Imagine if you could preselect every paragraph in this piece. Or reverse the order so you could read the conclusion first.
These kind of non-linear narratives are now reaching the fore due to the flexibility of new digital platforms. Authors and creatives are experimenting with non-traditional storytelling online. Biographies are being released on the iPhone with innovative interfaces, ads on YouTube are incorporating multiple-choice interlinked video paths and novels are being released in webisodes with the story playing out in real time on social networks.
So are we on the brink of a revolution in creative story telling?
Stephen Fry, one of Twitter’s most influential celebrity tweeters, has released his autobiography The Fry Chronicles in a future facing iPhone edition cheekily called ‘My Fry’.
The app utilises an innovative graphic interface and the visual index resembles a wheel which you can dial back and forth to navigate the content. The app gives you the choice to read it back to front or to dive in via tagged key words. Developed by digital agency Dare, it’s a refreshing way of presenting yet another celebrity’s life story.
Author Neal Stephenson, collaborated with fellow author Greg Bear and a band of artists, writers and developers on serial novel The Mongoliad. An adventure epic set in 1241 when Europe thought that the Mongol Horde was about to completely destroy their world.
The story plays out over a year through one episode a week. Readers can subscribe at different levels that give users great access and influence to the creation of the story. In addition to influencing the writing, members of the community can help create maps and artwork for a truly crowd sourcing experiment. As the creators suggest, with new technology, why are we still constrained by the shortcomings of the printing press?
Sent is ‘the world’s first novel told through e-mails’, written by Victor Levin. Its structure is reminiscent of Matt Beaumont’s book on the advertising industry 'e-told' in paper form, but through emails from the characters in the book. But the comparisons end there.
Sent actually uses email to deliver the narrative straight to your inbox. The email format gives you a sense of voyeurism and adds to the excitement of the feeling that you’re actually eavesdropping on the actions of two strangers. By bringing the story to the reader in bite size chunks it has an episodic or TV drama feel to it.
TV broadcaster HBO in the US has been playing with experiential projections that play with the structure of narrative over the last few years. Their Imagine campaign, complete with a four-sided video cube, allowed viewers to see a story from four different angles on four sides of the cube.
Similarly, during the summer, an app called Touching stories on the iPad allowed users to interact with four different stories. Utilising live action video, the app has interactive points within each of the four stories where the user is encouraged to touch, shake or turn the iPad.
And finally, the game world has also been experimenting. Heavy Rain on PS3 plays out like an interactive movie with each interaction affecting the ultimate ending of the story.
So, as we’re increasingly bombarded by multiple messages in our busy modern lives, perhaps these new forms of storytelling create some much needed room. They give us the choice. If we choose to, we can snack on the narrative.
Others engrain the content as a habit in our everyday lives via our email inbox, while the experiments of Stephenson reach out to create a deeper engagement and really do allow us to co-create.
However you look at it, this is just the start. Good stories can now be told in many new and engaging ways.