Using Technology in Language Arts

Who's Writing This, Anyway? Reader/Author Tension and "Play"

What is dynamic narrative? What is non-linear narrative?

The iconic 1980s Choose Your Own Adventure books often contain many completely separate stories and endings. The topic, main character (a stand-in called "you" but with their own qualities), and setting--the genre elements--make the book cohere, but the wide range of possible narrative lines require mulitple-read-throughs. Some books had a "best" ending, but most had many possibly satisfying endings as well as allowing the reader's story to end in failure.

CYOA books are non-linear in that they have one starting point and many paths to many ending points. They are somewhat dynamic in that your choices steer you down the different paths and can affect how characters react to your lead character.

The Choose Your Own Adventure series spans many genres
The Walking Dead, showing dialog choices
The Walking Dead's many conversations

Dynamic characterization vs. dynamic plot

Is a narrative still dynamic if your choices don't lead to as many paths and endings as in the CYOA books? What sort of narrative emerges when the author keeps tight hold on the reins and guides the narrative track very closely?

The screenshot opposite (from Telltale Games' The Walking Dead) shows the player's proxy, Lee, deciding what to tell 8-year-old Clementine about his past.

Other characters react to your choices, but the story's events and ending mostly stay on the same track no matter what. This story is dynamic in that it's the way you get there that matters, how you choose to develop your version of Lee's character and his relationships with the other people in the story.

Playing in the Sandbox: player/reader-created narrative

Is it a wide open "sandbox" where much of the story emerges organically through exploration, driven by player experimentation and interest? Does a truly dynamic narrative emerge while the reader/player encounters it?

Compared to a tightly-scripted narrative like The Walking Dead, Skyrim has very little narrative control coming from its creators. And yet many players will describe countless "little moments" where they find some secret view or tried something unusual or saw the characters behave in a funny or touching way.

The "open world" RPG Skyrim.
Bethesda Games' Skyrim sets you loose to explore
Use a visual tool to create narrative connections
Twine: graphical story development

Writing Your Own Hypertext or Interactive Fiction Narratives

Many tools exist to create these new dynamic and non-linear stories. Thriving hobbyist communities are making more every day.

It's my belief that students can benefit from reading and creating these types of texts (fiction or non-). Hypertext makes intuitive sense to digital natives. By embracing online reading and writing skills instead of privileging words on paper, we as teachers can better get our content standards and skills across to students, as we'll be speaking their "own language" or something like it. Further, we help them become proficient and critical consumers and producers of online media.

Read more about classroom applications on my Interactive/Hypertext Fiction in the Classroom page!