I am an occasional fan of doom and gloom. Doom and gloom are interesting! As a storyteller, I am intimately attracted to conflict, to drama, to signs of beautiful disarray. And looking at the options for storytellers, it’s easy to see big soggy clouds hanging over all our heads, dumping rain and hail and dead otters on our fool heads.
But, hey, you know what? Fuck that. Let’s lift our chins. Let’s find the sunshine. Let’s punch those dead otters in the face with our gauntleted fists of unmitigated optimism. Why is this a good time to be a storyteller?
Read on, readerheads.
1. The Power Of The Individual
For a very long time there existed one door. That door read EMPLOYEES ONLY, and it was locked until you… well, became an employee of someone — perhaps not a literal employee with the badge and the keycard and a Tupperware container of goulash in the fridge, but just the same you were someone who worked for a corporate entity in some fashion. They unlocked that door for you. Ah. But now a second door exists: the Do It Your Own Damnself door. It’s just a hole kicked in the drywall, the door itself fashioned out of whatever scraps lay nearby. On it a placard that reads, in hasty graffiti, INDIVIDUALS ONLY.
2. The Leverage Of Individuals
You may think this is some kind of FUCK THE OPPRESSOR anti-traditionalist screed, but it’s not. You don’t need to walk through that second door but you should be thankful it’s there just the same — that second door is a new option that did not exist for the last many decades. The fact you can publish your own work or make your own movie or draw your own damn comic is powerful art-fu. And it puts leverage on the larger corporate entities to recognize that they are no longer the only option on the table. When you’re the only dude in the room, your offer doesn’t have to be a good one. But now there’s competition — not merely from other corporate entities but from individuals deciding to go their own way. Individuals who choose to DIY that shit no longer end up automatically in the cold, their sweat-slick private parts unmercifully affixed to a frosted metal pole. The competition of options is a feature, not a bug. In this, storytellers win.
3. Increasingly Connected Audience
The distribution of the Internet is not infinite but for practical purposes it might as well be. It connects an audience in a very big, very real way. People who love a thing can love a thing together and can proselytize that love as loudly and as vociferously and as lovingly as they choose to. And reach hundreds, thousands, even millions by doing so. My god, it’s full of stars.
4. Increasingly Active Audience
No, I don’t mean “active” in the sense that they’re out jogging together in a giant lemming-like throng (sadly, one of the downsides of the Internet is that it doesn’t force us up off our doughy meat-bag asses), I mean “active” in the sense that they’re engaged. Before, audience participation was passive. You sat. You read, you watched, you consumed. Maybe you talked it over with some friends and a slice of pie. Then you went home, gloomily masturbated, and slept. Now you run to the Internet. You tweet. You update Facebook. You write a review on Goodreads. You photobomb your friends with related memes. If there’s additional content, you snorfle it down like bacon-wrapped chocolate-covered espresso beans. Active engagement!
5. Finally, An Increasingly Fractured Audience, As Well
Oh, that sounds bad, doesn’t it? Fractured. Fractured is never good. Broken window. Shattered femur. Kingdom torn asunder. Except here I’d argue it’s a very good thing. Big corporate art culture wants big corporate art — lowest common denominator work that will be a failure if it cannot attract the seething, teething masses by the million. But small audiences can be very supportive. An artist can thrive more easily on connected and engaged pockets of totally awesome people. A fractured audience is the sign of a shattered monoculture. And a shattered monoculture means diversity, and diversity means new niches and rabbit-holes into which storytellers may gleefully tumble.
6. Hybridized Story Pollination (AKA “Transmedia”)
Stories are no longer content to remain imprisoned in a single medium. Stories that need to can dynamite the door and jump from book to film to blog to comic and back to book. They can be games and diaries and flyers stapled to telephone poles. They can be both active and passive at the same time. Stories always could be this way, of course, but we’re tossing about in a perfect storm of opportunity — all the other things in this list fly together to form a stompy Voltron of raw possibility. *stomp stomp stomp*
7. Pretty New Hats For Pretty New Audience Members
An increasingly active audience coupled with increasingly diverse storytelling possibilities creates new roles for audience members. Before, those in your audience had to be content with passivity — but now they can do shit. Sure, they can remain passive. Or they can witness how others interact with the story. Or they can be themselves prime movers, engaging with creator and story (and the characters and world of that story).
