Analysing and telling changing narrative in Storyspace 1

Benozzo Gozzoli (1420–1497), The Dance of Salome (1461-62), tempera on panel, 23.8 x 34.3 cm, The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

Stories change over time. Trying to tell such changing stories in essentially linear media, such as printed or even electronic books, is not easy for the author or the reader, and often involves repeating material or many cross-links. In this article and its sequels, I hope to show how Eastgate’s Storyspace hypertext authoring and reading features can do a much better job.

The stories that I am going to examine are those involving King Herod, his wife Herodias, her daughter, now commonly known as Salome, and Saint John the Baptist. Next week I am posting a series of three articles here about those stories, largely as depicted in paintings.

But they gave rise to rich media: accounts in the New Testament Gospels, which date back around two thousand years, hundreds of paintings and illustrations which have been made over the last fifteen hundred years, novels, short stories, plays (most famously Oscar Wilde’s Salome), operas (including Richard Strauss’s Salome), dance productions, and movies.

What is most remarkable about these from the narrative viewpoint is that, until the nineteenth century, the story told in the Gospels, with its fairly simple moral basis in the devastating consequences of vengeance, held sway. Inevitably this story had become elaborated in certain respects, but the roles of its central characters stayed much the same.

Then in the late nineteenth century, the story told in most of the different art forms changed, and within a few decades it became very different, a disturbing and decadent story about sex and death. As far as I can tell, the telling of the story which caused this change was in a painting, which some even dispute is capable of narrative without the support of written or spoken words.

For the author who is analysing this web of inter-related narrative, and the reader who is trying to understand it, the first challenge is how to present the two main stories so that they stand together, and then how to relate the many different artistic expressions of each story. Some art forms, such as novels, plays, and operas, can encompass most, or the whole, of a story. Others, such as paintings, can only show a single scene, with additional references to other moments in the story.

My first task is to set out the two main stories: that from the Gospels, and that given in Wilde’s play. So that I can relate paintings and other art forms to each story, I am going to divide them up into scenes.


I start by creating two prototypes, one for a narrative text source, which has key attributes for the $StartDate and $EndDate of the production of the text, the other to contain the text describing each scene, which (for the moment at least) has no key attributes.


These are placed inside the conventional container named Prototypes, to which I attach the action
which ensures that all writing spaces placed in that container are set to prototypes, if they aren’t already (thanks to Mark Anderson for this valuable tip).



Next, I take the traditional biblical story, and divide that up into scenes, which lead on from its text source. One slight issue to note here is in the entry of dates before 100 CE: if you enter a date like 01/01/66, it is assumed that you mean 1966. To enter 66 CE as the year, you will need to put 01/01/0066, for example.

One useful trick here is to enter the individual scenes as plain writing spaces, without a prototype. Once they are done, select them all, and switch one of the selected group to the Scene prototype; all the selected scenes will then be set with that prototype.


Here I have added Josephus’ added information that Herodias’ daughter was named Salome, which is not actually given in the biblical sources. I have also summarised Wilde’s play into similar scenes. Because it is a much longer and more detailed story, it inevitably leads to rather more writing spaces. At this stage, it is immediately apparent how Wilde’s story differs from that in the Gospels.


I then link the writing spaces in each of the narratives to turn them into complete stories, using plain links.


If Storyspace does not automatically place the end of a link at the optimal site, select the source writing space, so that two characters appear on the link itself, ⓧ which will delete the link, and ⓘ which allows you to edit its details.


In that floating dialog, you can fix placement of the start and end of the link.

Once the stories are linked up, I switch from Edit to Read mode, select the TextSource at the top of a story, then check through the sequence of scenes to ensure that the whole story makes sense.

Finally, I link the last writing spaces in each story back to the start writing space, and edit that to provide text links to the start of the stories. I also add a text link out to the limb of Josephus’ account. This should make all the stories and their writing spaces fully navigable to a reader, without their using the Map view.


What we now have is a single hypertext containing the two stories (and the Josephus addition), through which the reader can navigate in linear fashion. If you open a second window on the same hypertext, you will see that its contents change in synchrony with the other window. What we cannot do is follow the two stories side by side.

Although that might seem like a good way of comparing and studying the stories, in reality it could quickly become very confusing. Although we have two eyes, we can’t actually read two texts simultaneously, and even if we could I fear that our brains would quickly become overloaded. In the next article, I will explore some ways of bringing the two stories together, and of presenting the story of the stories.

Here is the Storyspace hypertext document, compressed as a Zip archive: salomestory1
To read it, you will need the Storyspace reader app, or Storyspace itself, from Eastgate.