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1.3: Narrative

Literature is language charged with meaning.

—Ezra Pound

Surprisingly, both the denizens of the Internet and their fearless leaders remain largely clueless about the currency of their medium. Most websites understand the Internet as being little more than a globally-distributed brochure. The interactive, social, and narrative capabilities of the web remain unexplored so the return on the investment that most companies made is still simply an investment that's burning fuel on the launch pad. This lack of understanding contributed to the Internet downturn of the late '90s. The majority of the sites that have returned revenues have usually involved a synthesis of commerce and community.

The Internet is fueled by two commodities: Attention and Reputation.

America Online, for example, has managed to convince its users to pay for what others are giving away. In fact, they've convinced their users to pay for what others are paying to give away. Due to the fact that the money-meter is always running, AOL users pay to upload their writing while other users are paying to download that same content. So, in effect, the users pay to allow AOL to profit from their contributions. Additionally, AOL managed to convince these same users that all of the rest of the content of the web should follow this same commodity model. Their users quite literally bought this story and assumed that AOL, a subset of the Internet, subsumed the Internet and was their gateway, or "portal" to it.

AOL's approach is a vitriolic and intelligent commodification of the users of the service (or, more accurately, those users' attention and reputation). In fact, it was an intelligent commodification of the unassuming public and our markets of stock and trade. AOL leveraged an unassuming public. So much so that the company was able to use Internet stock funny-money "assets" to buy Time-Warner, and most notably their flagship subsidiary CNN.

But AOL could have done much more and, currently in league with Time-Warner, it's positioned to take advantage of the benefits of interactive narrative in the coming decades. The recent integration of Harry Potter movie releases and the interactive vignettes that have appeared on America Online are early indicators that they're waking up to these capacities. It seems likely that they will distribute largely narrative-based content. But how they integrate this with their previous model is the interesting question of "How do we use interactive narrative to make us some money?" Simply, we will soon see "AOL users" becoming "AOL writers." More so than we do now. This might be among the reasons AOL Instant Messenger was so important. The ways in which writing is becoming interactive will surely affect narrative's future.

We'll have to wait and change.

Those sites that have featured some form of narrative (occasionally named "Content") relied on traditional modes of impression-based advertising and "click-thrus", assuming that their audiences would tolerate this outdated form of informational pollution called "Advertising." In many cases they've been right; users, specifically American users, have tolerated this. But if the authors of these sites understood the value of narrative in their "Content Offerings" and how interactive narrative works they might have changed their financial models and means of making money.

The model is very much like the BBS, or bulletin board service. As some users build, more users are interested and the guy in the middle collects the coins. Ultima Online and other gaming systems understood the Internet well enough to take advantage of these approaches. This is the commodity of attention.

We'll see this sort of approach become increasingly common. AOL and other "portals" will begin to integrate large-scale multi-user environments that are narrative based. Users will feel more emotionally connected to what they are uploading and will include their friends and associates in the process. It's a matter of integrating projects like Simnet or Everquest with the cultural models of the bulletin-board service, or BBS (on which AOL still relies). This is the commodity of reputation.

In the small town of Lille, France, this traditional BBS model is being cracked. Team ChMan – the producers of an labyrinthine and a very rich narrative named Banja* – have done an excellent job of pointing a direction for communities that integrate narrative and interaction. Banja is a story about a character (named "Banja") that lives in a world with a population of other characters. While there is a consistent metaphor, storyline, and interface to the entire community, there are a series of services, games, and online community activities that make this a promising competitor for a system like AOL.

NOTE

Banja won the 2001 Ars Electronica Golden Nica, the highest international award for digital art. A few months later it also received the Europrix 2001 for the best interactive fiction and storytelling. Banja can be found at http://www.banja.com

As wireless entertainment and interactive television networks come to understand the process of personalization, investment, fascination, and captivation [4.3.1] these networks would be wise to offer content that encouraged their audiences to contribute and build the networks they struggle so hard to anticipate, build, and maintain. The structure of these networks will branch easily to interactive narrative. This is because they follow the same rules of fascinating users with a story and captivating their attention with increased investment. Part of the reason video games, for example, are so addictive is because the reader invests so much into them.*

NOTE

These investments include time, attention, money, energy, concentration, and, in some cases such as Quake Arena and other online competitions, personal reputation.

Corporations, whether they're online gaming companies, interactive television networks, wireless networks, or Internet conglomerates would be well-advised to provide large-scale metaphors (such as e-world or Ultima online) that encourage their audience to come and assist in the building process. This process made the web successful in the early 1990s, and it wasn't because of the technology.

