NMS 509: Database & Narrative (AQ 2010)

Course Description

The media theorist Lev Manovich famously proposed that database and narrative are “natural enemies.” This course suggests that to read and write in the digital age, we must understand the logic and poetics of both database and narrative. We will examine basic database practices such as organizing collections of media, tagging, and the design of database interfaces. Concurrently, we will study narrative practice, including techniques for creating dramatic, original stories in multiple media.

Our course goals are as follows:

  • To better understand traditional narrative structure.
  • To learn an array of tools, terms, and heuristics that will help you to shape digital media into stories.
  • To better understand the particular storytelling affordances of different modes (e.g., music, photos, video).
  • To explore the significance of database technologies to new media composers.
  • To explore new, database- and algorithm-driven modes of storytelling.


Mckee, R. (1997). Story: Substance, structure, style and the principles of screenwriting (1st ed.). New York : Regan Books.

Van Sijll, J. (2005). Cinematic storytelling: The 100 most powerful film conventions every filmmaker must know. Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions.

Glass, I. (2009). Ira Glass on storytelling, part 1 of 4. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=loxJ3FtCJJA&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Glass, I. (2009). Ira Glass on Storytelling, part 2 of 4. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=loxJ3FtCJJA&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Jenkins, H. (n.d.). Game design as narrative architecture. Retrieved August 10, 2010, from http://web.mit.edu/cms/People/henry3/games&narrative.html

Johnson-Eiola, J. (2004). The database and the essay. In A.F. Wysocki, Writing new media: theory and applications for expanding the teaching of composition (pp. 199-226). Logan: Utah State University Press.

Kinder, M. (2002). Hot spots, avatars, and narrative fields forever. Buñuel’s legacy for new digital media and interactive database narrative. Film Quarterly, 55(4), 2-15.

Lamott, A. (1995). Plot. In Bird by bird: Some instructions on writing and life (pp. 54-63). New York: Anchor.

Manovich, L. (1999). Database as symbolic form. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 5(2), 80-99.

Rettberg, J. W. (2009). ‘Freshly generated for you, and Barack Obama’: How social media represent your life. European Journal of Communication, 24(4), 451-466.

Ryan, M. (2004). Introduction. In Narrative across media: The languages of storytelling (pp. 1-40). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Ryan, M. (2004). Will new media produce new narratives? In Narrative across media: The languages of storytelling (pp. 337-359). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.


  1. Response papers: 4 short responses to course readings.
  2. 5-photo story, submitted to Flickr, plus a revision of the story in Prezi or iMovie that attempts to maximize the mode(s) used, and which may add audio, an interface, interactivity, etc.
  3. 15-20 minute oral presentation, with a visual component and handout.
  4. Database narrative made in Korsakow (aka a “K-film”).