My thesis will present the hypothesis that the personal narrative has grown stagnant, and that by studying how stories build relationships with audiences and how certain qualities can make narratives immersive, with the aim of developing new tools or methods for the creation of engaging and immersive personal narratives.
What is a personal narrative? Stories people tell – a wedding video, a series of pictures an tales from a vacation or a tweet about a humorous incident at the bar last night. The purpose and the author are important. They are stories shared primarily with closely related individuals, and they draw from the personal experiences of the author, who is not a professional storyteller.
Why does it matter? Well, what could once have been considered idle chatter can now form a published historical record. Even brief exchanges can cumulatively show new views of events, act as indicators of social conditions, or provide an intimate view of distant events. In addition, personal expression is a matter to be taken seriously, being a tool for a range of purposes from basic human communication and self realization, to democratic decision making.
I say that this form of narrative has lost some of its power because of three changes in the methods of producing and consuming the personal narrative. Ubiquity, purpose and format.
Ubiquity is a result of the democratization of production and publication tools. Whereas once only important works were printed or disseminated, and it took skill and education to produce them, personal, everyday narratives can now be created and shared with ease. This quote from marshall mcluhan, a professor of literature, shows how the advent of new production tools allows individuals to represent themselves in new tangible ways.
Secondly, the purpose of the narrative has changed, and this is because these stories are now created with the knowledge that they will be shared, that is, with an audience in mind. This moves the personal narrative closer to the realm inhabited by the professional writer.
Finally, while they were once limited in format, new narratives take advantage of media such as photography, video, and sound. Having no boundaries on medium, quality or length. From the concise (twitter) to the verbose (limitless blog posts), many of these works are now ignored.
So while ubiquity is a good thing for the public production of such works of expression, it is also detrimental to the consumption of said work.
Traditional narratives strike a balance between important events and descriptive or trivial adornments. Personal narratives in newer media such as twitter, on the other hand, are composed of larger expanses of triviality punctuated by brief moments of profundity.
This recording is of a spoken tale attributed to Homer. It was transcribed with the advent of Greek writing, and is now available again in a narrated form. It is exemplary of the qualities of immersive traditional narratives. These qualities focus on pacing and flow – how information is arranged within the story, and how it is presented. The arrangement displays contrasts between important events and non-important descriptions that fill out the tale, presented in quick succession – I call this effective narrative threading. The presentation shows a similar flow, with volume, speed and inflection being modulated. This emphasizes parts and creates interest through a call for attention and diversity in structure.
With Mona, we have two kinds of posts - the mundane and the profound. These mundane moments take very little time to absorb, and elicit from the audience brief comments about their humor and emotion. The responses are frequently from those who know Mona well and are close to her. Since twitter is also a recreational tool, these posts consist of excerpts of day to day life.
Protest and torture, battle and survival. These generate a more philosophical and heartfelt discussion, where individuals who may not have been following Mona are now drawn to her through a relationship established by friends of friends. The network of people allows individuals to come in contact with profound moments. When taken in aggregate, they form a published personal narrative and also a historical record of lifestyle, culture, politics and war. This points again to my reasoning behind arguing for the importance of the narrative. In comparison with Homer, I noticed that flow is forsaken here for convenience. The elements of mundane and profound do form an interweaving line, but they this line stretches through such a large span of time that immersion , of the sort produced by Homer, is lost. In its place however, lies the personal bond between Mona and a follower, and intractable connection formed through contact, and an interaction of immense value in generating interest in a narrative. Furthermore, the presentation is also one-dimensional, showing little modulation in form and emphasis. This is partly a result of using a restricted medium, partly an issue of author investment.
By adapting the structures and immersive attributes of the traditional narrative and combining them with the media and personal relationship building advantages of new personal narratives, I aim to enable the public creation of personal narratives that connect with audiences more personally while encouraging profundity. So some of the traits of this new narrative will come from traditional works. This involves creating variation in formal aspects such as presentation, and also adapting less visible structures such as effective narrative threading. The latter will require mitigation of the effects caused by the pace and length of a modern personal stories such as twitter feeds. Other traits will come from new forms of the personal narrative – traits such as the ability to build a personal connection, the variation of presentation provided by a wealth of different media, and the ability to generate content on the fly.
IMMERSE Re-imagining the personal narrative
Hypothesis: The personal narrative has lost power because of ubiquity. By studying how relationships are built between narrative and audience we can develop new tools for individuals to create engaging stories. Author Narrative Audience
What is a personal narrative ? Stories people tell - a wedding video, a series of pictures and tales from a vacation or a tweet about a humorous incident at the bar last night. There are events and emotions to relate, and the author is not a professional storyteller.
Why does the personal narrative matter? -Since becoming ubiquitous and easily recordable, they both describe and comprise our history. -They connect us with new or distant experiences -As a designer, I have the opportunity to invigorate a form of communication. Author Knowledge, Experience, History Narrative
Why has it lost power? Changing modes of production and new media have put the personal narrative in a position where it is less expressive and more difficult to follow. Three factors have contributed: Ubiquity Purpose Format
Personal narratives have become ubiquitous: Content creation and publication have become democratized “Print extends the human body into the space of material production and self representation.” -Marshall McLuhan + +
The purpose of the personal narrative has changed: They are created with the knowledge that they will be published. The line between personal story and amateur publishing is blurred. +
The format of the personal narrative has changed. New personal narratives take advantage of new media, and are found on many platforms. Length and content are no longer limiting.
HOW NARRATIVES CAN BUILD RELATIONSHIPS WITH AUDIENCES
Consider this example taken from Twitter: “ ... I use Twitter for really personal things, so I just share moments from my work or moments from my love life or I talk about my cats or my family. And it engages lots of different people, so when these people are following you and suddenly you are talking about a torture case, some of them might not usually be exposed to such cases. But because they are following me and there is an ongoing conversation between us, they would suddenly be engaged in this, as well.” -Mona Seif, Egyptian Protester
In a traditional narrative, profound ideas are woven through trivial moments to create an immersive experience…but: Personal narratives create a relationship with the audience through trivial moments over time, and then suddenly become important with brief moments that are profound.
How do narratives work in different media, and what is the nature of the relationship they form with the audience? Let us consider two works created for diverse audiences in disparate media: Mona Seif's Twitter posts and a recording of Homer’s Iliad
This recording of the Iliad presents the elements of spoken narratives which result in an immersion into the story. There is variation in tone, narrative pacing, presentation pacing, detail and dialog.
Mona's mundane posts about her daily life speak to her followers on common ground - they are relatable experiences shared by many.
The profound posts relate experiences that are less accessible, and act as a tool for publishing important ideas and a historical, personal record of events. Yet this would not be possible were it not for the previously established relationship, formed through connections with friends and mundane posts.
I aim to adapt the structures and immersive attributes of traditional, professionally authored stories and combine them with the new media and personal relationship building advantages of personal narratives to produce tools for the creation of immersive, relationship building stories.
Possible Developments: -Integrate storytelling vocabulary with media -Intertwining sensory cues -Developing tools for creating cross-medium narratives A new method creating immersive user generated stories + + + =