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The History of Storytelling: Part III: Modern Storytelling

Part III

For Part I and Part II of this series, click here and here.

Modern Storytelling

Never before in the history of storytelling have so many options been available to the average storyteller. Nor, have so many forms of storytelling even been considered actual storytelling. A story is anything that meets the requirements of having the five basic elements of story: characters, setting, plot, conflict, and theme. No matter the media, if it has all of these elements it qualifies as a story. That means that modern storytelling has a plethora of vessels for relaying a story.

Books

Books are what we classically think of when we think of “stories”. Most of the reading we do outside of work or school comes in the form of novels. Even those who read short stories typically do so by buying an anthology in book form. But, fiction can come in variety of lengths, depending on the intention of the writer. Works shorter than one thousand words can be considered micro-fiction, flash fiction, or simply a short. A short story tends to fall into a range between one-thousand and seven thousand words. A novelette is seven to twenty-thousand words, and a novella is twenty to fifty-thousand words. A story is not typically considered a novel until it makes it past the fifty-thousand word mark, and anything longer than one-hundred thousand words is considered an epic.

Because of the visual aspect used to express the story, graphic novels and comic books are not traditionally considered books. But, like traditional books, they are just as much a story. Graphic based storytelling still uses the same elements as written stories, they just rely on a visual method to express them. Character development is seen through the actions of characters and the emotional reactions on their faces. Conflict and plot are dramatized by the way the boxes are set within the panels. Tone and theme are presented in the stylization.

Audio

Thanks to the internet making digital audio and video files accessible to everyone, a storytelling method from the early days of radio is making a comeback – the audio drama. Audio books have been around for a long time, easing the pain of long commutes and long hours of data entry by allowing busy people to listen to readings of popular books when they have the time. Along with the rise of Satellite Radio in the early 2000s, as internet speeds increased, and switched from relying on phone lines to fiber optic cables, podcasts became the new pirate radio shows. Suddenly, anyone could have a blog and a show, and both exploded during the 2000s. As podcasts became more available, with shows ranging into all areas of human interest, and downloads and listeners increased, storytellers realized that once again, audio was a format that would allow them to share their stories. Shows such as Welcome to Nightvale have made it possible for entire series to exist, serialized much like modern day soap operas, one episode at a time.

This is perhaps the closest thing we have today to the oral tradition that served as the function for the root of storytelling itself- passing information from one generation to the next by sharing a story verbally.

Video

When people first saw Train Pulling Into a Station by the Lumière brothers in a theater in 1896, they thought they were witnessing magic. Ever since, cinema has become one of the biggest and most popular ways that we share stories. Allowing for the chance to actually witness the story in front of you, it adds a whole new dimension to what can be done with the imagination. Filmmakers take stories from pen to paper and paint it fully with the help of production design, sound engineering and musical scores, and the thing that makes us connect with them most—actual people. With films and television shows, characters are no longer imaginary figures in our minds. They become tangible before us, which while sometimes can be disappointing when it comes to adaptations, is largely something that makes people love and connect with films so much. It evolves story “telling” into story “showing”.

As MTV taught us so well, video certainly did kill the radio star, but YouTube isn’t killing podcasting in any way, especially when streaming a podcast takes less data than watching a video. But, YouTube is allowing for a Renaissance of independent film. Filmmakers are creating entirely new content, like Broad City, which went on to get picked up as a half hour scripted comedy by Comedy Central. Others, like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries by the folks of Pemberly Digital, or Hamlet the Dame by Remarkable, Singular, Curious Productions and ParaFable, are making names for themselves by adapting well beloved stories into vlog style web shows. StarKid Productions, famously known for their musicals, such as the Very Potter Musical series, have been able to capitalize on YouTube and help them find an audience by filming their productions and posting them online. The creation of Vine (before it was dropped by Twitter) was the visual version of flash fictiona snippet of a story told visually, usually in the form of a song or a joke.

With cameras on every phone it is now easier than ever to tell a story through film. And, there are more venues to display your visual art every day. Streaming services are a dime a dozen these days, and they are all climbing over each other to produce original content, hoping for the next “it” show.

Gaming

Despite being a huge industry, and a huge art of the modern creative arts community, video games have never really been given the credit they are due. With the inclusion of voice acting and intricately designed cut scenes, some video games have the production value of movies, and have character voiced by celebrities from the A List to those with cult following. The story lines have to be even more complex than the average story because most video games offer the player multiple endings based on choices made at turning points in the game. Games such as the Fable Series and Dishonored build their entire story around the choices, actions, and leveling options the player makes during gameplay. A player may have to play a video game like this several times, changing their choices from the last game, to fully experience the totality of the story options.

One of the best, yet completely underrated forms of storytelling, is roleplaying games. Anyone who has played a tabletop RPG (roleplaying game), classics such as Dungeons and Dragons or Vampire: The Masquerade, will know just how much storytelling, character development, and exposition goes into a game. Game Masters will spend weeks creating a story arc, plotting obstacles to throw in the characters way, forcing their characters to use their traits, skills, resources, and cunning to overcome them. Characters may fight monsters, solve puzzles, or seek treasure, but they can only use the predetermined elements in their character that were designed at the beginning of the game. An RPG is probably the purest form of storytelling, and the closest we have to the original roots of storytellinga group of people gathered around to listen to a tale of adventure.