1.3.1: The Changing Definitions of "Narrative"

Here, in the tradition of the Western world, narration has come from the single voice of the narrator. It has been a spoken tradition of narration. But what if there are multiple people working on it? What if it's a visual narrative? What if its entirely silent and nonlinear? What if it's a play in 18th century London, or a movie in 21st century Los Angeles, or TCP/IP packets from Quebec? People talk about "High Narrative," "Episodic Narrative," "Guttural Narrative," "Multilinear Narrative," and "Narrator's Narrative." What do these things mean?

Narratif (ve), n.m.. Récit, exposé détaillé d'une suite de faits.

Narrative (n): 1 : something that is narrated : STORY 2 : the art or practice of narration 3 : the representation in art of an event or story; also : an example of such a representation

Narrativa: 1 f. Narración (acción). 2 Habilidad en narrar las cosas.

Erzählung <f,; -, -en> 1 <i. w. S.> Bericht, Beschreibung, Schilderung von wirkl. od. erdachten Begebenheiten; jmds. ~ mit Interesse zuhören; die ~ ist frei erfunden

Aristotelian Definition

The Poetics, one of the very first serious treatises on narrative and dramatic structure, was a series of lectures and writings delivered by Aristotle*. Poetics defines the plot (this important part of narrative) as an imitation of an action that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Aristotle does it like so:

"We've considered that a tragedy is an imitation of an action that is complete in itself because it's a whole of some quantity (because a whole doesn't have to have a quantity). Now a whole is something that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A beginning isn't necessarily after something else but is followed by something. An end naturally follows something—either as necessary or as consequential—and has nothing following it. And a middle follows something and is followed by something else. Therefore a well-constructed plot cannot begin or end at any point the author would like. Beginning and end have to follow the forms described."

—Book 7, Poetics

There aren't many guidelines for what makes a story interesting, exciting, or unnerving. There aren't many guidelines on how a story begins or ends. But this passage does identify that there are parts that work together to form a beginning, middle, and end. Aristotle points out that, basically, there are causes and effects that occur over time.

NOTE

It's worth noting that Aristotle was considering a world in which stories were occasionally read, but more often orally narrated.

Freytag Definition

We can also consider the analysis of Gustav Freytag*, the German novelist, dramatist, and critic who invented a familiar diagram commonly called the Freytag Triangle (or Curve or Arc or Pyramid). This 19th century gentleman, apparently dissatisfied with Aristotle's holistic approach, sliced the classic plot into three primary servings. His rework of Aristotle's definition pointed to the increase, culmination, and decrease of the plot. Plot is expressed as a function of time along an horizontal axis. The density of plot, or the interest that the reader has is expressed along a vertical axis. This "thickening" of the plot is a reader's (and author's) concentration on a problem that is being solved. Perhaps feeling some pressure from the abstraction of Aristotle's definition, and living in a time when narrative was beginning to change, Freytag broke the structure of narrative into three primary movements.

Figure 1.1 Feytag's Triangle.

NOTE

Freytag (1816—1895) wrote a book called Technique of Drama which was published in 1863. He outlines his famous triangle there and presents the different angles of narrative with it. In his exposition he uses the actions of the main character to determine the rise or fall of the plot.

The "Peripeteia" is the problem and the "Denouement" is the process of solving that problem. This implies that every narrative will have (in addition to Aristotle's beginning, middle, and end), a series of time-driven events that hit a "peak" at which the complexity of the plot is a maximum along a continuum of time.

The Freytag Triangle makes some sense because it can represent very complicated narrative arcs. One of the defining characteristics of a novel is that it contains multiple plots. For example, Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamozov contains at the very least three simultaneous plots, and each of these contain subplots that have their own pyramid structures, making Freytag's Triangle into something that can be continually subdivided:

Figure 1.2 Feytag's Triangle - subdivided.

But this basic diagram of the Freytag Triangle hasn't been emblematic of all narrative since Elizabethan times. The diagram is great for linear narrative or narrative that is interested in presenting a problem and then solving it. Edgar Allan Poe, however, as one inventor of the Mystery Genre, wasn't as interested in presenting the problems as presenting the solutions to them. Poe simply lopped off the "Desis" and the most revealing portion of the "Peripeteia," allowing the gradual solution of the problem to serve as the story itself. He was interested in what cause produced which effect. If the effect is the characters looking for clues to the crime, then the crime was generally committed early in the story. This isn't true of his work universally, but it does help to see into the heart of narrative literature structure as it's been evolving over the centuries: Readers tend toward a process of investigation.

