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Storytelling for the Digital Age Our world is becoming faster, smaller, and smarter. Potential readers are bombarded with messages from computers, phones, and televisions every minute of the day. Authors have the opportunity to embrace this change, to ride the tide of digital media, and listen to the demands of their readers. These readers want more information faster and in a greater variety of formats. They must experiment and expand their repertoire until they have exhausted the possibilitiesâ€”be they digital graphic novels, audio or visually enhanced books, or completely new vehicles for storytelling. Following is a brief introduction to a few ways technology is changing the face of story.
Ebooks Many authors are troubled by the question: Should I make an ebook out of my manuscript? Ebook sales have skyrocketed, rising more than 300% in the last two years while print books sales have generally declined. Financially, it makes good sense to make an ebook. So what is keeping authors from taking the plunge? For many, hesitation to develop an ebook comes from the love of the book itself: the smell of the ink, the texture of the paper, the weight in hand, the flip of the pageâ€”the visceral experience of reading. Remember that a growing percentage of your audience has come to terms with digital reading. It has not entirely replaced, nor will it ever entirely replace, the physical book. Ebooks merely give readers more options to fit reading into their increasingly fast paced lifestyle. Creating an ebook is not a vote condemning print books to the fate of the 8-track tape; it is a vote of confidence in the technical savvy of your readership. For other authors, the fear of losing control of the story as it races through the intangible Internet is enough to give them second thoughts on ebook creation. Luckily, there are many options for protecting your story from piracy. The best protection, however, is to create a compelling story. Sales show that readers are willing to pay for well written content. Whatever your concerns, there is sure to be a solution that will help you feel comfortable with the decision to create an ebook.
Interactive Stories Interactive storytelling can be an immersive and exciting experience for readers. You may recall reading some interactive stories as a childâ€”the Choose Your Own Adventure series invited readers to become a character and participate in the story building process, and Two Minute Mysteries asked the reader to become the detective and challenged them to solve the mystery before revealing the solution. With digital media, authors have an opportunity to revive this style and use new technologies to immerse readers in the story experience. Hyperlinks are the familiar way we all negotiate the Internetâ€”the words often underlined and in blue, that lead us to another website by clicking. It may be that your next story could take advantage of this technologyâ€”linking to character asides, definitions, images, or allowing the reader to make a choice or discovery like we did as kids. Allowing readers to choose their own path through your story, or go into greater depth on a topic or character, can give the reader a greater sense of control and ownership of the story. As a reader, you have probably found a news article or blog post that incorporated interactive elements and experienced how well that can work. Do not let your creative expression be limited by your technical ability to develop the interactive mechanisms. Help is available.
Serial Literature Serial literature—stories told in a series of installments—has been around as long as storytelling has. Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Stephen King have employed the serial format to tell a larger story in small pieces. New technologies provide authors with new and unique opportunities for serial storytelling. Writing a serial story is not simply a matter of chopping up an existing story. A serial story drives readers to the next installment while leaving them satisfied with the current edition. Readers today have been familiarized with the serial story through television and have a natural sense of where breaks should come. Simply chopping up a novel will not compare to a piece written with this format in mind. Twitter, blogs, email, ebook subscriptions, and smartphone applications can deliver stories to readers on a predetermined schedule. Using an email newsletter to produce a serial story delivers the current chapter directly to the reader’s inbox, where they can access it when and where they choose. Ereaders, like Amazon’s Kindle, offer subscriptions for periodicals and even blogs. Smartphone applications, programs that run on phones like Apple’s iPhone or Motorola’s Droid, can tell the story in installments.
Multimedia Books From the Bible to the Hobbit, original songs have been included in literature, but had to rely on sheet music, describing the tune (jaunty and merry), or using typography to indicate phrasing. Audio and video excerpts can now be inserted within ebooks that are intended for use on a computer or tablet PC. Many ereaders have audio capabilities, but eInk screens have a refresh rate that is too slow to deliver video. Creating a more complete ambiance for your story by adding a soundtrack, pulling the reader into a character by allowing them to watch first person as a package is unwrapped, or listening to the recording of an old cassette your protagonist found in a dusty trunk can bring an excitement to your story that paper books cannot deliver. You may have played the Myst or Riven computer games from the 1990s and recall how effective a well-placed video or audio recording can be.
Non-linear Story Telling One of the most challenging formats for digital storytelling is the non-linear story. Similar to an interactive story that allows the reader to choose their own path through the text, non-linear stories are presented as nonsequential experiences. Readers can uncover mysteries, reveal characters, and follow plot lines in a way that is organic to them and similar to how we experience life and memory. With digital technologies, non-linear storytelling principles can be used within the context of a traditional story. Memories, flashback sequences, or foreshadowing glimpses into the future can be organized in such a way that the reader can choose when to read or re-read the entries. Ebooks could give the reader the option to read a journal, check the calendar, or browse the email of the characters at their discretion or when prompted by links within the text.
...and they lived happily ever after.
Into the Future “We are living through the largest expansion of expressive capability in the history of the human race.” —Clay Shirky Digital publishing technologies are moving out of infancy and growing into the exciting phase of adolescence. There are awkward pitfalls to avoid and amazing opportunities to realize. A creative author with a clear understanding of the power of technology and the drive to tell a story to today’s audience will harness these opportunities and offer society a new way to experience the world. If you would like to discuss your ideas and how to make them a reality, Digital Bindery is here to listen, encourage, and provide the tools you need.