This article was originally published in Reel West Magazine, and was republished here to archive it, after the close of the magazine.
These days there’s always a new buzz word when it comes to storytelling and technology. Admittedly these usually make me groan, as, as they gain in popularity, they bring with them the so-called gurus and prophets, who spend more time talking about them tha they do actually creating. Part of my eye rolling comes with the fact that by the time it’s a buzz word, and people are dropping it left, right and centre in conversation, it is no longer cutting edge and people start over using it (if I never hear the word ‘selfie’ again, I will be one happy gal). Oh and please stop using the term ‘new media’. It stopped being ‘new’ ages ago. Then there’s the infighting between groups of media makers – using different terms for the same thing, as they aren’t fans of some of the ‘so called prophets’ – really are transmedia and convergent storytelling all that different? But mostly I cringe at these terms and the posturing to be seen as a leader of them as none of these terms describe new concepts. Think about it. The only thing new to storytelling are a few of the platforms in which we tell our tales on now, but conceptually people have been doing things like transmedia and convergent storytelling all throughout human history. We’ve just become a little precious about spotlighting ourselves as trail blazers.
One term that you may have heard if you’ve been attending conferences like Storyworld Quest, Merging Media, and Storyworld, that is becoming a buzz word with media makers is ‘storyworlds’ or ‘storyworld creation’. This is one term that admittedly I love, but again is not new. The concept of storyworlds is the idea of having stories that overlap with each other, that have different platforms in which people can experience aspects of the story on and allow the audience to engage within the story and take a personal stake in it.
I suspect most of you at some point have created a storyworld as children. One that standouts for me from childhood was created by my siblings, cousins and myself at my grandparent’s place. This storyworld involved our rooftop ‘Dairy Queen’ (which was a place of imaginative play and theatre – rather than ice cream), another rooftop Star Wars play zone (for creating our own brand of fan fiction), magical beasts (as we watched the shoreline for the Cadborosaurus), mysteries to be solved (in the form of a coy pinching otter), our own Olympic Summer Games resided over by my grandfather in top hat and tails (for our gaming component), the ‘how-to’ project of the tree fort we were constantly rebuilding, and our own foodie adventures in homemade fruit leather creations.
Think about it. I bet you too can remember storyworlds that you were a part of as a child.
So what is that magical ingredient that makes some people more successful in creating storyworlds, than others, in this age of social and mobile media? Building community! This means engaging, listening, empowering others to feel a part of the story and engage within it, and letting go of the reigns and not trying to control everything. As media makers, this means remembering that lesson we learned in Kindergarten – it’s not all about us! While you can still broadcast – also ENGAGE – let your audience feel they have a stake in your story and it’s success. And remember we can’t do it all alone – just like I needed my cousins, siblings, and adult family members to help create that childhood storyworld, you need to build community – both within your audience and with other creatives – and allow them to take a stake within your story, without micromanaging and trying to control everything.
Give yourself permission to embrace the kid in you again and begin building storyworlds around your projects. Once you do, please tell us about it at @AhimsaMedia or via the #StoryToGo hashtag, and invite us into your storyworld.