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Making a Website an extension of Story
I've been thinking a lot lately about my Dragons of Night site: What are some ways to make a website and experience of and extension to story?
It should be more than just a billboard or advertisement for my books and the setting I write in. If it is just an ad, why would anyone want to visit or come back?
This is a place where the Five Codes of Roland Barthes could really be a big help. In a lot of ways, his description of the ideal story resembled the hypertext novels of the 90's and early 00's.
The reader should be able to enter and leave a story from any point and have a valid experience. He also believed that the reader should be able to read the story in any order, and still have a valid experience of story.
This is a tricky thing to pull off in a novel, but a website should be able to easily fulfill these aspirations.
Here are some of the first steps I am going to try to make this theory a reality:
1) The Proairetic Code
This is the code of action. Essentially, this is the actions of the plot. Most of us have this covered on our sites already.
Let me try to make a quick check list:
Plot synopses for novels and stories.
Backstory elements that could enhance the reader's experience.
Highlight cliffhangers, unresolved elements of the story.
Anything that will cause the reader to ask, "What happens next?"
2) The Hermeneutic Code
This is the code of enigmas and puzzles. This is the aspect of the story that digs deeper. It deals with mystery and the pursuit of truth.
The elements that make up the Hermeneutic Code could be used to inspire additional web content, most of which we should be able to derive from our pre-writing notes:
What is the enigma?
What in the story begs the question the enigma poses?
What in the story confirms the enigma? What clues open the mystery for the reader and make them want to answer it?
What promises an answer to the enigma?
What clues and information can you reveal about the enigma?
What snares will pull the characters and readers further away from the truth?
What equivocations will mix truth and falsehood to muddy the water?
What blocks seem insurmountable that might prevent the character from solving the enigma?
You may be thinking to yourself, "I'm not writing a mystery." Look carefully at your story, nearly all stories present a question to be answered, an enigma to be solved, or truth that must be uncovered. Think about ways you can tantalize the readers with that question, enigma, or truth.
It is important for entertainment designers to realize that making your readers interested in the hermeneutics of your work is the best way to generate buzz and fans
3) The Connotative Code.
This may be the hardest code to discuss and adapt for our purposes. It deals with semiotics, symbols, traits, actions, names, anything that grants a connotation to a character, or place, or to the overall story.
The easiest way to talk about it, is to think of the story, characters, and settings, and ask yourself, "what makes that unique or what it is?" These elements are called signifiers, because they create or suggest something about the story, characters, or setting.
The characters and settings are themselves signifiers, in that they give meaning to your story. This story would be different if these elements were changed. Each character, objects, and setting has its own signifiers.
Some ways we could use this on our sites might be:
Create a bio page for the main characters
Create a page for the important groups.
Create a page for important places.
Create a page for any important words, phrases, arts, crafts, unique world or setting elements.
Don't forget to interlink these with what you've written about the enigma and the story.
4) The Cultural Code.
Depending on the type of story you wrote, this code may be more or less relevant to you. The cultural code or referential code is the aspect of the story that pulls from our cultural heritage to give meaning to the story.
For example: if I tell you a character is Goth, you immediately dye their hair black, add eyeliner to their face, and dress them in black. You probably also made other assumptions about them based on your experience with Goth culture. That is the cultural code.
In my latest story, In the Light of the Moon, the main character is an Amores. Fans of Greco-Roman mythology would immediately know that she is in erotes or Cupid. My reference would've been clearer if I had called her a Cupid, but I didn't want to have to refute in the story the baggage that comes with that word. In choosing to call her an amores, I hoped that readers the didn't even know what that was, would see the word amor and think of love. That's how I chose to use the cultural code, for better or worse. Maybe that would make an interesting blog post, or a comment to add to my page on the amores on the site.
When I wrote, The Chain, I made references to bands and songs that I felt enriched the characters. The problem is I'm relying on my readers knowing those songs and bands. So maybe I should make a Spotify playlist, and use the iTunes and Amazon affiliate program to create a soundtrack for the book. That gives me another level of monetization, and even if no one buys them, gives my readers a chance to hear the music.
The reason I'm going into detail with my own work is that each of us is going to have to look at the references we individually made and try to figure out a plan to open those aspects of our story up for our readers to discover, explore, and play in
5) The Symbolic Code.
The symbolic code is similar to the connotative code, but deals with larger organizing elements, some of which you may start to see as you look at the referential code.
Whereas in the connotative code we were examining individual traits and elements, in the symbolic code, we are looking at the links and connections between them to expose a wider level of meaning.
Before we were talking about the characters, now were talking about the cliques. How the characters interact, feel about each other, and the conflicts they have. It's easy to uncover these interactions if we look at who is opposing who for what and why.
Some things we may want to discuss here:
The contention between characters and groups.
The motifs we wove throughout the story.
The symbols and MacGuffin's in the story and their meaning.
The themes we were exploring through the narrative.
The Open Story.
As we deepen our craft, we learn there is more to a good story than a lot of action, snappy dialogue, and interesting characters. We've learned to make better stories by making the stories more meaningful and richer experiences for our readers. Now is the time for us to open up our writer's notebooks and share more with our readers.
I spend a lot of time at events talking about the elements of story and mythos from the reader's experience. Some are interested in the process, but so many more are looking for ways to get more out of the works they read. It's time that we give them a helping hand.
Open your story up, invite people to play in it, and develop a deeper relationship with your readers.
As I implement each code on my site, Dragons of Night, I'll share more about what I learned with you. If you give this a try, please share your experience with me.