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Writing tools for complex storytelling

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Posted by JBfrom
Feb 27, 2012 at 01:39 PM


That was a good post, Alex.

I know I haven’t been doing much with Cyborganize lately… real life commitments and health issues have interfered. It looks like I’ll have more time to devote to it, coming up.

This is definitely one of those Cyborganize conceptual moments, though. I’ve been following the discussion without commenting, because I find the issue fascinating.

I think, ultimately, it’s a case of the “wrong question,” as so often happens.

Here’s the question: I have multiple “storylines” or threads or whatever that I want to weave together. So I need a program that helps me manage their separate paths and intersections.

This sounds like a seductive idea. But then you start trying to create it in software/text reality, and the nightmares just never stop.

Why is that?

Well, step back for a moment and consider what text, thought, writing, really is.

Answer: it’s dense, interconnected, overlapping, wildly rich, connections going everywhere all the time - an insanely dense web. Trying to draw the conceptual interconnections in your average 10k body of text is an exponential nightmare.

So you’re never going to successfully represent all those interconnections using your software, short of access to Turing-level AI. You have to satisfice, to stop somewhere.

Given that you have to stop somewhere anyway, my feeling is that it’s almost always better to stick with a hierarchical outline structure, rather than interwebbing. It keeps navigation and categorization simple. Sticking to a modular structure permits much easier manipulation and evolution.

My feeling is that you should leave the web-work to the text itself. Rewrite from different angles for each storyline. Hash out the interconnections in a separate space. Chunk it down into manageable cognitive tasks. Use manually generated diagrams and such. But don’t trust your software to automatically do that stuff for you. Your brain will handle it better. Keep the text workflow simple and straightforward.

Now, maybe I’m wrong. I don’t write multi-threaded fiction storylines, and I haven’t tried Scrivener.

I did give CT a look, and hated the idea of writing text in markup. Org-mode is the most markup typing I’m willing to tolerate.