Words that are tossed around by vast numbers of people across myriad industries and, in that, being diluted and misused…
- The Architect discusses the “story” of the building, “…what story are we telling…?”
- The Theme Park designer talks about the “story” of the envisioned installation, “…what is the “story” of this park…?”
- Every video game has a “story” of sorts; from battlefield to full-on alternate universe, with characters that live and die, love and lose, sink or Sim.
- The Attorney asks the client, “…what’s your Story?” (well, that’s more on point, actually; I’m sure there is no dearth of compelling fiction created and shared within lawyer-client relationships!).
Reasonable case can be made for all of the above-articulated uses of the word, “story,” and more. In the above examples, perhaps more accurate words might be “experience,” “conceit,” “context,” … “theme.”
What do we want those in the Thing we are creating to sense, feel, see or experience?
…and when do we get down to Real Storytelling?
…and, what IS Real Storytelling?
In the context of this conversation, I’m splitting the definition of Storytelling into two sorts; the Emotionally Compelling and the Viscerally Engaging…and there is a very fluid line between the two.
A few decades ago, many professional storytellers, from moviemakers to themed entertainment producers and creatives, got all excited about the MTV generation (then GenX, then Y, and so on…) perceived as having “short attention spans.”
The response was to try to address that with shorter stories, shorter scenes or beats within stories, no lingering on visuals, cutting the absolute bejeezus out of narratives, scene-by-scene and, in almost a panic mode, often pretty much taking the mystique out of the unfolding of a story.
What was being missed was the nuance that it wasn’t (and isn’t) that attention spans were short. It was that the opportunity to engage audience with a Good Story was short, but that were a story compellingly-introduced and well-told, young audiences in any context will stay for the full arc.
With the ubiquitous demands on the attention spans of this demographic, these kids simply gave less time to an opportunity for engagement. Once engaged, however…
The people panicking weren’t aware of the hours that kids were spending on early graphic adventure games such as “Myst,” where things actually moved quite slowly, mysteries were discovered and solved and the story very gradually revealed itself. Being not of That Demographic, they were not aware of the vast amounts of time being spent online, to and through the advent of RPG’s (Role Playing Games) such as “Dungeons & Dragons” and the subsequent evolution to the plethora of disparately-themed and played MUD’s (Multiple User Domains) to the super-sophisticated platforms that are far beyond my own ability and available time, now.
They simply did not know. As a result, there was a spate of knee-jerk creative production that resulted in rampant falling short of expectation.
Then, “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” happened – three-hour movies and 700 page books that teen boys would carry through airports with their skateboards. Suddenly, the fact of longer attention spans was public.
These stories told that engaged from the start and kept the reader / watcher enthralled, throughout. It wasn’t attention spans that were short, it was (and is) the amount of time in which we, as Creators of Experience, have to grab and hold the attention.
This is a critical nuance. Keeps us on our toes.
Is there a lesson, here…?
The Mobile Device
It’s here to stay; undeniably.
Can it be a part of an immersive experience? Yes.
Can it effectively augment the telling of a story? This answer is quite so simple.
Last year, I shared in this space my technique for successfully impelling an audience to put down their mobile devices in order to receive a theatrically-presented story. Presented in four, intense, ten-minute acts, the subject and the manner in which it was presented “trained” or convinced the audience that it was worthwhile to pay full attention to the story as it was being told. So, people are wean-able from their mobile devices.
This is that post: http://imho.kileozier.com/?p=204
[Note: I love technology and am an early adopter, though a “digital immigrant,” having been around since before the first IBM Selectric typewriter…something of which many of you have never heard.
I teach, between gigs, at the Apple Store and fully embrace the wonders of mobile technology, cloud technology, AR (that’s Augmented Reality for those in Certain Demographics) and all the great possibility that comes with this rapidly evolving technology.
That being said; I offer that one must be circumspect as to what and which sorts of experiences into which one attempts to insert the Second Screen.]
