Monday, November 22, 2010

Story is Dead

This essay is an excerpt from a longer article on Story/Message Theory, originally published November 14, 2010. To read the original article in full, click the link. Links to other excerpts follow at the conclusion of this entry.


Hopscotch: By Jan Tik
Is Story Dead?

In 2003 I published and essay titled This Is Where The Story Ends in which I suggested Story is dead. Of course, it's meant to be a blatantly provocative headline. However, the article took the viewpoint of a  post-production professional working in music and audio applications for film, video, theme parks and new media, witnessing the transformation of the traditional storytelling by

And even though I had been working on computer art projects for well over a decade, digital media had yet to explode into the mainstream. Then, by the turn of the century,  it seemed as if Digital, multimedia, and even Transmedia platforms with interactive features were all suddenly and very realistically poised on the popular horizon like ships approaching a new world.
And although the mobile technology I witnessed at E3 in 2003 may not have enjoyed the features today's smartphones do, but the possibilities produced by portable devices that delivered communication and game playing experiences combined were already immediately evident. As a result, I concluded then that traditional storytelling was either fading away or evolving into something new and as of yet undefined.

I also arrived at the notion that while traversing links didn't necessarily connect each destination with a Narrative, the way a series of scenes in a Movie might. In other words, I concluded that Navigation does not necessarily give form to Narration.

The reason for that is that in order for Navigation to form Narrative (suitable to the construction of a compelling Story), it must be fueled with a singular Purpose.

Therefore neither Narrative alone nor the sense of self we imagine when we experience it, fulfill the litmus test for Story, engaging though it may be until we change the channel, switch stations, turn the page or click onward to the next titillating hyperlink.

Whether Fiction or Non Fiction, Narrative certainly provides simulation. But then, why shouldn't it? Active listening ignites brain activity. Heck, two people making love might even synchronize their hearts and minds as well as their bodies. But entertaining or engaging as a given activity and experience may be be in and of itself, none meets the threshold for Story until we support the Narrative (or Navigation) with Purpose (Theme) and cap with Message (Maxim).

Story will never die as a result of evolving mediums. Stories are fundamentally platform agnostic. Platforms change, but Story Experiences can be delivered with shadow puppets as much as they can with smartphones and pixels.

At the same time, our collective concept of Story has evolved to include any experience, and this may be prove an error. Games are called stories. Retail environments promise Story. Some say every great Brand delivers a Story. Whatever is happening, Stories are definitely moving 'Off Word'. 

Some new formats do deliver Story experiences, but do they all? Can we even frame Experience alone as Content or Narrative, let alone Story? Likewise, as a teaching and marketing tool, anything seems to pass the litmus test.

Are any of the following scenarios false. given the conventions?:

  • Q: What is a Story? A: Anything. 
  • Q: What is Digital Storytelling? A: Anything on a Screen. 
  • Q: What is Transmedia Storytelling? A: Anything on multiple screens. 
  • Q: What is Multimedia Storytelling. A: Anything across mediums.
No, none are false, but are any true?

If Story is anything we want it to be, than how can one possibly define it, teach it or measure its effectiveness?

To reiterate, the convention states that Narrative is synonymous with Story. However, that is not the measure by which we have made our model. Both are equally valid platforms for the creation and expression of artistic works, but Story/Message Theory is prescribed for Objective supported Storytelling.

I believe that future advertising professionals will have to transform themselves into masters of message delivery and signification, while educators may wish to decide if Story will encompass every data sequence or not.

This is not to suggest that words themselves will necessarily become less important, but only to say, when they are employed, their effective value will be measured by position and context, and that much input may arrive from a rather long tail.

In other words, if we are to hold onto both our traditional notions of story and marketing, then indeed, Story is Dead.

However, if we dispense with convention and flip the model, as indicated above, then we allow ourselves the freedom and opportunity to develop a more effective method for engaging audiences, being Objective based  'Message-Lead/Narrative-Follow'.

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Articles in this series:

Story/Message Theory (Original full length article)
What is a Story?
The Parable/Fable Framework as Story Algorithm
The Story/Message Theory Construct
So It Goes: Vonnegut's Law
The Power of Effective Messaging
Create Engagement with Compelling Signification
Elevator Pitch: Speed Dating Signification
Static Symbolic Accentuating Triggers
Story is Dead
Leading with Message Signification
Non Linear Cross Platform Transmedia Storytelling
Mythology and Messaging

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