Unprintable Books: Digital Storytelling with an Adult Audience

I’m Back!! With fresh information and opinion gained from the Toronto Book Summit too!

Recently I attended the Toronto Book Summit, where publishers and writers met to discuss the book market today, and the changes and advancements taking place. I personally attended two panels where the digital movement was at the forefront. “Digital Storytelling” and “Reader Collaboration”. In this post I am going to walk you through what I learned and what I think moving forward in the digital publishing world that isn’t just about ebooks. This will be part 1 of a 2 post discussion.

First off, we heard from author Kate Pullinger , a writer who has experience in both print and digital practices. She believes in the fluidity between books and the digital world, and has taken part in many experiments on how best to integrate the two successfully. In doing this she wants to create a hybrid form of literature.

Initially, Pullinger’s entrance into the digital world focused on collaborative fiction. In 2007 Penguin Publishers announced their first ever wikinovel a wiki where anyone could collaborate on the work entitled A Million Pengiuns. As one can imagine, this openness led to someone hacking the page, deleting all of the writing, and leaving a derogatory message in its place. After Penguin was able to revert the changes to the original, they were hacked again, and the hacker replaced every noun with the word “banana”. Needless to say the collaborative novel was not taken seriously.

A very successful foray into online collaborative fiction took place when Kate worked on a project called Letter to an Unknown Soldier. This project was a digital memorial that centred around a real, physical UK war memorial. Well-known authors were contracted to launch the memorial project by writing letters to the man depicted in the memorial. To follow, the project had an open call to any interested in submitting their own creative piece to be posted on this site. The project was a resounding success, receiving over 20,000 letters. Most likely to the serious subject matter, there was no hacking or negative interference. From the success of the memorial, a printed book was published, featuring a selection of stories submitted and Kate Pullinger’s introduction.

Since the success of the participatory digital memorial, Kate has moved onto a more educational and interactive platform. She now works on a project called Inanimate Alice. This project is published in episodes, where the user can travel through the character’s world, with locations giving information and dialogue to frame in a narrative. I have one major problem with this kind of storytelling. It is a video game. The narrative is not the focus, the tricks and software is. With the memorial project, the focus was on the letters themselves, and how they brought new perspectives and ideas to a popular concept and statue. The focus of Inanimate Alice is the travelling and design. The words that pop up on your screen do not really matter, they just give direction on what the user should do next.

Is this where we are headed? Does embracing new technology and movement away from the codex mean the narrative will take the backseat? That stories will not be taken seriously? Experimentation is necessary in adjusting to a new technological age but will this change what storytelling is? An expression of a narrative, with a beginning, middle, and end? If the success of the collaborative products becomes the focus, what will happen to our traditional view of the author?

Here’s an article that discusses these questions further and delves into the boundaries of storytelling:




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