8. Everybody Can Tell Stories
You can make a film or paint a masterpiece on your iPhone. You can download free word processors and graphic editors. You can make porn with two soup cans and an old Nintendo 64. Okay, maybe not so much that last one. Still — telling stories and putting them out there is cheaper and easier than it’s ever been. That’s not to say you don’t still need to know what you’re doing — but the barrier to entry used to be a big-ass brick wall. And now it’s just a speedbump. Or maybe a dead hobo. Drive over it and don’t look back.
9. Community, Community, Community
No, not the TV show, though that’s been pretty great, too. (Troy and Abed as Bert and Ernie!) I mean, the community of storytellers. Writers. Editors. Producers. Directors. Artists. Musicians. Content managers. Continuity assassins. Time-traveling liquor procurement robots. We are living in a golden age of connectedness and that doesn’t just mean connecting us to our audience. It means connecting us to other creators. It means that the wheels of collaboration are greased with the Astroglide of delight.
10. Handily Form Your Own Super-Team
What this means is that you can start to form your own storytelling super-team: people you can go to time and again and who help you achieve your vision (and whom you help in return).
11. Crowdfunding, Motherfucker
You mean I can go to the people and say, “I have this story I want to tell,” and they can either confirm its reality or deny its existence? HELLO, FUTURE, MY NAME IS CHUCK, PLEASE HAVE SOME PIE.
12. Throw A Pebble
Every story you write and put out there is a pebble. Every blog post, tweet, and photo is another pebble. Every time you interact with another human and foist another positive piece of yourself upon the world — sploosh — another pebble thrown into the water. And every pebble creates ripples and those ripples cross one another and sometimes reach untold shores. It’s chaos theory in action — a butterfly flaps his wings in Tokyo and a giant diaper-clad orangutan destroys San Francisco. Or something. Point is, the vibrations of your storytelling are farther-flung, and that’s a wonderful thing.
13. Word-of-Mouth Just Got A Major Upgrade
The way those ripples work is via a jacked-up uber-upgraded version of “word-of-mouth.” Used to be that word-of-mouth was parlayed between like, six people. And sure, those six people overlapped with another six people and a slow-moving orgy of interest can rise in a sluggish tangle of limbs. But now word-of-mouth is like, 50 people. Or 100, or 1000. And those circles still overlap. The audience’s voice is louder and bigger than ever. Your story can crowdsurf on them for miles.
14. Remix Culture
Storytellers have been repurposing content since the days of Homer (the blind storyteller, not the donut-eater) — but we’re seeing a surge in remix culture where a story can be broken apart into memes, fanfiction, trailers, t-shirts, whatever. Some of it is shallow, some of it is deep, but the repurposing all points to this: the value of our stories has increased and they can travel a much greater distance than you intend.
15. Yep, I’m Gonna Say It: Piracy
Your blood pressure just went up, didn’t it? I see your eye twitching. Your lip quivering. And yet here I am persisting past your potential aneurysm to say that, piracy may very well be a good thing for storytellers. It’s not that I’m condoning it or that I think it’s the proper moral choice — but I will say that I think piracy has the potential to be an opportunity instead of a pit of pure peril. Think of piracy less as theft and more as a way to gain new fans. Think of it as a very fertile seed-bed. Remember that, during the wanton days of music piracy, music pirates bought more music, not less.
16. Back From The Dead
Sure, the datastream moves fast. You’re not careful, your raft will get sucked under and dashed against the rocks, and then piranha will eat your face. Or you’ll encounter one of those little fishies that swims up your urethra and lodges itself in there like a fat kid in an amusement park waterslide. What were we talking about? Ah. Right. Old is new. Used to be that something would hit the market, and it either took flight fast or got run over by a lawnmower. The lifecycle for pop culture was tiered and limited — but now, stories live on. They loiter like surly teens in shopping malls. And you never know when an old story will gain new life. (Every once in a while, an old blog post on this site catches fire and burns bright for a few days.)
