A Garden of Overlapping Paths: Generative Workshopping Location-Based Narratives

Throughout our unit on location-based narratives, we’ve spent a lot of time discussing the significance of layering, and the ways in which digital tools and technologies allow us to create or reveal a narrative layer onto a physical or fictional place.

What we haven’t said, at least not explicitly, is that this can be seen as a kind of hypertextuality; if we imagine a place as a kind of text, than the digital narrative you each have built is another text ‘linked’ to the first. This is the definition of hypertextual.

For today’s workshop, we are going to explore how many additional layers of hypertext we can impose on each location someone in class has chosen. What other stories exist in these places? How can we use those additional hypertextual layers to further develop, change, or re-imagine the story about that place we were trying to tell?

What I’ll ask each of you to do is to respond to a handful of your peers’ location-based narratives by writing your own story about their chosen place. This is called a generative workshop, one wherein each author gives their story as a spark and allows other writers to create their own work in response to that spark. Of course, you don’t receive traditional ‘this is good’ or ‘this needs work’ feedback in this kind of a workshop, but you do learn a great deal about your place, which is the center of your piece.

Here are the logistics for how this will work.

  • Everyone will navigate to today’s collaborative class notes document, where you will find something a little different than usual: a table of contents. Beside the next available “chapter,” type the title of your narrative, followed by the names of all the authors involved. Then, click on the chapter number, which includes an embedded link.
  • This will take you to a separate Google doc — this is yours, and will hold all the responses you receive in class today. In that document, type the title and authors of your location-based narrative at the top, beside the chapter heading, then make that text into a hyperlink to your location-based narrative.
  • Once you have set up your narrative, you’ll return to the table of contents, and begin exploring other location-based narratives. Specifically, I want everyone to visit the three location-based narratives that follow yours in the table of contents (you can circle back up to the beginning if yours is near the end). Read and explore each thoroughly. Learn the story of that place, whatever kind of place it is.
  • Then return to the Google doc bearing the title of that location-based narrative, and write into that document your own story of that location.
    • What you write will vary widely depending on your experience and the pieces you read/play. You may write a true story of some memory or experience you have in that same place. You may write an anecdote or interesting history you know about that place second-hand. You may write about your own version of that type of place. You may write something purely fictional or imagined. You might even respond by expanding or extending the author’s narrative, inserting yourself into the story they’ve begun.
    • Your response should be 1-2 paragraphs long, and should include at least one embedded image (this may be of the location itself, your imagined version of that location, or something connected to your response, and it may be either original or found, though it shouldn’t be from the original author’s narrative).
    • In addition to the image, please include a hyperlink to your class website embedded somewhere in your response. This will be your “signature” so you needn’t sign your written entry.
  • Once you have written three thorough responses, return to the Table of Contents and visit your narrative’s document to see what’s emerged there. In the document, write 1-2 paragraphs reflecting on what has emerged there.
    • You may be surprised to discover similar stories or wildly different ones.
    • You may reflect on what a plethora of stories tells you about your place, or on the type of stories you read there, and what that means.

My hope is that this exercise and the accompanying artist’s statement will allow you to begin thinking about telling bigger stories, and dissolving the boundaries between what belongs to you and what belongs to everyone in the digital world, so that you may envision a more layered, more immersive, and more fully open digital final project.

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