When an author set out to tell a story in years past, he or she typically did so on paper, a typewriter or by typing at a computer.
But today, storytellers find imaginative ways to share their ideas with interactive and visual elements. On modern mediums like Twitter, Vine, YouTube and other mobile applications, storytellers are crafting tales in ways that would have been unfathomable a decade ago.
Offline, too, authors have begun rethinking the traditional concept of the book in ways both innovative and unorthodox. Might a story be better understood as a set of machine parts? How might destroying a book actually bring its messages to life?
Here are eight ways authors are revolutionizing the way stories are told.
1. 'Dock Ellis & The LSD No-No'
Buried in the annals of baseball is the remarkable (and zany) story of Dock Ellis. Though far from the first or only pitcher to throw a no-hitter, Ellis is certainly the only one (at least that we know of) who completed the feat while under the influence of LSD.
Like one might expect him to be, Ellis was quite the character. In 2009, animator and illustrator James Blagden created a short film based on Ellis’ no-hitter that features narration from Ellis' 2008 NPR interview.
As a novel way of using various mediums (film, animation, radio, music) to tell an old story, the film dazzles. Blagden brings Ellis’ outlandish personality to life by incorporating kaleidoscopic flashbacks, side-splitting soundbites from the pitcher and suspenseful animations from the infamous game.
2. 'The Last Drop,' a Vine comic
Time is always a major constraint for storytellers. While it’s always best to be concise, some newer mediums ask users to be especially pithy.
Vine, for instance, caps the videos made in its app at six seconds.
The question for Vine storytellers is, how can you add layers, detail and a coherent plot to your story within that shortened window of time (not to mention, the story loops)?
When British digital agency Code Computerlove first got its hands on Vine last year, it was intrigued by that very question and set out to create a stop-motion-esque comic in the app.
In a matter of six seconds, the brand established conflict, a climax and a surprising conclusion, just like the authors of a 50-page comic book would.
it was the idea that you could create more than six seconds-worth of a story using the six seconds of video that inspired us,”it was the idea that you could create more than six seconds-worth of a story using the six seconds of video that inspired us,” Code Computerlove posted on its blog. “What all comics have in common, whether you're talking about the Marvel magazines or just the tiny strips in the newspaper, is the fact that they're able to capture the imagination and tell a story in a short snapshot of time.”
3. 'Two Chips'
When Adam Patch’s wife drunkenly yammered the corny joke to end all corny jokes, he knew audio alone wouldn’t do the crack justice.
Patch, an animator and designer by trade, set out to give the joke both setting and animation that would bring the absurd humor to life. Like Blagden with Ellis, Patch used an original recording of his wife’s voice to play over the animation.
“I had the audio already recorded, and animation seemed like the only way I could think of to bring the story to life,” he tells Mash. “So in a way, it was kind of like the medium dictated the method: Because I only had an audio recording, and I'm an animator, I just immediately thought that using animation was the way to go.”
Because 'Two Chips' was so successful (it garnered more than 2 million views), Patch called on the public to think of more ideas that would make for more rousing animations.
Think of Maptia as a multimedia tool belt for storytellers with incurable wanderlust. The app allows travelers to create maps and upload stories and photos that can eventually be weaved into a richly layered portrait of a person, culture or place. So far, users have chronicled nomadic fisherman in Indonesia, rice farmers in Rwanda and school children in rural Peru.
within the same few inches of the map, we can see a remarkable number of different stories unfolding,"within the same few inches of the map, we can see a remarkable number of different stories unfolding," Maptia CEO Dorothy Sanders says. "In this way, each individual story published on Maptia is networked by place — it becomes part of a larger web of stories extending outwards from, say, this neighborhood, to the country, to the continent and, finally, to the globe."
5. 'The Mechanical Word'
Though we’re not always conscious of it, words are some of the most easily manipulated elements in our daily lives. Throughout the day, we constantly massage and reorder words and letters to create a new meaning or to elicit a reaction.