17. The Hive-Mind Is Here
Got a question? Research? Opinion? Grammar issue? Liquor poll? Ask the hive-mind. Storytellers have a wealth of humanity accessible by a few clicks and clacks of the ol’ mouse-and-keyboard.
18. The Water-Cooler That Is Social Media
Social media isn’t just a hive-mind. It’s the water-cooler. Hey, say what you will, but storytellers used to sit in the darkness of their own fetid closet-offices, mumbling to their aloe plants and their cairn of balled-up underwear and their collection of empty gin bottles — but now we can talk to other people. Not to mine them for information. Not to pursue an agenda. Just to shoot the shit and be humans.
19. Cassette Tape Days
Digital content is in the days of the cassette tape. This is Betamax/VHS time. We’re just getting started with e-books and digital film and mobile gaming — these are the days of electronic prehistory in terms of digital content. And things are ramping up fast. What will things be like in 10 years? 25? What will e-books look like in the year 2022? Will my Kindle mist me with the smell of old books? Will my iPhone be a psychic device? CAN MY SAMSUNG TV IMPREGNATE ME WITH A HIGH-DEFINITION STORY-BABY?
20. The Quality Of Our Liquor Has Greatly Improved
I’m just saying, we’re drinking a lot better these days. At least, I am. NO MORE TOILET VODKA FOR ME. Well, okay, maybe a little more toilet vodka. What? It’s good. Shut up. No, you shut up.
21. Sweet Mobility
Stories can go anywhere now. Okay, sure, a book could go most places, but now a single item — a phone, a tablet, a laptop — contains multitudes. Shows! Comics! Novels! Movies! So many stories in one little space. An advantage for the audience is an advantage for the storyteller. Now you can can go where they go. Now you’re in their pocket. With that old roll of Mentos. And that… suspicious bulge.
22. The Age Of The Rockstar Is Over
The rockstar — those figures in pop culture who command all the sales and all the attention — is part of the monoculture and the monoculture is waning. When the really big, greedy fish leave the ocean, the smaller fish get more food (and are themselves less likely to be food). Fewer rockstars mean more craftsmen. They leave more room for the rest of us to come in and do our thing. Or so I like to believe.
23. Divergent Formats
Just as certain creators enjoy a rockstar-like existence, so too do some formats — the novel, the film, the television show, the big-budget game release, the popular superhero comic. Their reign is over. Short stories? Short films? Indie games? Comics not about superheroes? Digital narratives? ARGs? Live theatrical experiments? Chick tracts? UFO manifestos? Peyote visions? Tattoos of Bea Arthur eating a Tyrannosaurus Rex stuffed in a hot dog roll? There exists no limit to the format. No one medium shall rule them all. Well. Except maybe cat videos.
24. Content Remains King
And yet, at the end of the day, in the great Pop Culture Darwinism, content will remain king — and, in fact, will become even kinglier (is that a word?) in this grand storytelling future. Whyzat, you ask? Because we’re less subject to marketing manipulations. Because word-of-mouth is multiplied tenfold. Because the audience is getting savvier, smarter, more interested. Sure, you’ll still have your 50 Shades of Gray and your latest Office Doctor Detective Esquire television procedurals, but you’ll also see braver work surviving longer. Content rules. Crap storytelling drools.
25. We Are The Media
Amanda Palmer said it: “We are the media.” And she’s right. She nabbed a million dollar Kickstarter tally. And you might be saying, “Well, sure, but she’s Amanda Fucking Palmer.” To which I’d respond: my mother has no idea who that is. My wife? No idea who that is. And yet: million-dollar Kickstarter. Do Call of Duty-playing fratboys know who Double Fine productions are? Mmnope. Yet they raised over three million. There’s no disputing the fact that storytellers are in prime demand. And you know who’s demanding it? THE MIGHTY HUMANS OF PLANET EARTH. Erm, aka, “your audience.”
That is why this is the most glorious time to be a storyteller, yo.
Like this post? Want more just like it? Try these books:
The newest: 500 MORE WAYS TO BE A BETTER WRITER —
The original: 500 WAYS TO BE A BETTER WRITER —
Only a buck: 250 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT WRITING —
The biggun: CONFESSIONS OF A FREELANCE PENMONKEY–
Or its sequel: REVENGE OF THE PENMONKEY —