As mobile technology has evolved, though; again and again, flags are waved to make storytelling “interactive” by including a second screen in the Experience. Imho, this is misguided fervor.
As a storytelling device; in many ways, digital and mobile technology is unparalleled in creating certain experience. eBooks can be enhanced with video, kinetic graphics and gifs, photo galleries and myriad interactive possibilities; creating deeply immersive experiences, all contained on that screen.
This is one screen; one focus.
Even the New York Times has found elegant ways to augment the story with mixed media and print: http://www.nytimes.com/newsgraphics/2013/10/27/south-china-sea/
My friend, Dave Cobb ( http://www.davecobb.com ), one of the most iConnected people in the industry, is a passionate advocate of integration of mobile devices into entertainment experience…especially theme parks. I agree with him.
As he pointed out in a recent conversation; adding a layer or layers of AR to a theme park environment can significantly enhance the experience of, most especially, the repeat visitor. It offers even more opportunity for personalization of experience as well as the possibility of adding unique features and discoveries with each, subsequent visit. Fantastic.
Museums, historical sites, any number of study or exploratory or enlightening experiences can be greatly enhanced with mobile technology.
Yet, here is the nuance…
As cited above, mobile devices are fantastic at creating or augmenting experience. As a storytelling device, this technology is uniquely flexible and offers ways to tell a story from multiple perspectives and with varied media, all on the one screen. Most cool.
However, bringing that device into another storytelling context immediately dilutes the reception of the story, thus its effectiveness in engaging and moving one, emotionally.
Boiled down (and possibly over-simplified); this is a difference between the exciting, visceral experience with the mobile device versus the emotionally compelling experience of being “told” a story as a passive receiver.
Storytelling, in the purest and most wonderful form, is a gift to the receiver. The receiver, the audience, does nothing but receive and experience. Our job is to create that storytelling experience in as lush and evocative a way as to render our audience rapt.
People being told a story use virtually only the right side of the brain. Once a second screen is added to the experience; analysis and decision-making enter the picture, the left brain is engaged and the possibility and depth of potential emotional engagement is immediately sidelined.
imho, of course. But this is Human Physiology, neuroscience.
Most articulately put by Jonathan Gottschall in Fast Company, recently; he outlines the nature of storytelling. This is Required Reading for anyone wanting to appreciate the value of true storytelling.
He makes the case for the protection of actual storytelling experience from the intrusion of “interactivity.” Well worth it: http://www.fastcocreate.com/3020047/story-20-the-surprising-thing-about-the-next-wave-of-narrative#!
I mentioned a Lesson, above, and it goes back again to Tenet Number One; Exploration of Assumption. What are we assuming when we respond / react to something we do not understand? The abbreviated Moment of Opportunity to capture the attention of young audiences had been interpreted to mean that they couldn’t pay attention for longer periods of time. Nuance overlooked. Wrong answer.
Simply; when seeking to embrace the incorporation of new technology and techniques into storytelling, perhaps take time to evaluate just what sort of story we are seeking to express. Is it game-like? Is about strategy? By all means, bring in the screens.
Is it about a narrative arc, do we want to engage, move, have our audience thinking quietly about the experience – the story – for some time, afterward? Then perhaps not distracting from that story is a more effective approach. Subliminally engage the audience in experiencing the story; though with one focus.
Pick a screen, any screen…or stage, or stadium. Just be sure the method of your storytelling supports the story you wish to tell… Nothing is absolute; but some things just work.
( More on Subliminal Engagement: http://imho.kileozier.com/?p=87 )
Thanks for reading.
BTW: If you happen to like a pretty fantastic, science fiction / fantasy world story; my longtime friend, David Erickson, has just published his first novel, White Fist & Two Dogs. I am unabashedly plugging it, here. Dave has done so much for me, as a good friend, and I’ve read his book and had a blast, doing so. Just sayin’; take a look and make your own decision.
Meanwhile, my eBook, “imho” for iPad and now OSX is still free and still available for download from Apple’s eBook store and iTunes.