Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fiction: Adaptive Radiation

With the advent of new platforms like the iPhone and Kindle, fiction gets a new territory to expand into. People will try all sorts of interesting gimmicks to get a story sold and those gimmicks will provide fodder for the evolutionary process, most will go nowhere, but some will unexpectedly take off.

A few of these I'd like to try are:

  • A novel that's all character descriptions, like five hundred character descriptions with the plot hidden in the trivia of their exposition
  • A novel that only uses 100 words, not like a hundred word novel, like a 50,000 word novel that just uses the same 100 words over and over.
  • An anthology of the same elements repeated over and over in various interesting ways. You could use the fiction machine to put together a list of elements you like, and have a dozen writers compose them in their own way (great for creative writing classes).
And now that I've mentioned creative writing classes - the wonder of low cost distribution means any group can get together and publish an anthology or a catalog of essays. 
  • Your creative writing class could publish via Kindle and Blurb and people's grandmothers can get copies as NaNoWriMo gifts. 
  • Your bible study group can publish collections of theological musings My Utmost for His Highest style. 
  • Your maniacal PhD adviser could demand all her candidates keep detailed personal journals to be published as an memoir of research.
I never said it would be enjoyable. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How we Named our Daughter: Part 1

The only argument we had before our daughter was born was over what to name our kids.

My beautiful, brilliant wife liked Penelope (like from the Odyssey), but Penelope's husband cheated on her repeatedly. I just couldn't stomach it.

I liked the name Chaos.

Kind of a non-starter, to be honest.

At some point we realized that we couldn't agree because what you name your kids is largely a product of personal taste - we couldn't logic our way to a good solution.

So, being the mathematically inclined diplomats that we are, we finally solved our disagreement with a spreadsheet.

Each of us could post names to the spreadsheet, then we would independently rate them. By taking the combined score, we were able to see that even if a name wasn't at the top of either of our lists (like Penelope or Chaos) it could still be one that we both liked a lot. 

When we just disagreed, there had to be a loser, but by quantifying our affections we could both win, and the one source of conflict in our relationship became a great story to tell for the rest of our lives.

Anyway, we did all that with a Google Spreadsheet - it was kind of busy visually but it worked. 

A few months ago M thought to put the thing together as a websitey appy thing that anyone could go and use.

You can use it to name your kids (like us), or your new dog/business/airship. you can use it to choose where to vacation, or what movie to go see. Really, any decision with more than two options that you want to make democratically can be approached with this thing.

So without further ado Namerater!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Fiction Machine: Part 3

After a few weeks of thinking about it and a few days actually programming it, I've finally got a beta working.

There are some stylistic things I'll change, but the basic idea's there. With a simple Hot/Not interface, the thing will learn what kinds of stories you like, and suggest characters and settings you're more likely to be interested in.

The rings to the right gradually fill in as the engine learns more about the kinds of things you're attracted to, appearing at first as a random scatter of squares, and progressively as concentric rings of information.

The outermost ring has one square for each name you've Favorited, the second for characteristics, the third for miscellaneous tropes, and the innermost for settings.

Set you kid up with the iPad for a few minutes and when she's done you'll be able to compose a story with all her favorite elements - but something unique and surprising every time.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Fiction Machine: Part 2

The first time I tried this I was trying to come up with the plot and asking the computer to write sentences.

Computers suck at writing good sentences. is pretty much the bomb; if you've been there you know what I'm talking about. The community has done all the hard work cataloging what must be thousands of tropes, each one a specific element of narrative.

So, I'm taking advantage of all their hard work. I've already built my little recombo engine for the back end, now I just need to do the ui and data entry, and I'll have a little story, complete with multidimensional characters and an interesting plot, and all I'll have to do is the (extremely fun) work of fitting them together with good sentences.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Fiction Machine: Part 1

,lhgnsrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrc .ajk yuy bbbbnnbbnnnbm v,vdszopcm,

That was our daughter. It's her first blog post.

I've been working on a little ai - an extremely narrow ai - that'll write stories the outlines of stories for my daughter. She's not quite a year old, and pretty soon she'll be asking me for a new story every night and I want to be ready. 

I've tried to do this before. The first time I built a pretty generic bed time story about a little girl and a gorilla, it was for my nieces and nephew. It was a failure.

I tried to vary details of the story every time, which sounds easy, but there are tons of details even in a simple story. It's not so simple a thing to deal with of all the ins and outs of a little yarn. I could pretty easily switch the name, the little details like the color of a cape/the eyes/her hair the name of a valley/mountain/island but this only gives you the same plot over and over and over again.

I had it backwards. I'll explain how later.