Design and storytelling

My thoughts

The truth of the story

Basically most stories told are one agent (the storyteller) acting against a “truth” of the told action (story), in order to tell her own “truth” (narrative). The author always lies in stories, because if there ever was a truth to begin with, it has to be manipulated for it to be a story, even when the intention is to come closer to the truth. In fact in order to come closer to the truth, the storyteller might need to disregard what’s true, since they cloud the truth that the reader is able to perceive. And more interesting, this truth-hybrid is then interpreted to become the readers perception of the basic truth, something that can be something quite different from any truth that existed before it. Fiction has the sympathetic quality of being a lie that both the sender and receiver agree upon, and in so, isn’t a lie at all. If I would say: “In 2009 I was abducted by an alien spieces entirely made out of cheese” it would be a lie, but if instead I said: “Once upon a time I was abducted by an alien spieces entirely made out of cheese” you would most likely perceive it as a lousy joke (or something). It’s still not true, but it isn’t a lie either, it’s fiction. By clearly stating “This isn’t true, it’s fiction,” we actually open up for the possibility of telling the truth, without having to lie about the details. It is also appearant that the truth best told through fiction isn’t the obvious kind, not the truths that can be grasped, or explained in...

There’s no beginning, there’ll be no end

…truth can be found in sugar coated love songs no doubt. Where does the story of Mortimer och Randolph Duke in Coming to America begin? The spectator needs to know the characters from Trading Places to appreciate the scene, or at least understand the dialog of the two homeless gentlemen when they receive the money from prince Akeem. And where does the story end? “We’re back!” indicates the beginning of something. And where did the story of the Dukes in Trading Places end? Surely not in Trading Places since they’re back in Coming to America. Where does the story end in Eastern Promises and does it really happen on screen? Where does the story in i Sofokles tragedy Oedipus the King begin and end? What if George Lucas had never made Episode I-III? When Aristotle wrote: “A beginning is that which does not itself follow anything by causal necessity, but after which something naturally is or comes to be. An end, on the contrary, is that which itself naturally follows some other thing, either by necessity, or as a rule, but has nothing following it. A middle is that which follows something as some other thing follows it. A well constructed plot, therefore, must neither begin nor end at haphazard, but conform to these principles.” …he surely couldn’t have meant that literally, right? Maybe he really meant: “A beginning is where the writer chooses to begin, because if she begins earlier that which comes after will make less sense. An end, on the contrary, is where the writer chooses to end, because if she continue the thing in the...

Storyness part 1: Stories are actions being told

Quick preface: This is my shot at describing what I believe storyness is in media design. Since this blog deals to a great extent with story, it feels kind of reasonable for me to take a stab at the subject and be as specific as I can muster, dealing specifically with the concept of storyness, that is the notion of story in media. So what is story? Over at Anecdote Shawn Callahan lists the following features to look for in order to spot a story: Time marker Place marker Characters Events Time and place marker puts the things told in a time and place. For instance “In 1991…” “On our way to the client…” These are often present, but not obligatory (according to Callahan). Characters can be people or people-like, while this is a somewhat weak definition, it is better defined later in Callahans text as someone/something that “take action”. Action without character is event, but story without character is… something else. In other words, it’s not only events that are essential, but actions. And actions always happen in time and space. Stories are actions… In order to understand the essential core of story we need to understand action. The phenomenon of “action” has been dealt with in excess, not least in the fields of philosophy and psychology. …throwing a ball is an instance of action; it involves an intention, a goal, and a bodily movement guided by the agent. On the other hand, catching a cold is not considered an action because it is something which happens to a person, not something done by one. (Wikipedia: Action Theory)...

The new exposition

Recently William Gibson has made some sound comments about the state of exposition in novels. The core of it is simply that with the world wide web always at hand you don’t really have to explain all that much, everything is within reach through services like Google. Now this goes for novels, but it’s applicable on other media as well. Any print media to day is off course effected, but when they go digital the power or the open footnote, that is the web, will be even more prominent. Click on the word to get to the authors preferred explanation (traditional footnote), go to wikipedia (outsourced footnote) or search for it on your own (footwhat?). You can also easily search a book for any occurrence of a particular word or phrase. In some cases, and this is evolving, you can make notes in a text and share it with others, contributing to the clarity and interpretation of a corpus. On the web you can illustrate a sequence in a book by filming it, you can discuss it with other readers and your conversation can be searchable by yet more readers. For some this new way of reading isn’t an appealing progress at all, but the tools are available, and will just get better. Where all this might be true for traditional print media, cinema goers on the other hand are not really encouraged to sit with their noses in their Smart Phones or lap tops yet, quite the opposite. “Remember to turn off your mobile phone!” But for how long is this going to be true? New libraries try...

