Jane as Text


Jane is a series of filmed conversations between two friends, Jake and John, who talk about a mysterious woman they share, the eponymous Jane. This makes Jane a menage a trois with a common but uncontested point of love interest. On the face of it Jake and John are the best of friends. Then again, John could be simply Jake when he is older, more stoic or bitterly benign depending on your point of view or the lines you have selected.

For this is an interactive open text with multiple pathways evenly distributed in its cloud of conversation narrative. Jane algorithmically generates different dialogues between its protagonists and then makes them available for adaptation by the reader-cum-user. Each scenario can be saved as a text file thus preserving any individual's preferences of dialogue.


Jane is both real and mythological in intent. She can be said to represent the female imaginary or the kind of spectral femininity that haunts not only their desire but all male desire. No matter who you are or who you are with there will always be Jane. As Jake observes: 'Just our luck. The only one who makes us truly happy and she's not the marrying kind.' For the Jungians she is the anima, and she is reflected everywhere. She inhabits our filmic fantasies through the sirens of the silver screen. Malekind think of her constantly and they cannot escape for she is a shape-shifter extraordinaire. Jane knows full well that she is the empty heart of desire for she is the absence that gives birth to desire itself.

Structural Schema

The characters converse about films, TV, cooking, farting in restaurants, film actors and actresses, and bedtime stories in the course of six conversations. Formally, each one is divided into three sections that begin with the keywords last night, tonight and fantasy. Each keyword section uses multiple line substitution throughout offering varied lines of dialogue with each possible combination making resonant sense. Each conversation begins with one of the keywords spoken by either Jake or John. Thus the schema for Jane is:

Structural Schema

This schema represents a generative writing constraint very reminiscent of OuLiPo, the french literary group founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and still active today. Queneau wrote a book of poetry called A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems which had ten sonnets. Each individual line had ten alternatives available to it constituting 1014 possibilities or potential pieces of literature and thus accounting for the volume's title. Jane works in an analogous fashion but in a newer computational direction. The volatile text is given its volatile medium: the graphical user interface.

Jane as Text Machine

The open text in Flash is never presented in the same way to the user. Everyone has a different starting point after the algorithms do their work of selection. This helps create more interesting variations than if everyone began with the same pre-selected text. In order to make the user free, the text has to be able to generate itself and be in part robotic.

Jane exposes the narrative structure in an interface thereby inviting you to touch her insides.

Select Script Interface for Jane

Here the conversations are given more user-friendly and content suggestive titles for the reader.

Conversation buttons in Jane

These names are mapped onto the schema for Jane like this:

Sections have their keywords clearly marked to their left. Their content is furthermore summarised inside its selection button by a single line of description.

Section buttons for Eat in eat out conversation

Chosen sections are placed in a thumbnail sequence. They can be removed by clicking on the white minus rectangle on the section thumbnail.

Delete button on section thumbnail

Sections are very easy to re-order. Simply drag and drop through the green title area of the section thumbnail.

Drag and drop re-ordering in progress in section sequence

The scenario button takes you to the dialogue built from the selected sections.

Scenario Interface for Jane

Each section begins with a pause. Lines you can't change are in amber. Those you can are pinkish in tone and have an arrow pointing to their alternatives.

Sample dialogue in Jane

Most alternatives have mauve arrows and changing them affects them only. Others are paired so if you change one of them, the other changes too. Red arrows have other text between them, while blue ones are neighbours.

Dialogue showing different alternative types

There is also a purple variety in which a loop of lines which can contain between 2 and 6 lines and can be started or finished by either character. It resides in the last night section of Filmic fantasies.

Loop ending in Jake with remaining lines

The remaining lines change character according to who finishes the loop.

Loop ending in John with remaining lines

You can navigate a scenario you are reading and editing through either its vertical scrollbar or through the section sequence below it. The keyword of a section thumbnail in the sequence becomes a navigation button that puts the section at the top of the scenario.

Navigation jump button in section sequence

Freeform Mode

Jane operates in two selection modes: freeform and weekday. The user is free to toggle between them at any time through the mode toggle bottom left.

Selection mode toggle button ready to switch to weekday mode

The default selection mode is freeform. Here the user is given a blank canvas and they can choose up to 18 sections or the equivalent of 6 conversations. Dialogue is adaptable in each keyword through its internal variations and also in the strategic positioning between them. All the sections from the master script are always available for inclusion. Users can make sequences by hitting the big conversation buttons, choose at random, or build more complex chains. You could include the same section or conversation more than once so as to explore its possibilities within a single scenario. Conversations are easy to make interleaved so all the first sections come before before the second and third. Or you might want a sequence comprising of only fantasy keyword sections, or one that repeatedly shifts from last night to tonight.

Weekday Mode

The weekday mode creates a cycle of conversations that go from Monday to Sunday. Each day has between 3 and 5 sections apiece. These are automatically alloted when selecting this mode. You can only have a keyword section once in a day; buttons for sections already in place are disabled.

Buttons disabled in weekday select mode

Each day alternates in its opening between the tonight sections from Eat in or eat out and Filmic fantasies where Jake and John respectively ask what day it is. These sections cannot be deleted or moved; they cannot be dragged and dropped into another position in the day's sequence. If either section appears in another day it does not start, the days of the week as answers are replaced.

Jake or John: Do you know what tonight is?
Jake or John: I asked you that just before.
                     Get your own opening gambit, copy cat.
                     Getting senile or what?
                     You're making me feel all schzoid.

Dialogue replacement in tonight sections for Eat in or eat out and Filmic fantasies

There are days of the week buttons on the section sequence to take you to that day's dialogue.

Section sequence in weekday mode and its days of the week buttons

Each day ends in a transition where one day joins hands with another. The lights fade, a sound is heard in the dark before the lights fade up on a new day. In Buñuel's Phantom of Liberty (1974) a man dreams he is trying to get to sleep. An hour magically passes when he watches a cockrel strut silently across the bedroom floor. The midnight sounds in Jane, whether they be a cockcrow or a horse nieghing, function for like ends. They elide the night's passing in the form of an aural shorthand speaking for the unconscious.

To give a fitting sense of closure to this cycle, Sunday ends as all the others do but with a twist of hysterics.

Jake or John: Do you know what tonight is?
                     Jake or John laughs/cries
                     Light fades on Jake or John or both

Insatiable Jane

You can save your scenarios as text files onto your local machine.

Save dialog in Jane

File versions range from the untouched spawn of the algorithmically generated, to those exhibiting intermittment personal preferences, to others that are carefully crafted to suit the whims of the active reader or user. The text is inexhaustable and exhausting yet multiplies with ease. It spreads like an active dispora finding home on hard drives wherever they may be.

September 2008