After a story has established a setting, we should then move on to storytelling techniques. How will the story be told?
We’ve all has something like this happen before: You hear a really interesting story but when you retell it, it doesn’t have the same effect. This happens sometimes. The story remains the same, but a different storytelling technique lessens the entertaining effect. What we can learn from this that the technique used in telling a story is as important as the story itself. The way I deliver information here will be quite different from how a comedian would. A story told by a well-renowned scholar would have much authority in and of itself, while a child would have a very different effect even if the story remained the same.
In fact, the story itself doesn’t matter since the effect the story has on audiences is simply a culmination of the characters, the setting, and the storytelling technique. Who tells the story, and using what medium? We have been part of a culture where stories are told in written or verbal forms. How long does it take a person to become literate? There must be a minimum time required for a person to be able to learn English or a new language, until they reach a point where they can communicate with ease or even tell a story. Let’s say it takes three years to learn one language, or maybe five years including living in a country that uses the language.
Regardless, the minimum time required would be different for all languages because no language is the same. Let’s say I was to express a certain emotion with a musical instrument. For example, I might express my love for someone with a violin. I think it would take me at least two or even more than five years to acquire all the skills to carry out a certain level of “telling” using the instrument. It doesn’t happen overnight. Even though I may suddenly wish to express myself through piano, through singing, or through drawing, it would take me quite a while for these media to become my language of storytelling.
In other words, having a certain level of command of the medium becomes absolutely significant when it comes to digital storytelling and transmedia storytelling. How well do I handle the medium? You have the ability to control the camera, hence you are filming me right now, and that is your technique of choice. Compare this skill to expressing oneself in a language. A person’s ability could be at an amateur level. I can have basic daily conversations in English. You might go a step further and learn to write in English. You can write a poem in English. You can make a speech in English. You can write an opinion piece for a newspaper. There are different steps.
In a similar manner, using a camera means you are using film language, but if we were to compare that skill to the development of language skills.. whether it be primary or tertiary or the level of a famous writer.. it is hard to judge the degree of expertise. By this I mean that being able to handle a camera and edit videos does not necessarily indicate a person can tell a story through the language of film. That is an illusion. In past eras that revolved around script or printing type, a person would have enough experience reading words to judge another person’s language ability. We hear someone speak and are able to evaluate the depth of their language skills.
Language proficiency tests can even divide people into different levels. In the language of transmedia, however, this type of system does not exist. So with a deluded sense that we “know” a language, we simply start telling stories. Let me draw your attention to this image. You likely already know that this illustration is from The Little Prince. Some might look at this and think it’s a hat? and it does look like one. Some may think it’s a mountain. It could look like that, too. But we know that this is a boa constrictor.
We also know there’s an elephant inside of it, as explained in the following excerpt from The Little Prince: “I tried the experiment of showing him my Drawing Number One.
But, whoever it was, he, or she, would always say: That is a hat.’”
Earlier, the title character notes the following: “My drawing was not a picture of a hat. It was a picture of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant.” The grown-ups to whom he presented his picture were not able to understand. Why not? The narrator explained what he had seen in his dream, where the boa constrictor swallowed an elephant. That image of the snake digesting the entire elephant had left such an impact on the boy that he woke up and transferred the image to paper immediately. Yes, the snake ate the entire elephant. In the dream, the elephant tried to attack the boy but the boa constrictor appeared and ate it whole.
And then the character expressed the scene as a drawing, assembled through his story-telling language, but most people didn’t get it; they thought the fat snake was a hat. So what went wrong? Did they not possess the interpretive skills to decipher it? Could the boy not express his idea well enough? Whatever it was, there have been weaknesses in the storytelling techniques used and the ways in which the story was deciphered, thus resulting in a great loss in transferring the Little Prince’s amazing experience. Those of you who know the story would have known that this is a boa constrictor, and those of you who aren’t familiar with it may have thought it was a hat or a mountain.
In other words, one’s storytelling technique depends on how well a person can express a thought, combined with how informed the audience is in terms of knowledge, information, and culture. No matter how detailed my drawing of the boa constrictor is, those of you who don’t know the story of the Little Prince would not know what it really represents. If I were as talented as Peter Jackson when it comes to expressing my ideas, drawing the details of a boa constrictor at the level of Jackson’s work on The Lord of the Rings and creating a graphic scene of a boa constrictor gobbling down and elephant, then many would understand my drawing immediately.
With that level of expression, even those who don’t know The Little Prince would recognize it as a boa constrictor. This shows that when it comes to transmedia, multiple forms of language work together to create something bigger, giving us the ability to express something more directly and in more detail. The Little Prince only had a pencil, but Peter Jackson possessed an incredible level of technology and language when creating the film. That’s how his expression of the same image would have far fewer errors. We view this as one of the strengths of transmedia language, but an audience’s level of audience cultural awareness is also important.
So when considering the work of a director, one’s overall evaluation should not just be based on whether the director told the story well; how much the audience understood must also be taken into account. Sometimes a story should be told with room for the audience to complete it. That is the task of the contemporary digital storytelling.