Telling stories has been an integral part of culture, history and the human experience. That’s not changing any time soon, even if technology affects the way stories reach audiences, said an Indiana University faculty member who explored storytelling in a recently published e-book, “Once Upon a Digital Story, A Modern Approach to an Ancient Art.”
Susan Tennant, a clinical associate professor in human centered computing in the IU School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, believes storytelling will remain an important part of the human experience even in the digital age, because it is the foundation of everything. “You can make an animation, a game or website, but what is it about? Without a story as the foundation, you’re just making stuff with no substance.”
Tennant’s e-book explores the role of storytelling through time from traditional to digital. The book covers the concepts, principles and construction of storytelling across a variety of digital formats and platforms.
Her e-book was also printed, but it was meant to be an e-book because it contains hyperlinks that immediately lead the reader to additional material, something that can’t be accomplished with the printed page.
Asked by the publisher, Cognella.com, to write the book, Tennant said she decided to seize that opportunity because it offered a chance to put her “thumbprint” on the page on the subject of storytelling.
Technology will continue to have impact, Tennant said. “The way we read stories will probably be more condensed on an electronic device, like a mobile phone. I hope books won’t go totally away.”
She also expects more transmedia — taking a book or a play and adapting it to another media. An example is “Superman,” which started as a comic book and then was adapted into graphic novels, a television series, movies, games, clothing and merchandise, she said.
Because of the mobility of technology, short-form webisodes are likely to increase as well.
“I see students all the time that are always on their phones,” Tennant said. “Many of them don’t read stories, but I think they would identify with a story if it were put into a context where it was interesting and multimedia could be added.”
But while the manner in which a story is told may change, its structure won’t, Tennant said.
“There are unique ways of telling a story that have been developed, whether it’s telling a story forward or backward, like the ‘Star Wars’ prequel and sequel, but the actual structure of stories hasn’t changed, nor will it ever,” Tennant said.
“Since the days of Aristotle and Shakespeare and all the way back to Homer,” the structure of stories has remained constant, she said. “They have to have a beginning, a middle and an ending.”