This article discusses the method of creating a new Organic Helicopter process piece, Cellular Stories. To learn more about the origins of this new work, check out the Project Page for Protein Poems and the first post introducing Cellular Stories.
Our first piece was Protein Poems – a method that creates a poem from a conversation in a manner similar to how proteins are created from RNA and DNA (read some here). We recently gathered around a table, surrounded ourselves with Lonestar and whiteboards (and Lonestar) to expand this model into something new. Instead of creating a poem, we strove to create a complete story. This new process is named Cellular Stories.
We continued on from our last meeting; assigning elements of a story to the cell’s organelles and processes seemed like a simple task. Soon, we realized the detail necessary to pair off organelles/story-elements, as each pairing evoked a tumult of discussion. At the same time, we also wanted to reach a firm consensus on our model, so as to best draw out the connections between cellular physiology and storytelling for our audience. Stinson and I had been discussing a “long form” of Protein Poems since we began meeting again back in August 2016, but we only began to progress forward once we sat at a table with discursive writers, dramaturges, web designers, biologists, and musicians.
While a Protein Poem can be written in 15-30 minutes, Cellular Stories require a longer transcript to create all the ‘proteins’ necessary to generate our story. In other words, instead of creating ‘protein poems’, we will be writing a detailed story skeleton (i.e. an outline) as well as in-depth character sheets. The final process will need to happen over the course of a 3-5 hour social gathering (such as a party). To delegate the writing process, Cellular Stories will have three different types of roles: ‘Transcribers’, ‘Writers’, and ‘Editors’.
Transcribers create the raw text from which the story is derived. They write out the transcript that will be manipulated to create our story. RNA Polymerase will be a person that records on-going conversations (i.e. DNA) into a typed transcript (i.e. RNA), while Pseudopods will wander the party and write a ‘nutrition transcript’ of all the food, drink, and music (i.e. nutrients taken in by the cell).
These two transcripts are sent to specific Writers. Their job is to break these transcripts into usable story elements and phrases by cutting/pasting. Some writers have a specific job – such as the Lysosome which ‘digests’ the ‘nutrient transcript’, breaking it apart into original, relevant material for use within the story. Other roles include the Microfilaments, which write ‘plot points’ from 43 word segments (because there are 43 amino acids within the protein, actin, the building block for microfilaments), and the Microtubules, which organize these plot points into a coherent story skeleton. Other writers have more general roles, like the Ribosome, which will craft content about characters’ motivations, past experiences, details of their present circumstances, and individual dialogue.
The Editors will write the story by hanging the characters and story elements onto the story skeleton (written by the Microtubules). The Centrosome will go back and edit the story skeleton so that other Editors will be able to fit their various story chunks (e.g. characters, transitions, etc.). While the Endoplasmic Reticulum and Golgi Apparatus will package up the ‘proteins’ made by Ribosomes and place them within the story skeleton (we’re still working on their differences). Some Editors will play more of a writing role, like the Mitochondria which will take the phrases and words written by the Lysosomes and combine them with other ‘proteins’ to write transitions and provide more fluidity between the different chunks of story. Ultimately, the entire piece will be edited by the Cell Membrane, who will contain the story and give it all a single voice. The challenge for our Editors will be to use only the text generated by the conversation transcript and Lysosome’s edited material.
Here we had progress! It took a lot of banging our heads together, but we had laid out a beta version of Cellular Stories! There was enough for us to begin testing our model. It’s great to sit back and recognize you can start moving away from the drawing board and begin executing your idea. We’ve broken out our story into two main elements that need to be tested, Plot and Characters. The next step will be running trial ‘parties’ to look for issues with our current model and determine additional rules for our different roles. But there were some looming questions
For Plot, we will have to test our model of creating plot elements from 43 word segments and string these together into a cohesive story skeleton. What sort of constraints may be needed to focus each type of Writer? What will the 43 word constraint look like in practice? Does each ‘plot point’ have to be 43 words long, or must it be pulled from a 43 word segment? Which is more faithful to the biological model?
For Characters, testing the process of quickly writing out all the elements of several character will be vital. Just knowing that we can create viable characters and dialogue will be really important to filling out our story skeleton. But how do we connect this to our biological model? If each character is a protein family, then different aspects of that character (e.g. different motivations, past experiences, present situations, pieces of dialogue) could be the various proteins within that protein family (i.e. dialogue).
While the Cell Membrane contains the story, what role do membrane transport proteins play? Shouldn’t the Mitochondria have its own RNA Polymerase and Ribosome? How should these differ from the cellular equivalents in our model? How do you get people to “transcribe” food, drink, and music without causing copyright issues or awkwardness? Have we really covered all the potential story elements? How will location be used? Should that also be derived from the Lysosomes output?
Thus far we have been most protein-centric with our model. How do we include more macromolecules without making a nightmarishly complicated piece (not that it isn’t already)? These are all the questions we’ve been asking ourselves as we fine-tune this project. Stay tuned for more details as we continue to peel back our newest process piece, Cellular Stories!