Poe wanted to bring his readers closer to the story. To do this Poe turned the reader into an investigator. This brings us one step closer to interactivity.

Figure 1.3 Feytag's Triangle - no desis.

The Crisis, or Problem, of Narrative

For an author, the plot determines the actions that appear in a linear narrative. The plot doesn't exist if there is no time in the story (a series of actions can't exist if there is no time, so the plot couldn't either). Time determines speed, pacing, suspense, and movement. Plot is there for the what and how. Time is there for the when. But it's the coordination of these two that make an interesting story.

The problem, or "conflict" of a story is the heart of the dramatic arc. The nature of the problem, when it occurs in the story, and how it is solved are the things that determine the quality and quantity of a narrative. The problems or "conflicts" most authors chose tend to be something universal because it becomes a story that appeals to a larger population. It also becomes a story that addresses important issues because these are problems that humans have been struggling with throughout history. Fear, Struggle, Love, Desire, and Society are all issues that are both universal and personal and it's the specific relationship of the personal to the universal that makes them so poignant for a reader.

The "problems" and their solutions are told from the perspective of a narrator. This is the basic approach of story. The specifics of the problem and the perspective can determine the story's success. Regardless of the choice of the story material, stories are generally structured as Freytag and Aristotle point out because this is how writers have traditionally been able to captivate their readers. This is because they are writers. Ironically, the writers are mimicking the orators. But it works. This is how Shakespeare is able to turn the description of love into a feeling of love, through a familiar process of oration. Its one thing to read about the love of Romeo and Juliet. It's a different thing to feel it on a personal level.

Or maybe not. But there is something going on inside of our skulls when we read this. There is a symbology and imagery that we, the listeners, generate. This symbolism and imagery creates feeling from the linear process of reading and listening.

Writing and reading is a very detailed relationship of symbology, even a layering of symbols. In this example, the symbology practically flies in your face. Love has wings, it has flown into a dark place where it may be killed, and, as an overall metaphor for the story, this symbol is how Romeo and Juliet first confirm their love for one another. The symbols and the relationships of the symbols are the very heart of the writing. The symbology that is used represents the actual problem, or crisis, of the story. The writing is often, as is the case with Shakespeare and hundreds of other authors, a symbology of symbols. Thomas Pynchon, for example, uses the arc of the story to represent the arc of missiles that are discussed in Gravity's Rainbow. In The Aleph, Jorge Luis Borges uses the image of an infinite library to describe a story he tells about the same. The symbols are a layering process. The author relies on this foundation of simplest symbols—letters—to then build more symbols through words, phrases, paragraphs, and chapters, and introduces a layer of context to that symbology, and, finally (as with epiphany, foreshadowing, and foreshortening) provides a particular perspective on a particular plot.

And so a narrative is built, symbol by symbol, brick by brick.

1.3.2: Reading, Writing, and the Blurry Lines in Between

Writing is an interface between the medium and the message, and between the author and the reader. Humans are adept at this basic process of turning symbols into meaning. Text is a very old interface. Therefore authors and illustrators bend it to new uses whenever the opportunity is available. Software designers, also, have relied heavily on this in their work.

Software development is similar to writing. Its a generation and presentation of symbols for the sake of communicating a more complicated series of relationships. A programmer writes lines of code, in a language, "authoring" a particular executable.

Simply put, running an application is an interactive form of reading.

When reading a book or even a sentence, there is a beginning step. A book and a sentence both have a beginning that is formally denoted. There is a middle and, hopefully, there is a solution to a problem that is posed. The reader is recognizing symbols and making associations. The reader controls the pacing, the level of participation, and the dwell-time (that is, how long they spend with the text they are reading). But the part that interests the reader are the symbols and the solution of the problem-set. Consider the desktop metaphor. The symbols of the desktop represent relationships between other things. These relationships inform the user of the software's function and their capabilities as a user.

Or consider Microsoft Excel. Launching an application follows the same steps as reading: a beginning step is followed by the middle, which offers a solution and then the process is closed. In formal programming terms these are referred to as ("init"), ("run"), and ("quit"). In Java, this is formalized literally as a part of the language, in, for example, the "applet" structure. The user of the program, however, is recognizing symbols for the sake of solving a problem. The user determines the pacing, the level of participation, and the "dwell-time" or length of time he spends using the application. In the end, he or she is most interested in the solution of the problem or set of problems. A user, after launching an application, ends up participating in a form of reading.

