If you need help writing a story and are adverse to the mainstream plot-twists of Dramatica, you now have a zen-based alternative. At this past Siggraph in Los Angeles, Dr. Noako Tosa of Kyoto University presented i.plot, which she sees as part of “the future of narrative.” Enter a few words and i.plot will return a web of interlocking nodes, each filled with related words. A story is born. Users can see it in action .
To use i.plot, users enter several (3 or less is best) search terms. i.plot searches out the associations with these terms, using Edinburgh Associative Thesaurus, and then proceeds to map out a connection. The connections involve semantic webs of antonyms and synonyms, along with a path that runs through various interrelated words. The system is not as robust as Visual Thesaurus by Thinkmap, but its large idling balls have a bit more play to them. Incidentally Visual Thesaurus, which is now for-pay, offers pronunication, multiple languages, and spellchecking.
i.plot is a combination search engine and semantic web with a bit of I Ching-like possibility space thrown in. The work builds on a previous project, at Siggraph 2004, ZEN-etic, which offered an intercultural encounter with the allegorical tropes of Eastern philosophy. The new system, however, focusing on storytelling, offers unpredictable strings of association for your input that may require a bit of a zen attitude to appreciate its relevance.
In terms of interactive storytelling, the system seems to fall along the lines of the semantic fiction generators discussed in Chris Crawford’s Interactive Storytelling. Like many sentence generators, i.plot does generate a string of terms that could be interpreted as a story, but the reader has to do much, or most, of the interpretive work.
I would offer i.plot and Kartoo as valuable prewriting or brainstorming tools, or possible parts of larger storytelling systems. Kartoo is the visual metasearch engine which groups your results around thematics. Like bubbling of your college writing class, these activities can be generative, helping you to see connections and build on ideas, when all you have is a string of words, regardless of whether or not you use the sites Kartoo suggests or the story strings produced by i.plot.
Speaking of a college writing class, some of the students of mine who have used i.plot as a brain-storming device find that they do discover new ideas an meaning when they type in search terms. Unfortunately, the vocabulary recognized by i.plot is currently quite limited, and abstract terms tend to choke the system. Eventually, the creators promise to harness Google in the aquisition of new language. This has not yet been implemented in the online version.