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  • Writer's pictureMagik Chance

Fabricating Authenticity: How AI Could Revitalize Epistolary Narratives


"Epistolary fiction" refers to novels and other literary works that tell their stories primarily through the use of documents like letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings, and other personal or historical artifacts. This narrative format thrived in the 18th and 19th centuries with classics like Bram Stoker's Dracula told entirely through diary entries and letters.


In the internet age, these textual artifacts can be reimagined in digital forms. Fictional emails, social media posts, wikis, and found digital footage have all been used to build immersive epistolary narratives.


AI has the potential to vastly accelerate the creation of these innovative narrative experiences.


Literature 


Epistolary novels date back to ancient Roman times, but flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries as literacy spread. Popular examples from this period include Aphra Behn’s Love Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister, Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and Clarissa, and Choderlos de Laclos’ Dangerous Liaisons.


More modern examples that include epistolary elements include Alice Walker's The Color Purple, Stephen King's Carrie, and Mark X. Danielewski's House of Leaves.


The epistolary format allows deeper exploration of characters’ inner thoughts, and adds a sense of realism and voyeuristic intimacy since the reader feels they are prying into private documents. Dramatic tension and mysteries can unfold through the biased, limited viewpoints of the letter/diary writers.


AI could assist in crafting epistolary literature in several ways:


  • Generating unique voices for each character's documents that sound natural and reflect their personalities.

  • Automating back-and-forth conversational exchanges between characters that propel the plot.

  • Analyzing drafts to suggest additional plot twists and narrative devices to heighten drama and suspense.


This blend of AI and human creativity could allow for incredibly rich epistolary tales with intricate, compelling characters and narratives.


Video & Images


Epistolary techniques can also be adapted to video and image formats. "Found footage" films like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity tell stories through the lens of fictional documentary footage and camcorder tapes left behind by the characters.


Creepypastas and alternate reality games (ARGs) often incorporate snippets of diary cam recordings, video clips, photos, and other simulated digital artifacts to build an immersive experience and blur the lines between fiction and reality.


AI could enhance these multimedia narratives in the following ways:


  • Generating simulated video and audio recordings like diary footage, news clips, and documentary interviews. 

  • Generating photo-realistic images depicting the lives of the characters.

  • Analyzing the overarching story to identify missing scenes and gaps in the narrative that found footage could help fill in.

  • Simulating effects like distorting video, adding digital artifacts, splicing footage, etc. to increase the sense of discovered materials rather than scripted creations.


With AI assistance, creators can more rapidly produce this rich multimedia fabric to draw audiences into immersive, intimate story experiences through the media artifacts of fictional characters and worlds.


Websites & Video Games


In addition to found footage, entire fictional websites can serve as the basis for digital epistolary narratives. Although they come and go quickly, fictional websites and ARGs are very popular for marketing campaigns.


Creators can invent wikis, forums, chat logs, social media profiles, and other online spaces to build immersive story worlds. The SCP Foundation collaborative sci-fi wiki is one example, structured as a database of supernatural entities and objects containing field reports, test logs, and other "archived" documents.


The format is also extremely popular in video games where journal entries, item descriptions, and other found-elements fill out the story (i.e. Resident Evil, Monster Hunter). The indie game Her Story relies on a fictional police database of video clips from an interrogation.


AI could assist in crafting these expansive narrative experiences:


  • Automatically generating code and assets for fictional sites like wiki pages, forum threads, chat logs, social media profiles, etc. This adds immense detail to make sites feel real.

  • Analyzing the overarching story and recommending ideas for additional sites or content to deepen worldbuilding and backstory.

  • Generating multimedia like images and videos to embed into sites and video games for more compelling artifacts and found footage.

  • Ensuring continuity across interconnected sites or video games with shared details and references.


This blend of fabricated digital spaces populated with AI-generated artifacts offers limitless potential for immersive online storytelling and transmedia experiences spanning websites, video, social media, video games, and more.


How to Get Started


For creators interested in experimenting with AI-assisted web epistolary narratives, here are some project ideas to get started:


Fictional Social Media Profiles


  • Craft fictional character(s) with detailed backgrounds, personalities, and voices.

  • Use AI chats that can be prompted with personalities, such as Character.ai or ChatGP, to generate posts, bios, and other material.

  • Generate feeds of textual posts, images, videos, comments etc. tailored to each character.


AI Generated Found Footage


  • Write a story highlighting key found footage scenes and artifacts needed.

  • Use AI tools like D-ID, Pika, and Runway to generate realistic video clips and effects.

  • Create a structure to reveal the multimedia like a virtual investigation board or decoder site.


Fictional Website


  • Tools like Carrd allow anyone to make professional-looking fictional sites without coding.

  • Add pages like About, History, Investigations, Bios, Artifacts etc.

  • Use AI to generate text and multimedia content for the pages.


The key is crafting an overarching narrative first, then using AI to create digital artifacts and spaces.


With any such projects, be sure to be clear that it is fictional. This can be done through a text on a banner, a subtitle, etc.


Conclusion


Epistolary storytelling is ripe for a revival in the AI age. The proliferation of personal devices and digital communication has opened up exciting possibilities for narratives told through emails, chats, video clips, and fabricated websites.


AI generation tools offer the ability to rapidly create expansive worlds filled with intimate character details and compelling media. This allows creators to focus on crafting the overarching narrative and guiding the AI to create immersive elements.


As AI capabilities continue to advance, we may see a renaissance in born-digital epistolary fiction that pushes the boundaries of storytelling and audience experience into new frontiers. I'm excited to see what innovative projects emerge from the combination of human creativity and artificial intelligence.


If you are creating an epistolary narrative with AI assistance, please let me know! I would love to feature your project in the future.

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