Generative StretchText

In 1967 Ted Nelson described the concept of “StretchText” — a body of text that compresses down to successively more compact abstracts in response to space constraints.

I was having a conversation recently with my colleague Noah Wardrip-Fruin in which we realized that he and I share an interest in doing something similar in spirit, but in some ways quite different: Using a generative narrative engine to selectively expand what starts out as a compact abstract, so that it expands to a desired level of detail.

It goes without saying that this is a hard problem. It presupposes some kind of engine for directed narrative generation, such as the research being done in the Expressive Intelligence lab at UC Santa Cruz (run by Noah and Michael Mateas), or the system Emily Short and Richard Evans have been building to tell interactive stories in the style of Jane Austen.

But it also demands that the text that is generated be both dramatically interesting and narratively consistent, no matter how or where one “zooms in”. If Ted Nelson’s original concept is analogous to Google Maps, then this would be analogous to that zoomable procedural planet I created in homage to Richard Voss.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if this constraint were actually to help. The need to generate a consistent narrative at all levels of detail might lead to new approaches to narrative generation — perhaps better in some ways than the current state of the art.

3 Responses to “Generative StretchText”

  1. Rhema Linder says:

    Reminds me of Michael Bernstein’s work on Soylent. He uses crowd sourcing and a Word plugin to let authors trim down documents to a desired length. .

  2. admin says:

    Yes, Soylent is actually a great application of crowd sourcing to generating Ted Nelson’s StretchText. Not only a collaboration among crowds, but a collaboration of two brilliant minds across generations!

  3. Emily Short says:

    This is not generative at all, but I recently made a very small experimental sketch piece in which the interaction was about gradually adding complexity to a very short plot:

    The phrase “zooming in” also sort of suggests (to me) that you’re going to be keeping the length of the narrative consistent while focusing on a smaller and smaller piece of the whole — which is a slightly different approach but also interesting; sort of like the Iliad covering only a small portion of the whole duration of the Trojan War. Or one might choose to zoom in on the perspective of just one character, perhaps one who is not traditionally the protagonist, and retell the story from that angle.

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