Defining Narrative Design – The Narrative Design Exploratorium™

Defining Narrative Design

αβ³δ¹A¹B¹C↑H¹-I¹K4↓w° “(1)

The formula shown above is for a Russian Folktale as described by Vladimir Propp in his book Morphology of the Folktale, the formula reads “A tsar, three daughters (α). The daughters go walking (β³),
overstay in the garden (δ¹). A dragon kidnaps them (A¹). A call for aid
(B¹). Quest of three heroes (C↑). Three battles with the dragon
(H¹-I¹), rescue of the maidens (K4). Return (↓), reward (w°).” (1)
While Proop’s semiotics may seem too formulaic for free souls, in practical application his truth stands firm as Aristotle’s Poetics. His structuralist approach to classical
literary design easily adapts to interactive experiences, and clearly points to the exponential narratological complexity associated with non-linear experiences. In order to maintain narrative integrity throughout an interactive experience a rigid structure must be adhered to, narrative design was born into the world to bring classical structure back into modern storytelling.

Narrative design is a narratological craft which focuses on the structuralist, or literary semiotic creation of stories. Narremes, or story elements, are formulated into a cohesive narrative structure in such a way as to create a metanarrative or archnarrative for the reader/viewer/user/player.
The term “narrative design” was described by Madison Smartt Bell as
“[the] form or structure of…final importance to any work of
fiction…”Bell (2) Believable narrative structures are created from well designed narremes. These elements rest within a greater narrative structure, think
of the mushroom in Mario or the sword in the stone. Narrative design is
the structuralist architecture of literary semiotics that together form
a work of fiction. Creative adherence to a well designed narrative structure will result in greater entertainment value and thematic communication.

is an umbrella of a term which has grown even wider in today’s web 2.0
world; our span of fiction’s have begun to take on many forms. “After
the novel, and subsequently cinema privileged narrative as the key form
of cultural expression of the modern age, the computer age introduces
its correlate – database.”Manovich (3) Design of the story related
elements, or narremes, of this database and their causal relationship
as a metanarrative within said database
is narrative design. Digital games are interactive database narratives.
Database narrative refers to narratives whose structure exposes the
dual processes of selection and combination that lie at the heart of
all stories, particular data – characters, images, sounds, events – are
selected from a series of databases or paradigms, which are then
combined by the player, through action and thought, to generate
specific stories.(4)

Game mechanics give a player
navigational functionality within the ‘data-space’ of multimedia
narrative (game). “Choices about the design and organization
of game spaces have narratological
consequences”Jenkins (5). Media theorist Henry Jenkins, continues to
describe the crafting of fiction within games as narrative
architecture. Crafting more believable interactive fiction requires
coherent narrative design to ensure maximum entertainment value. When executed with skill, a narrative design
strategy innately provides the reader/viewer/user/player/ with a wider cognitive
palette from which they can self-author more emotive and visceral
interactive fiction experiences.

1. Vladimir Propp. Morphology of the Folktale. via Wikipedia 1928
2. Madison Smartt Bell. Narrative Design: A Writer’s Guide to Structure. W. W. Norton & Company.1997
3. Lev Manovich. Database as symbolic Form. Cambridge:
MIT Press, 2001.

4. Stephen Erin Dinehart. RTS as Database Narrative. Narrative Design Exploratorium. 2007
5. Henry Jenkins. Game Design as Narrative Architecture. MIT Press. 200? 

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This page contains a single article by Stephen E. Dinehart published on June 2, 2008 2:46 PM.

Creating Narrative Design @ THQ was the previous entry in this blog.

Is story still a misnomer in games? is the next entry in this blog.

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Author Stephen E. Dinehart is a producer, designer, writer, and artist. You can find out more about him on his self-titled website.

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