DIY Dizzy: The Future of Storytelling

Stand Up And ScrewThe good news? You really can do it yourself when it comes to telling stories and making the products of those stories.

The bad news? Nobody really knows what that means, how to do it, or what the result will be.

(Real quick: Marty and I are obviously DIYing it with Shadowstories, and Fridays over at The Storyverse site are now devoted to process blogs, in which we offer frank shop-talk while we feel our way through the darkness. The first post, “Shop-Talk with the Shitheads,” is already up.)

This past weekend, I spoke at, and further attended, DIY Days: Philly.

The energy was tremendous. High-voltage enthusiasm. Bzzt. Bang. It’s the end of the world and the beginning of a new one, all in one gleeful, dizzying whirl.

That’s a good thing. But it’s also a confusing thing.

Consider: you’re a prisoner in a cage. You’ve been in a cage for years, if not most of your life. Then, one day, the cage rusts — because it’s old technology, it really wasn’t built to last — and screaaak, the door yawns wide.

You’re free. Bright sun! Blue skies! A bird shits on your head! Life is glorious.

Ultimate choice! Endless potential! Paralyzing confusion!

What to do? You can go north, south, east, west. You  can jump up and down. You can eat a sandwich, buy a dog, buy a TV, watch TV, make your new dog watch TV while you eat that delicious sandwich. You can go to New Zealand. You can build a birdhouse. You can kill a man.

The sheer potential of what to do is so wide open, so limitless, that it can actually be more than a little terrifying. And that, I think, is where we all are, right now. Heads full of wild dreams, and pants full of panicked shit.

No rules. No set course. No proven path. It’s chaos. It’s good chaos, the chaos of creation, the chaos of exploding gases and the lurch of newborn landmass and the spinning of a new moon in the sky — but it’s still chaos.

So — what now?


The “fireside chat” with me and Lance (replete with faux-flickering digital fire behind us) focused on The Future of Storytelling, and for us, that future is very much one where a single approach no longer works. You can fire one bullet, but that bullet better punch through glass and leave a whole web of cracks — fractures that can be read like tea leaves, fractures that encourage the audience to trace their fingers along the contours.

The future is about multiplicity of story. It’s about creators abandoning old ways and realizing that the audience is exhibiting different habits and making new demands. The audience doesn’t just want the story in one place. They want to go beyond the story. They want to see connected tales, or the story from a new angle. The film better yield a comic, or an ARG, or a video game, or a live flashmob experience. The novel better give a book trailer, a flash game, a webcomic, a transmedia journal. Once upon a time, it was okay to have your one vision and one product. It isn’t anymore.

The future is about making the audience a part of the story. Passivity no longer plays on this field. People want to own the story, even just a little bit. That’s why fan-fiction exists. They don’t hate the property. They love it so much, they want a narrative stake in it the same way that stockholders seek a financial stake in a company. They want to engage themselves. It’s why interactivity is key: if you fear fan-fiction, fine, give the audience new ways of owning the story.

The future is roleplaying. There, I said it. The roleplaying industry is shrinking, but the roleplaying idea and the ethos around it is growing. It’s got tendrils and shoots, and it’s coiling itself around everything. Even in small ways — look at Mad Men. Seen the avatar creation thing? That’s roleplaying! Yes, it’s mostly just a mote of roleplaying, more an amuse-bouche than a second course, but it’s in there. It’s you. Becoming a part of it. Imagining yourself as a Madison Avenue ad-man or secretary. This is a terrifying concept for creators, to cede some of your property to the hands of an undeserving audience… except, they’re not undeserving. They’re your audience, which makes them very, very important. More important than you, as a matter of fact. It doesn’t mean your vision needs to be watered down. You can control the rules and laws of this narrative buy-in. But you must, must, must let them buy in.

The future is work. No, really. This shit is hard. Your effort just doubled, tripled, fucktupled. Sorry. You want to do it yourself? You want to be successful? Then you better be ready to — wait for it, waaaait for itdo it yourself. Effort must be expended.

The future is yours. The old model is on wobbly legs — though, don’t count it out yet, it has money behind it, and money can buy a stay of execution or an added burst of longevity, or maybe just a four-hour erection. Still, the brass ring is there. You gonna grab at it? Everybody else is. This is the frontier. This is the Oregon Trail. This is the Revolutionary War. Lots of people are running across the open meadows trying to find their plot of land in this new country. Pump those legs, lest you end up in a dirty poo cottage on a patch of rotten earth.


Shout-out to one of the DIY Days who really got my brain noodling last weekend –

Dan Goldman. Check him out. You probably know his work, even if you don’t know you know his work.

He’s a big thinker, and he’s already got a headstart for his carved-out territory in Graphic Novel Land. Let’s all see where he goes, because it’s probably going to be godsdamn exciting.


  • It’s interesting how, as the technology has grown, the attitude has altered.

    Remember when self-publishing was something that didn’t stand for much in one’s repertoire, even something to be avoided?

    Power to the People with the Publishing! Kicking down the door with savvy and moxie beats getting a measly toe in any day.

    • It is absolutely a change in thinking. Mind you, I think self-publishing still has the stigma, and perhaps always will — the good news about it is that it opens the door to everybody, and the bad news is that it opens the door to everybody. Every hobo with a story in mind can come ambling in and write his web novel written in fly-poop and scratches in the dirt. He can make a “movie” for YouTube and even get a million hits, especially if it’s him hobo-pooping on some sleeping Yuppie.

      …Actually, I’d watch that.

      But, the stigma drops away as a greater breadth of respectable material (J.C. Hutchins, Scott Sigler, Mur Lafferty) comes into view.

      — c.

  • Your chat seemed to have set the theme for the day.

    We’d attempted to address the question of audience contributions on my panel, and I’d had a few discussions on related topics throughout the day.

    It was apparent that the considerations entailed in enabling and supporting such an integration of audiences are new to many people. While there was a general recognition, among the panelists and other people that I’d spoken to, of the desirability of audience contributions, the conception of these seemed to gravitate to the extremes.

    So you had many people who saw this as solely fan art and fan commentary, while others defined it by a strong form of crowdsourcing a’la Lost Zombies.

    But the harder question of how you adapt substantial creative contributions by audience members to developed and mature works was largely not on people’s RADAR.

    • Certainly a harder legal question (in the paper game industry today, WotC made fans surly by locking down some rather draconian fansite policy that seems to punish fans more than reward them — y’know, for being fans), but the challenge then becomes to find a compromise — instead of locking out all participation, it’s key to find a way to control participation. Roleplaying environments, online or off, help to control participation while still ensuring that the audience is engaging with the property in a new way. The storyteller becomes, in Lance’s parlance, a story architect — making the designs and handing off tools.

      All this is new to people. They’ll hopefully figure it out.

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