Books exploring narrative pattern / design / structure

Okay, cross-posting this from the latest Antilibraries newsletter — I wanted to take a look at some books around the theme of narrative design/structure!

I’m fascinated by the many approaches and patterns that can be used to construct a story. All kinds of interesting possibilities that go beyond the traditional story arc, or linear unfolding of narrative, to shape stories in creative, playful, experimental, unorthodox ways.

A few books I found that seem relevant:

Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative — a cool taxonomic approach similar to some thoughts I’ve had about storytelling and time. Very interested in this exploration of “literary strategies” that propel and shape a text — not just arcs but natural and geometric shapes and more.

Counternarratives — something like a dozen shorts that “draw upon memoirs, newspaper accounts, detective stories, interrogation transcripts, and speculative fiction to create new and strange perspectives on our past and present”.

Relating Narratives: Storytelling and Selfhood — A short book exploring narration, selfhood, feminism, and philosophy. One part that struck me as interesting: that “…a great deal of the book consists in trying to elucidate what she calls ‘the paradox of Ulysses’: the situation in which, like Ulysses at the court of the Phaeacians, we hear and come to know our own stories only from the narrations of others.”

Third Person: Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives — Third Person “explores strategies of vast narrative across a variety of media, including video games, television, literature, comic books, tabletop games, and digital art.” I love the idea not only of critically engaging storytelling strategies, but of using the lens of vastness — extremes of size, scale, length, duration, immersiveness — as a tool for narrative creativity.

Question for y’all:

What books have you found interesting in this regard — either stories that demonstrate creative approaches to narrative, or (as with some of those below) any books, articles, etc. that go meta and talk about the narrative designs/patterns themselves?

Three on my shelf:

Impro — the only one of these I’ve actually read, an all time text on how to do improv that ends up cutting way deeper into social dynamics and narrative structure, heartbreaking that there’s no ebook

The Poetics of Plot — “Thomas Pavel has written extensively on poetics, linguistics, and narratology. In this book he proposes an original theory and methodology of plot analysis—a reading that draws upon the most fruitful aspects of literary structuralism and upon contemporary linguistic models (specifically generative grammar). […] The Poetics of Plot moves beyond the establishment and application of a new theory of plot to address broader issues in cultural studies: the role of linguistic models in literary studies, the nature and function of agency in plot advancement and history, the universal features of plot organization, and the relation of plot patterns to period styles and dominant modes of organized knowledge.”

Tell Me a Story — “How are our memories, our narratives, and our intelligence interrelated? What can artificial intelligence and narratology say to each other? In this pathbreaking study by an expert on learning and computers, Roger C. Schank argues that artificial intelligence must be based on real human intelligence, which consists largely of applying old situations, and our narratives of them, to new situations in less than obvious ways.”

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Awesome, I’m a big fan of Impro as well! I think I lost my copy (or loaned and forgot) - indeed would be great if they made an ebook version available. Particularly since the paperback is pricey. The sequel / companion, Impro for Storytellers, is pretty good too - more of a guide to specific practical improv exercises, where the orig covers the theory and history of Johnstone’s ideas.

The Poetics of Plot and Tell Me A Story look great too, thanks for the links! I may have a couple others on my shelf about experimental writing / poetics that come to think of it may be similarly relevant. Will try to find when I get home in a couple days :slight_smile:

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Finally went and pulled a few more from my shelves that relate to this topic—

Extreme Fiction: Fabulists and Formalists: anthology of “nonrealistic” and “nonnarrative” short fiction, seems like a nice collection with stories from Barthelme, Borges, Saunders, Butler, & many others

Fiction in the Quantum Universe: this one’s a trip! Well, really the whole idea of quantum fiction is! From Wikipedia: “Quantum fiction is characterized by the use of an element in quantum mechanics as a storytelling device. In quantum fiction, everyday life hinges on some aspect of the quantum nature of reality.” This book is a whole theoretical study looking at different aspects of that subgenre…

Breakthrough Fictioneers: another anthology that looks really good. From the cover: “Included are visual works, schematic legends, linguistic sequences and even a few almost-traditional yarns, but all of them are in some sense stories.” I’ve only flipped through briefly but seems like all kinds of cool experimental story formats: