Storytelling Gets an Upgrade: Beyond Tactile Stories

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JC HutchinsBy J.C. Hutchins, Novelist and Transmedia Storyteller

Over the course of my two previous pieces on storytelling upgrades (start here), I showed how tactile and kinetic features native to the iPad can be linked to traditional narrative devices, such as foreshadowing. However, where it gets really exciting is how the device can unlock a deeply interactive and immersive environment in which the “reader” is an integral part of a nonlinear story—all narrative features that cannot be rendered in print.

Up to now, I had been focusing on the tactile and kinetic, but there are dozens of ways exist to leverage the iPad’s other built-in features, including:

Notes and Calendar: The iPad’s “Notes” application allows users to easily take notes and make to-do lists, which can be synchronized with other applications such as the iPad’s calendar. Perhaps new storytelling models can creatively leverage this simple app in unexpected ways.

Plot Twists Can Hide in Plain Sight
By J.C. Hutchins

Here’s another example of a multimedia-fueled “touchable moment” that could be incorporated into a narrative created for the iPad or other tablets. This narrative is set in the near future.

Imagine a detective who’s confronted by a dying man. The man presses an unusual photo into our hero’s hand and — with his last breath — whispers the word “ghost.” With a flip of the virtual page, the reader now sees this peculiar picture and must physically interact with the narrative to further the story.

What’s that strange blemish on the woman’s face? Using the “reverse pinch” gesture, the reader can zoom in on the image to hunt for clues…



… and with a single investigative finger tap, activates a futuristic “data-dot” — an apparent password-protected plot device that contains valuable information.


What could the password possibly be? Let’s try “ghost”…

Maps: The iPad can easily access Google Maps, which can be cleverly used in globetrotting stories or in “geo-tagged” photos. The iPad can also identify the current location of the user using GPS, which creates opportunities for locale-specific storytelling.

Camera: The iPad’s two cameras — one forward-facing, the other rear-facing — provide untapped narrative possibilities regarding augmented reality storytelling moments, taking snapshots of the reader, his friends, or physical objects (which could be used later in the story).

Email: Have you ever corresponded with a fictional character via email? That can happen now, thanks to the iPad’s built-in email application. Since the device sports robust graphic capabilities, photos and video can also be sent to readers via email.

The Web: With its “always on” internet access, the iPad creates endless opportunities for readers to go “beyond the story” and find more clues and plot twists hidden on real websites. From fictional blogs to phony corporation sites, this new model is primed to deliver resonant experiences, all within a single reading experience.

And Much More…: And by leveraging the power of APIs for such online services such as Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare and dozens more, further features can be “baked” into these groundbreaking narratives with very little additional development costs.

I believe this breed of storytelling is an ideal creative fit for original fiction of all genres. Storytellers can craft effective, original stories built with this unique storytelling medium in mind. However, tales set in mainstream entertainment properties are also an option. Imagine narratives specifically crafted to enhance the stories of existing creative universes, via prequel-style content or “between TV season” adventures. These tales can also provide effective lead-in narratives to promote upcoming TV seasons or films.

There are a handful of multimedia-savvy, first-mover authors (like me) who are ready and capable of telling these stories. We understand the nuanced narrative approach required when telling technology-powered tales… and we’re fluent in the creative techniques (such as prose fiction, screenwriting, non-linear storytelling, and more) needed to successfully realize them.

For most other authors, conceiving narratives like this requires a retraining of the brain — a fundamental rethinking of how to tell stories. Rather than provide a completely linear narrative experience, they must embrace elements of transmedia storytelling, game play, and a commitment to collaborating with others (such as programmers, graphic designers, videographers, and more).

In this way, it’s akin to filmmaking — a creative vision overseen by a primary creator, but eventually executed by several specialists.

The complexity and cost of this model is also akin to filmmaking: It requires a budget, a clear and executable project plan, producers, and financial muscle to see it through.

I’m confident we’ll soon see narratives using these methods roll out in the months and years ahead. When that happens — and when the model is proven successful by progressive creators and publishers — watch out. That’s when stories we’ve never conceived of conceiving will emerge… and when things’ll get really interesting.

I’ll already be there, pen in hand. Will you?

J.C. Hutchins is an award-winning freelance writer best known for using multimedia narratives, emerging fiction trends, and participatory storytelling techniques to entertain online audiences. He is a published novelist, represented screenwriter, and experienced transmedia storyteller. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR’s Weekend Edition, and by the BBC. Learn more about his work at JCHutchins.net.

Photo Credits: Tablet images courtesy of J.C. Hutchins. Portrait by J.R. Blackwell.

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2 thoughts on “Storytelling Gets an Upgrade: Beyond Tactile Stories

  1. Great series, JC. One of the points you made is extremely important and deserves to be reiterated:

    This type of narrative requires writers to retrain their brains.

    Absolutely right. I’ve been working on a how to create non-linear narrative landscapes inwhich the viewser (viewer/user – awful word, I know), chooses what happens next and experiences a unique journey through the narrative. It’s difficult to construct while still retaining a meaningful story, but after some time and an evolution in thinking, I know what the essential ingrediants are. Many traditional authors say this and much of what you’re propsing will never catch on. It won’t, unless the approach to story construction changes.

    That’s not to say the paper novel won’t still be around in 20 years. I still love to read both new and traditional narratives; I think there is room for both, but I’m with you when you suggest this is the direction we’re moving in and those who will be successul are those capable of retraining their brains.

  2. Pingback: Storytelling gets an upgrade: Beyond tactile stories [Hutchins]

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