Hansel and Gretel meet the old witch

Fractured Fairy Tale Final Project

The final project for DIG 220 asks you to create a compelling branching path narrative in Twine. You have two thematic options to choose from. First, the original theme, which is adapting an existing fairy tale into Twine. Or, the alternative theme: an interactive narrative about what it’s like to live through a global pandemic.

If you are going with the original option, you cannot merely copy and paste the original fairy tale into an interactive narrative; you must rethink everything about the original and transform it into a compelling digital narrative experience, creating a fractured fairy tale.

If you are going with the second option, there are many ways to approach this. It can be fictional, or based on your own experience, or generalized from the experiences of others you heard or read about. It doesn’t have to be first person or second person either; maybe it’s told from the point of view of an object or a series of letters.

Rationale

On one hand, creating an adaptation of an existing work liberates you from the tyranny of a blank page. You already have material to work with. You already have a starting point.

On the other hand, adaptation requires a deep engagement with the source material and thoughtful deliberation about your process. Adapt comes from the Latin verb adaptāre—meaning to “make suitable or fit for a new purpose.” An adaptation must fit the new medium in a way that makes sense for that medium.

Countless questions arise when adapting a story. What is the essence of the story? What’s most important to preserve? Its language? The setting? Tone? Characters? Plot? Its themes? Which of these must be carried over to the new medium? Which of these things can be altered significantly or discarded altogether?

Adapting to a digital medium further complicates the process. How can you take advantage of the interactive, procedural, and aesthetic principles of the digital world? How can you use the affordances of Twine to rethink the original? Maybe even “break” the original?

The strategies of adaptation will vary from story to story and writer to writer; what you choose to prioritize will help to determine the qualities of the interactive fairy tale and its relationship to the original tale.

Getting Started

First you’ll need to choose a fairy tale to adapt. Your starting point should be a pre-mid-20th century version of the fairy tale. In other words, forget Disney’s watered-down retellings. Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy Book (1889) and Red Fairy Book (1890) are excellent sources, collecting many classic fairy tales. It was Lang who popularized the opening line “Once upon a time…”

Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm also collected many folk tales. This collection of Grimm’s fairy tales contains 25 of the most well-known fairy tales, but I encourage you to explore lesser known tales. Other Grimm’s collections include this translation in English and another with illustrations. This collection includes over 200 fairy tales collected by the Grimm Brothers.

As you work, think about the way you can take advantage of the affordances of digital media. Also think about how the rules of notice and signification come into play with the source work, and how those rules might be transformed in the new medium.

Finally, consider how you can remediate the fairy tale so that you’re not simply retelling the story. Some strategies to consider include:

  • Change the narrative perspective, maybe even including a point-of-view missing from the original
  • Change the time and setting, updating the narrative scenario to reflect contemporary concerns
  • Challenge the cultural assumptions and priorities embedded in the original fairy tale
  • Flip or bend it—gender flip, gender bend, identity flip, sexuality bend, you get the idea
  • Go micro, zooming in on a single instant in the original folk tale and expanding on it, giving it narrative richness it lacks in the original
  • Go macro, zooming out to consider a more sophisticated and broader context than the original tale

Working with Twine

  1. You can download a desktop client for Twine at https://twinery.org/ or use the browser-based version found on the site.
  2. Twine offers three story “formats.” These are the behind-the-scenes engines that power the work. Harlowe is the default format and is quite capable for most branching narratives. SugarCube is more complex and offers more possibilities for advanced game mechanics and the integration of Javascript. Chapbook is the newest format and is also suitable for branching path narratives, but it may be buggy. I’ll encourage everyone to use Harlowe unless there are specific reasons not to.
  3. The key mechanic of Twine is linking between passages. To create a new link, just enclose that text in double brackets like [[What happened next?]]

Tutorials

We’ll devote substantial time in class to learning Twine. But you’ll eventually need to RTFM:

The Twine Cookbook has some nitty-gritty details about more advanced features: http://twinery.org/cookbook/.

Criteria

I’ll evaluate your fractured fairy tale using this criteria:

  • Remediation (the extent and sophistication to which your work remediates the original fairy tale)
  • Writing (the care put into the written portion of the work)
  • Proceduralism (the way the work takes advantage of the procedural nature of Twine, including variables, state tracking, and conditional logic)
  • Design (the extent to which the look and feel of the work move away from Twine’s default look and align with your own stylistic objectives)
  • Intention (the sense that the work deliberately engages with the ideas from this class)

Artist’s Statement

In addition to the fractured fairy tale itself, you must also write an artist’s statement that explains and reflects upon the work.

Your artist’s statement is a 1500-2000 word essay that outlines the goals of your project. You should consider the following questions (not necessarily all of them or in this order): What were you trying to achieve? What kind of intervention does your work make? Is it a corrective of some kind into the world of fairy tales or electronic literature? What aesthetic effect or thematic goals were you after? What nonrepresentational meanings were you trying to evoke? What mechanics or narrative moments are especially meaningful?

I’ll be looking for evidence that you’ve absorbed and thought about many of the issues we discussed throughout the semester regarding narrative, choice, aesthetics, and so on. You’ll want to cite 3-4 specific theorists or other works and detail their influence on your fractured fairy tale.

Finally, conclude your artist’s statement by evaluating how your project lived up to your initial goals. What difficulties and epiphanies occurred along the way as you created your project, and what would you do differently next time?

Interactive Fiction Competition

Toward the end of the semester our class will host its own competition, with winners and runner-ups selected from the following categories:

  • Best Overall Adaptation
  • Best Writing
  • Best Game Mechanics
  • Best NPC
  • Best Weirdest Adaptation

Timeline and Checkpoints

  • Friday, March 20: Introduction to Twine
  • Friday, March 27: Pick three possible fairy tales to adapt, along with a two-sentence prospectus for each. At least one of the fairy tales must be a story that is less well-known, i.e. not Cinderella, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, etc. If you’re going with the pandemic option, submit a two-sentence description of your idea.
  • Monday, March 30: There will be a Twine workshop in class. The goal is to create a three passage sequence using variables and conditional logic by the end.
  • Friday, April 3: There will be a Twine workshop in class this day.
  • Friday, April 17: A cohesive portion of the story is due in class this day, including one mini-game (an embedded sequence that breaks out of the dominant narrative perspective of the work).
  • Friday, April 24: Twine workshop in class
  • Monday, April 27: Twine workshop in class
  • Wednesday, April 29: Competition version of project due in class
  • Wednesday, May 6: Final version of project and Artist Statement due

Note: 15% of the final grade for this project comes from successfully meeting the three checkpoints (3/13, 3/20, and 4/17).

Publishing Your Fractured Fairy Tale

Final versions of your Fractured Fairy Tale and Artist Statement are all due by Wednesday, May 6. Here is how to share your project with me (and the world):

  1. Publish your game online. You can host your project for free on itch.io, host it on your own Davidson Domain, or arrange with me to host it on our course site.
  2. Share a Google Doc of your Artist Statement with masample@davidson.edu. Make sure you give me permission to comment on the document. Include a link to the game in your Artist Statement.
  3. Post a paragraph introduction to your game on the course blog, along with a working link to the game.
  4. Upload the game files and link to your Google Doc Artist Statement to Moodle.