Few would argue that storytelling is one of the most primal and powerful forms of human communication. But what is considered “narrative” these days is definitely up for debate. Because storytelling is such a huge part of what IQ does — we’re always keen on those that challenge the conventional definition of narrative and the mediums through which it is told.
Before the written word, stories were primarily an oral way of handing down history and teaching cultural values. But with every advance in technology and the boundless creativity of the human mind, storytelling is evolving at rapid pace. Here’s a quick look at some things that have helped me challenge the notion of what it takes to make a story and how we think they should be told.
A Story Has ________ ?
1. A Set Sequence of Events?
In the 90’s, Quentin Tarantino popularized the idea that events in a story don’t have to be told in chronological order. Although the idea of nonlinear narrative had been around for a good hundred years, Pulp Fiction sparked an explosion in the genre. Aside from being my all-time favorite movie, this was the first time I remember being challenged on my rigid, traditional view of narrative. Today, some view the internet itself as a form of non-linear narrative. When surfing the web, the story is “driven entirely by the user’s impulses, loosely connected by links.”
2. A Script?
MTV’s The Real World proved you don’t need a pre-conceived story arc, written script, or actors with memorized lines — and subsequently birthed the detested/loved genre of reality TV. Pick 7 strangers different enough, and the inherent tensions between those bold personalities and conflicting needs will be all you need for a unique and entertaining story to unfold.
You’d think this would be the base criteria, huh? But data can tell stories too. Depending on your audience, it may be a more powerful and relevant way to do so. The internet has made an incomprehensible amount of information available — and data visualization has emerged as a huge trend to help us make sense of it. Some even argue that data visualization is reinventing storytelling yet again for the digital age.
4. More than 140 Characters?
“Twitter is The Human Narrative in real time” @SilkCharm. But being updated on every trivial moment in the lives of your friends hardly counts as story, you might say. I suppose it depends on how you look at it. During the Iranian election protests and Haiti earthquake, we watched dramatic stories unfold in real time on Twitter. These stories were told collectively by multitudes of people at the exact same time they experienced it. Collective storytelling of the fictional variety was on display in the 2008 Twitter reenactment of Orson Wells radio broadcast, War of The Worlds. On Halloween, hundreds of participants tweeted what they imagined to be happening around them as events in the original narrative took place. More on Twitter Storytelling here. And also here.
5. A Single Delivery Medium?
Not so, says Clear Channel and American Idol creators with their latest endeavor, If I Can Dream. The story follows the lives of 5 aspiring actors, musicians, and models — all living in a cool house in LA and pursuing their Hollywood dreams. Where have we heard this storyline before? What makes it different is the multi-platform approach to storytelling. It can be experienced live 24/7 online at ificandream.com via any of the 50 live camera angles you choose. A short, TV style curated version is available on Hulu.com. Viewers can interact with the characters in real time via popular social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube — and even audition to be one of the cast members on MySpace.com. In their words “The platform offers a variety of viewing modes for all types of users, telling the story in multiple dimensions. You can be a fly on the wall, poke around to discover interesting details, or sit back and watch the story unfold. If I Can Dream stories will come to life on-air, online, and on mobile devices.” It’s set to be released early this year. As ashamed as I may be to admit it, I can’t wait to see how the multi platform thing pans out.
6. A Passive Audience?
The phrase makes me think of children listening to a storybook read aloud, watching a movie, or reading a novel. But we’ve all seen and experienced many formats where the audience is an active part of the story — everything from Japanese Kabuki theater, to the interactive yarns we spin at IQ. Perhaps some of the best examples are seen in the recent advances in video games. I stumbled upon this great article that explores the emergence of games as an immersive storytelling medium. “The player is, by definition, not the same as the reader of a story. The player is the catalyst for the events in the game. He is not passive.” So the gamer is in many ways half storyteller and half audience — in complete control of the outcome of the story. And, in MMOs (massive multiplayer online games), the authors of the story are actually the huge gaming community. In this context, the game company may give us the words we can use and some rules around how we use them, but the real story is created by the real time interactions and decisions of thousands of players across the world.
The Future of Storytelling
How we create stories and how we choose to tell them changes dramatically with the technology we invent and the creative ways in which we use it. Given the heavy lifting technology does, it’s exciting to see MIT’s opening of the Center For Future Storytelling sometime this year. Their aim is to “…revolutionize how we tell our stories, from major motion pictures to peer-to-peer multimedia sharing. By applying leading-edge technologies to make stories more interactive, improvisational and social, researchers will seek to transform audiences into active participants in the storytelling process, bridging the real and virtual worlds, and allowing everyone to make their own unique stories with user-generated content on the Web. Center research will also focus on ways to revolutionize imaging and display technologies, including developing next-generation cameras and programmable studios, making movie production more versatile and economic.”
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