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Translating Principle into Instance

The key to applying abstraction is the process of converting principle into instance. The author must be able to express a principle in a form the computer can process, then provide algorithms that translate that principle into instances that are specific to the context. Here’s a very simple example:

Principle: Women dislike unwanted attentions.

First draft articulation: “Unwanted attentions” are actions of a romantic nature by a man to a woman that do not naturally flow from previous events. Women react to unwanted attentions by rejecting the man.

Second draft: “Unwanted attentions” comprise any form of touch with sexual or romantic connotations, or overt expressions of sexual desire. A woman’s rejection of unwanted attentions is proportional to the degree of inappropriateness of the unwanted attentions.

Third draft: The verbs that can constitute unwanted attentions are kiss, any form of the verb touch, and any instance of declare, inquire, or demand taking as a secondary verb any verb with sexual content. The verbs that can be used to express rejection are declare (dislike), declare (shock), state imperative (desist), and strike (with hand).

This example serves only to show, in a general way, how to go about solving the problem. Details of how to implement this kind of approach appear in later chapters.

crawfordsmall.jpg This is great theory, but in practice, the act of reducing storytelling to grand principles is beyond human intellectual ability. Nobody could ever handle so deeply intellectual a process.

This process-intensive style of storytelling is done all the time—and by amateurs, no less. Here’s Grandpa taking little Annie up to bed:

  • “Tell me a story, Grandpa!” she asks.
  • “OK,” he replies. “Once upon a time there was a pretty little girl who had a pony...”
  • “Was it a white pony?” Annie interrupts.
  • “Oh, my, yes, it was as white as snow. It was so white that the sunlight reflected off its coat dazzled the eye. And the little girl and the pony would go riding along the beach...”
  • “Did they go riding in the mountains, too?”
  • “Why yes, as a matter of fact, they did. After riding along the beach, they would ride up the green canyons, jumping over the brush and ducking under tree branches, until they came to the very top of the mountains. And there they would play at jumping over boulders...”
  • “I don’t like to jump.”
  • “Well then, instead of jumping, she would let her pony graze in the rich deep grass on the mountain’s summit while she sat in the sun...”

And so the story goes on. Note that Grandpa does not respond to Annie’s interruptions with, “Shuddup, kid, you’re messing up my carefully prepared plot!” He wants those interruptions; his storytelling thrives on them. Grandpa does not enter the room with a carefully planned and polished plot, all set to dazzle Annie. Grandpa knows basic principles of storytelling, and then he makes up the story as he goes along—in response to Annie’s needs and interests. The story is the joint creation of Grandpa and Annie. It is their very special story, just for Annie and Grandpa, and no other story will ever be the same. Because it is their very special story, it means more and has more emotional power than any high-tech Hollywood extravaganza. Yes, it lacks the careful plotting, the intricate development, and the glorious special effects of the Hollywood product. But its roughness is more than compensated for by its customization. Sure, Annie likes The Lion King—but she treasures Annie and the White Pony.

Everybody understands the basic principles of storytelling. Everybody tells stories many times a day. Everybody knows how to translate the basic principles of storytelling into specific stories. If an amateur storytelling Grandpa can pull that off, why can’t we big-shot professionals do the same?

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