Digital Stories: an experiment into the unknown

The title is mostly true. It was an experiment and some of it was unknown. However, the concept was something that as a story teller, I should know very well; taking elements of the world around me, imagined or real, and constructing a story from them.

The course, created by Spread the Word and Kate Pullinger, was described as:

Kate Pullinger, award winning writer for both print and digital platforms, will be running our Digital Stories workshop on Saturday 5 November exploring how digital media can help develop your creativity. Kate has written and spoken about the excitement and challenge of writing on projects that are “born digital”. She has used digital platforms to work collaboratively with other writers, has worked with game developers and even used facial recognition software for one of her projects. In this experimental one-day workshop the focus will be on thinking about new ways to tell stories. It promises to be an opportunity to stretch your imagination, harness your creative skills and explore ways to build future collaborations and open your mind.

© Spread the Word

The promises that Spread the Word gave were not idle and this course did match their description. In a room full of a mixture of creative people, there was a place for all; traditional fiction writers and poets looking for a new device or form for their work, journalists and travel writers looking for an alternative route for their crossover into creative work, even a teacher looking for a new way of getting their students to connect with creative processes to overcome learning disabilities. After discussing ourselves including our current work and aims for this course, Kate introduced us to a range of projects she has worked on, which have been helpfully collated within the Resources section of her site.

Using the techniques she used with five Suffolk schools on the Ebb and Flow project, we looked at ways in which stories can be created by a manipulation of Google Maps. This was also used in Kidmapped where Tim Wight tracked the journey made throughout Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, adding video diary readings of the novel and opening the experience of the novel to new readers who were welcome to join Tim as he continued his journey.

We were invited to take our cameras and notebooks for a wander through the surrounding areas to find the stories of Clerkenwell. This was a daunting if liberating exercise where we wandered until we stumbled into the elements which appealed to us. For some it came quickly, a detail in a building, a face, and even overheard conversations. I overwhelmed myself with choice as I would do when creating stories in a more traditional form, however this time I hoped I would be able to incorporate the inspiration into the story by not only creating fiction from them but allowing the photos and video to become part of the story. The rules were all there, we were just going to be bending the end result and maybe doing some rule-breaking along the way. Which is no bad thing and as many of you may know, it is one of my favourite things to do. By overwhelming my senses with images and video grabbed within the hour we had to find our stories and eat lunch, I quickly constructed a story. Others created their stories which inspired by a single photo, these beautiful and often profound moments that will eventually be shared with a blue pin mark on a map, where anyone can discover it.

I will post up the link to our Google Maps story trail around the area surrounding Free Word where we were based for the day, because there are so many brilliant stories based on moments captured on film; showing all of us that when pushed creatively you can produce anything, even with limited technological skills. The reason for the delay in this link is because we have been given the week to continue the tweaks and uploading of photos. The day was not without its technical difficulties due to Apple vs Windows vs Google which is an argument that we’re all familiar with. Kate was able to provide us with the knowledge we needed on the most part, and where she couldn’t, we worked as a group to solve them.

And that was a major point of this course. With collaboration comes great experimentation but also a share of the load. We less technical creatives love to be creative, but often can get bogged down in unfamiliar ground when it comes to technical issues. Kate gently explained, we do not need to do it all. By working with someone who knows more about delivering beautiful digital stories from a technical point of view, it allows the writer more freedom to create more and bounce ideas off another person without losing your project aims. An example of this would be the Inanimate Alice series which has been created by Kate and Chris Joseph. Providing a novel as a “reading-from-the-screen experience for the “always on” generation”, this has now taken on a life of its own by the readers who have enjoyed it so much that they have created the following episodes to continue the story in weird and wonderful ways and is being used by teachers to provide additional literacy development for their pupils.

Inspired by these more technical projects, and by Kate’s mention of stories via PowerPoint, I wanted to see what I could create with the software which I’m so familiar with using but, as I’ve now learnt, I wasn’t getting enough from. So instead of posting the photos and a short story to go with them, I wanted to start to make them work together. I began by using PowerPoint to create a slideshow to produce the story, however I found this was limited in the ability to upload and embed within my own site let alone Flickr which we were using to produce the html coding or links for the pictures and stories. So, continuing the experiments at home, I tried out Microsoft Photostory 3 which would work perfectly if it would include video files rather than just photo files. Then remembering that Windows Live Essentials had some neat tricks up its sleeve, I tried out Movie Maker for the first time. I quickly recreated the slides I had on Powerpoint and I was able to overlay the story text via the caption facility, and I was able to add in the video clip I had taken to include within the final story.

This is the “final” result, so please, tell me what you think!

In the 5 short hours we spent with Kate, we all learnt how we could start pushing our creative projects into the rapidly evolving digital formats, without having the “traditional paper under glass” effect. Kate said to us all towards the end of the day “collaboration is a lot of fun” which is certainly was proved to be, allowing us to escape the necessary solitude which can be found within traditional novel or poetry creation. In this course, Kate equips writers with a new form to not only explore and experiment within but also with the skills to make real inroads into a new form that is developing at an incredible rate.

If you would like more information, Kate has also kindly provided more resources for digital storytelling on her site, so please explore them now!

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