Digital Storytelling

December 17, 2012 at 11:29 am 4 comments

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:

  1. Tell the story of the project and potentially get in Trouble
  2. Try and tell the story of the report and fall asleep or have nothing to base a story on
  3. Write digital stories about something else
  4. 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.


Entry filed under: Digital storytelling, Netskills, Training.

Future Learners CETIS event Project and Storytelling options

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Vicki Paull  |  December 18, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    I don’t know how (or if) this might fit in with story/project writing, but I think a lot of the power of *digital* storytelling is that you can do so much more with it than simple writing. There were a couple of talks by people from interactive fiction writing apps at AdventureX (as some of the subjects covered there were: writing text adventures and what you could do within that format, gamebooks, and other types of interactive fiction).

    Using interactive fiction, you could tell a story and at the same time teach someone something as they ‘work’ through the tale (using the power of concepts like inventory, location etc. from a text adventure).

    Or, you could tell a branching story with many different outcomes depending on what the reader’s choices are by using interactive fiction writing software.

    I think the key to this would be to not get stuck in a rut thinking about stereotypical text adventures, but think of how the software that is out there could be utilised to do what you want (so yeah, your readers don’t need to go west to a wizard’s tower, pick up a spellbook and put it in their inventory – but what are their objectives, what do they need and what to they need to do to achieve those objectives? etc.)

    There’s a free bit of software for interactive fiction called inkle writer ->

    An example of a story done with it is their interactive Frankenstein novel ->

    They’ve also got a blog post you might find interesting that lists some basic types of interactivity ->

    Plus, here’s a free text adventure writing engine: (it seems to have loads of possibilities and looks very simple to use)

    I think they can both spit out interactive stories that can be read on phones and tablets too – very important these days methinks 🙂

    Anyway, hopefully these are at least a little bit interesting/inspiring!

    • 2. jennifermdenton  |  December 19, 2012 at 9:51 am

      I hadn’t thought of interactive atorytelling – I was thinking more of videos, webcomics, slideshows and stuff. The thing is I’m not sure how interactive storytelling would work with the APS work side of things. I was thinking of storytelling more in terms of reporting…though interactive storytelling could be fun to play with in terms of stakeholder engagement maybe? Beats some of the cringe-worthy activities that you sometimes have to do to try and get people thinking about what you’re doing.

      Will definitely check out the links when I get home. Even if not for work I like the idea of creating interactive stories.

      • 3. Vicki Paull  |  December 19, 2012 at 10:04 am

        You can incorporate various media into interactive storytelling too methinks (the text adventure engine there most definitely has support for images and video embedding 🙂

        I found the blog post on types of interactivity interesting too – if you want people to learn more about each others roles in a project could you explore something like switching viewpoints? eg.

        “3. Switch viewpoints
        Tell a single story, but let the reader choose whose viewpoint they see it from, and switch between these points of view as the story unfolds. Use the contrast for comic effect, or to highlight the gaps between the characters in the story.”

        Anyway, all rhetorical stuff from me – thinking a lot about forms of storytelling lately!

  • 4. jennifermdenton  |  December 19, 2012 at 11:47 am

    oo the switching viewpoints through interactive stories sounds like a great thing for engaging stakeholders and especially management. Definitely going to think about that some more. It would be fantastic for this presentation we’re doing in january, but I doubt I could get anything written in time…


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