It's no real stretch to say that running an application—specifically applications that include an interface of symbology, such as a GUI (Graphical User Interface)—is a form of reading. With that idea in mind, we will, in this book, refer to all video game, web, and computer users, in general, as "readers."

An interface designer or a programmer may be considered a writer. Interface design relies on symbology, signs, metaphors, and codes. These are the same tools that a writer uses. This is certainly the verb that is used in some software development circles: "writing code" is a term commonly used. The product of their effort is written lines of text, and the person at the other end of the line is a reader. Steven Johnson*, in his book Interface Culture rightly points out that the interface sits between the medium and the message. This is as true with a book as it is with a software application.

NOTE

Mr. Johnson is right to point this out, just as Brenda Laurel is right to point out that the interface is what sits between the user and the computer. Any interface worth its function is able to serve multiple simultaneous uses.

What is more, is that the reader—or user—acts as a kind of secondary writer while they are participating in this form of interactive reading. The reader, in the case of applications that require input (such as Excel), is also adding information and meaning. Subsequently they become a writer as well. The roles of the reader and writer get blurry because both roles (reader and writer) are adding information and meaning to a dataset.

This blurring of roles is one of the inherent characteristics of interactive narrative. This is also what makes it difficult for us to understand.

But, there doesn't appear to be a whole lot of "plot" in Microsoft's Excel. It's staid, boring, and mathematical. It's missing soul and passion compared to a work by Dostoyevsky or Poe. The interactivity has little soul or meaning to the process of running an application and so this notion of "reading" Microsoft Excel or "writing" to the spreadsheet is an anemic form of creativity.

Is plot what's missing? We want, when we read, some form of story, or plot. This makes the material being read relevant to our lives.

The Plot and the Use-Case Scenario

The word "plot" comes from the early days of French and means, as it's still used in English and French, "a portion of land." Why would the idea of a plot be used to represent a story? Is a story a kind of topology?

As we've pointed out, a plot is the author's planned organization of the events of the story. Plot, in determining What and How, is a topology, but it's a planned topology that has an implied opinion and perspective. A story's organization is essentially the author guiding the reader through the solution of the problem that the narrative presents.

Let's assume that there are three parts to any plot (as per Aristotle and Freytag, et al)

  1. the "Desis" (beginning) or the introduction of the problem,

  2. the "Peripeteia" (middle) or the problem itself and

  3. the "Denouement" (end) or process of solving the problem.

  4. Mixed in here we have all of the symbology that makes the plot interesting and allows the reader the ability to understand what's happening.

In software development and documentation there's a concept called "Use Case Scenarios." These charts are interesting because they diagram the function, flow, time, and interaction between a user (or reader) and a particular piece of software. An example of a simple use-case scenario might look like this:

Figure 1.4 Use Case Scenario example #1.

The equivalent to plot, in the interactive world of software design, is the use-case scenario.

Just because all use-case scenarios don't follow the Freytag or Aristotelian structure doesn't mean they aren't a story structure any more than ending a piece of music without a tonic note indicates that it's not music. Dessert doesn't have to be served for a meal to exist. Liturgies don't need to be played for someone to die, and a denouement doesn't have to exist for a story to be compelling.* Calling a use-case scenario a plot is an over-simplification, but the basic function of tying events together as a function of time is the same.

NOTE

Whether it qualifies as classic drama is not our concern. Whether it qualifies as potentially compelling narrative is.

A use-case scenario and a plot are similar, however. They're both read, both present a problem to be solved, both work by using symbologies that are used to generate larger meaning, and are both authored environments that are meant to be read by another party.

New art forms change old rules.

We're getting closer to understanding a kind of narrative that can be interactive. We at least have possibilities to consider. A use-case scenario, like a spreadsheet, still doesn't feel like a narrative because it lacks a sense of story that is being told by someone. We might be able to apply a use-case scenario and tease out a form of interactive plot, but this still doesn't mean that its worth reading as an engaging narrative.

Microsoft Excel doesn't "imitate life," as Aristotle explains a drama should. The imitation of life (and the interpretation of that imitation from a reader's perspective) is what differentiates a narrative from other forms of writing. This is why characters are such an important part of a story. Characters, be they protagonists, antagonists, or narrators, offer perspective, deliver opinion, provide interpretation, and generate a kind of emotional foundation the story is built upon. The plot alone, regardless of how carefully its diagrammed, gives little to the story as it's perceived by the reader. To return to a previous example, this is another method Shakespeare uses to turn the description of Juliet's love into a feeling of love: through the characters.

