Archive for March, 2013

Audio and serious storytelling

And this is the day my long avoidance of Week Four of ds106 comes to an end.  You see, week four is introducing audio storytelling and I really don’t like audio.  My husband thinks I’m a little strange as we have totally different ways of listening to things – he likes the complex harmonies in choral singing and will quite happily listen to the radio all day and absorb everything that’s said.  On the other hand I like the strong beats of dance and metal (to me choral singing is a drone of meaningless sounds) and the second I don’t have total focus on what’s on the radio it goes completely past me and I don’t remember a word.  Combine that with the standard hatred pretty much everyone has for hearing recordings of their own voice and I’ve decided to let a lot of week four be quietly swept under the mental rug…

But!  There are some good videos (praise the video gods) that are linked to which have made me think, which is always a good thing.  The videos are a series of short points by Ira Glass which I think are applicable to just about any story, though his emphasis is on video and audio.

Some of his points are fairly standard though said in a slightly different way: he describes stories as actions interspersed with moments of reflection which tell the viewer/listener why they should care about what’s going on.  He also says that stories raise questions to act as bait to encourage you to keep reading – such a simple idea, but I hadn’t thought of it quite that way before.  He makes the point that raising these questions implies that you will answer them and I can certainly think of stories that have broken that rule and greatly frustrated many a reader/viewer (Lost for example – I still think that show was a psychological experiment of some kind to see how long you could string an audience on without giving them anything).

The two points that I think create a sticking point for stories in other settings though (I’m thinking projects, but also about any other non-traditional arena) are time and taste.

The John Cleese talk on creativity makes the point about time as well, though they make the point slightly differently.  Cleese encourages taking time where you’re free to play to encourage creativity, whereas Glass talks about giving yourself time to fail: potentially many many years to go from failing horribly every time, to just failing a little every now and then.  Having the time to perfect your ability to tell a story.  Cleese’s point can in theory be worked into most schedules – finite time set aside for creativity.  Unpopular and probably hard to justify if you’re not in a creative field, but potentially possible.  But what about Glass’s point?  If you don’t have the years and years behind you of getting good at storytelling what can you be expected to produce?  This is why there are creative agencies after all – to get someone who knows what they’re doing to do it – but the increasing slant towards using stories in learning and teaching, for project reports, for blogs and all the other reflective and social side of employment this hardly seems feasible.

Which brings me to the last of Glass’s points which I will mention: taste.  Glass says that people get into creative industries because they have a sense of taste which drives them to perfect what they’re doing.  To be able to tell when what they have produced is crap and to try and work towards something better.  Now it seems we’re asking people with no sense of taste for storytelling (a horrible generalisation I will cover in a moment.  Also I would argue that taste could be applied to any person who has a feel for the work they are doing, “creative” or otherwise) to create stories.  There’s no reason why they should know whether they are good or bad stories, and it hardly matters because they won’t have the time they need to improve them anyway.

Now, I’m not saying that this means that storytelling shouldn’t be expanded into this area.  I think stories are a fantastic way to learn, to get points across, to engage with just about everyone.  This is because my generalisation above isn’t quite right: I doubt there are many people with zero taste for storytelling.  Still, this is a lot to ask of people who are already experts in what they’re doing – oh and by the way now you need to be a storyteller as well.

There’s increasing amount of guidance on storytelling around, but without time and taste is that enough?

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March 25, 2013 at 2:54 pm 1 comment


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