The Future of Storytelling

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The FutureWhatever your feelings on eBooks and eReaders, there can be no question that digital storytelling is with us to stay. The debate rages on about the merits and drawbacks of each medium, with the one true essential often getting lost: namely, that it is the content which is paramount, not the method of delivery.

A great story is a great story whether it’s spoken aloud around a campfire or downloaded to a mobile device.

But what of the opportunities to enhance a great story and create something truly outstanding? Part of my lingering reluctance to adopt eReaders in favour of paper (which I’ve touched on in a recent post) is based on the fact that I’m waiting for the Next Big Thing. Regardless of the convenience afforded by a slim tablet housing an entire literary library, the sheer viscerality of paper still held sway for me.

Until now. Now I have seen The Future and it’s mind-blowingly exciting.

It looks like this: ‘Avalanche at Snow Creek’

No longer is a digital story limited to being a straightforward rendering of the physical book. True immersive multimedia has come of age and is enhancing the reader’s experience at every turn. As you scroll through the pages of ‘Snow Creek’ you fall further and further into the account until you can almost feel the snow pressing in around you and hear the search-and-rescue teams calling out in increasing despair.

The advent of HTML5 – the latest standard for web markup language – enables storytellers to add dimensions to their words which will take the reader to a whole new level. Yes, of course we still want the reader’s imagination to do most of the work and forge their own images around the tales. And yes, of course we must still craft and revise and polish our words and phrases to enable them to deliver that world to the reader.

That has always been the storyteller’s trade and passion, regardless of medium. Except now, we have a whole new box of tools with which to expand the horizons for our readers and make our stories live. And that can only be a good thing.

How will you embrace the new to bring extra dimensions to your work?

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14 thoughts on “The Future of Storytelling

  1. _This_ is what will separate indie publishing from professional. If “traditional” publishers had any brains, this is where they’d be going. Of course, it works best for non-fiction, which you can supplement with the digital equivalent of sidebars like this, but what shall we do with fiction? Will novels have cut-scenes? Soundtracks? Environmental/ambient sounds playing in the background? Spots of spoken dialogue? How much will that enhance the fiction, and how much will it detract, as the artwork or actor’s voice limits what you can imagine?

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    • It is indeed an intriguing proposition and I agree with many of your reservations. There have been experiments with soundtracks on eBooks already and the results were generally wildly distracting. However, I can picture:
      – maps embedded within the text(as with Lord of the Rings)
      – images of the locations in the book, where they are real-life places – my novel being set in London, I’d definitely use this
      – cut-scene type imagery of, I don’t know, battling spaceships?? (many sci-fi novels already have these pictured on the cover)
      – etc. etc. etc.
      I wholeheartedly agree that we should in no way limit the reader’s imagination, as that’s key to the whole reading experience, but I do think there are many inventive ways of augmenting a text and enabling the reader to exercise their imagination even further.

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      • Maps, illustrations, real-life context, all good ideas, though they’re mostly elements that have been used in print form already, no? What can we think of–what sort of “outside the box” elements–to bring in to the prose but yet not detract from the experience. Real-time interactivity with other readers? Twitter feeds linked to sections/sentences of the book? Just trying to imagine something that might appeal to the attention-span-deficit youth…

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      • The digital mechanism has helped and encourage a lot of readers. I am happy with this current form of digital reading. But there is a disadvantage for writers. As the ebooks are freely available on the internet!

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        • I respectfully disagree Aman – the Internet has opened up a wealth of opportunities for writers which they never had before. eBooks make it far easier to get your work in front of a broad audience without the need for an agent or publisher. Freely available is a good thing – as opposed to free-of-charge, which isn’t 🙂

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  2. @Kurt – real-time inter-reader interactivity becomes dangerous if you’ve just read the ending and I’m halfway through… oh the potential for spoilers!! Personally, I’d like to see a first-person narrative linked to the Oculus Rift, so that the reader can travel through the setting of the book as the narrator. (And why doesn’t this template allow me to reply directly more than once?? Grrrr…)

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  3. Is this what they consider a hybrid book? I’ve heard the term thrown around a lot recently, but this is my first taste of it. Honestly, it’s pretty cool. The ability to add in extras like video, photos, music, etc. could hold a new level of storytelling opportunity. I wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to go about writing something like this, but I’d definitely be game to give it a whirl at some point. Technology is only going to get more advanced; why not embrace the change and grow our storytelling abilities to match?

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  4. Jon, this all seems very exciting and speculation is all very well, but I suddenly feel like a 1950’s presenter who is speculating on the future of the computer…we really have no idea how this will all turn out. We can only hope that feature A), B) or C) will be incorporated. You are right that this may indeed be The Next Big Thing. Why should stories be restricted to just words or maps? The paper novel will become a quaint novelty as the future of the interactive book explodes with limitless possibilities! The danger is – will it morph into movies (as phones have morphed into PCs into tablets), or will it find a place of its own?
    @Kisa – we would learn to adapt, just as we have learned how to create an eBook. Or we could collaborate and form an indie co-operative (is that contradictory?) and help each other out, according to our skills.

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  5. It occurred to me later that whilst the earliest motor cars continued to pay homage to their roots by resembling carriages, before developing distinctly non-carriage outlines, so the early eBooks currently reflect THEIR roots by resembling and mimicking paper books.
    Not for long, I suspect.

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    • It’s a really interesting area actually, because what do readers want from a book essentially?

      Films are there for visuals, radio/audiobooks for sound, so do readers in fact want books to stick to what they’re good at and deliver words that we can interpret however we want?

      That’s the key freedom with reading – no matter how brilliantly an author depicts a scene, a face, a landscape, we still interpret it in the way most meaningful to us. Which means it will be unique to every single reader, even if only in the variations of some minor details. Once the author adds guidance of any form, that freedom flies out of the window.

      I tend to agree with the thinking that interactive/multimedia (now there’s a word I haven’t seen in many a year) stories are great fun as a gimmick, but far more suited to non-fiction as a general rule.

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