Storytelling by Design IV: When It Breaks

Storytelling by Design IV: When It Breaks

Last week I was working on an experimental side blog. The idea: build a new writing platform. It’s got a bit of additional automation built-in to create a kind of “paced interaction” with a wider audience. Instead of me being the writer, I chose a third party entity called “The Oracle” to speak. I figured it would be an interesting experiment.

Since storytelling has been on my mind lately, I first created a somewhat elaborate backstory and modified WordPress to support the idea. I created characters that serviced the site, and had them speak in those voices as posts. I thought it was pretty cool, but in the limited testing I did it quickly became apparent that people just didn’t get it. Or rather, they did, but they didn’t care.

So I ripped out all the backstory, and set it up more simply. For this kind of interaction, I’m theorizing, the use of the site will give rise to an authentic story of its own. The most important thing I can do to enable the narrative between site and its audience, make it as clear as possible what the site allows you to do, and then get out of the way.

So that’s another aspect of this “Storytelling by Design” thread I’m exploring: your audience has to be “in the mood”. The backstory I had originally written may very well have worked in a different context, but you’d have to be more sure of the environment. It’s like telling a ghost story; the best experience occurs in a scary place, not a brightly-lit office at 10 in the morning. Can you imagine David Copperfield trying to entertain people who are late for work and trying hail a cab? So choosing when to deliver that killer story is just as important as having the story in the first place. Lesson learned.