Inspired by this question:

I have never heard of a Fractal style story generator, I did a quick google and am somewhat uncertain as to how this differs from developing a normal story arc. So, what is a fractal style story generator/system, and how does it differ from a "normal" style story generator/system?

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    \$\begingroup\$ You should look up Microscope, mentioned in that question. \$\endgroup\$ – okeefe Apr 10 '15 at 12:49

First, we need to understand what a fractal is. Then we can see how that applies to a story generating system, for this I'll use Microscope as an example since I'm familiar with that game already. Wikipedia:

A fractal is a natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays at every scale. If the replication is exactly the same at every scale, it is called a self-similar pattern. An example of this is the Menger Sponge. Fractals can also be nearly the same at different levels. This latter pattern is illustrated in the magnifications of the Mandelbrot set. Fractals also includes the idea of a detailed pattern that repeats itself.

So a fractal is a repeating pattern that displays itself at every scale. Wikipedia has some great pictures of what these look like both computer generated and ones found in nature.

A fractal story generation system then is one that uses the same design patterns at each scale of the story. In a system like microscope, it uses index cards to describe an event. Microscope has 3 main elements

  • Period (and over arching happening that denotes a collection of events, usually specifies a time period in the history you are describing)
  • Event (a more granular happening that denotes a collection of scenes, usually represents a single major event during the period in which it resides)
  • Scene (the most granular happening that can either be role played or described, typically represents a turning point or otherwise pivotal moment during an event)

All of these use the same pattern (except scene, where you have the option to have more description/roleplaying, but it's still very similar). They are simply a description written on an index card.

Additionally, you can break a fractal up into it's smallest piece and still see the pattern of the fractal replicate. Because Microscope is defining a history, you can make the spacing between periods, events and scenes as narrow as you want in your storyline and keep breaking them up, you can also add as many as you want and the game can go on forever.

The contrast here is between a fractal story generator, and say, a linear story generator which would seek to tell events as they happen without using the same patterns over and over (in Microscope the patter is period->event->scene).

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not finding this very illuminating. Perhaps definitions for those three elements would help? I mean, in linear time you can insert events between other events. How is this different? \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon Apr 10 '15 at 19:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DCShannon I've included some, but this isn't intended as an explanation of the game microscope, it's more of an illustration of a fractal system, I'm assuming that if someone wants to know how micrscope works they'll read microscope. The contrast between linear and fractal is that linear storytelling isn't designed with inserting things in the middle, it's intended to be linear. Fractal storytelling is non-linear by design and uses the same patterns over and over. Some linear storytelling uses similar patterns regularly too, but that's not a key element of it's design. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Apr 10 '15 at 19:08

Microscope describes itself as "fractal" in the sense that the players can "zoom in" forever adding more and more detail anywhere in the storyline. It's an analogy to fractal images, which have a similar property of allowing zooming in and discovering more and more detail.

The real differences in Microscope compared to the typical way someone might create a story or timeline, are that there are several players with equal authority to choose where and when to develop more detail; and that there are no fixed times on any of the events, only a sequence, so more or less any amount of time could be inserted between events. The focus is also more on creatively coming up with surprising and interesting new ideas, rather than what one person might do if they were generating a timeline alone.


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