Before the Beginning

When I first dreamed this project up, I thought I was going to map the geneology of The Story--one of those ideals so important that it garners capitalization. i'm a writer, you see. And writers like to write about why we write. And we write because we are compelled to tell stories. And the final 'why' is the real seed of it all: why we tell stories. In my ambitious youth some weeks ago, it was my intention to start at the sacred roots from whence storytelling comes--the passing and telling of religious or spiritual or mythological tales--and to just sort of follow it down the road of time all the way to the modern writer of today. But this is not the project that resulted. This is the project that resulted.

So, em, what is it?

Most obviously, it is a wiki. I knew that a blog just wasn't going to be the right sort of venue for my exploratory project. While blogs are useful things, they're a little too linear and sequential for a project based on doddling around ideas. I needed something that could breathe with me, grow with me, and conform to whatever shape it would eventually take. So I chose the wiki, also knowing that I was not going to use a wiki in the way that wikis are often used. That is to say that I had no intention of this being a collaborative effort. I didn't imagine then and I certainly don't imagine now why anyone besides myself would want to play around on the pages I created. So instead I think I coined a new use for the wiki: the stream of consciousness essay. I say stream of consciousness because, as we discussed in the earlier part of this course, the best writing for blogs is "off the cuff." So I let myself get a little cheeky here and there. To illustrate, here is a segment from my introduction:

"People love to make things up. It's in our nature--we are a creative animal. The craft of telling stories is very, very old. Some might hazard a guess as to which profession is, in fact, the oldest of them all. The cliche answer--the one that flushes the cheeks of polite folks and incites the imaginations of the rest of us--might indeed be the true champion. But what probably came along immediately in its wake? The bean spilling. The relinquishing. The embellishing. The recounting of the event, in all its clumsy, carnal, prehistoric glory.

And the first story was told. Possibly. It's hard to say, really. They didn't bother to write them down for a great while. They just passed them down from mind to mouth to ear in a gorgeous and delicate cycle spanning back to distances we cannot know. But of this we are certain: people have been telling tales for a very, very long time."

While the tone is about as far away as one can get from academic, it kept me interested in writing the thing, which I hope, in turn, kept the reader interested in reading it. There's almost nothing more painful to read than pretentious twaddle, so I hope that by using just a touch of levity I kept things enjoyable. After all, if a reader isn't enjoying what they're reading, they're going to stop reading. And that would negate the whole point of sharing knowledge and insight on the web. So, even though this is an academic project, I think the "off-the-cuffness" of it works to its advantage.

What Did I Do?

For starters, I let things roll off the top of my head. And this is really the beautiful thing about the wiki--when things get rolling, one topic lends itself to another, and all you have to do is CreateSomeHypertext and you can send your readers off in a thousand directions. This is a good thing and this is a bad thing, as I learned. I referred to my project as a "choose your own adventure wiki" (this predates the more hip stream of consciousness essay label), and my very helpful peers all seemes to agree in their studio tours that while it was easy to choose their own adventure, it was not always easy to find their way back to the adventure they were on. But this was easily fixed with a few navigation links at the bottom of every page.

I preconceived a few of the topics before hand in order to give the wiki a skeletal foundation. I knew that I wanted to touch on the historical roots of telling stories (though in detail that pales so miserably in comparrison to my grand vision) and I especially wanted to explore what modern writers had to say about the craft of telling stories. And this became my favorite part of the wiki. First, to prove that wikis were not always ugly, textual things, I made sure to include pictures of all the writers I would be exploring. Then, to show off my electronic sorcery, I turned said portraits into links back to the Storytellers page (for further wonderment, go here). Not only did I have great fun hunting down quotes from the writers, I had greater fun responding to them. Here is an example of a response to Tom Clancy's quote on how fiction, unlike life, must make sense to a reader:

"This is perhaps the most curious paradox of them all. Life tends to cause us to suspend our disbelief more than fiction. In life, conversations are left unfinished. Sentences don't make sense. People constantly contradict themselves, and act inconsistently. And, more often than not, nothing interesting happens at all. Who in their right mind would want to turn the pages of our lives in order to solve the great question of fiction, which is "what happens next?" I don't know about you, but I'd rather jump off a building than follow most normal people around for four hundred pages, thank you.

So, it could be said that fiction must be realer than real life. It's a tough act to balance--a walk along the edge of a knife, really. Too fantastical and poeple will only giggle at a story; too realistic and people will yawn and complain that it's difficult to follow. This is one aspect of fiction that people rarely take into conisderation when they sit down with their Grisham or Koontz or Steel. They want to believe in the unbelievable for a time--we all do."

What Do I Wish I Would Have Done?

Too much, I'm afraid. There is such a rich, mythological underbelly to telling stories that I think I only brushed over. There are oral histories and storytelling high-priests that I really wish I could have focused on. While I am aware that devoting such time and energy to a project like this could easily eat up the rest of my life, it is something I am very interested in, and would still like to pursue at some point. I guess you could say that my work on this wiki isn't finished. There are stones to turn. And that's the fun of academia--you get the time to turn them and poke your finger at whatever lies beneath them. Exciting stuff, really.

What Did I Do Right?

I am proud of the content in my project. I think I chose a topic that suited me, and I think I approached it in a way that suited my audience. It was a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll--a possibility that works well in an electronic environment. For some reason, had this project been done on paper, it would have been thrown directly into the fire around which the drums were being beaten. It would have been a disorganized, rambling, irreverent mess. But with the bells and whistles of the wiki--hypertext, photolinks and the like--it became a very organic and complex being. I very much enjoy the wiki, and look forward to future opportunities to exlpore its uses.

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