I recently attended the Netskills Digital Storytelling workshop in London. As someone who loves to write fiction (most of the time, my current writer’s block notwithstanding) and likes technology this one was a no-brainer for me. Luckily Alan thought it might be useful too and paid for my train ticket.
Whether or not this is exactly how they state it in the course, digital storytelling is about engaging people with what they are doing, or what you want to tell them, with something more interesting than a report or death by PowerPoint. We like stories, we grow up with them, we tell them to each other in our day to day conversation, it’s what we generally choose to read when we have the option (even a lot of the more popular non-fiction books are more popular because they read more like a story than like an academic paper). The structure of a story pulls us in: we want to know what will happen next, rather than just trying to find a way to keep ourselves awake.
To be honest I had fairly low expectations when I signed up. I expected it to be either very touchy feely and education-based, as in teaching through stories, or to be very well-meaning, but ultimately some things to think about when doing your standard reports. Thankfully it was neither. I was really pleased that it actually went into how to tell a good story, a couple of classic narrative structures and put some emphasis on the fact that it takes some time and experience (or a lot of luck – I’m looking at you 50 Shades of Grey woman) to be able to tell a good story. I was feeling pretty confident until we were told to try and apply it to something work-related.
Now projects should write themselves as stories if you simply apply writing theory. A story starts when something breaks the status quo (or else why would you be talking about it?) which is kind of the point of a project. A project is finite, it has ups and downs, twists and turns and can have some exciting endings (success! failure! enticing fade to black with a big question mark over it….), but it turns out that doesn’t mean it’s easy to turn it into a digital story. For one thing digital stories tend to have lots of pictures and/or video and while charts and graphs can be engaging in some senses they don’t really say “story”. But this is only a minor hurdle compared to the other problem.
The other problem is politics. Do you really want the people who have funded this project to know that you had some daring escapes from total failure? That you found a particularly interesting, if convoluted, solution because one of your team members made one little mistake and that completely screwed something up? Do you want your bosses to know that actually the solution they insisted on caused you headache after headache and you’re now popping antacids like tic tacs? No. Reports get sanitised, things get smoothed over and everything is Fine. It is doubly Fine if you are consultant who wants to work with these people again.
“Fine”, from a storytelling point of view, is incredibly dull. If everything is fine why do I care? In the words of writers everywhere, “You’ve got to make your characters suffer”. When these characters are your employers, colleagues and clients airing their suffering to the world suddenly doesn’t sound like such a good idea.
So the options are:
- Tell the story of the project and potentially get in Trouble
- Try and tell the story of the report and fall asleep or have nothing to base a story on
- Write digital stories about something else
- Some mapcap, crazy fusion of 1 and 2 that may end up a big pile of something horrible.
….Number 4 sounds like fun. And if nothing else, working on it should make a good story.