I like short stories. I like short stories a lot. Done well, they place meaningful signposts with space between for the reader to forge their own path.
Some time ago I was thinking about how short a short story could go. Really, just a word or a phrase can conjure a full story. Nebulous, born in the experiences and biases of the reader, but still there. Just use the right word. Something charged with a lifetime of emotion. How about: “Marriage”
I then thought about how that could be expanded. What if we retold the same one word story, but just a little longer? We could add new signposts. Narrow down to the “truth.” With that thought I realized we might even be able to tell a tale of different truths. The classic “His, Her’s, and the Truth.”
My first concept was to tell the same story from alternating perspectives. Add progressively more detail without being explicit about which side was whose. Format would be separate full pages in a book or journal. Like chapters in a story, but all restarting from the same place. As I began drafting, I realized that beyond two or three iterations the elegance vanished. The repetition became cumbersome and confusing rather than an interesting mystery. Idea having now hit its first dose of reality, I shelved the whole thing. It was nice in my head, but it wasn’t working on paper.
A while later, I was getting around to revamping my personal website. The old one was completed purely in Notepad++ back at the end of my college days; the front page still claiming me as a graduating senior. For my new site I’d settled on WordPress’s ease of development. Finding its strong tendency toward blog structure I started playing around with what I might post. The tale of many sides came to mind. Perhaps a series of posts would work as a format? Sadly, the same issues cropped up. The differences were confusing instead of interesting, and now it was even more disjointed because there was no physical connection. What happens when someone reads just one post? Now every single one has to hook a new reader somehow, AND they need some connection and/or table of contents to associate them all.
Now I thought I had something working; that I could see the finish line ahead of me. A single page with clean dropdown and links for jumping between layers of the story content. The association and ease of access was solved. I started to flesh out the layers. That’s when reality poked in again. Because, again, the idea was nice in my head and nice with test content, but rubber hitting the road was kicking up smoke.
Individually, each layer was short. Each adding new signposts to the tale. But the repetition that was supposed to link layers mentally was just burdensome turnoff. You already read this. There might be a small variation, but the brain doesn’t care, it wants to skip that. Reading didn’t feel like progression, and it didn’t feel short.
To make the layers shorter I removed duplicate information. Now each piece felt short alright, but clicking between pages was suddenly the largest time sink. Removing the links by collapsing the layers together onto a single page fixed that. But…what do a series of story fragments in order on a single page look like? I’ve simply come full circle. That’s just some sentences in a paragraph. Again, idea had failed. Reality doesn’t put up with day-dreamed musings.
Somewhat defeated, I stopped to think about my process. Had I taken a wrong turn, or was the goal not feasible? Well hang on…What was the goal?
I’d focused too heavily on the mechanics of my imagination and not enough on the value they were trying to bring.
The added values:
1. Revelation – Altered perception of identical prior state due to new context
2. Connection – Links between signposts, a sense story thread joining parts
With these core concepts in mind, I revisited the task. The medium I’d come to could clearly deliver. The internet is the perfect place for a dynamic story.
I carefully selected phrases from my old layers that best stacked on the ones before. These fade in and out with backing color. The way they flow provides hints and directs the eye as you scroll. Certain words or parts of them stick around between transitions. These provide subtle visual threads of connection between concepts and also serve to direct the eye.
There is much more I may try in the future to polish wording, links, and add better transition animations, but the following is a Finished Product I’m pleased with.
I didn’t get as far away from traditional story flow as I’d initially imagined, but I succeeded in adding value by leveraging the web medium to accomplish goals that could not be served on paper.