The Story Conference 2011

25 02 2011

A narrative ran through the event for me. I made this of it:

Story telling is about editing. The act of turning an experience into a story is enriching for the teller.

Karl James told us how listening constructively can help a person tell a story. Asking ‘useful’ questions – rather than ‘helpful’ leading questions – leaving vacuumous pauses to draw out tales.

His listening techniques seemed similar to how I imagine a therapist would conduct a consultation.

I’ve seen several people saying that The Story was information overload, either calling it ‘a confusing mess’ or a head-bending‘ experience.

Every speaker was different but all seemed to me have one common theme – which is the very essence of storytelling: processing and conveying an experience.

No one person said this explicitly mind you, but it pieces together somewhat like this:

Experience is processed and constructed into a story which can be told. The telling of the story requires a listener – how the story is articulated depends on both the listener’s and the storyteller’s skill.

The listener now has the story in their head, and can pass it on and on and on and on etc .

This is the basic version of this sequence, in different scenarios the role each part has to play differs.

The main issue ‘traditional’ and ‘new media’ storytelling have with each other (using my stickman analogy) is what place the audience has in this sequence.

Adam Curtis said you cannot ‘tell’ a story on the internet because it is all about experience. He compared The Internet to seeing a Punchdrunk show, and I think he is right. In a Punchdrunk show the audience can wander about, look in drawers and discarded coat pockets at will – crucially, they can completely miss the narrative, (whether by choice or accident). It’s unedited before the audience gets to it, the path is uncrafted – some might say; a mess.

Now think of the internet as a set filled with furniture. Each hyperlink is a drawer filled with extra detail. And possibly a photo of a cat. With those details you have a far richer knowledge of the story, but the focus is diminished.

Phil Gyford’s talk showed how he added these asides and links back into the text of Pepy’s Diary, allowing the audience to explore the events as an experience and relate to it in a different way.

A journalist edits and distils a story down to find an interesting strand of truth that will provoke the listener into exploring certain thoughts.
Adam Curtis talked about how the rushes (aka raw unedited film footage) tell more interesting stories than the end result. He showed a mostly forgettable 10 second interview shot in Helmand Province. He then told us four different stories about what happened in the longer unedited shot, all four stories happen simultaneously and it’s hard to focus on all other them at once.

An artist constructs a truth out of other pieces of experience.

But unlike Traditional Storytelling thinkers, I don’t believe this makes the sequence broken. It merely shifts the job of articulating the experience into the hands of the audience.

After an experience has been had, a story must be told, or else it will nag away at you in the back of your mind – a mass of unprocessed data.

‘Frothing’ as described by Mary Hamilton in her talk on Zombie LARP is an organised way of doing this. So is Cory Doctorow’s technique of only writing five sentences on a topic and letting commentors fill in the gaps of overlooked details, until the story is honed.

Articulation is key – experiences are raw and unrefined: told stories are processed (considered) and a good listener facilitates that articulation.

IVY4EVA was a sophisticated robotic facilitator in this respect. Blast Theory’s talk about this interactive teen drama concerned me, though not for the same reason as some other people I’ve read. Having myself ‘puppet mastered’ or ‘pretended to be fictional people on the internet’, I can reassuringly tell you that audience/players who correspond with fictional people never believe the characters to be real. That the teenagers Matt Adams described talked earnestly to the empty IVY robot, is not so worrying because they still benefitted from the process of articulation. People talk to themselves (and their cats!) all the time to sift thoughts. They even write diaries.

I felt uneasy at how happily Blast Theory showed us these conversations. It felt like a breach of trust, like reading someone’s diary.

@Glinner told us of the techniques he uses to construct a told story. By absorbing pretty much ALL the internet holds hilarious (+ life beyond presumably) and tailoring together different parts to fit the characters.

He said the stories ‘form like coral’, building up and taking shape.

I hear tell that the extras of the most recent IT crowd DVD are essentially him giving a Sitcom writing masterclass. I might go out and buy the DVD just for that. And a DVD player. And a Television.

He talked about trying to form a group of people he found on Twitter who are witty observers (I presume that was the criteria) to be the writing team for his next show.

Using Beluga and Basecamp to reverse engineer how ridiculous events could have happened, having a group like this to bounce ideas between is a great way to create as all are working as storytellers and listeners at once.

He lamented that Basecamp isn’t the optimal tool for this kind of thing, but then there is nothing better out there. “Why wasn’t this the first thing they designed for?!” got a laugh – but then again, maybe it’s not so niche; wouldn’t it be good to treat ‘serious’ stories in the same way and look at and discuss real world events with an experiential eye?

Through this post I have peppered links to things other people have written about The Story. The links might not seem to correspond, but what I have attempted is to tie in where I think their account works better or touches with what I thought.

This is far longer than 5 sentences, but it would still benefit greatly from hearing others’ thoughts, to hone it down and fill in the blanks. I rarely invite comment on half-formed ideas, but this time I tentatively invite your comments.

Please add annotations below.

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28 02 2011

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