The development of the cultural field of electronic literature faces significant challenges today. As everyday network communication practices and habits of media consumption change, they impose expectations on how narratives are expressed, experienced and interacted with by readers and users. These expectations produce an imperative to accommodate additive and emergent participation processes that influence how narratives are structured. It is increasingly important to strike a balance between authorial agency and user generated content, between the core creative vision of a cultural creator and the contributions of casual participants, between narrative coherence and improvisational interactions. Resolving these antinomies is crucial in order for the field of electronic literature to support both the development of popular digital fiction and a continuing tradition of experimental literature.
In this paper I develop a comparative, multi-layered analysis of network narratives – prose narrative works imagined within and created for a media ecology characterized by networked computing devices, socially mediated interactions, and participatory culture. Using narrative theory and network analysis I explore how the iOS application The Silent History and selected network narratives incorporate additive participatory feedback loops and processes that enable user generated content to be embedded within the narrative that subsequent users engage with. Conditions for the inclusion of user-generated content vary among network narratives, and are typically constrained programmatically or editorially with respect to type, quantity, or subsequent accessibility. The participatory and emergent characteristics of network narratives shape and are shaped by various aspects of the narrative, including the expression of story as discourse, the navigational interface, production circuits, distribution and publishing models and whether and how multimedia elements play a role in the work. These elements of network narratives can be understood as topological strata, and by investigating the homologies and interdependencies between them, this study clarifies how additive participation can be incorporated into a compelling narrative without undermining coherence.
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