In discussing the narratives of Myst, Sandman, Ultima OnLine and MitterNachtSpiel I will utilize a schema of narrative composed of four characteristics: setting, character, theme and plot. These four characteristics are the building blocks of narrative. Together they combine to give us a story. To define narrative as per the Third Edition of The American Heritage College Dictionary:
Narrative: a narrated account, a story | the art, technique or process of narrating (to tell a story) | consisting of or characterized by the telling of a story (an account or a recital of an event or series of events | a usually fictional narrative intended to interest, amuse the hearer or reader | an incident, experience, or subject that furnishes or would be interesting material for a narrative | the plot of a narrative or dramatic work | an anecdote | a lie | the complete horizontal division of a building, constituting the area between two adjacent levels).
Referencing the Third Edition of The American Heritage College Dictionary again, let’s define the four building blocks:
Setting: the position, direction, or way in which something is set | the context in which a situation is set, the background | the time, place and circumstances in which a narrative, drama, or film take place | the scenery constructed for a theatrical performance or movie production | a composition written or arranged to fit a text, such as a poetical work | a mounting, as for a jewel.
Character: the combination of qualities or features that distinguishes one person, group, or thing from another | a person portrayed in an artistic piece | characterization in fiction or drama | a mark or symbol used in a writing system.
Theme: a topic of discourse or discussion | a subject of artistic expression | an implicit or recurrent idea, a motif | a principal melodic phrase in a composition especially a melody forming the basis of a set of variations | a root accompanied by derivational affixes | a short composition assigned to a student as a writing exercise.
Plot: a measured area of land | a ground plan of a building | a pattern of events or main story in a narrative or drama | to represent graphically | to scheme | to be located by means of coordinates, as on a chart or with data.
My contention is that these four building blocks of narrative differ in degree in relation to each other across mediums. So, setting may be more prominent in one medium, while character is much more prevalent in another. What I propose to do is take the four and compare them in relation to each other within the three mediums used to relate the stories in my objects of study. While there is often a difference between how these four blocks fit together in different mediums, it may have more to do with the authors and less to do with the mediums themselves.
Along with these foundational narrative blocks, I will use the ideas of Wayne Booth and Nelson Goodman to help me discuss the process of storytelling in different mediums. Booth sets out in The Rhetoric of Fiction to look at how literary stories apply certain rhetorical devices to help the reader through the story. These devices pull readers into and through the story by giving them clues and directions as to what is going on in the story. For Booth, these devices are “elements that are recognizable and separable, ‘friends of the reader’” that exist within literature (106). So, he tries to make a distinction between the rhetoric of fiction and the fiction itself. And yet, he goes and blurs this distinction. For Booth, the trick is that when these elements, or rhetorical devices, are done well, it is extremely hard to tell whether they are rhetoric or content (105). The best rhetoric comes across as content, and vice-versa. Booth is focusing on the written word, but his ideas are quite useful when examining storytelling in other mediums as well. I will examine these mediums looking for the rhetorical devices employed in them to help the story along. Looking for the rhetoric in the fiction of a medium has helped me better see how a medium tells a story.
In Languages of Art, Goodman specifically looks at how symbolism differs across mediums. He discusses how each medium has its own systems of symbolism. These systems of symbols allow examination of each medium in its own right and also illustrate how it compares and converses with others. Goodman helps distinguish the discursive and non-discursive symbolism of texts and images and hypermedia. He also aids in the analysis of the blending of these symbol systems as seen in sequential art and hypermedia. Goodman has been a great help because of his interest in how various mediums have different systems of symbols. His ideas enable me to look at the various ways symbolism functions in the mediums addressed and employed in this study; texts, sequential art and hypermedia
In novels, the rhetoric of the fiction comes through a discursive system of symbols. Description, point of view and literary allusion are some of the many ways that language is rhetorically used to help construct literature. This may sound obvious, but words are the symbols used to tell the story. With sequential art, the system of symbols expands beyond words to include colors, shapes and layout. The rhetoric of the fiction now includes images. The words matter in comics, but so do the shading, the lines of sight, the color schemes and the actual layout of the page. Hypermedia combines even more mediums than sequential art and includes hypertextual interactivity as well. The system of symbols is an elegant web of sights, sounds and actions. Interface plays an important rhetorical function, for if one is to interact with the world and story, one needs to know how. Sounds and videos become a part of the rhetoric of the story, and the hypermedia world itself is a place and space to explore the story and become immersed in it.