Think of a MapStory like a kleenux, and a geospatial narrative like a tissue. MapStory is just our word for a larger communication form – the geospatial narrative. We at MapStory don’t pretend to have the geospatial narrative totally figured out, or have a monopoly on it as a form. We just have one perspective, backstopped by a platform that brings that perspective into reality.

What’s our take?

In designing the MapStory “composing” process, we started by asking ourselves what the basic elements of a story are, and how we might adapt them for the purpose of composing geospatial narratives.

Defining a story – the communicative form that literally makes us human – is a tall order. For our purposes, we settled on four basic elements that make up any MapStory:

Place. Traditional story definitions will refer instead of place to “setting”, since a story obviously doesn’t have to occur in geographic context. We spend most of our time in James Joyce’s Ulysses in the consciousness, for example. In our case, however, we are only interested in stories that are rooted geographically. Every mapstory takes place somewhere on Earth. Instead of setting, we start with place.

Plot. Plot is traditionally defined as “the main events, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence.” This basically holds true for a MapStory as well. Every MapStory presents events in the form of StoryLayers or StoryPins. These events are then presented by the composer in an interrelated sequence of time and space using Chapters, Timelines and StoryFrames.

Performers. For events to occur, there must action. And for action to occur, there must be performers. Traditional story definitions often refer to “characters”. We choose to speak in terms of performers for two reasons. First, “character” often connotes the idea of fiction. While MapStories might refer to a pre-historical past or a plausible but unconfirmed future, they still always strive to be works of non-fiction. A MapStory is never untrue by intent. Secondly, the word “character” also connotes life in the form of a person or an animal. But, in MapStories the main performer might be plant life like an invasive species, or an environmental force like a hurricane. We found it more useful to speak of the performers of actions to reflect this broad view.

Point. Every MapStory must have a point. Traditional story definitions often refer to a story’s resolution, or main idea, or central theme. We bundle that notion up by simply talking about the “point” of the MapStory. The fact that MapStories have a point is the central element that distinguishes a MapStory from a StoryLayer. StoryLayers stop at the level of description. MapStory’s go further to answer “how” and “why” questions. They have a point.

There, from a logical standpoint, are the basic elements of a MapStory: In a sentence, a MapStory is a geospatial narrative with a plot that has a point and plays out in a place(s) because of actions of performers. In future posts we will discuss more about how this conceptual logic became manifest in the MapStory composer’s technical design.