Storytelling Gets an Upgrade: Interaction Illustrated

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

In my previous post, I described how, using a combination of user-fueled curiosity, tactile interaction, and brilliant visual animations, authors can deliver narrative revelations that simply cannot be experienced using traditional storytelling techniques.

Today, we take the narrative to the next level, adding even more rich interaction to our story.

Recall that this narrative is mostly text-based and presented as a well-crafted traditional novel or novella. (There’s no substitute for great writing.) However, the story’s “touchable moments” are designed to put the reader in the driver’s seat in equally emotionally resonant ways. The goal is to capture the same sense of discovery the story’s hero experiences — that thrilling “I just learned a secret” vibe.

Let’s pick up our near-futuristic detective thriller from where we left off: In the image above, the story’s “scanner” has correctly identified the mysterious villain, and the reader is rewarded with on-screen biographical information about the character. There’s no need to articulate this moment of discovery using novel-style text later in the tale; the reader himself experienced it. Perhaps this information could be added to an interactive “dossier,” so the reader can review it whenever he wishes in later chapters.

As seen in traditional narratives, creators can up the narrative ante to frighten the audience. For example: Our story’s private detective has traveled far north in pursuit of a clue. He discovers an abandoned warehouse filled with empty, deactivated cryogenic chambers… save for one.

A fine sheen of frost covers the glass coffin. What’s inside?

Using the narrative’s “scanner” device, the reader can successfully identify the woman in the cryochamber. Perhaps it’s a character our detective-hero met earlier in the story, or an ex-lover — these “touchable moments” can deliver the same narrative beats and revelations as traditional media… and then greatly build upon them in new ways.

For instance: By tapping on the character’s ID, passport, or credit card (seen above), the reader can obtain biographical information, and perhaps links to the character’s Facebook or Twitter pages — or the character’s personal blog. Since the iPad features internet connectivity, readers can immediately visit those real websites and glean more information about this character or clues leading up to her disappearance. The reader truly embodies the role of investigator!

Even the traditional text-based reading experience can be upended using touch-based narratives. Immersive opportunities can hide in plain sight. For instance: Our private detective is hurt and furious; he knew the missing woman in the cryochamber and is more determined than ever to track down the story’s ruthless villain. In the text of our story, he searches the woman’s body and discovers a cryptic address and what appears to be the combination to a safe.

But where’s the safe?

As the reader dives deeper into the text narrative, he encounters a strange graphical element hidden behind a page of the novel-style text. Is that a safe combination knob? By “shaking” the iPad, the words literally tumble off the screen, to reveal…

… the very safe that’s mentioned in the text-based narrative.

Using the iPad’s built-in gesture-based technology — and the safe combination mentioned in the story — the reader can physically interact with the safe’s knob, twist through the appropriate combination, and unlock the safe.

Is this mountain of money inside real or counterfeit? Perhaps a quick “scan” of one of those $100 bills could answer the question — and lead to more clues and narrative.

So far, we’ve looked at ways for audiences to interact with static images. Let’s quickly explore the undeniable power of video in another example.

Let’s say our detective hero has determined the villain’s endgame move: a terrorist assault on an office building. With the help of his police contacts, he’s able to tap into the building’s surveillance camera system.

This “touchable moment” empowers the reader to explore the numerous live camera feeds throughout the building, and even to correctly identify a security breach. Using the pinch gesture, the reader can easily scale up the appropriate live video feed and be rewarded with plot-centric information.

As the reader zooms and taps the iPad’s screen for more information, he is actively becoming more immersed in the story. Here, the reader witnesses — in a facsimile of real- time video footage — the assault about to unfold. In addition to upping the narrative stakes, this moment requires fleet-footed action from the reader: Should he learn more about the weapons the thugs are carrying? Should he contact the cops?

This kind of storytelling delivers a heightened narrative experience in which the reader — and physical interaction with the device — plays a critical role.

From my vantage point, the provided examples merely scratch the surface of what’s possible. I haven’t bothered to showcase other gestures and technologies of the iPad, all of which can be easily used in these narratives, but in our next and final post on storytelling upgrades, I’ll provide an overview of other technologies available on the iPad that could be leveraged for interactive and immersive narratives.

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

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

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4 thoughts on “Storytelling Gets an Upgrade: Interaction Illustrated

  1. Mrs. Schaarschmidt

    Can you imagine using these features to build ultimate choose your own adventure stories? Or for youth books, tying a great story to actual fact finding about science, history, or geography? I’m lucky in that my kids are all readers, but I could totally see getting more reluctant readers actively reading with that sort of technology. I love the idea of the interactive spy thriller. It would be even more fun to do a book where the reader is a stalker and has all sorts of different tools to do the actual stalking with. I so totally could have fun as both a reader and as a writer with this stuff.

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