January 6, 2005

Wandering Ever Along the Strangest Web

by Nick Montfort · , 11:27 pm

A puzzling republication and tribute to literary semi-madman Harry Stephen Keeler can now be found at Spineless Books. Keeler, an arcane mystery writer, wrote a treatise describing how to construct the sort of elaborate plots that he used in his print novels. It was called ” The Mechanics (and Kinematics) of Web-Work Plot Construction,” and William Gillespie has just published it in a new edition, online. Gillespie also presents a graphical bibliography of Keeler, an illustrated explication of Keeler’s theories and their applicability to hypertext writing, and a brief illustrated guide to writing like Keeler.

Keeler diagram of part of the Unknown facsimile of the original first page of 'Mechanics...'

5 Responses to “Wandering Ever Along the Strangest Web”

  1. clifford duffy Says:

    hello Ive just discovered your blog and find it very interesting.. I just thought I would drop you a line. I am a Canadian poet.
    Clifford Duffy

  2. josh g. Says:

    The next logical step, of course, is to create a computer-generated web-work of the Lorenz equations and create the most madness-inducing novel ever written.

  3. Dirk Scheuring Says:

    Very interesting pointer; thank you, nick. So it seems to be Keeler who deserves credit for first publishing about the deconstruction of “plot” into a number of interwoven “threads” (or “plotlines”, or “throughlines”, as they are also known to writers). That concept sure found it’s way into the literary mainstream, even if Keeler never did.

    Of course, his advice of using many threads at the beginning of a story will bias the result towards considerable plot-heavyness, quite possibly at the expense of character detail. This might be the reason why the versions of plot-weaving that are taught today in textbooks and writing classes cut down on the number of threads they suggest.

    The most commonly found version involves two throughlines: < a href="http://www.jenniferbrinn.com/full.php?id=D244_0_3_0_C">“objective plot” and “subjective plot”. The Dramatica system has four – “objective” and “subjective” as well as “main character” and “obstacle character” throughlines -; they also call the process of handling the throughlines “storyweaving” (though I’m sure that Keeler is not credited anywhere in their documentation).

    Personally, I’ve worked with as much as six throughlines; it’s easy to get stories moving real fast that way, but it’s already getting more difficult to achieve closure while avoiding ham-fisted coincidences and deus-ex-machina moments. The more threads you have to weave, the more this difficulty increases. Keeler obviously didn’t mind, and pulled stunts like introducing the “murderer” character on the last page of a mystery novel. I really enjoy the boldness of this, but for my own work, I tend to be a bit more conservative in taste. Maybe I’m not yet old enough to pull it off straight-faced…

  4. Malcolm Ryan Says:

    It amazes me when people who write about writing stories apparently know little about writing explanations. What on earth inspired him to so similiarly name the two terms he is trying hard to keep apart? “Motiving” and “Motivating”? Would he name two rival characters in his story “Stuart” and “Stewart”?

  5. c.d. Says:

    work in egress__

Powered by WordPress