Dual split screen and other women

I enjoyed Conversations with other women the other night. Some viewers seem to like the split screen, and others apparently think it gets in the way of the story or are to gimmicky. Personally I liked it, primarily for one reason: I’m fed up with watching what the director wants me to watch. I’m a lot more interested in reaction than performance for instance. That is, if someone is making a speech, the camera is usually on him/her. Problem is, I’ve seen this numerous of times. Even in reality I often watch that person more of politeness than personal interest. What I want to do is watch other peoples reactions. In an ordinary movie I rarely get this. With the split screen approach this could be done without making a point of it. At times I agree the split screen wasn’t necessary in Conversation with other women, but by keeping it throughout, moments where it was adding something didn’t feel forced. The director argued the use of split-screen made the viewer more of a part in the “editing”, since they could shift focus. Considering what’s happening with story telling media today this actually seems like more of a small step in that direction rather than a revolutionary new way, and most of the time I did try to follow both of the perspectives, since I felt I would otherwise miss out on the vision. I’m convinced that further down the road this idea will reach it’s full potential though, and we wouldn’t get anywhere if it weren’t for small steps. Just to clarify, so you won’t think I despise...

Computer games aren’t games 2/2

Not only could you use Tetris as part of a Transmedia story, but you could take any session of Tetris being played and find a narrative structure. It doesn’t make Tetris a story, but Tetris actually have some small amount of story-like behavior, for exampel: From level to level, the environment changes, giving impression of progress, or a journey; In each game session the progression is more or less identical going from calm beginning, through struggle, often with a reversal for good, and then an inevitable demise. So, is the game of Tetris a story? No, but neither is the novel of Moby Dick according to me. Does Tetris contain story stimuli? Absolutely!   Just as it’s the actual use of Tetris that makes it a story, it is also the use of Tetris as a game that actually makes it a game. The medium (the computer game) is not the game. The physical artifact only consists of game stimuli. Granted a fairly convincing set of stimuli, but still, the game is only a game when it is being played. With that in mind it is still obvious to most people that Tetris as a medium consists of a lot greater deal of game stimuli than story stimuli. Most people, I reckon, would have a hard time seeing the same story in Tetris, but no problem seeing the same game. Which leads this little rant to games like those in the Final Fantasy series and GTA. There is no question that they have strong game stimuli. We collect points, try to out-do ourselves and others, etc. But they also...

Computer games aren’t games 1/2

There are no such thing as mediabound stories. Moby Dick is a novel, and it contains a story, but only if we read it that way. The novel itself is no story. Just as a chessboard and chess pieces isn’t the game of chess. In fact Moby Dick is just as much of a game as the chess pieces are. If two people are told to read the first 200 pages of Moby Dick as fast as they can and that the reader who reads the fastest, and have the most correct answers on a Quizz afterwords gets a 100 dollars, they aren’t only reading a story they are also playing a game (from now on called a Mobydash). In fact, chances are they are game players to a larger extent than they are story readers, since they have to adjust their reading in order to win. If the rules applied to the reading are rules of a game, the reading becomes a game, but it doesn’t end being a story. Chances are we read it both ways simultaneously, only with porer quality than if we hade just sticked to either game or story. In fact we absolutely have the possibility to do both at the same time, even though one of the process might be dominant. So the book is only a book and whether it is a story, game or play is all about how we use it. This principle is in very much applicable on computer games, but more on that later. Today I want to finnish off with cards. There are several activities that turn...

Can you please give me a thousand words in exchange for this picture?

The notion that a picture is worth a thousand words are off course silly in some sense. In a way it’s like saying a car is worth a thousand bicycles. There is no way to know if that statement is true or not, because the criteria simply isn’t narrowed down enough. Words and pictures work in completely different ways, and since they communicate differently they actually communicate different things. Words, for instance, are fuzzy constructs that is great at conveying meaning and imagery without clarity. Pictures are clearer but also naked in that they show us their shortcomings. In fact, one of the problems of images in fiction is that they are so good att reporting that they actually can cloud the truth. For one, and this is no secret, pictures are actually worse at applying variables to what is communicated. What picture could say “You mother’s laughter” and actually mean your mother’s laughter, regardless of who you are? Well yesterday, not many. With a little bit of programming this is off course possible to do today. All we need to know is who your mother is (via facebook or Geni?) and their avatar image, apply a little bit of face recognition (picasa is earily accurate), and a little bit of image manipulation, if the mouth isn’t smiling enough and voila we have a variable picture, or you gould just writer “Your mother’s laughter” with words and the reader wouldn’t have to feel that the face smiling back is looking uncanny. Images is in some sense inferior in their communication in that they in some sense are superior in...

