DIY Dizzy: The Future of Storytelling
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 it — do 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.