by Michael Costagliola - An Explanation
The Room is an experimental project. Hence, I attempted to do certain things I had not yet seen in a hypertext narrative, and other things I had not yet seen in a creative nonfiction piece. My goal for the general structure of The Room was to have two separate navigable environments that both depicted actual events that had occurred in my room, but in different ways, interacting with each other to form one conglomerate narrative. The main environment I used was Storyspace, which enabled me to arrange the framework of events in an interesting way. I set up the Storyspace lexias to look like the floorplan of my room, and wrote many lexias in a blog-like style, but linked them together hypertextually. I think the main advantage of writing in hypertext is the ability to give the reader options, which I did by providing both a semi-linear path through the lexias (by clicking the background of each one, which traces the outline of the room on the map) and also providing in-line topical links to somehow-related documents. A third option for the reader would be to simply view the map that appears upon opening the Storyspace document and choose a random lexia based on its title or position in the floorplan of the room.
The second environment I chose was HTML, creating a series of documents accessible from the World Wide Web. I wanted to design this portion of The Room so that it appears like it could stand alone as its own hypertext project, but in fact relies on the Storyspace narrative for its content. The HTML documents link hypertextually to one another, in much the same way that topical links in the Storyspace work, but there is no sense of linearity through the documents; this is because I wanted the HTML world to seem less grounded. There is, however, a sitemap linked to from each document that lists all the HTML documents divided by narrating character, just in case the reader wants to make sure he/she has read every page.
Linking these two environments together was the most challenging aspect of the project. I had never seen a Storyspace project successfully interface with HTML to form a combined narrative as I envisioned. The primary problem with this idea is that although you can link to the WWW from Storyspace, there is no way to link in the opposite direction. To solve this, I placed the majority of the storyline, the basis of the narrative, in the Storyspace and let the HTML serve as an extended supplement of sorts. Throughout the Storyspace portion, there are many links that instead of taking the reader to another Storyspace document as may be expected, take the reader to an "airlock" that indicates a departure to the online world. Unfortunately, the interface between Storyspace and the WWW is not particularly well-designed or fleshed out, which means that I had to place the actual "http://" link in the airlocks instead of giving the links names, which would have kept in the style of the rest of the project. This was a minor aesthetic issue, however, and the links did function well - I set up the airlocks using the Note function in Storyspace, and occasionally let the reader choose from several HTML documents to visit (taking advantage of the concept of one-to-many linking exclusive to Storyspace). I purposefully designed the HTML portion so that if the reader stayed within its boundaries for too long, he/she would hit a dead end (i.e. a lexia with no further links) and be reminded to revisit the Storyspace narrative.
I wrote the content of The Room entirely for the purpose of the project, and it stretches the established conceptions of creative nonfiction. The content of the Storyspace portion is written in a blog-like fashion, as if I had kept a journal the whole year of events that had taken place in my room. The style of the writing plays with lots of literary and poetic techniques, but everything portrayed is actual fact, depicting real events in my life. The HTML portion, however, takes a few more liberties. There are three separate characters who all take on narrating authority: Hannah, Rylena, and Peter, who are actually inanimate objects - my laptop computer, my electric guitar, and my Spiderman poster, respectively. I gave each of them a personality and set up imagined relationships between the characters and me. However, every event in The Room that these characters discuss is something that actually that happened in my life (besides the description of their relationships with each other or me). Most of the time, these characters take something I have experienced (and wrote about in the Storyspace segment) and offer a different take on the matter, which may give different insights as to what actually occurred. I might argue that this is an extended form of personification - simply a literary technique used to elaborate upon or elucidate storyline events. If this is indeed the case, then I could claim that the HTML portion stays within the limits of creative nonfiction because it is merely using a literary technique to expand upon factual occurrences - otherwise, it is more akin to a form of experimental fiction. Whatever the case, the purpose of this style of writing is to play with the boundaries between reality and fantasy, and even tease the reader a little. To this end, much of the HTML portion is tounge-in-cheek and filled with slightly absurd references (i.e. to comic book supervillians).
Perhaps the most important dimension of the project is how each environment affected my writing and continues to affect the reader's interpretation. When I first thought about writing the content, I knew that I wanted one grounded account from my personal perspective, and alternate, more fanciful accounts. The Storyspace environment seemed ideal for the former because of its simple layout and plain appearance. I purposefully left the Storyspace version black and white in order to emphasize the more sober nature of the narrative. This environment shaped my writing in that I knew I needed to make the content of the text engaging enough to account for the stark appearances. It was also easier to set up links in Storyspace due to the nature of the program, which probably made the linking structure a little more complex and intelligent than the HTML portion. I chose to put the alternative narratives in HTML because of my past experiences with the World Wide Web - specifically, that you can find anything there, with no guarantees to accuracy or sanity. Thus, the HTML environment caused me to write in a much more liberated style, making several obscure references and delving into nonsense occasionally. However, I tried to make the characters strong, opinionated, and even irascible, drawing on my experiences reading others' internet blogs. The HTML made it easy for me to change fonts, font colors, and background colors, all of which lend very important clues to the nature of each character. Finally, the HTML portion enabled me to have fun highlighting certain phrases or words by making them links (automatically underlining them and changing the color to blue). This makes these phrases stand out much more than links in Storyspace, letting me draw sharp attention to specific parts of lexias. In contrast, Storyspace's linking indication is much more subtle, which I found more appropriate for the grounded personal narrative than for the fanciful alternative viewpoints.
Thank you for reading my project! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me.
The Room is a little window into my life. And hopefully it conveys that, well, I'm a big fan of not taking things so seriously. But I'll probably try to convince you that I'm a blowhard first.