Evolving Story Format

John Samuel

Some stories evolve and do not usually end with 'and they lived happily ever after'. Real life is much more challenging, new twists come now and then, like in plays, where when we are expecting nothing of a big surprise, new characters enter the scene and leave most of us wondering what's next. Some writers abruptly end their stories, leaving their readers to imagine the rest. Still others write many novels, leaving the doors open for future writers. Pens, papers and printing presses played and still play a significant role in literature. However, we now have one additional media: the internet. Mirroring what we do in the physical world to the virtual world is one possible direction. But exploiting the many potentials of internet is another way to advance literature. Here, I would like to describe what I call the evolving story format to explore continuous writing on any subject: writing, updating and keeping track of the evolution.

Not a single domain has remained stagnant all these years. When almost everybody thought that there will not be any novelty coming up in a particular domain, all of a sudden, someone somewhere comes up with a new hypothesis and the domain is back in picture. No domain can just be confined to a few books.

Last several years have seen a shift from paper notebooks and books to internet. It is nevertheless important to note that physical books have not lost their charm. Internet has provided a new medium for dissemination of information in novel ways. In the beginning, we saw internet equivalents of every physical objects we know in the virtual world. We continued to use the same terminology of tangible objects of the physical world to refer to their non-tangible equivalents on the internet. We now have (virtual) articles, newspapers, journals, books on the internet and are very much successful in mimicing their physical world counterparts. Thus, our transition from physical world to virtual world has been pretty smooth. But physical world objects have their limitations: once an author has published a book and expressed opinions based on the facts known at the time of writing or publishing, it is difficult to change them based on newly known facts. We do see corrigendum, erratum in (physical) newspaper articles in extreme cases, but we are unsure whether they read them.

A traditional approach of publishing on the internet is to write a blog post and publish it immediately or at any given date. Any new development to the story already published requires writing a blog article and add hyperlinks to the previous article to give the readers the context. Though linking articles helps the user to find the previous article easily (compare it to the case where the reader has to check a newspaper of some days ago), it still requires the reader to refer to multiple articles. Here I would like to pose the question: virtual publishing has a lot more possibilities compared to physical world publishing, but do we need to limit ourselves by mimicking everything exactly according to the physical world equivalent?

Long story format1 explores a sort of continuous publishing on a story or a subject. It encourages the author to update a story by adding content or new developments to the top or bottom of the article. Is addition to the top portion of the page better? Readers come to the story page and look at the top. They do not need to scroll down to the end of the page to get the latest update. But what about first time readers? Do they need to follow the story in reverse chronological order without getting the complete context of the story? That brings us to an important question: is chronological presentation a feasible option all the time? I think it is a very difficult decision to make and is objective.

Updates at top or bottom portion of the page may work well for chronological stories. However, some facts do change thanks to new and ongoing research works. This requires rewriting some older sections of the article since what was one true is no longer the case. How can an article reflect that? This is where evolving story format comes in picture. Evolving story format lets the author update an article anywhere: top, bottom, middle, after second paragraph, after third line of the fourth paragraph etc. The format also lets the author rewrite any line, correct typos or even grammar mistakes. But...

tracked by version control motivation: similar to writing an article on a piece of paper. once draft version is completed, reread, corrections, grammatical errors, typos, rephrasing. From paper to version control (simulating this experience)

story of the making of the article

just like our ideas and opinions evolve, based on new information and when our old assumptions are no longer true, there are advancements on a single topic based on new scientific discoveries and facts.

two possible options: writing a new blog post or update the older one

writing a new blog post based on the update is a time-chronicled way

updation especially with the help of version control (or creating separate sections based on the change)

what else evolves? not just textual content, styles, fonts, colors, background

new images, change in titles, addition/modification of sections, new articles

images, use of SVG diagrams, SVG (XML), hence textual and easier to track the changes

who else follows the approach? wikipedia, collaborative knowledge repository or encyclopedia, one can check the older versions of the article? collaborative and consensus of the associated authors/editors on the topic

wikipedia entries tells the story of a collaboration

difference (with wikipedia): collaborative (involving multiple persons) versus personal (involving just the author, personal reading list, personal understanding, learning process, recalling process, collecting and refining the thoughts on various topics)

one page for each topic of interest

similarly personal blogs tracked by version control tell a story of an individual and the progress and the evolution of his ideas and opinions based on new facts

I frequently commit my changes. Frequent commiting with good commit notes is an interesting way to understand my own thought process at different instants of time. They also serve as the evidence of the evolution of my thoughts on a given topic. The major advantage is that I am able to write more frequently and at the same time improve my writing style.

References

  1. Long-form journalism
  2. This Is What Happens When Publishers Invest In Long Stories
  3. Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek
  4. How Technology Is Renewing Attention to Long-form Journalism
  5. ...


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