26 April 2010

Seeking Clues to the Future of Storytelling

Earlier this month, Publishers Weekly reported on the ashbound London Book Fair’s panel discussion on digital books for children, and I was particularly interested in the comments of author Naomi Alderman:

Alderman suggested that the industry really needs new nomenclature for this digital medium. Neither “book” nor “game” is quite apt to describe something like Alderman’s The Winter House, an online short story, with visuals by Jey Biddulph, that is both linear and interactive. Trying to pigeonhole evolving technological developments doesn’t do justice to the work or honor the medium it is being lumped in with, Alderman reasoned.

For Alderman, new media is exciting, not something that compromises traditional and beloved forms of storytelling. “I hear a lot of fear from writers and publishers, but there are a lot of amazing things you can do onscreen that you can’t do on the page,” she said. Digitized books create new roles between writers, designers, illustrators, and publishers—all of these parties want to tell stories, and with this shared desire at the heart, their collaboration can have compelling results thanks to the fusion of different skills, she added.

Alderman feels that the best use of these new methodologies is “something native to the format,” saying that to attempt a transposition of what already exists won’t do it justice outside of the way it was conceived. Adapting traditional imagery is not always possible onscreen, she said, or even necessarily desirable. Digital books are still in an interim period where creativity can be stretched, but a balance between what is commercially viable with what experimental methods could bring has yet to be established.
I visited The Winter House, and three things struck me:
  • Though the story has undeniable graphic and sonic dimensions, words are the crucial, driving element.
  • The tale has quite a feminist underpinning.
  • I had to restart twice because the animation got stuck at different places, and could find no way to jump in at a particular spot (though I could avoid unnecessary loops in the algorithm).
For the “Divided by a Common Language” category, I note that the “About” section of the website suggests students can try to create their “own Cluedo-inspired board game.” In North America, we call that game Clue.

(The picture above shows a ”modernised” Cluedo layout by the DKPM design firm.)


Roger Sutton said...

While I thought The Winter House demonstrated some interesting possibilities for digital storytelling, as a story it was kind of a dud, and the digital effects left me thinking, I did all this clicking for that?

J. L. Bell said...

I can’t say the story improved on partial “rereading.” And the mystery could easily be solved by fingering the only character who didn’t support female education—obviously a villain and a cad.

I wonder if the medium would benefit more from multilinear storytelling rather than just linear.