People have been telling stories from the beginning of time, we like to tell them and we like to hear them, it’s how we understand and communicate with each other. Stories help us learn and help us shape ourselves. But most importantly, we tell stories because we want to connect.
In a business oriented world, we use stories to persuade and to inspire. “Persuasion is the centerpiece of business activity,” says Robert McKee in an HBR article on ‘Storytelling That Moves People’. By transporting your audience to another place through an experience, you’re able to connect, which is the first step on your way to influencing your audience.
Throughout history storytelling has developed a basic structure. The basic structure is what we call a linear storyline, composed of a main character and their journey. But with advancements in technology and storytelling tools, we can shape how our stories are told to create a truly dynamic and nonlinear storytelling experience. Here we are not concerned about what is happening, but are more curious about how and why it happened. As a storyteller we face the challenge of how to deliver the most dynamic message possible.
The secret of shaping a story lies within the interaction points of the narrative.
The narrative spectrum
This diagram (courtesy of Chris Klug and Josiah Lebowitz) outlines the different forms that storylines can take on.
Fully traditional stories aim to tell a story from point A to point B. These are linear storylines where the viewer can not interact with the main storyline.
Interactive traditional stories give the viewers points to choose a point-of-view or an alternative storyline, but the individual paths will eventually end up at the same place.
This can be seen in the interactive Beneful: Pick-a-Path video, where all viewers reach the same, pre-determined ending regardless of the path they took.
Multiple-ending stories & branching path stories allow the viewer to influence the storyline based on pre-determined decision points by the creator. This gives the viewer the feeling that they are forming the story based on their choices, by the narrative environment is still controlled by the creator.
The creator has to consider 2 aspects:
1. The decision points where the viewer can choose.
2. The connection between the different choices, in order to link only a few pre-determined endings.
A great example is the Afro-Supa-Hero interactive video, where viewers find themselves at one of the two heroic endings, based on their choices throughout the video.
Open ended stories & fully player-driven stories offer an environment where the viewer can create their own story. It's the creator's job to build a world according to the 'rules of interaction'.
An applicable example for this is Sims. From the first moment on, the player creates a personalized character, they have the ability to shape the storyline, make it more personal and relevant, and thus more immersive.The marketing use of the narrative structure is mostly indirect. Through interaction people feel more involved, which affects an individual's behavior and decision making.
Connecting Your Story to Your Audience
With the advancement of technology and tools, the art and craft of storytelling is diffused and the audience role shifts from passive to active. Creators and storytellers are expected to deliver their message on crowded channels, constantly fighting for audience attention.
The multiple mediums, which were traditionally television, theaters and cinemas, are now social media, gaming, messaging platforms, mobile apps, video platforms etc. These information hubs can be visualized in The Conversation Prism, created by Brian Solis and adapted by Lance Weiler in The Evolution of Storytelling.
The Conversation Prism
People consume their information across a variety of outlets completely customized to their desires. If we take all of this into consideration, our main question as storytellers is: how can we create a story that captures and engages our audience’s attention in a world where we are inundated by content?
How to create your story in a transmedia world:
- Define your core story.
- Define the outlets where you can reach your audience.
- Pace the delivery of your content and let your audience choose to expand on the different points in the core story (e.g. cut scenes, behind the scenes, gaming elements, etc.).
- Assemble your story in a creative way, using technology to support the structure and the full experience.
- Analyze! What actions do you want your audience to take? How are you going to measure the results of that action?
When we design our story architecture, we begin with the invariable elements: story and audience. How we connect the two elements together is the storyworld gateway which is made up of creative decisions, audience interaction points, and events.
As the audience is now enabled to collaborate and contribute to the story, we can collect that data and information real-time, which translates into the overall performance. The ability to harness this information, gives the creator the ability to see how our audience is interacting to optimize and customize the story to serve an even more engaging experience.
That being said, find the storyworld gateway that will reach your audience, engage them and get them to interact.
This is a blog series on storytelling tactics and techniques. Check out our post on design patterns for non-linear storytelling to help you shape your non-linear story.