Recently I’ve been involved in evaluating and consulting on a number of projects touching on transmedia storytelling as well as virtual reality and generally striving to explore new territories and new ways of telling stories and reaching people.
A discussion I had with one of the projects led to an analogy that feels truer the more I think about it; it made sense in the context of that discussion, and it holds true for other projects as well. See, we’re a lot like handicraft artists ourselves – and in a sense, even seamstresses and tailors.
Anyone can sew. All you need are the required tools and materials – much like a storyteller. If you have a needle – or a computer, a camera, a sound recorder, or even just a pen or a mouth – and some thread – the story you want to tell – you can begin.
Everyone is not necessarily good at sewing, and talent does come into the picture. But just as with storytelling – and especially with regards to the tools we’re using – one does become better with practice. We might be looking to just mend something while sewing – that is, enhance a message or add to something already existing – but more challenging and more rewarding is to start with a blank canvas and with a picture of the finished, beautiful tapestry clear in our mind. That story is the one we want to tell. Our craft and our skill is to physically create something that resembles and reflects this vision as closely as possibly.
We choose the material, the colors and the pattern. We put our needle to the canvas and punch through, trying to keep to our original plan and pattern as closely as we can.
But here we, as content creators and storytellers, start to differ from the traditional seamstress, even on an analogy-basis. The seamstress does not have a great big audience standing behind her, especially not an audience that have needles and tools of their own and look decidedly eager to have a go at our creation themselves.
This is where we need to develop a new skill – that of planning for audience engagement, how we would want them to interact, what we will do with said interaction. Do we want to make sure our new collaborators and co-creators follow our original plan for our creation, supporting it as closely as possible? Or are we comfortable with letting them choose on their own and follow their own visions. And are we in that case prepared to embrace this new creation with as much fervor as we did our original one?
What we need to do – as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts – is to be prepared to relinquish control. By letting the audience in on our creation it can become bigger and more beautiful than we could have imagined ourselves. It might even be some of our co-creators show up without needles or thread, preferring some other kinds of tools; spray paint, glue and mosaics, you name it. And if it enhances our creation – why not?
Then again we might want to keep some control over our creation. In that case we’d need to put aside a part of our canvas and direct our audience there, allowing them freedom within certain borders, while keeping it a part of the whole of the creation. This does carry the risk of trying to harness the creative power of the engaged audience – if they do engage, and if they do involve themselves creatively, the piece of canvas set aside for them might quickly start to feel too narrow. This could see us facing co-creators that have put up their own canvases and gone off in their own direction.
What we choose to do and how we choose to approach our craft is up to us. But what reach and what impact we can hope to achieve... that's where we'd need to take our audience, our co-creators into account.