An idea for Story Tree

Screen shot 2013-05-28 at 8.50.15 PM

The other day I was playing Dead Or Alive 5. I completed the story line in and there are a few characters in this game that I really like. However, the story is really not my taste that I cannot help thinking: “Gosh! I seriously hope they had hired some professional science fiction writers that doesn’t suck. I think I can write a much better story if I have a free weekend!” At this moment an idea came to me: there should be a website for salvaging all those ruined fictions, and continuing all those beloved but concluded fictions, in books, movies, cartoons and games.

Don’t get the wrong idea; I’m absolutely aware there are thousands of websites hosting fan fictions for every popular fiction. For example, at www.fanfiction.net there are over 4,000 fan fictions for Star Wars alone at the moment. However, in my opinion what is missing in these websites is a sincere effort to unify the world view and story lines from different fan fictions, or from different authors. As a result, most fan fictions only extend the original story (or trunk, if you will) a little but never branches off, grows, and becomes a new trunk. Let me explain.

I’ll use the example of the TV show <House>. For those of you hated the abrupt ending of the final season like I did, you might wish to see or write a story where Wilson was just mis-diagnosed, and House continues bullying his associates and saving lives. So, you, Austen,  start writing one or two your own House episodes in a universe where Wilson did not had cancer and House stayed.

Now another hobby writer Twain is thinking about writing his own House story in the PPTH hospital too, but obviously he cannot base his story on the official ending where House has left for good. Normally he will then need to cancel Wilson’s cancer in his story too. But suppose he has read your story and really loved it, and more importantly, his story is fully compatible with yours, he can simply use your story (or “inherit it”, if you will) as the “trunk” where his story “branches off”. This reduces his work and also enriched the story line for both fictions quite a bit.

In the computer world, this type of version branching, inheritance and merging happens all the time, because several code developers need to work on the same project simultaneously. A software called Subversion manages this for you. You can create your own branches of codes away from the trunk, work on it for a while and merge it back whenever you like. Or, you can decide never to merge your code back to the trunk code, if you hate it.

It is easy to see how useful such a version control website/software will be useful for managing fictions. The analogy here is that the original fiction will be the “trunk”. Any authors can create their own story line 1) from the “trunk”; or 2) from another fan writer’s “branch”; or 3) start his very own branches, anywhere in the timeline of trunk or any branches, if he want. Of course the original authors (or branch authors) do not need to accept the new story at all, and this is totally fine because this is  a new branch, not any official extension of the original ones. BUT, if they like it, the two parties can converse and merge the two “branches” of stories in a joint effort.

One can immediately see how this story management structure opens a world of possibilities. Going back to the House example, let’s say another guy Asimov was thinking about implementing the House story too. In his fantasy, Wilson was intellectually transferred into a ipod-sized quantum computer after he passed away from cancer, and since then he becomes the robot friends of House. This creates a bizarre story line that’s compatible with neither Austen nor Twain’s story, but it opens a new crazy Sci-Fi branch that a lot of people would like to follow or work on. Note at this point, we have two absolutely different fiction branches, and three good stories (from Austen, Twain and Asimov). The Subversion website that I’m conceiving will present all these possible stories with a graph, so that any new House story developer can opt to start his story at any point of the three branches. He is supposed to mark his story as “compatible” or “incompatible” with all previous branches, but this is optional.

OK, you’ll now see how this becomes REALLY FUN on the reader side. With several branches of stories, he can choose to 1) read the works of a given authors that he liked, or 2) read officially merged stories; or 3) the best of all, let the algorithm decide for him which story he reads. Because the website is aware of compatibility of different branches (this information can be provided by authors or gleaned from readers’ inputs via machine learning), the website probabilistically follows a new story line every time. This means, you can read House stories at the website many times, and most times you will get completely different stories, which gives you the experience of exploring a universe of possibilities! Moreover, when the website accumulates more information about 1) stories; and 2) reader’s preference, it can try to match your taste and very likely pick the stories you love.

If it is a show, will the show producers be fine with the Story Tree idea, or call it a copyright violation? I cannot decide for them. But, they may like it seeing people writing stories for them. If they like some stories a lot, they can buy the story ( with the copyright, of course) from the author(s). On the other hand, for a smaller game developer team with limited budget for screenwriting, they can start a story trunk on Story Tree and invite people to branch for a reward. At very least, I will probably have a better DOA 6 to play!

2 Comments

Filed under All, Life

2 responses to “An idea for Story Tree

  1. I loved this post and the idea … as a long-time reader of some pretty terrible fan-fiction, I would hope some machine-learning could be included to “rate” stories based on their grammatical and vocabulary quality. If nothing else, I wish fan-fiction.net would include a Flesch-Kinkaid score for its stories. I can usually tell within the first two paragraphs whether a story is worth a read, but two paragraphs of truly bad writing can still be really painful!

    Sorry DOA 5 was such a disappointment!! Good to know to avoid it, though. 🙂

    P.S. Did you see that Knights of the Old Republic is available for iOS devices? The game is 10 years old, so the graphics are dated, but the storyline is supposedly one of the best RPG storylines. Might be worth a look!

    • Wow, I never know about the Flesch-Kinkaid score but it seems like a very useful statistics. Hermingway will probably get very poor Flesch-Kinkaid score for some of his late novels, though :). BTW, I decide to write Flesch-Kinkaid score calculator to improve my future scientific writing. Hope this will not drive Chad crazy.

      Thanks for the tips of Knights of the Old Republic. Definitely will check it out.

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