Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Introducing Visualizations

My email exchange with Erik about visualizations (posted here) got me thinking about how we introduce text visualizations to authors.

My thought was that it might "explain" the visualization better if we started with a viz of a known play, and discussed what the viz represented, and then presented the viz of the writer's play to her. At that point we might ask if there was anything that was surprising to the writer. The idea is to break past the habitual thinking we all fall into when we are familiar with a piece, and try to see it with new eyes.

The approach might work just as well with a visualization of a play the writer doesn't know at all. That way, there are no pre-conceptions whatsoever.

Erik had this to say:
I think starting with a "known" play and showing the writer that, then moving to their play, is wise. But what play to start? Not Hamlet -- too antique in style to be of value in this contxt. Maybe Death of A Salesman? Works better if it's a play the young writer is likely to know, right? But can one find a digitized copy of a contemporary play the novice writer is likely to know already? Perhaps a Chekhov or Ibsen play, much as I hate them both. You could certainly use a play the writer doesn't know but the impact is greater if it is done on a mutual touchstone I think.

Visualization: Venn gone wrong

Reprinted from an AC/ER email exchange:

Yo Erik,

Attached is an attempt at a visualization of the text I'm working on in [REDACTED]. So here's the attempt:

The relative size of the circle is how many pages the character is on. The overlap indicates the number of pages hared and with who. So let's say Edward is on 80 pages. And Beto is on 30 pages. And most of Beto's pages are shared with Edward, except for that couple of scenes he has with Spencer. And character J only has a few pages, and all of them are with Edward.

So I think you get what I'm trying to do. The first question is, does it have the potential to open anything up?

And then, there are problems with the visualization:
If you look at it as it stands, it looks like Edward is on a whole bunch of pages alone. But he's not, in fact, he's never alone. In
point of fact, there are no solo scenes in this particular show, so everything should overlap everything else. Clearly, this was
originally a riff on a Venn diagram, but as I've tried it, the Venn idea maybe isn't so great - there aren't a lot of points that would
ONLY be in a "character set.

So I'm also thinking of a different way to visualize it. It'd be like a pie chart with overlapping slices or something. Nothing on the many-eyes site is quite right. I'm also just trying to figure out how to represent the idea on a chart so that someone smarter than me could write a piece of code that visualized it.

Thought you might get a kick out of it.

What is the Toolkit?

The Toolkit will be an exploration of new play development techniques by Aaron Carter, Erik Ramsey and Erica Weiss. It will include essays, posts from other blogs, email excerpts, video, audio, old emails, random musing, text samples, text visualizations, techniques, tips and more.

Over time (and with diligent tagging) we hope that the exploration collected here can serve as a Toolkit for new play developers. We won't be advocating a particular "method" or "technique" (although our default tendencies will certainly shine through). Rather, we hope that new play developers will be able to rummage around in here and find just allen wrench, spanner, or off-size screw they need for the job at hand.