Saturday, February 17, 2007

Metatextual!

This is a very vaguely formed idea, and, I'll admit, inspired at least in part by new media stuff - but not really, because it came to me last Thanksgiving and I haven't gotten around to doing anything with it. But it fits well thematically!

Basically, I want to start with time-travel or alternate-universe travel - I think deliberately vague, at first, as to which it is - and a student thrown back into a Renaissance-type era, very unprepared. She doesn't have much with her; the hole she stumbles across on her way to class, or something. One thing she does have is a copy of Shakespearian sonnets, and possibly other poems as well. In order to make some money, the protagonist has the genius idea to sell the sonnets to a printer and circulate them anonymously. After all, they're immortal classics, yes? So they should, in theory, be popular in any time or place.

She does the first lot as a batch, and then starts hoarding them out, in order to make them last longer. She also destroys the original text, and copies them all out in her own hand, in order to keep her secret better. The poems circulated by the anonymous author become all the rage - in part because of the mystery surrounding them - and make her enough money to keep herself comfortably in the world she's found herself in, and of course after a while she gets bold enough to start altering the sonnets she puts out, and then to writing her own, using the fame of the early sonnets as a sort of springboard. I haven't quite decided how it should end. I'm sort of leaning towards the revelation that the world she's in is ours, that she's been time-travelling, and it ends with Shakespeare gathering up the sonnets he likes - editing them in places, of course - and printing them up to claim as his own work which gets passed down to today, as a sort of cycle of plagiarism. But I do feel a bit bad doing that to poor Shakespeare.

There were a couple of media I was thinking for this story:

1. Mash-up. This one seems the most obvious. I might do it as a set of sonnets - some Shakespearian, some not - each as the header to a section of the story. Maybe I would intersperse lines from the plays, or films such as Shakespeare in Love, as well. A story about plagiarism told through plagiarism! Very metatextual. It could all be bound up in a neat little battered book, as if it had survived a couple hundred years to Bring The Truth To Us. Or, if I wanted to go a step further,

2. Hypertext mash-up. This one I'm kind of leaning towards - telling the story with links to the poems and relevant real-world documents, inserted more heavily towards the end when it turns out that the world in which the protagonist finds herself is ours after all. This has the advantage of allowing me to photoshop some of the poems onto period-esque looking pages, while allowing an infinite amount of space and a visual contrast between the actual events, the poems, and the edited poems.

3. Mixed movie mash-up. Yes, okay, I like Shakespeare in Love. But clips from Elizabethan-era films linked with voice-overs might be a cool way to tell this story, although probably beyond my technical expertise.

6 comments:

Tom Kealey said...

Rebecca... The story most catches my attention when the woman begins to change the sonnets. And perhaps she begins to write some from scratch as well? This will not only bring in issues of plaigarism, but also issues of literary reputation and homage etc.

Can you possibly tell this story by re-editing Shakespeare in Love? i think that sounds the most exciting, but will it be the most useful to you and your writing? I think the second idea, hypertext mashup, might be the most interesting, once you get into it.

As far as plot goes, perhaps you can create some kind of "deadline" in the story. For instance, the sonnets need to be created for a prize or event. Or, you could add Shakespeare as a character, with this woman publishing his sonnets only weeks before he would've created them himself. He begins to wonder...

In any case, lots of interesting paths to go down here. You should keep the idea expansive during this week's class, then start to focus on what you really want to explore.

-- TK

Adam Johnson said...

Rebecca,

Remember the Dlog, which was the program Alan used for the project in which a character wrote an email to Wendy, the young woman the narrator wanted to date? The program showed all the keystrokes, so we could watch the character write, erase and rewrite his email. That might be in interesting way to embed the rewrites of the Shakespeare sonnets—the dialog box starts with a sonnet intact, like 18 for example, and we see the character erase “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,” and write “Shall I compare thee to a stallion’s bay.” That’s a bad example, but it might be interesting to witness the creative process in progress. Or what if, the character goes back in time with Shakespeare’s sonnets, but they’re slightly off, and back in time she changes them to the sonnets as we know them today, and then the Bard himself collects these revisions of his old drafts? That could be kinda cool.

Carolyn Penner said...

Rebecca, I really like your story! As for which form to use, they all sound great, but I am leaning toward the hyperlink mashup. I feel like you could make use of all of the mediums you are thinking about using--for example, movie clips and copies of the poems and the process of writing them--with links. This is similar of what I was thinking of doing to tell my story; it gives you a lot of room to be creative and vary the technology that you use.

I also really like the ending you are thinking of using. However, I'm a bit confused about it. Is this right: the story starts in the present and the main character has a copy of Shakespeare's sonnets. Then she goes back in time and edits them, Shakespeare takes them back and edits them to his liking, and then he distributes them as his own, as we know them today. Is that right?

An interesting addition would maybe be to have the sonnets that she has in the beginning be somewhat different from the final versions. That way it seems like Shakespeare actually kept her changes. You can end with her holding two copies: the initial copy she had before traveling back in time and a new version, and that's how she realizes that her editing mattered.

Just a thought...

Allan Vol Phillips said...

This is a fun idea. What immediately springs to mind is a confrontation with Shakespeare, though that may be too obvious. I don't know, I just think the character of a bard with the words snatched from his mouth is highly amusing.

As far as what (new) medium you want to use, I like the idea of your hypertextual mash-up. One concern i have is that links to writing that is neither yours nor Shakespeare's would be less interesting. I don't know, it's just a gut-level aversion; I think it might seem forced, and you surrender a lot of authorial choice.

Adam's dlog is interesting, and I'm a huge fan of the medium. The problem I see is that it doesn't integrate well into your other content, but you may possess the requisite wizardry to blur the seams.

Again, fun idea.

AVP

Now if you wanted to link to false but ostensibly real documents that would be the bee's meow.

Chris Holt said...

Interesting concept; I like it. You have a lot of different directions to go with it, and I guess I'll put the cart before the horse here and talk about the media you could use. That may, after all, be your determining factor. I think if you can somehow incorporate the Dlog with an oral history (somehow capturing that through video, I don't know) could capture what you want to accomplish. Have different voices- the time traveler, the Bard, a reader, etc. Some of the time the text isn't altered, but it would be cool to get into the narrator's head, particularly the time traveler, as they alter or write the text down as their own. You can kill two birds with one stone- move the plot along while having the text in front of the reader. It might just be an interesting story to have a dialogue between Shakespeare and the time traveler as they edit each other's works. Otherwise, yeah, hypertext seems the best option to me.

Darren said...

This reminds me a little bit of a book by Michael Moorcock, "Behold the Man," where an existential guy travels back in time to meet Jesus and, by the end, has to BECOME Jesus. Having it end the way you were discussing could be interesting to explore, depending on how much you want to open up the story to time paradoxes - where did the sonnets come from originally, are they just perpetually being improved each time she travels back, is that why Shakespeare is so good? Lots of options...