Work as Narrative

Posted Sunday, May 5, 2024 by Sri. Tagged TROPE

There are times when I am soooo bored or unmotivated by a project that it feels like death. I have noticed in times like this, I typically binge on media that is about people who are working together to build things or attempting to master some aspect of their life. It occurred to me that maybe I could directly use narrative structures to make my projects seem more interesting.

Narrative and storytelling is at the heart of many of my interests, perhaps because I have a human-centered approach to even my technical/engineering oriented skills. I'm never interested in the skill itself for its own sake, but am instead motivated to apply that skill to see something happen that affects other people in a positive way. My long-time dabblings in graphic design, illustration, and video game design also draws from this well. I like stories about people doing things and solving their problems together to overcome challenges.

Example: Writing as a Task-Driving Effort

In August 2023, I actually tried applying story writing to get unstuck on a difficult project that I was forced to handle alone with no meaningful communication to bounce ideas off of, because no one was avaialble or able to talk with me about it. So, I wrote a story out as I worked-through the challenge, releasing frustrations through a narrative about my alter ego version in a more interesting environment. It's intereter

Sri and the Broken Datalink

This isn't a GREAT story, but it's enough of one to get me thinking.

"Hey, these two things should talk to each other", thought Sri, clanking the two modules together. "But how will they talk to each other without visible wires?"

Sri inspected the modules more closely. They seemed to support several ways of mounting, with a flush antenna area and a recessed socket on each end. This, she thought, implied that they might work in series. They seemed to snap together as a stack or in a series, which was cool! Sri wasn't sure if the color coding made a difference; the two modules she had seemed to have a deliberately shaped socket on it that was universal, but there were a set of recognition pins (she thought) next to them that varied by module, surrounded by the color coded symbol.

Rummaging around the workshop, Sri found another box filled with similar modules, but some did not have the end sockets. Otherwise, the configuration of the other elements seemed to be be quite standardized in their placement. Sri sketched out her understanding of the parts of the module.

Hand-drawn diagram of a mechanical component with data input and output pins

"So, if I want to connect my own data source to this system, I'll need to reverse engineer how this works. I'm not sure how it DOES work, but let me outline my guesses..."

"DATA IN / DATA OUT are a kind of stream interface"

"The IDENTIFIER and its SENSE PINS describe something about the modules function, so you know what the thing is supposed to do and what kind of data it might expect, but I need a reference for what that is"

"The DIRECT API" seems to be another way of interacting with the module, perhaps as something you can just plug-into another kind of system that isn't based on stream interface processing"

"The TELEMETRY I/O" seems to be an ambient communications system that is aware of components that are not directly connected to it through either the stream interface or the direct API port"

"I wonder if I can make a version of a module that actually doesn't do anything but take the stream input and spits it back out to the stream output? That might be a good first step! Yeah!"

The story went on in several phases, handling my emotional frustration while keeping me at least somewhat focused on the technical challenge until things started to click together. It was fun, and a nice break from the usual nuts-and-bolts continuity log that I use for pushing myself through projects.

Example: Construct Theory and Archtypes

I also will analyze myself in terms of having constructs, which are fragmentary aspects of my personality that I've turned into characters that I can imagine interacting each other. This is something that I had done beginning with my gender transition investigation starting in 2015, trying to imagine the "best version of me" as it pertained to how I wanted to feel about myself. There are also useful constructs that I realized could be used to interact with other people in other contexts. I found having these various constructs helpful and comforting in times of stress.

I applied a more familiar approach in 2022's Groundhog Day Resolutions when trying to identify what my role could be in an imagined colony which used world building approaches to figure out what I needed to do and why. I was able to emerge several yearnings and give them labels. Conceptually similar to user experience personas. In the original note I listed several archetypes that I could simulate operating in The Colony, though I didn't go as far as writing a story. I should!

Sample Archtype List (see original note for details)

  • The Best Girl
  • The Engaging Shopkeeper
  • The Magician
  • The Infectious Sunflower
  • The Investigative Designer
  • The Reluctant Assassin
  • The Catalyzing Incubator
  • The Job Creator
  • The Conceptual Curator
  • The Time Traveling Librarian

There was also a mini-story I wrote called The Story of Cat and Girl, not to be confused with the webcomic of the same name. It was short, but imagined myself with friends Cat and Girl having a conversation as a way to trigger the right emotional context for the work. Maybe it was a way to create a sense of connection with collaborators that do not yet exist in reality. It's short and cute:

Girl and Cat were talking about the town they wanted to build. Cat would become a cheesemonger he says, and build his shop overlooking the sea. Girl would build an observatory with a big telescope and open a "Stars Cafe" there. It with be a place that exudes the history of scientific inquiry but be a place for researchers to congregate and share their ideas with tea and good crispy snacks.

Sri doesn’t know what she wants to build for herself. She can only think of what to build what other people might be willing to pay for. But she remembers that she liked the idea of having a shop that sold magical tools in cool boxes, each carefully fit to the person seeking the tool. She would talk to customers about their wishes and then find or craft the exact right tool as best she could. The custom work is expensive, but she tries to offer cheaper options that are still good and have equally great boxes.

She would like her shop to be near the telescope so she would build nearby. Cat feels left out so he says that he’d build his cheese shop next door too.

Wishing into Reality

All these things, and many experiences in design and video game development, seem to revolve around the desire to turn nice stories into compelling real communities and organizations. The skills I have acquired are all centered around this idea, though I didn't realize that until very recently!