Can anyone point me to an RDF vocabulary used for story-telling? A Resource Description Framework is a technique for structuring data in a way that computers can easily process it and connect simple pieces of data together in order to form complex knowledge graphs. I'm looking for a vocabulary, that is a data description, that applies to fiction plots.)

Obviously literature is meant to be read, it is meant to be experienced; it is more than just the summation of the semantic information in the statements that compose it. However, I have been considering that there could be some real benefit to having a story "transcoded" into a structured format that a machine could "understand" in the vein of the semantic web. For instance, if you're trying to remember when a character was introduced, or you want to know whatever happened to that one suspicious acting flight-attendant, or "did I miss something, how did they get to Instanbul?", a machine with sufficient semantic information about the story could answer those questions much more easily than say a plain-text keyword search. Such a machine could even be used for things like dynamic plot summaries, testing comprehension, even "explaining" difficult or convoluted story lines.

I've considered using things like RDFa, microdata, and microformats to markup my story. I think that using these techniques I can include a lot of machine-readable semantic metadata about objects in my story: characters, places, artificats, props, etc. But what I'm looking for is a way to encode the actual plot of the story, either by tagging/marking-up my actual story, or possibly even in a separate document with possible cross references to parts of the story.

For context, I'm writing in plain text and will generate the book in various formats (PDF, EPUB, HTML, etc.) when I'm finished, so inline semantic markup like HTML is good option and can easily be extracted/removed later as needed. This question is about finding a vocabulary, not about tools; I've just included this for context.

  • @NeilFein Edited. Is that more clear? Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 12:03
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    Is the question about tools or encoding? That is, are you asking for an RDF tool, or are you asking how you could model plot in an RDF-ready way? (I imagine that most RDF-coded semantics are about facts or nouns, while plots are built around actions or verbs.) Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 14:16
  • @sh1ftst0rm - Yes, definitely. I'd like to see Monica's concerns addressed as well; the clearer the question, the better answers you can get. Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 14:18
  • @MonicaCellio By definition, an RDF vocabulary is closer to an encoding than a tool. There may be many tools that support reading/writing/processing a particular vocab, but a vocabulary defines a specific set of relationships between entities, such as the relationships "has name" or "speaks to" or "tries to kill". Yes, it is more often used for nouns, but there is no reason it cannot be used for verbs, I'm just looking for an existing vocabulary that does this. Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 14:42
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    If the vocabulary that the OP seeks existed, it would be encoding facts about the plot: “John is-a character. John is-protagonist-of TrainFightScene. TrainFightScene precedes MotorcycleChaseScene. Mary is-protagonist-of MotorcycleChaseScene.” etc. etc. Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 17:30

2 Answers 2


There's a couple of vocabularies (aka ontologies) out there (which I've been helping develop). Have a look at Ontomedia and Stories Ontologies: http://contextus.net/

I've been investigating this kind of thing for a while (see, for instance, http://www.r4isstatic.com/54), and would be happy to chat more about it.

Of course, you can always use a collection of other ontologies, such as FOAF (for people/characters) and the Event Ontology to describe most elements of plot.

As has been pointed out, there's probably never going to be a perfect one-size-fits-all vocabulary to encapsulate the whole of 'storytelling', as we traditionally experience it. But I agree it's worth trying to build general frameworks that help capture some of the semantics, at least.

Also, as said, the beauty of RDF is that it's not about defining a worldwide standard - you can make your own, and then hook it up (via 'sameAs' relationships) later.


I think I know enough about RDF to comment on this.

One thing I have observed, reading entirely too many books about writing when I ought to be writing, is that different authors of how-to-write books have different ideas about how to define basic technical terms... like “plot”. It’s like becoming a biology major and discovering that the professors in two different classes that you take can’t agree on whether or not a spider is an insect.

So if the field cannot come to any consensus about what these terms mean in informal English, I rather doubt that there’s a universally acceptable way to encode their relationships in RDF. You could invent your own vocabulary, of course—I’m enough of a geek to think that would be a cool thing—but I’m not sure the tools that you create would be useful to writers (even geeky writers) in general, and the vocabulary you construct to help you create your first novel might need to be heavily revised for writing your second.

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    I don't know RDF, but from what I know of that sort of encoding in general, this is true. If you would like to create your own vocabulary, I would recommend against doing so "for" your novel. Rather, create one by working with three or four of your favourite novels, which will make it somewhat more universal. Of course, the vocabulary you come up with will always be linked to your own personal school of plot analysis, and probably won't work well with any other school of thought on the subject. Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 8:22
  • Well, that's kind of the point of an RDF vocabulary, to define what terms mean in that context. They don't need to be universally accepted meanings, it's just saying that "when I say X in this context, it means Y". To use your example, there are established RDF vocabularies for biology (e.g., www.obofoundry.org), specifically to avoid the ambiguity you mentioned. Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 13:04

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