A character that is present in an environment, someone who cares about something, someone who has some form of opinion, perspective, or passion, is something that gives a narrative a life.

The Moral of the Story

We've been referring to the development of applications as writing and the use of applications as interactive reading. Narration can play a role in this. The key difference between narration and this software-related writing is the opinion implied in the story-the individual perspective. The human element of interpretation needs to be present for writing to become narration.

A piece of writing requires an opinion—call it perspective or call it point of view, before it becomes a narrative. If this isn't self-evident, read the output of an Excel spreadsheet. If you still see a narrative line (such as the birth and death of a company) then it's worth recognizing that it's the opinion of that data that instills a sense of narrative. If you still see a narrative you're working too much.

Narrative requires opinion. But we're not suggesting that the opinion has to be of the narrator or the reader. This is a big swerve from the course of traditional narrative because, traditionally, the narrative opinion is the opinion of the author. Sometimes, with narrative that contains interactivity, the interpretation is made collaboratively (or simultaneously) by both the author and the reader.

A moral that concludes a story is generally a summation of the opinion of the story; it's a distillation of the story's purpose. Without it the story wouldn't exist. The moral of our story here is that all narrative needs an opinion. This might also be called a perspective. Finally, this function of personal perspective and interpretation is more important to interactive narrative than is the curve that Gustav Freytag outlined. The Freytag diagram could contain the process of using Microsoft Excel. But we all know that this is not a narrative form. It's the human element of the perspective that's significant in stories, not the quantities or its charts.

Stories seem to be a way in which we report to one another on the events of life. We don't need machines to do that. We need individual opinion and perspective.

1.3.3: Tropes and Other Figures of Speech

"The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learned from others; it is also a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an eye for resemblance."

—Aristotle, Poetics

Metaphors are the foundation for visual design, narrative, interaction design, and fine art. A metaphor is a set of symbols that has enough redundant information that a new meaning emerges [1.4.4]. A metaphor is a pattern that provides a telescoped perspective on a different set of information.

Metaphors don't care whether you know the equation or not—they just give you the sum. Metaphors build on an assumed basis of knowledge and they also include a strong emotional punch being both more concrete and direct than maxims or aphorisms. What's more interesting is that they rely on both the author's and the reader's imaginations to fill in the gaps. Metaphor informs us on how to modulate our action by influencing our thinking and perception. Metaphor magnifies implications, sorts the clutter of imagery we carry around in our heads, and connects pieces that weren't. By placing a metaphor between two ideas the reader gets a whole new picture. A metaphor is another kind of lens. A metaphor adds information by comparison:

The best graphic design, story, or interaction design, contains a metaphor. The metaphor can be explicitly spelled out as "desktop" or "dungeon" or it might be something that is implied through the continued use and interaction with a system. The more it is implied the more it is abstracted. Abstraction almost always needs to be used for any metaphor to exist. Abstraction of metaphor, as long as it has some form of self-consistency, is fine, provided it serves the reader with increased amounts of information and redundancy. Just as a desk was considered an environment that facilitated information management, so it was used as the metaphor for the modern computer.

Over 10 years ago, Ted Nelson, one of the pioneers of hypertext design, pointed out some flaws with the desktop metaphor, saying,

"We are told that this is a "metaphor" for a "desktop." But I have never personally seen a desktop where pointing at a lower piece of paper makes it jump to the top, or where placing a sheet of paper on top of a file folder caused the folder to gobble it up; I do not believe such desks exist; and I do not think I would want one if it did."

His point is that the more a metaphor relies on an example the more it should follow that example's characteristics. Which is not entirely right because we, as humans, have the ability to separate and contextualize meaning from information. Nelson is pointing out that a high degree of consistency should be used in metaphor. Nelson is pointing out inconsistencies in the design metaphor of the desktop.

Finally, for our use here, a metaphor is a consistent relationship of symbols. As are fables and myths (the most complicated form of figures of speech and an advanced, narrative, form of metaphor). A myth generally has an invented, original metaphor. This opinion, this invention, is what makes it a myth.

Fables, allegories, and myths are another step up the ladder of implied meaning but they also differ from metaphors because the context isn't generally implied and, because of this, the real meaning of the narrative usually comes last. In some cases, in more complicated fables, the meaning and context don't become clear until the very last sentence. "And they lived happily ever after" is a classic.

