E-Lit in the Gutter: Applying McCloud's Transition Categories to Interactive Fiction

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Talk
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Tuesday Aug 14   02:00 PM to 03:00 PM (1 hour)
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Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics has been a staple text in digital media classes for decades. Chapters focusing on topics such as symbolic and iconic representation, relationships between word and image, and the illustration of time provide powerful insights into the creation and interpretation of digital works. McCloud’s analysis of the visual-centric comic medium bears obvious relevance to what we create and see on the screen. For those working in interactive fiction, however, the most useful chapter may be the one dedicated to what cannot be seen. Chapter 3, “Blood in the Gutter”, examines the physical and narrative gaps between frames in a comic strip or book. These gaps, or “gutters” are the visible whitespaces between inked panes and, simultaneously, the conceptual spaces between points in a narrative. McCloud’s examination of these spaces offers valuable insights for both authors and readers of the code-triggered gaps between hyperlinked elements of an interactive fiction.
This paper applies McCloud’s discussion of the gutter to link-oriented electronic literature. The gutter is constructed through collaboration between author and reader. The author determines the transition type between linked frames. McCloud identifies six transition types, each relating to a different way in which a narrative may be carried along from one frame to the next. These types are moment-to-moment, action-to-action, subject-to-subject, scene-to-scene, aspect-to-aspect, and non-sequitur. The nature of interactive fiction will likely lend itself to other transition types that are less relevant to the comic book format. I will look at examples from various interactive fictions to illustrate the use and effectiveness of each transition types.
In each transition type, a narrative gap separates the linked frames. The author determines the transition type, but it is the reader who fills the gap. This is an act of closure in which the reader’s interpretations of the both base and destination frames construct the missing segments of the narrative, bridging the gap and making the narrative whole. Closure is heavily influenced by the author’s choice of transition types. The moment-to-moment type requires little effort or input from the reader to achieve closure, and thus encourages little collaboration between reader and author within the narrative gap of the hyperlink. Others, such as scene-to-scene and aspect-to-aspect, allow for a much greater degree of reader input and a more dynamic and unpredictable narrative space between frames.
My argument for the relevance of McCloud’s work to interactive fiction presupposes the importance of the writer’s choices in link construction. Just as writers should make intentional choices about traditional elements such as use of words, metaphors, character development, plotting, and pace, writers of interactive should make intentional choices in their use of links. This can mean more than knowing what choices we want our readers to have, or how we want our stories to branch and twist. McCloud’s discussion of transition types and their influence on reader/author collaboration provides us with a useful set of tools as both creators and readers of interactive fiction.
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