What if, however, words couldn't be jockeyed? What dialogue would that bring about?
Richard Price, a poet, and Karen Bleitz, a book designer, set out to answer that question by designing a mechanical book of poetry in which words in the poem change based on cranks turned in the physical book.
In mechanical functions, Bleitz says, we find structures that aren't so easy to toy with.
“They have fixed laws and rules that regulate their use,” she says. “One cog will always push the next cog in the exact same way — every time. And if two parts don't fit or add up — the machine just doesn't work.”
By interacting with machines, Bleitz says, readers are able to carve out their own experience and understand how written words impact their emotions.
"The reader must interact with the mechanical poems in a physical way," she says. "The speed and flow of the movement is determined by the mood and temperament of the crank-turner. Machines can be quite funny or angry — depending on how they are activated."
Normally, we like stories to be as close to their original form as possible when we read them. While you wouldn't want someone to jimmy the text of a classic work, what if someone reconstructed the way you read the piece?
Designer Helen Friel set out to do just that with Edgar Allan Poe’s 'The Imp of the Perverse.' Keeping Poe’s verse, Friel designed a tear-away version of the poem in which readers have to physically rip the pages to reveal their content.
The method, she says, is symbolic of the questions Poe asks in his poem.
"... 'The Imp of the Perverse' discusses the voice inside all of us that makes us to do things we know we shouldn't do," she writes on her website. “Books are usually precious objects and the destruction is engineered to give the reader conflicting feelings, do they keep the book in its perfect untorn form? Or give into the imp and enjoy tearing it apart?"
Clicking a mouse is typically a computer function we take for granted. We remember where we went on the web, and what we saw there, but not how we got there. With today's touchscreens, we don't even have to click — we can tap.
The storytelling app Tapestry relies exclusively on a tap (mobile) or click (desktop). Users must tap to progress through a story, and users can parse through user-generated tales, or they can choose to create their own.
The app prides itself on giving people the ability to create "short, tappable" stories with words and images of varying sizes, which helps to emphasize certain parts.
"This sort of very short punchy staccato form of writing and reading is very well-suited for certain kinds of content that’s already been created on the Internet," John Borthwick, Tapestry’s co-founder, said when the app launched. "It deserves a stripped-away experience, as opposed to on the Web, surrounded by a lot of other distractions."
While some authors get paid by the word, a new generation of storytellers is finding its niche in the 140 characters Twitter allots users.
Sean Hill, author of the Very Short Story account, has been writing concise (but not abridged) fiction on Twitter since 2009. The character limit, he says, forced him to get the most out of his language. Instead of being able to splatter words, Hill has to consider the merits of each word.
"For me, the 140 character limit is like a puzzle game," Hill says."For me, the 140 character limit is like a puzzle game," Hill says. "How can I tell the story I see in my head in this short space? What words are essential and what words can I take out?"
Twitter also enables Hill to crowdsource portions of his work and connect with readers who write in.
"Twitter is an exciting medium for storytellers because of the interactivity," he says. "I ask followers to send me a noun. The nouns that inspire me, I turn into stories. To me it has the feel of an improv comedy show, which is where I developed my storytelling skills."
Remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books from when you were a kid (or, if you’re like us and never grew up, this past week)?
The immersive — and immensely popular — books allow readers to jump into the driver’s seat and become the stories’ protagonist, performing quite a few heroic feats along the way.
Thanks to Ian Padgham, a former producer at Twitter (Vine’s parent company), there’s now a way to choose your own adventure on a digital video platform. So far, Padgham has made two interactive stories: a hotel mystery and a Star Wars-inspired saga.
"I used to love those [Choose Your Own Adventure] books as a kid," Padgham told Mash in May. "It’s not really about reaching the end; it's about finding all the ridiculous ways you can go wrong, and all the things that can happen."
Tags: APPS AND SOFTWARE, BOOK PUBLISHING, BOOKS, INVENTIVE STORYTELLING, MOBILE, STORYTELLING, Tech, VINE