In this video, Paul Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, walks us through how his team have analysed the effects of a story arc on humans and how that information allows us to be able to predict behaviour. Ultimately, the video enlightens our understanding of the role that stories play in creating distress and empathy, which lead to some form of action.
The soulful creature in all
Storytelling in the Experiential Age
I recently came across this video of Th_nk's Creative Director, Phil Wilce, and Strategy Director, Lea Simpson, showcasing some of their work in a digital storytelling masterclass at BAFTA for Ad Week Europe.
The video is a bit long and I think loses some of the energy and interactivity that was probably in the room that day but it makes five strong points on how to approach digital storytelling in what I like to coin the Experiential Age.
1. "Unpack Everything" - the concept of dissecting and atomising content only to then rebuild in new and innovative ways.
2. "Mix linear with non-linear" - time stands still and moves forward, not only driven by new distribution platforms but now more and more content is produced to be consumed in various ways and stories are told as matrices rather than lines.
3. "Celebrate convergence" - bringing it all back together, across all platforms, everywhere and at all times. Have fun with this one!
4. "Mix the physical with digital" - in line with the internet of things, a growing trend to bring back stories into the 'real' world to drive and affect actual behaviour change.
5. "Be Open" - the simplest and yet most powerful of the five. Stories come alive when there is an audience that interacts with them, enhancing and changing them along the way.
If you have time, check out the video below.
Powerful Short via the Desktop Screen
A powerful new short from the Short Cuts, Canada 2013 festival, titled Noah, was fully filmed off of the desktop screen. It not only entraps you with its familiarity but it quickly depicts a love story in a short sequence of clicks that reveal a new generation of social relationships playing out online. In a matter of only minutes, the characters seem as familiar as lifelong friends and the story of young heartbreak as teenagers prepare to embark to college, transcends what I can only imagine is happening all across the nation, in repetition, and yet unique to each one. Could any of us really have imagined how the story of our lives would be playing out across servers?
The short is quite powerful as a medium and in this case, the film could have been even shorter. I wonder if this format would be too exhausting to view for a longer period but I love the experimentation of this piece. Enough said. If you haven't seen it already, take the time and watch it below.
London-based content agency Somethin Else has developed a tool called Story Farm that allows audiences access to characters interacting with each other outside of the linear television screen via an app. Working with a show, Story Farm delivers a combination of texts and voicemails providing audiences with a deeper and slightly pseudo-realistic interaction with their favourite television dramas and characters. In a sense, it creates a second world for the stories and characters of dramas that can include fake websites and newspapers, further immersing the fans into the story and the experience.
Story Farm is a multiplatform storytelling kit that is aimed at creating multiplatform, immersive experiences around soaps or dramas, extending the lives of characters across the web and social media platforms.
According to a story by writer Jessica Davies (@Jessdaviesmk) in The Drum, "It [Story Farm] can be used by story editors and scriptwriters to incorporate and extend the fictional lives of characters across the web, from the start of the TV show creation process, rather than as bolt-on activity." This is yet another example of an innovative digital product coming to market via a digital agency in London. Somethin Else has a long history of working with top brands including BBC, Virgin and most recently VH1. They offer a wide range of services, possibly too many, including talent management, video and TV production, radio and of course digital products.
Although I think Story Farm is a great concept, my fear with these types of products is that without a dedicated team focused on further development and sales, that it ends up stagnating, rather than growing into a full commercial solution. That said, the team behind Story Farm are skilled professionals that I'm sure won't let a great opportunity pass them by.
To learn more about Somethin Else, click here.
Top 3 Story Newsletters
In the past, I never willingly subscribed to newsletters as my inbox was overflowing anyway and I felt most didn't offer any new insights that I wasn't already capturing via my own online curation tools. But recently I've subscribed to three newsletters that I think are actually quite good if you are interested in multi-media storytelling. The reason I like these three is because they actually create a dialogue around the ideas rather than just reporting on them. If you get a chance, check them out.
1. Thinking Aloud by Adam Westbrook
Adam Westbrook is an independent digital producer and publisher living in Paris. You can follow him at @adamwestbrook. His newsletter Thinking Aloud, covers an array of interesting reading material on the subjects of digital storytelling but he also writes a number of pieces himself, most recently on the Web Video problem here. His approachable style and interesting picks make Thinking Aloud a great resource when it arrives in your inbox.
