Sunday, November 27, 2011


Above, a 4-minute video of Joe Sabia talking about the evolving technology used to tell stories. 

On a related note, take a look at this New Scientist article that lays out some fine examples of e-storytelling; also worth checking out is the more complete electronic literature collection from which it draws.

I'm relieved to report that neither the video presenter nor the article above make any extravagant claims about how new media are revolutionizing storytelling. Certainly, there are exciting new forms taking their place alongside the novel and the film and so on. An online story-game allows you to choose your own path, or an iPad app lets you get the back-story on the characters and places in a novel, or you can post a comment on a video story. To my mind, the impulses behind the supposedly "new" interactive storytelling -- the desire to get lost in or contribute to a story -- have not changed. And there are analogue counterparts to most of these new technologies. They have not -- yet -- fundamentally altered the nature of storytelling, which relies on imagination and conversation just as much as it ever did.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


LISTENING: Above is a TED talk by Julian Treasure, on the topic of listening (sorry for the funky dimensions). It has to do not just with how we listen to other people, but how we take in our whole sonic environment. On the TED website there's an interactive transcript of the talk, and more information about the speaker's work on his blog

GETTING LOST IN STORIES: In a book published earlier this year, Frank Rose explores how we get lost, or immersed, in stories. In that book, "The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories," Rose says that new narrative forms (such as the novel) and technologies (the internet) have allowed us to become ever more immersed -- and involved -- in the stories we hear and tell. Rose argues in favor of the virtues of transmedia storytelling, but admits that not all transmedia stories are equal, or necessarily any good. 

STOPPING VIOLENCE BY SHARING STORIES: The StoryTelling & Organizing Project (STOP) is a collaboration of several anti-violence groups that collects and shares stories about "everyday people taking action to end interpersonal violence." By sharing stories, the project aims to build true community-based solutions to such violence, ones that do not involve the police, child protective services, or other social services, but rather are formulated by the communities most affected. What can we learn from stories? STOP says, "We can learn a lot about what works and what doesn't. We can find out what helped survivors feel supported or what helped people change to stop their violence. We can get good ideas about how family, friends, neighbors, and community members can create safety and accountability among ourselves. We can build healthy, self-determined communities." Listen to some of their recorded stories here.  

Sunday, November 13, 2011


This weekend, some quotes on storytelling. The first set of quotes are selected from this excellent page of storytelling resources and websites, assembled by Elizabeth Figa, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the University of North Texas School of Library and Information Sciences. The second set of quotes, starting with the one by Salman Rushdie, was gathered and presented by Patti J. Christensen on this page of 

"Man [sic] is eminently a storyteller. His search for a purpose, a cause, an ideal, a mission and the like is largely a search for a plot and a pattern in the development of his life story-a story that is basically without meaning or pattern."
 Eric Hoffer, "The Passionate State of Mind" 

"Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it's an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole."
Eudora Welty, "One Writer's Beginnings" 

"The destiny of the world is determined less by the battles that are lost and won than by the stories it loves and believes in."  
Harold Goddard, "The Meaning of Shakespeare" 

"There is a certain embarrassment about being a storyteller in these times when stories are considered not quite as satisfying as statements and statements not quite as satisfying as statistics; but in the long run, a people is known, not by its statements or its statistics, but by the stories it tells."
Flannery O'Connor, "Mystery and Manners" 

"All human beings have an innate need to hear and tell stories and to have a story to live by. Religion, whatever else it has done, has provided one of the main ways of meeting this abiding need."  
Harvey Cox, "The Seduction of the Spirit"

Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts. 
Salman Rushdie 

The universe is made of stories, not atoms. 
Muriel Rukeyser

To be a person is to have a story to tell. 
Isak Dinesen 

There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.
Maya Angelou

A caveat. A funny New York Times op-ed by Brian Morton last summer talked about how some popular quotations attributed to Thoreau, Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela were all desperately wrong. A new-age-sounding inspirational remark supposedly from Mandela's inaugural address was actually made by self-help guru Marianne Williamson. That's all to say, I have no idea if the above quotations are correct, I haven't gone back to the original sources to verify them. I just offer them here for the ideas, and not so much for the sources. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011


DEPT. OF DEFENSE RESEARCHERS STUDY NARRATIVE: The continuing saga of a project I wrote about early last year. The Pentagon's research arm is studying -- well, to put it plainly, how stories create terrorists. In a project it calls "Narrative Networks," the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is soliciting research proposals "in the areas of (1) quantitative analysis of narratives, (2) understanding the effects narratives have on human psychology and its affiliated neurobiology, and (3) modeling, simulating, and sensing—especially in stand-off modalities—these narrative influences." I love that phrase "stand-off modalities," which I assume would include wars, hostage situations, terrorist attacks, etc.

Though I have my political differences with Pentagon brass, and my doubts about whether narrative can be quantified in the way they're proposing, I'd have to agree with the reasoning behind the project: "Narratives exert a powerful influence on human thoughts and behavior. They consolidate memory, shape emotions, cue heuristics and biases in judgment, influence in-group/out-group distinctions, and may affect the fundamental contents of personal identity. It comes as no surprise that because of these influences stories are important in security contexts: for example, they change the course of insurgencies, frame negotiations, play a role in political radicalization, influence the methods and goals of violent social movements, and likely play a role in clinical conditions important to the military such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Therefore, understanding the role stories play in a security context, and the spatial and temporal dimensions of that role is especially important."

NONPROFIT STORYTELLING: Not just the Department of Defense, but also folks in the philanthropic sector want to better understand and tell stories. Fenton Communications strategist Mike Smith offers "Six Common 'Character' Flaws in Nonprofit Storytelling," in two blog posts, part one and part two. Stories have to have characters, and Mike gives these useful tips. "(1) People, not organizations, are characters. (2) Make your protagonist struggle. (3) Let them [your characters] speak. (4) Don't forget the quirky stuff. (5) Create some type of antagonist." (6) Consider privacy issues when telling the stories of real people -- there's more flexibility there than you may think.  The full blog posts flesh out these ideas, and give examples.