So finally, it's all in your skull. And the author's. Somewhere between the two of you there's an interface of symbology, perspective, and perception of meaning. The interpretation of the meaning is what makes reading a story worth the effort.

Oddly, this is the case with paintings, narratives, and interface design.

1.3.4: The Relationship Between Imagery and Narrative

It's natural that interactive narrative include imagery. Narration is not limited to text. Narration originated in speech and has been neatly transferred to text, but text is a close cousin of image and an image can be a kind of "non-verbal text" (as it's called in many educational and academic circles). The relationship between text and image now ranges from complementary to competitive. Magazines, television, Internet, newspapers, dashboards, money, clocks, comics, packaging, advertising, clothing, maps, games, and even the email that we send frequently offer examples of text and image, set next to one another.

Using images and text together is as natural as combining words and music. But this wasn't the case back in the days of Queen Elizabeth or Gustav Freytag.

The frequency of marrying image and text has increased as publishing technologies have become more available. It seems to be something we've been waiting to get our hands on, as if there were a kind of barrier to image communication. Which there is, be it a photograph or an illustration. The barrier to make an image—the costs of many sorts—are higher than for writing. This is part of the reason why more people write and part of the reason (I'm guessing here) that imagery is used less than words in western society.

The computer, however, makes image production easier and simpler. Desktop publishing, digital photography, and photomanipulation are all powerful tools. Copying and pasting is sacred. The stuff gets easier by the day. The image is important in its own right. And the increased presence of imagery in our daily lives can make text that accompanies it more personal.

The coupling of imagery and text is one of the most trusted bullhorns of professional communicators. Marketers and advertisers want to speak as directly and as personally as possible to the reader. These are the fulcrums of influence.

The presence of imagery becomes the crowbar. Newspapers know that they're trying to transport you to the scene of a crime, so they show you an image of the location. Television, inherently image-based, uses text to represent more general and abstract ideas that are not image based.

These days, it means that images are used for general representation, text for specific.

There is something very immediate in the communicative power of the image (the phrase "worth a thousand words" comes to mind here). I have a friend named Sarah whose child, at the gurgling age of 13 months, is already communicating "Hungry," "Tired," "Sleep," "Finished," and "Thirsty" through hand-gestured American-style sign language. It's easy to understand how this happens since sign language is simpler and easier to learn than spoken language. But in this case no less communicative. Children can learn it faster than the phonetics, intonations, and syllabic subtleties of the spoken word. This mother and daughter have learned to communicate through the spoken word of imagery faster than if they had waited for speech to arrive.

The image is a powerful thing when it comes to communicating ideas and it's been coupled with text—even being able to replace text entirely—as a means of telling "stories.

1.3.5: The Role of Narrative Today

Narratives seem as common as the buildings we live in. No matter where we turn we see some form of narrative nearby. The meat and potatoes of any television diet is narrative. Newspapers contain substantial doses of narrative by relaying stories of what has happened in the last day somewhere else. Books, magazines, essays, pamphlets, and posters are generally representing a narrative. Movies certainly are narrative based and now, with the trailers and even the damn advertisements that often precede them we see even more narratives. When we meet people on the street we exchange narratives. When the telephone rings a narrative is often waiting for us on the other end.

Narrative serves to inform, educate, and entertain. It provides meaning, background, context, and incites interest in what's next. In the past two decades advertising (to pick an example), because it uses imagery, has become more aggressive, more interactive, more personal, and more metaphorical. It has also taken on increasingly narrative components. This is because advertising's goal has been to fold the viewer of the ad into the ad itself and by reflecting the desires of the viewer, the ad not only is able to tell him or her what to do, but when to do it. This is usually done in the form of a command coupled with an image. It's a gossip gone gospel.

Despite the watered-down content of most television programming today, narrative writing took like fire to the dead-wood forests of the broadcast world. Newscasters, sports announcers, and meteorologists all have their story to tell. Writers of sitcoms, episodic series, and advertising spots aggressively broadcast carefully designed non-interactive narratives. This is why the sitcom, series, and episode has come to be the primary modus operandi of broadcast/network television.*

NOTE

The liquid surface of the television is not one to be watched lightly. 483 scan lines flashing at roughly 32 frames per second isn't only hypnotic, but downright dangerous. It has a deep impact on the somatic and peripheral nervous systems (including, in some cases, dizziness, nausea, and coma).

Regardless how people are convinced to invest their time and attention in these forms of content, the role of plot and character are central to all of these, because, finally, what else are we really interested in?

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