Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Novel World of Digital Storytelling

Elizabeth Thomsen is here to discuss the various ways in which internet technologies have affected the ways in which stories are told and used.

She has decided to start with a look at fanfiction, which she sees as having a lot in common with oral story telling traditions.  Fanfiction (fan created stories building off of the works of others) originated in the 1800's with fans of Sherlock Holmes.  Clubs were formed to share stories and friends would mail them to one another.  Fanfiction is particularly popular based around material that is episodic in nature.  Nowadays fanfiction is being written about Star Wars, Harry Potter, Twilight, etc... and much of this is posted online. 

There are many reoccuring story types within fanfic such as crossovers (i.e.Harry Potter meets Star Wars) and alternate universes (what if Harry Potter died?).  Much of fanfiction is based around perceived subtext in the source material, this is especially seen in slash fiction (i.e. Kirk/Spock).

Fanfic communities can be very large and provide a sizeable fanbase for aspiring writers with far more potential for useful feedback than many other outlets.

This all of course poses some serious copyright issues.  Some authors embrace the fanfiction community, but many distance themselves out of fear of potentially stealing a fan's idea for a future novel.  Anne McCaffrey has written a fanfiction guide for her Pern series.

Fanfiction is not limited to writing, there's a large number of fanfiction videos available (a Law and Order: SVU clip from YouTube is shown).

The Internet has also brought about a resurgence in serial narratives, webcomics in particular have taken advantage of this, with Brian Fies' Mom's Cancer sited as an example (sadly the webcomic has not been available since the finished story was published in book form).  Mom's Cancer is also notable for being a story that came about via a blog.

Anonymous Lawyer is another blogger who made the jump to book form.  But what is interesting in this instance is that the author discovered that his blog posts did not work when placed in a book form.  In fact the Lawyer wound up thinking of the blog as a place to practice the character's voice, and then used that experience for his novel.  Many others have begun to do similar exercises by creating things like (unsanctioned) facebook pages for fictional characters.  This has opened up new possibilities for non-linear storytelling, somewhat similar to what can be found in many video games.

Somewhat similar to this is the new trend for parts of stories to occur outside of their original books.  The Diary of Samuel Pepys has been converted into a blog, with additional material (weather widgets) provided from historical sources. 

In Japan a new form has developed out of cell phone txt messaging.  School age (largely girls) have begun writing stories on their cell phones, many by non-readers.  Quite a few of these have become best sellers in Japan, despite the view of many that they are lowbrow ("worse than our chick lit novels").

Hemmingway has inspired a large number of projects based around the idea of creating 6 word stories.  A collection of community generated six word memoirs has been published, and Flickr has a group dedicated to creating six word stories around various images.

Protagonize is a great platform for collaborative storytelling, that's fun for both kids and adults.  People have also begun to use twitter for storytelling, and have written a guide to the form.

Machinima (digital puppetry) are stories produced using video games (and second life) to produce videos.  Essentially "hijacking the game" in order to tell your own story.  This how to Machinima, made in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is highly recommended.  Many games have their own build in cameras, and for ones without them free software is available to provide this feature.  Machinima adaptations have also been made for many public domain works (particularly ones featuring castles).

Elizabeth is particularly supportive of oral history projects that various people have put together using various Internet technologies.  The best ones tend to be recordings of specific tasks (thanks to @infogdss29 for the link), particularly as many people can feel uncomfortable relating their own histories and having such an outlet can make things easier.

Opening stories to public discourse throughout their development can have a huge effect on the finished tales.  Charles Dickens "the first blogger" wrote in a similar way, publishing his novels as serials while holding public readings.

Anyone interested in easy to produce video should check out the flip video camera on display at the technology petting zoo in the vendor area.

More information on everything discussed during this presentation can be found on Elizabeth's blog.

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