Chain Story

In an exploration of the dematiarlised and decontextualised nature of digital texts, I started a chain story (or crowd-sourced text) on Facebook.

The YarnFacebook Page

The Yarn is a Facebook page that contains a post with the beginning of a story.

“For all things change, making way for each other.” And so it began…

The quote is a translation of the epigraph from the front-matter of ‘At Swim Two Birds’ by Flann O’Brien. The epigraph in the original Greek is itself taken from Euripides’s ‘Heracles’.

ἐξίσταται γὰρ πάντ’ ἀπ’ ἀλλήλων δίχα
For all things change, making way for each other

‘At Swim Two Birds ‘ is an example of meta-fiction which could be described as fiction that is aware of itself. In a previous post it was noted that generative typography is described as typography that is aware of itself. The mingling of these media forms seemed an ideal place to start an exploration of the balance between time-binding and space-binding media, or the space between print and screen-based texts.

The chain-story is dependent on user input to determine theme, character, plot and setting, and is maintained by users appending the original Facebook post in the comments section.

According to Wikipedia, which in itself is a bit of a chain narrative, a chain story is…

“written collectively by a group of authors. The story is passed along from author to author, each adding a new chapter or section to the work, with the rule that each subsequent chapter or section should elaborate and follow the plotline of preceding chapters or sections.
The story continues through the participation of others; no one knows what happens next except the next person to add to the story. This method of writing is a shared project and often leads in unexpected directions.”

Facebook as a medium seems ideal. Like Twitter it is predisposed to facilitating short, bursts of decontextualised information. Its advantage over Twitter is that it allows for the creation of a central digital space (Facebook page) that users may visit and contribute to. Facebook’s policy of no longer showing posts and comments in chronological order, but valuing popularity of a post above its place in time, add to the confusing and ‘untethered’ nature of the narrative. It lends itself to multiple and various readings of the same text, and therefor the generation of a multiplicity of meanings. This sort of reading facilitates engagement with a text of a different level to that of traditional media.

However, numerous studies on the impact of screen-based reading, including one by Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University, on the impact of Kindles on comprehension of long-form texts found that:

“The Kindle readers performed significantly worse on the plot reconstruction measure, ie, when they were asked to place 14 events in the correct order.” The researchers suggest that “the haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does”.


yarn_profileThe header image used in The Yarn’s Facebook page is a photograph taken of an unfinished piece – an experiment in space binding, which attempted to wrap a cube of air in cassette tape. The profile picture is a running notice of how many authors have contributed to the story.



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