

I tried using Storyspace, but although I suspect it’ll do the thing I want, I couldn’t figure out how to make it work. I think I’m going to have to call customer service and have a real live human beingĀ  walk me through how I would go about creating what I want. It doesn’t help that the documentation is awful. I’m trying to figure out how to connect two nodes together, but it’s all about how those things relate to each other in the first place, and each time they refer to a link or a piece of text or a window, they call it something different.

The problem is, I suspect that I’m devoting all this time to solving the data representation problems solely to get out of doing the writing. I know me. This is exactly the sort of thing I would do.

This is the basic problem of perfectionism: I get myself so freaked out about getting every single detail right that I am immobilized, afraid to even start lest I get started going in entirely the wrong direction. My father has exactly the opposite problem. He takes things on for which he has no qualifications and even less of an idea of how to proceed and just starts doing stuff. It might be the wrong stuff, it might be okay stuff, it might be brilliant stuff, but he adjusts as he goes along, and things turn out however they turn out. Whenever I get into this place where I’m so freaked out about starting off in the wrong direction, I think “What would my dad do?” And then, I normally do something else, because I often disagree with my father just on principle. But at least I’ve committed to a course of action.

My course of action on this particular problem is to leave the programmatic challenges for later and just start writing the text. How will I keep things organized? Remember, I’ve got 6 point of view characters in 3 different locations, each one of whom is operating independently. These three locations are very far apart, so there’s a large time difference, meaning that some characters might be asleep while others are doing things. To make things a little more complicated, any two of these characters might swap places at any time. After two days of talks with the Pirate about things that are both down the road and in the weeds (the future is apparently a kind of shoddy neighborhood), I decided that here and now I’m just going to put the timeline on the x axis of a spreadsheet, the character names on the y axis, color the cells with a color representing any one of the three locations, and then each cell will link out to a text document containing the written text for that scene, thereby capturing POV, location and time in one cell.

Organizational problem solved. As for the rest of it, later. I’ll sort it out later.

What Are You Doing?

I’m glad you asked that. I really am.

The thing that I’ve chosen to pursue is called hypertext fiction. In a nutshell, it’s a form of fiction that uses the utilities of electronic delivery to allow the reader to customize the story. Examples of it have been around for 20 years, but newer e-reader technologies and packaging now allow for better, more interesting presentations and the possibility that you don’t need to have access to the web to read the text (she says, although she has not solved certain problems just yet).

The story as I have imagined it has 6 characters whose points of view will be shown. It has what I’ve come to think of as 3 theaters of action, each one in a different part of the world. Action is happening in their stories at all times as the characters seek to deal with their situations and remedy their problems.

What I’m envisioning is not just being able to “package” the story from a single character’s point of view, but to be able to switch between several points of view (seeing the same scene from an 8-year-old girl, versus a 40-year-old man), or being able to package all stories told in a particular location. It means that I will be writing the same novel 6 times, and each of them must be entirely distinct, and each one must work with all the others.

There are two difficulties I foresee: the first comes in the writing itself. It’s going to be hard to write each node, or scene, as an independent thing such that you can go smoothly from one point of view to another and have the narrative make sense. For instance, if one character leaves the room after an argument, the other will stay behind and ruminate about the argument, or tear up the furniture, or whatever. The one who left might go and cry, or go and inject poison into the other’s toothpaste tube. Where does the scene end? Can you switch smoothly from the end of the poisoner’s scene to the beginning of the next scene starring the room-tosser? Will it flow, or will there be a backtracking? Not sure how I’m going to solve it. I’m also terribly prone to point of view shifts when I write. It’s easy to start talking about how he thinks she’s dependent and clingy and wishes she would just leave him and then put in a line about how she will never leave him because she’s punishing him for being such a wimp by making him take the first step away. If I did it better, it would be omniscient, but since I don’t, it’s just bad third person.

The other difficulty is in the user interface. How do you represent what the reader is seeing? How do you have them switch from one POV to another? From one scene in time to another? What happens if you push a “next” button? What happens if you choose a different character – do you get the same scene retold, or the next scene from a different POV? There are decisions to be made in the telling that will inform how this thing is programmed, and the Pirate and I have been talking about it nonstop.

While the idea of hypertext fiction is not new, the things I want to do with it are new, and are going to require what I anticipate will be years of work. But I’ve got time. I’ve got nothing but time.