Building Abstractable Story Components with Institutions and Tropes

  • Matthew Thompson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Engineering (EngD)


Though much research has gone into tackling the problem of creating interactive narratives, no software has yet emerged that can be used by story authors to create these new types of narratives without having to learn a programming language or narrative formalism.Widely-used formalisms in interactive narrative research, such as Propp's Morphology of the Folktale and Lehnert's Plot Units' allow users to compose stories out of pre-defined components, but do not allow them to define their own story components, or to create abstractions by embedding components inside of other components.Current tools for interactive narrative authoring, such as those that use Young's Mimesis architecture or Facade's drama manager approach, direct intelligent agents playing the roles of characters through use of planners. Though these systems can handle player interactions and adapt the story around them, they are inaccessible to story authors who lack technical or programming ability. This thesis proposes the use of Story Tropes to informally describe story components. We introduce TropICAL, a controlled natural language system for the creation of tropes which allows non-programmer story authors to describe their story components informally. Inspired by Propp's Morphology, this language allows for the creation of new story components and abstractions that allow existing components to be embedded inside of new ones. Our TropICAL language compiles to the input language for an Answer Set solver, which represents the story components in terms of a formal normative framework, and hence allows for the automated verification of story paths. These paths can be visualised as branching tree diagrams in the StoryBuilder tool, so that authors can visualise the effect of adding different tropes to their stories, aiding the process of authoring interactive narratives. We evaluate the suitability of these tools for interactive story construction through a thematic analysis of story authors’ completion of story-authoring tasks using TropICAL and StoryBuilder. The participants complete tasks in which they have to describe stories with different degrees of complexity, finally requiring them to reuse existing tropes in their own trope abstractions. The thematic analysis identifies and examines the themes and patterns that emerge from the story authors’ use of the tool, revealing that non-programmer story authors are able to create their own stories using tropes without having to learn a strict narrative formalism.
Date of Award30 May 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorJulian Padget (Supervisor)

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