Just For Fun

Storytelling and story-making

This week, we’re thinking about medium and storytelling, about the pros and cons of prose, images, audio, and more.

When Malcolm Gladwell went on “CBS This Morning” recently, he said that when he was asked to teach a class on his writing process, he had to sit down and think, Well, how do I approach the task of writing?

It’s a little bit like your surgeon stopping to say, Huh, how do I take out an appendix? But less scary, at least! Maybe Gladwell’s more of a storyteller than a writer, and books are just one way he’s found to reach his audience. He’s teaching that writing class, and now also making a hit podcast, “Revisionist History.” He said, “I think if you’re a writer, you have to start exploring other ways of reaching your audience… If I only write books, I feel I’ll lose contact with a large portion of the population.”

Gladwell said he likes podcasting not just for the audio opportunities that a book could never offer, but for its intimacy, too. And it’s true, there’s something special about podcasts and audiobooks, the way that, when you listen with headphones, the voices seem to be coming from inside your own head. The inflections of speakers’ voices offer a kind of nuance you just don’t get from words on the page, either.

A recent article in the New York Times looked at how graphic novels offer another kind of storytelling, using visuals—and silence—to shape a narrative. Textless panels are silent in one way, but they can be full of so much meaning and action even without words.

Then there are mediums that skip the story altogether. The Void is a “hyper-reality venture,” aka a virtual reality experience you can find at your local shopping mall. In an interview with The Drum, Void co-founder Curtis Hickman made an interesting claim: storytelling has no place in VR.

This isn’t about wanting to spend time in VR playing with picking up objects and putting them down rather than following a game’s narrative—although, okay, that can be incredibly satisfying. Instead, Hickman means that story in VR shouldn’t be a one-way street.

He compares it to an RPG: “It’s a form of story where you have this dungeon master who is imparting a framework for a story and you have the players who are actively participating in the story.” Instead of being told a story, participants help make it. Open-world to the extreme.

Which leaves us wondering: Is there a line between a story and an experience, or can the two overlap?

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