Sunday, 24 November 2013

Storytelling in the contemporary world

This quote from Walter Benjamin came to mind this week 'Familiar though his name may be to us, the storyteller in his living immediacy is by no means a present force. He has already become something remote from us and something that is getting even more distant.' He wrote this in 1936 a time well before the Internet when books still ruled the world to a certain extent. It came to mind because Charlie Redmayne, the UK boss of Harper Collins, stated that publishers have to take storytelling back from their digital rivals in an article in the Guardian last week. His argument is that they need to think in terms of content for games players, tablets and other devices. But is this really new and something that needs to be discussed? The publishers that I have been in communication with over the last few years have been thinking in terms of this for a very long time and it is not just the start-ups that I am talking about. But maybe it is just another indication of how children's publishing is ahead of mainstream (adult) publishing.

Story is one of the most important part of children's writing. Publishers want a good strong story that has a great concept behind it. A child or teenager is not as tolerant or forgiving as adults of books that take a long time to get going and are full of flowery language and description. (How many of you actually got to the end of Captain Corelli's Mandolin?) Children and young adults want action and a story that moves fast. Could this also be why so many adults are turning to young adult fiction rather than their own? We live in a world of micro moments wanting almost immediate gratification.

I don't think the storyteller has become as remote as Benjamin suggests - however, we may not always know their name these days - instead the storyteller is coming in a multitude of formats. All of which are readily embraced and so they should be. When writing you need to think in terms of multi-platforms and be open to the idea. The book (whether ebook or hard copy) is still important but there are elements that need to go along side.

Computer games, apps, comics, magazines, TV and films all have narratives. They are all embedded within story telling that is because we are homo fabulus, we have to tell (and listen to) stories. This may be around the dining table, over a drink in the bar, in the school playground, wherever, we will tell stories about the events in our lives. In the same way if someone is talking to us about their own experience we will often counter with our exploits.

When writing you are creating vicarious experiences, opening up those opportunities for a reader to enjoy the world you have created. We need to be aware that many will now expect that enjoyment to be enhanced by the opportunity to engage with it on a multitude of levels, so next time your writing, think how many ways you could tell your story...

And here is a bit of Regina Spektor to make IC smile ;-)


  1. I think this is possibly the most exciting of times to be a storyteller! I started my career in multi-media, crossing all sorts of storytelling platforms to create a final product. I can't think of anything more natural for stories for children and young people than they should stretch themselves through multiple formats.

    1. I agree totally Nicky, you just need to open for them and embrace all opportunities don't you