Virtual Reality

The coolest thing about modern storytelling is that it is evolving before our very eyes, with advanced new technologies like virtual reality. Already being incorporated into gaming systems thanks to the advent of devices like the Oculus Rift, there’s so much as-yet undiscovered potential in this technology to do as others have before it. Only time will tell if this will actually become the next big thing, but it certainly gives hope to those of escapists who’ve always said things like, “I wish I could be in the story I’m reading!”

 

Virtually experiencing the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones like…

 

And So Much More

From street theater to ballet to scrapbooking and back again, there are now so many forms of storytelling that it’s hard to keep count. And that’s a wonderful thing! We here at IndiePen Ink would love to hear what forms of storytelling you enjoy, so please share your favorites in the comments!

Write on young saviors,

Editorials News Pep Talks Resources Sass Writing Styles

Hey Guys! Watch This!

An open letter from Sass:

There is a small assortment of books collecting dust on my bookshelf these days. These books were once some of my most coveted, habitually read, and referenced tomes. I carried them in my bag on trips and methodically marked and annotated passages. Interestingly though, these books are neither classic literature, nor contemporary favorites. In fact, they’re non-fiction. They are my craft books – the first books I began buying and devouring when I finally decided to take the terrifying leap from saying “I write” to “I am a writer.” The books that helped me learn the basics; that built the foundation of my writerly knowledge.

Now, nearly a decade later, as I plot story arcs, develop characters, and invent universes, they sit idle, neglected and forgotten. Why would I need to read these books now? I’m not a novice writer anymore – I get this shit. I’m done with theory. Onto the practicum! Yet, when I sat down to make notes over the tutorials and concepts I wanted to cover on IndiePen Ink, my head emptied as quickly as a broken vacuum seal clears out a cargo bay on an interstellar ship. I realized that I needed to go back to my source, to my humble beginnings, and work backwards, taking my acquired knowledge and using it to create a curriculum of what I would have liked to have learned early on as a writer.

The problem though is that the stuff I wanted -needed- to learn was not the basics. Now, granted, while they are the important foundation on which the skill of writing is built, understanding the elements of story makes you little more proficient than a high school freshman when it comes to writing… I know this because I teach high school English to freshmen. So, instead of reaching for the craft books on the basics, I reached for my intermediate books – the ones on style and expression – and, decided to take a look through two of my trustiest reference books: Better Than Great and The Elements of Expression, both by author, Arthur Plotnik.

And, lo… what I have forgotten/ignored/never learned/breezed past in haste to get to the “good stuff”…Did you know that there are twenty-five types of figurative language? Because I sure as hell didn’t! The weird part is I had it marked, as if I had either read it and forgotten, or never got back to it after thinking “Ooooh! This looks important!”.

This brought me to a realization – I had thought I had read these books, scoured these books for information; devoured them and digested their contents – but in truth, I had done no such thing. There was no doubt I had depended on these books and used them constantly, but for an intended purpose. A purpose from which I am eight years removed and hardly remember, but at the time they gave me information I craved. I read it, absorbed it, and it became habit. Then, I threw it on the shelf and walked away more confident in my ability than before, and thus satisfied I had taken everything I could from that text.

“I wanted a resource – the ultimate resource that could be the place where I could go to get help, specific to my needs as a writer at that time.”

It’s this realization that leads me to believe this is the reason I roped my friends into creating IndiePen Ink. I wanted a resource – the ultimate resource that could be the place where I could go to get help, specific to my needs as a writer at that time. Those needs change over time, and new resources have to be sought.

Middle of the road writers, like myself, have fallen into a chasm of sorts. We still need help while writing, but it doesn’t come from our foundational limitations, it comes from isolation. Writing in a vacuum is horrible. It’s inside the black hole where all your incredible, original ideas stagnate, your characters go flat, and your dialogue becomes trite and stifled. This happens not because you don’t have talent, but because you have no place to keep skills sharp or be held accountable.

In essence, you need a proving ground. A playground, if you will, to mix and mingle, to refuel and get hurt when you slip off the fictional monkey bars. This place needs to be flexible, inviting, tolerant, and empathetic to the needs and diversity of writers, and those writer’s stories. But, the playground also needs an assortment of equipment, and not just one of those plastic jumbo monstrosities with seven slides and towers and glider handle thingy… what hell do they call that thing? It needs separate play areas where we can go and play and learn, and when we conquer that area, we can move to another; make new friends; fall off new toys and get back up again.

Consider IndiePen your playground. Make friends. Try new stuff. Revisit and take comfort in old stuff. Share. Write. Fuck up. Try again. We, as the creators of IndiePen Ink, want you to help us make this playground the first place, and only place, you go when you fall down the writing well and can’t crawl out again. We’ll throw you a rope, and pull you back up to the playground.

“Make friends. Try new stuff. Revisit and take comfort in old stuff. Share. Write. Fuck up. Try again.”

The playground is small right now, but it won’t always be. This isn’t going to be just some corner park they used to fill space in a subdivision. We’ve got big plans for this playground (think Leslie Knope plans). So, come to our playground. Tell us about yourself, your needs, and what toys you want to play on. Tell all your friends to meet you at the sweet, new playground. Until then, we’ll be here waiting. You’ll know us – we’re the cool kids hanging out on top of the monkey bars.

…and I’m the kid writhing on the ground after shouting the famous words, “Hey guys! Watch this!”.

Write on, young savior,

 

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