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How we tell stories

How has storytelling changed in the advent of new technologies? In this article, we'll uncover how it has adapted and what's stayed the same.
A flat lay of a storytelling workbook and notepad, with laptop.
© University of York, Ed Braman

Much has been written about the art of telling stories, from the Poetics of Aristotle – written in 350 BCE but still regarded as the most important guide to storytelling there is – to today’s mountain of screenwriting manuals which promise to unravel the secrets about how movie and TV stories are successfully structured. But the essence of great storytelling remains the same whether our technology is the movie camera, the games engine, or the VR headset.

The creation of worlds which capture our imaginations and characters we can recognise and engage with. The narrating of events which follow our characters’ wants and needs and which keep us interested in what might happen next. The disciplined pursuit of outcomes which convincingly illuminate how we affect the world and how the world affects us, whether the ending of the tale is tragic or comic, sad or happy-ever-after.

We all have stories to tell. And the opportunity to tell and distribute them – with so much ready access to YouTube, and Facebook and TikTok and Twitter – is greater and more widespread than ever before. That is one of the things this online course is about. But that is also where the challenge lies. We have all manner of seductive technologies at our disposal; we can interact, we can follow games along multiple, ever-changing paths, we can travel into virtual spaces. But how do we use these opportunities to tell stories that matter, in ways that are enriched by technology rather than simply technology for technology’s sake? How do we tell stories that create light, rather than just heat?

The next activity on this course will challenge you to come up with a story of your own, with whatever technology you fancy. Try to approach the task as the Aboriginal people approached the sheer rock faces of the MacDonnell Mountains, and ask yourself: what meaning do I want to convey, what insights do I want to bring to the events I can imagine that will be worth carving into the blank screen before me?

Over to you

Share with us and your fellow learners some brief ideas about the story you are going to tell.

  • What meaning do you want to convey?
  • What insights do you want to bring?
  • Why are they worth ‘carving into the blank screen’?
© University of York, Ed Braman
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Lights, Camera, Computer - Action! How Digital Technology is Transforming Film, TV, and Gaming

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