Saturday, February 7, 2015

Defining Storytelling

Recently I've been taking an online course in geospatial intelligence, the gathering of geographic and related data for use in decision-making. It sounds a bit out of my field, and to be sure, I'm not planning that kind of career change this late in life.

But aside from just being a fascinating subject, I've found that knowing how to use location-based information enhances my storytelling. I've used it to research locations where my story might be set. It's no substitute for actually visiting a place, but it serves well for minor settings, and to remind me of features I might have forgotten from places I haven't seen in awhile (as well as keeping me up on changes).

But it's also broadened my idea of what storytelling is. I'd always thought of storytelling in the narrative sense, something told from beginning to end, with words (mostly), pictures, and sounds. And now that I think of it, that’s a funny way for one of the pioneers of interactive media to think. So it’s good that I’ve started thinking more about non-linear storytelling.

One of the courses I took some time ago produced this map, an exploration of one of the walks near my home using tools provided in the ArcGIS system. Although it has a natural order, from the start to the finish of the walk, it also invites the user to explore whatever catches his or her fancy from the thumbnails or the satellite imagery. During this latest course, I’ve begun to think about how I could incorporate sound and motion into this idea.

But this is just one small example of non-linear storytelling. Following leads where they take you is at the heart of how we explore the World Wide Web, and it seems that there might be other ways to let people defined their own story experience as they go.

If they want to. There’s still plenty of room for the guided tour, in real life or metaphorically in the form of a standard narrative book, movie, song, or play. Even interactive fiction usually has either a single ending or a limited number of possible endings.

But the popularity of games like Minecraft shows that there is a place in audiences’ lives for a self-defined experience. I think there’s a place in my life for trying to provide at least a small amount of it. Stay tuned.