Story Above All Else: Story+ 2014

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Story+ is a two-day event at Brisbane Writers Festival which explores the intersection of story, narrative, technology and design. This year the one theme that consistently emerged from the discussions, panels and workshops was that story towers above all mediums. As Portal Entertainment’s Mike Jones explained in his keynote, no technology has ever changed what a story is – just the process and the narration. An uplifting through for writers indeed.

Day One – Interaction

Day One focused on interaction and all speakers stressed the importance of multiplatform engagement. Greg Broadmore from Weta Workshop shared his passion for drawing dinosaurs, making up words that are fun to read and creating Dr. Grordbort’s detailed fictional world. Starting with a custom Venus raygun, Dr. Grodbort’s world has grown to include graphic novels, videos, computer game vanity items and even a line of beer. This diversification across different platforms allowed Weta Workshop to engage with entirely new audiences.

This kind of engagement isn’t only for large-scale interactions but can be deployed by all writing practitioners. For example, Richard Wetzel mimed chasing time portals in augmented reality and Christian Fonnesbech outlined where real science and fictional characters meet in the transmedia video game Cloud Chamber. Both of these examples of games, whether virtual, like Cloud Chamber or location based, actually use the game as a tool to build social engagement and interaction.

Designer and writer Jeffrey Yohalem from Ubisoft Montreal spoke of the importance of narrative in his experience creating Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and Child of Light. In response to the future of video games he explained how this industry must “take a step back and re-enter games as a space that’s inherently interesting, like life.” It’s the storytelling and world building qualities of video games that make them interesting. So whilst there are always new technologies to explore, the writing quality should never be overlooked. It’s a writer’s deep understanding of their story world that brings it to life.

Day Two – Authoring

Day two of Story+ brought together leaders in the digital publishing world who all spoke of disconnect between writing as creative endeavour  and writing for a commercial purpose.

Independent publishing entrepreneur Richard Nash touched on how “this species,” publishing, will survive the next apocalypse. “Books contain worlds,” he said, and “the network quality of the book is where we can leverage tremendous power going forward.” Current and future technologies will allow writers to give their readers not only a story, but also many facets of that world. With a click of a button a reader could be redirected to a relevant recipe or through interactive, non-linear programs such as Twine they can create a number of different endings.

The Literary Platform’s Joanna Ellis added to his point, opening questions of access, scale and speed for the audience made up of predominantly writers. Writers can no longer focus solely on their craft and getting their work out there but must ask where there work is available and who can access it. Thankfully, for us budding writers there are valuable opportunities and platforms that can assist writers in overcoming these obstacles faced in the digital age.

Digital writing guru Mike Jones urged the audience to think of themselves not as a novelist or scriptwriter but as simply a writer who is might apply their skills across mediums. Throughout the event this idea of writing adaptability was stressed as increasingly critical to commercial success. Audiences are becoming more thinly spread across multiple platforms and whilst this can be disheartening it should be viewed as an opportunity to expand one’s writing practice. He said, “publishers are not in the book industry but in the story industry” and hopes that we don’t make the same mistake as the music industry which failed to recognize they don’t sell records but music.

The two-day event ended with Google creative lab director Tom Uglow sharing his take on the the disappearance of static and linear storytelling. “We are in an internet shift from static to fluid information” he said, and “We are moving towards a world where information is entirely fluid.  Where anyone can know everything about anything anywhere. We are still only a small way along this journey.”

As this communication fluidity continues to ebb and flow with the tide of changing technologies, it will be the stories we write, cherish and share with others that will survive.

You might enjoy these posts on Immersive Writing by Mike Jones of Portal Entertainment, who features in this article: 

How to Create a Storyworld 

How to Create Characters

How to Create Plot

Audience User Journeys

Grace Kirk has recently completed a dual degree in Business/Creative Industries, majoring in Creative Writing. She now works as a Research Assistant at QUT on the Writing the Digital Futures project and, of course, aspires to write a book of her own one day.

Find out more about Writing the Digital Futures project over on Twitter @WritingDF.

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