FROM ADAM: Remember this mailing list is intended for people who want to have a conversation about the future of publishing and storytelling. If this doesn't sound like you, or you're don't think you'll bother to read anything, then please do unsubscribe. I honestly won't mind! I'm not trying to build a huge mailing list (there are fewer than 200 of you on it now) but a meaningful one
2. Storythings by Matt Locke
A recent launch, Storythings is a weekly recap of the top interesting stories about digital, media, storytelling and what seems to capture Matt's imagination. He writes a quick overview of the articles so you know what to expect. I particularly like that he includes the time each article or video will take so I know if I can commit to it. It's a useful feature that I'm surprised hasn't been adapted by more publishers. Matt launched Storythings in 2011 to explore new ways of telling stories and he created a great new event called The Story, which brings people together from gaming, books, video and photography for a day to explore new ways to tell stories. You can follow him at @matlock.
3. StoryCenter from the Center for Digital Storytelling
The Center for Digital Storytelling is a group that "support people in sharing and bearing witness to stories that lead to learning, action, and positive change." They have recently launched StoryLab, a hub for innovation to improve the public discourse. Their newsletter covers Q&As with well-known storytellers as well as new projects and the latest thinking in creating engaging experiences. A smart blog and a great resource, I recommend checking out their site and books here or follow them at @storycenter.
The Girl is Gone, Really Gone
A review of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl
For the last three months everywhere I went, I felt like I was being pursued by one book begging me to pick it up and read. I first came across Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn via an online review and it was the title of the book that struck me as interesting. By the fourth and fifth time I saw the paperback at my local bookstore, I made the commitment and purchased it. It was as if Flynn or Hachette, the UK publisher, were taunting me with the cover and ultimately, I had to dive in and read it. It had been a while since I had read a thriller and this one seemed just right for me.
I read it in two weeks. It’s what I call the perfect novel length: enough to sustain your interest but not requiring months of commitment. Excited to get started, I read the first fifty pages in one sitting. When I put it down, I looked out my window to the squirrel hanging upside down eating a nut, and I felt the usual pang of disappointment and anger. I felt duped. The writing was weak. It felt childlike, as if written for a teenage audience. But the storyline, well, that was good. Really good. The novel covers the disappearance of beloved wife Amy, and follows her husband, Nick's unravelling in front of the modern world of twenty-four hour news and commentary.
I continued reading because I really liked the two-story narrator format, the mystery driving her disappearance, and the time-lapse sequence of events that jumped back and forth in time. All good tools for a great story. As I continued reading I only wished the writing would have been more mature with a bit more depth. The characters were infinitely interesting but yet lacked credible qualities. I found myself having a hard time relating to either Amy or Nick in the story and genuinely not liking either. I had a hard time believing Nick, some of his dialogue and attitude seemed distractingly female, while I felt Amy was more believable as a character, it was still lagging. Ultimately, I read on hoping to develop a stronger relationship with these two characters, only to reach the end to feel very empty indeed. But maybe this was the point. Neither of the main characters was likeable, but they didn’t even like themselves either.
As a thriller, it was missing some of the suspense and gory details that make thrillers exciting and nerve wrecking. The only times I felt any sense of suspense was with the characters, Greta and Jeff. They seemed more believable than Amy at times and yet they come and go from the novel in just a couple of chapters. I would have liked to follow that storyline a little more. And again, there was more suspense near the end with Desi. There I felt was a character that was darker and more complex than Amy and Nick. I found Desi’s role could actually have been the main character. I could picture it as an episode of Criminal Minds or CSI.
Overall, I can see an interesting movie from Gone Girl and it was a fun read with a good story but I would have liked a little more character development, and for a thriller, a bit more suspense. I look forward to seeing how the movie develops, as I believe Flynn is busy writing the script.
To buy Gone Girl, visit amazon here.
As I read my Goodreads email this morning showing stack after stack of book covers the size of my thumb, I wondered if there isn’t a better way to showcase books online beyond an image of the print cover. What innovations exist in digital book cover design?
I did some digging only to find very little out there in this space. Some reasons for this might include,
1) One cover fits all – almost all online booksellers and most importantly Amazon use a standard jpg image of the cover to market their books. Any innovation in this space would most likely need to run parallel with the standard cover or eventually be adapted by the larger booksellers.
2) Recognizable brand – using just one image to represent a book makes it easily identifiable and simple for consumers, so why try to complicate things with technology.
3) It works – I haven't seen any crowds of angry readers or consumers begging for this problem to be resolved as maybe this isn’t a problem at all.
This reminds me of the story of the suitcase that my friend Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg described to me. The clunky wheeled-suitcase was invented in the 70s after centuries of people lugging around suitcases and yet it took another 15 or so yrs (in ’89) for designers to invent the modern rolling suitcase that we all use today. Why is that? Thomas would say because the problem wasn’t framed correctly.
So, what’s the problem with book covers?
