Group for Experimental Methods in Humanistic Research
at Columbia University

Character Networks for Narrative Generation

  • Graham Alexander Sack

This paper models narrative as a complex adaptive system in which the temporal sequence of events constituting a story emerges out of cascading local interactions between nodes in a social network. The approach is not intended as a general theory of narrative, but rather as a particular generative mechanism relevant to several academic communities: (1) literary critics and narrative theorists interested in new models for narrative analysis, (2) artificial intelligence researchers and video game designers interested in new mechanisms for narrative generation, and (3) complex systems theorists interested in novel applications of agent-based modeling and network theory. The paper is divided into two parts. The first part offers examples of research by literary critics on the relationship between social networks of fictional characters and the structure of long- form narratives, particularly novels. The second part provides an example of schematic story generation based on a simulation of the structural balance network model. I will argue that if literary critics can better understand sophisticated narratives by extracting networks from them, then narrative intelligence researchers can benefit by inverting the process, that is, by generating narratives from networks.


“Character Networks for Narrative Generation: Structural Balance Theory and the Emergence of Proto-Narratives” in Complexity and the Human Experience: Modeling Complexity in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Paul A. Youngman, Mirsad Hadzikadic (Eds.). Singapore: Pan Stanford Publishing, 2014.

An earlier version of this paper is available in: Proceedings of 2013 Workshop on Computational Models of Narrative (CMN 2013), Mark A. Finlayson and Bernhard Fisseni and Benedikt Lowe and Jan Christoph Meister (Eds.). August 4-6, 2013 - Hamburg, Germany. ISBN 978-3-939897-57-6, OASICS Vol. 32.)


This is one of a number of active and completed projects I am working on that apply simulation to issues in the Digital Humanities. Please visit my homepage for a description of others.