The message adapts to the reader

Copytext with variables is something we will see more and more of. You could even argue that the screentext is starting to behave a little like older forms of communication – before the books there were the stage, the telling of stories by a narrator live before an audience. There will take quite some time before all the emotional feedback can be processed and let the story rise, but it is a really interesting development none the less. Watch the movies at:...

Story is movement

I’m reading through a pile of books (both in paper and on the web – thanks ebrary) on aspects of narrative, and stumbled upon a passage in the book From text to hypertext claiming that “painting can of course, only suggest narrativity” which got me thinking about the choice of the reader. Like choosing to watch certain aspects of the painting in a certain order, och flip from one page to the next in a book. In the latter the convention is stronger, but it is still a choice. Movies are the same thing, though admittedly harder in a cinema. So… without going more in to detail at this point, I think I’ll write something about these moments in a story. The moment of choice. I’ll read some more and come back to you (perhaps with a totally different take on the...

New ideas

I’ve been thinking recently on trying to get a thesis done to earn a semester of literature science. Only problem is, well time for starters, but also to find a subject worth exploring. I think I might be on to something at last. The idea is to write about nothing, and no it has nothing to do with Seinfeld, at least to my knowledge so far. Rather about “closure”, the space between something being shown, that invites the audience, reader, participant to fill out the blanks. The other night I played throught the beginning of Fahrenheit on PC, and the cop is going to help an old lady, working on a diner, get home. The problem is, that she’s not wearing any out doors clothing and its freezing outside. The game makers obviuosly didn’t want to animate her putting on a coat just to get her out of the scene, but the fact is that such a minor detail can ruin the immersion into the story. One way around this would be to leave enough space for the audience to fill in the blank. Make her go towards the door, then cut and just “show” us the sound of the door being shut. Since it is probable that she put on the coat, we don’t have to react to the fact that she didn’t. You don’t have to show everything, sometimes suggesting and leaving the texturing and rendering to the...

All fun and no work makes Jack a dull…

Less time for editing than I thought this weekend. Spent time on theatre (student spex actually) and a role playing game, and spent a couple of hours cleaning up the work space (you can more or less see it soon). I’ll say a few things about the student farse I saw. It was a cross breed between West Side Story and a western movie, with Maria, Billy – the kid, Jolly Jumper, Dolly Parton, Clint Eastwood, to mention a few of the characters. The plot was confusing at best, but it dawned on me pretty soon that this was a good thing, at least not a bad one. The show was absolutely inhibited in breaking the conventions in how a play should be performed. The actors constantly asked for dialog, the directer pointed out faults in the play while it was being performed, the set fell apart and was constantly repaired during the show. All this while the cast constantly delivered funny, or pretty funny, lines that was part of something not really resembling a good plot. This way of performing is all the more appropriate considering that Swedish student spex contains elements such as the audience demanding the actors to do scenes in other ways, and booing if a particular bad joke is told. I truly enjoyed the anarchistic nature of the show. I might ponder some more on the phenomenon further down the road. The spex was fun, but as I said, I didn’t spend much time editing. And next week Thursday-Saturday I’ll be on The Dream Factory, organized byt the Swedish Film Institute. Need to work...

Secrecy

This is a post that says alot, without saying anything. I’m in the middle of editing a short movie, some 10 minutes or so of interviews intertwined with shots from a stage play. I’m trying to use the facts that the sound and footage aren’t all that good all the time, and let the faults carry some of the story. This project is an attempt to tell the story through editing. If the result is any good I might publish it on YouTube, if not you’ll never here about it again. We’re finally about to purchase After Effects. It will come to good use while we do digital effects on a film, in order for it to be truer to the original intentions. The film has already been sent to screening on Drömfabriken, without the special effects though. On a completely different subject I stopped by the website for New York Minute Film Festival yesterday. I like the idea a lot, and might do a one minute film later on just for the hell of...

Open source films?

Saw a link to this article in the Telegraph posted at Thomas Crockers Avid blog, which I can recommend by the way. The article deals with what is called open source movies. The concept is neat somehow, but I also wonder if you’re even talking movies when you take this to an extreme. The article only brushes at this area with mentioning “Imagine being able to download a version of a Hollywood movie which you could play around with – cutting scenes and creating alternative endings.” (Telegraph.co.uk, 10 april 2007) Bordering on semantics this is still relevant in the way we tell our story. The movie as a medium is framed in time and space, but the freecutting experience is not, not if the process of recutting is the salespitch for these movies. If the recutted version of the film was shown for friends and family, and maybe even saw it’s way to YouTube it would be a film indeed, but, probably, a pretty irrelevant one. Regarding the process of making the film I welcome every new thought on the subject, and will follow the open source movement in filmmaking with interest. Hey, anything to get good stories told,...