There are simply too many covers with only small differences among genres that make it very hard for consumers to distinguish between them. Imagine if you put every single ad banner right next to each other and asked consumers to pick one to click on. This just doesn’t seem like the most effective way to sell a product, let alone a book. Most people frame the problem around increasing book sales or discovering new books, depending on the perspective of the person framing the problem. As a reader, I'm interested in making my life easier and finding great books I am going to love.
So what can be done to improve the discovery experience for consumers and engage readers with unique value propositions that go beyond the standard cover. Here are two examples I could find of publishers and authors trying out some new methods:
1. Canongate Books with Big Active have collaborated to make an interactive front cover Ruth Ozeki’s novel, A Tale for the Time Being. Check it outhere. And here's a video of the actual product in action.
Another, though slightly less interactive and older, example is:
2. Walker Books created an interactive cover for Daylight Savings by Edward Hogan. Check it out here. I tried to embed it here but I wasn't able to copy/paste the code.
From only a quick search, I wasn't able to find much innovation in this space, which I think could use some. If you have come across some cool new experiments in this space, please share some with me as I'm keen to see more.
And to read more about innovation, check out Thomas’ new book Innovation as Usual published this March 2013.
A Trailer, a Life, a Great Story
This is the beautiful trailer from Oscar-nominated director Sarah Polley for her documentary "Stories We Tell." It follows the stories of a family of storytellers. There doesn't seem to be a launch date for this work but stay-tuned.
Ira Glass is a public radio personality in the US and a great storyteller. I recently came across a set of videos on Youtube where he explains some best practices for creating an engaging story.
Although the videos are very low quality and over three years old, the advice is more than solid. There are four parts, each approximately five minutes in length. I've highlighted the main points if you don't have time to watch them.
Part One: Building Blocks
Top 5 Serial Publishers
Over the last year, there's been a growing trend to serialise narrative fiction and non-fiction. There is an inherent believe that this will lead to increased recurring customers, increased loyalty and retention among those customers, and increased opportunity for social engagement among readers. New digital publishers aimed at showing this is indeed true seem to be popping up every month.
For readers interested in finding some of the best serialised content available, check out Tuesday Serial, which offers a collection of some of the best web serials. You can also check out the specific publishers now offering serial storytelling. Below I've outlined the top 5 publishing platforms that have launched over the last year.
1) Plympton - Founded in 2012 by Jennifer 8. Lee and Yael Goldstein Love, Plympton publishes serialised fiction via Amazon's Kindle platform. To date they have published three stories and claim to be profitable. Their stories appear once or twice a month and they claim to be able to pay authors a handsome five figure fees. Their close partnership with Amazon seems to be working for them but it also means authors are beholden to the exclusivity rights Amazon demands from its serials.
Serials give readers a steady stream of the stories they love at a price point that’s competitive with other digital content. And, with new technologies, writers can engage with their readers as they work, making the creative process a continuous two-way conversation. - Plympton team
2. Kindle Serials - Launched in 2012, Amazon's initiative offers readers a pay-once alternative for serial books. Unlike Kindle Singles that split 30/70 revenues with Amazon, the Kindle Serials split vary per contract and appear to offer a better deal for authors. They also introduced Kindle forums where readers can discuss the stories as they are published, adding a layer of social engagement. That said, the Kindle Serials are exclusive to Amazon, so authors will not be able to publish their works in any other format or website.
3. Byliner Serials - Launched in 2012 with serialised books from Margaret Atwood and Joe McGinniss, Byliner seems to be at the forefront of publishing some of best living authors in both fiction and non-fiction genres. With a mission devoted to serialised storytelling, readers will be able to access the stories at a reasonable $2.99 from Apple's iBookstore, from Barnes and Noble's Nook, from Kobo, Amazon Kindle store and even Google Play. With its early success in publishing short-form text, Byliner Serials seems like the next logical step in growing their portfolio of great storytelling.
4. JukePop Serials - Founded in 2012 by Jerry Fan, JukePop publishes story chapters and lets readers vote on the best stories which in turn get compensated. They do have a formal submission process and if they like your story will pay $100 for the first chapter. Compensation after that is based on reader votes, though it's unclear how the algorithm is set up. This is a fairly new platform and not the most reader friendly but the social aspect to it could prove to be very useful.
5. The Penny Dreadful - Founded by Angie Capozello, a serial novelist and blogger, The Penny Dreadful is more of a discovery platform for serial stories and their authors. It links you to Amazon to purchase the stories. It is still early days for this platform but worth following to see how it develops. .
Check out this great video from TuesdaySerial with some of the current serial publishers.