My name is Brian and I will be introducing you to digital storytelling.
Creators are imaginative people who make stories, art, memes, and many other creative objects. I, for example, create stories. I have written and published fiction and nonfiction and have taught college writing for the last decade. I’ve spent the last ten or so years writing and thinking about how creators write, that is, how they take ideas and turn them into stories. Creators of digital stories use the creative process, which includes composing drafts, revising them, and using the internet to share them—if they choose to do so. As digital creators, we are the newest form of storyteller.
As digital storytellers, we use the textual, auditory, and visual capabilities of the internet to tell stories. Stories are not just words on a page. They have always been bigger than the written word. For example, stories told only through audio technology include radio dramas, which are often referred to as “theatre of the mind.” This form of storytelling is making a comeback in the form of podcasts. Digital creators also tell stories visually through web comics, which convey tales through drawings and written dialogue. Using the internet to tell stories gives us opportunities to use audio and visuals to help the reader or the viewer or the listener (in other words, the audience) feel immersed in the worlds that we create, whether that world is fiction or nonfiction. The internet also allows creators—if they wish—to interact almost instantaneously with those audiences.
Storytellers follow a creative process that starts with asking questions and using the details from the answers to draft and revise an idea for a story. To help us ask productive questions, we need to read/watch/listen to several notable examples of digital stories. Our goal this semester is to find good digital stories, blog about why they are good (or not), and to use the creative process to make stories that are inspired by the genre of digital literature. By studying digital stories, we will begin to understand how digital storytellers use several storytelling techniques before we create our own. We will blog about the ways in which those digital stories are interesting, engaging, or insightful (in other words, how one might describe a good story). We will also blog about why those stories are effective by analyzing how they employ storytelling techniques (such as visuals, characterization, and conflict). We will share our opinions, analyses, and critiques of these stories using blog entries to begin the creative process.
One of the first questions we could ask during the creative process is: How should we characterize our own personas? A persona helps shape how readers of a blog imagine the writer. Developing a blogging persona is a creative choice. Even a blogger who chooses to use their real name should think about their persona. Audiences will have some impression of what they, the writer of the blog, are like. Personas are important to the concepts of ethos (credibility) of the speaker in rhetoric and the verisimilitude (believability) of the narrator in literary theory. In other words, Who is telling us the story? Is this character credible? believable? neither? both? Asking questions about characterization is an important technique for creating personas in both fiction and nonfiction.
We characterize our personas and our real or imagined characters by asking creative questions. Who are my characters? Are they snarky, exuberant, or shy? These are productive creative questions. Imagining the answers to these questions will help us generate details to fuel our creative processes. And, at some point, we will start formulating questions of our own. We can use any of the details we gather from good questions to craft (real or imagined) online personas for the various online communities we inhabit.
Creators tend to ask difficult (and sometimes strange) questions to gather possible details for drafting and revising stories. For example, when I characterized our course mascot, Pinny, I asked several big questions. One of those creative questions was: What would Pinny look like? In other words, How should Pinny be characterized visually? Your characters’ appearances will contribute to the development of their characterization. Although not all digital stories use visuals, they can be a powerful storytelling tool. When I was creating Pinny, I sketched the first of several drafts of Pinny by hand. Then I created a digital version in a graphic design program using my pencil sketch as a guide. I characterized Pinny visually by drawing the character with a wide-eyed smile and expressive eyebrows. Asking questions about the visual details of this character was an important step in creating that character.
The visual details of a character or persona are just one way to think about characterization. Speculating about what a character might do (pilot a spaceship? sail the ocean?) and why they do it (boredom? adventure?) can give us more possible details for practicing characterization and other storytelling techniques. Asking questions such as How will my character act? Or, What does my character want? will help us work with characterization. For instance, while asking myself Who is this mascot for digital storytelling named Pinny?, I thought about Microsoft’s Clippy character. Clippy was originally created by Microsoft in the 90s. In the meme below, Clippy has been re-imagined as an older, grumpier digital character than he was in his younger Microsoft days. Creators keep asking and re-asking questions throughout the process of drafting and revising their stories.
You can read more about the history of the Clippy meme at knowyourmeme.com/memes/clippy I asked several characterization questions about this cartoonish character I created. Would Pinny look like Clippy? Act like Clippy? Or will this character be different but still an allusion, a reference to another, more well-known character? I speculated that Pinny was Clippy’s less-famous cousin. Pinny, I also speculated, is exuberant and extremely interested in digital stories. Thinking about characterization helped me choose the details to characterize Pinny. The same line of questions will help creators decide how to portray a character in a true story.
Conflict, like visuals and characterization, is another important technique for asking questions during the creative process. What does my character want? In nonfiction, conflict can be thought of as a person’s motivations, wishes, or desires. Conflict occurs when there is a disconnect between what a character wants and what they are able to achieve. Characters who have no goals to reach or problems to solve quickly become boring. But what kind of conflict should Pinny face? Well, this is a digital character who wants to be part of a story, I decided. In other words, Pinny wants a place to belong. This fits with the character’s exuberance for digital stories. Storytellers give their audiences a conflict in part so that their audience can anticipate the character overcoming it. Will Pinny overcome this internal conflict? Maybe, for example, I will create a digital story for Pinny to live in? Maybe Pinny will create their own story? Asking these sorts of questions is fundamental to the process of crafting and telling a true story, an imaginary story, or something in between. We get details from answering questions about the stories we read and write. We select those details that help to build characterization and conflict (among other techniques) as we draft and revise our stories.
We will analyze those details by blogging about several genres of digital stories before we create stories of our own. These genres will include blogs, podcasts, and visual stories. The concepts of visuals, character, and conflict are just three of many, many more techniques for asking questions about stories. To help us continue developing questions, I’ve created something I call the literary web for creators.