The way you tell your story can be just as imaginative as the story itself. Here are some examples of stories where the medium is a part of the narrative.
The best storytellers don’t allow themselves to be limited by our expectations, both in narrative and media. These creators show that stepping outside of conventional publishing tropes can yield unforgettable results.
Anne Of Green Gables
The great thing about classic fiction is that each new generation puts their own take on it. Perennial YA favorite Anne of Green Gables has been enchanting audiences since its release in 1908, with its indomitable title character and hilarious and touching storylines.
Green Gables Fables drops the cast in the present day. Fans watch the familiar story unfold in “real time” as reported by the characters’ social media channels. With a few modern twists: when Gilbert, the (eventual) love interest, teases title character Anne about her red hair, as in the book, she hits him over the head, but the millennial version of Anne follows up this attack with an impassioned vlog.
Great stories have a way of getting under your skin. Ineradicable Stain by Shelley Jackson does so literally. In 2003, Jackson put out a call for volunteers to have a word of her short story tattooed on their body. Volunteers could choose the placement and size of their ink, but not the word itself. After sending Jackson a picture of their new body art, they would receive a copy of the story. Over 10,000 people applied to be a part of the project, which is ongoing.
By publishing her story on human skin, Jackson is ensuring that the story is uniquely mortal: “As words die the story will change; when the last word dies the story will also have died. The author will make every effort to attend the funerals of her words.”
Jackson continues to reject conventional publication methods, with “Snow,” a story written entirely in snow and posted on Instagram.
Like Jackson, visual artist Emma Allen used body art to explore the idea of mortality, using her body as the canvas upon which she depicted aging, death, and rebirth in a powerful 1:15 minute video clip.
Allen explained that the project was inspired by the death of her beloved great-aunt: “She was a Buddhist and the idea of ‘samsara’ (death and rebirth) was part of her life. The film is a meditation on that philosophy, a way for me to deal with her passing and honoring my wonderful great-aunt.”
The Right Sort
David Mitchell has had great success publishing his work through conventional means: two of his seven novels have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and one has been adapted into film. But he doesn’t confine himself to conventional means of expression: in 2014 he serialized a short story entitled The Right Sort over Twitter.
We get off the Number 10 bus at a pub called ‘The Fox and Hounds’. ‘If anyone asks,’ Mum tells me, ‘say we came by taxi.’ — David Mitchell (@david_mitchell) July 14, 2014
Neil Shea is best known for his long-form articles for National Geographic. However, he has found that Instagram, despite its reputation for shallowness and ephemerality, can be used to great effect to combine arresting images with succinct essays.
Siem Reap, Cambodia — Even the holy places sleep. It’s worth waiting, watching for it, the stillness that slides in at the end of day like a kind of weather. You see clearly then that a temple, a church, a tomb is nothing but desire given form. The people have departed, the gods are quiet. There is geometry and birdsong. The silent distribution of weight. Here in that silence you understand that gods, like animals, may go extinct. Just before dusk, at the largest temple, guards in blue shirts patrol the grounds, looking for stragglers. Their radios ring in the courtyards. They slowly push out the tourists who linger in dim corners, kissing or meditating or placing their hands, one more time, on the breasts of the stone dancing girls. The guards laugh at this—the way the girls have been stained black by groping hands. Do you not have these in your country? they ask. The men are cheerful but unyielding. This way out, lady. Please, lady. No, lady. A smiling guard says to the Japanese woman in the big blue hat, Go home! It will be here tomorrow! And yet what she really wants is to be forgotten, left alone in the corridors with her pencils and sketchbook. She wants to see what happens when all the rest of us have gone. Like a child holding her breath in the dark. At home, far from here, the guard has a shrine of his own. It is small, made of wood. Tucked into a corner of the house. In the mornings his wife will light incense while he sets out fruit and sweets for the little god who dwells within. No one else ever comes to see it. No one ever asks if the god is really there. — Places without people. A visual break before the next big project. — #2016 #angkorwat #siemreap #cambodia #fueradelmarco #beyondframe #ruins #negativespace #fotografia #faith #temple #buddhism #ruins #portraitsofplaces #_intermission_ A photo posted by Neil Shea (@neilshea13) on
Along the back side of the temple, near the Elephant Gate, four young men in sunset robes stood before a large stone plaque and argued gently over its meaning. They touched the stone, worn smooth and black in places from the steady passage of hands, and let their own fingers linger here and there among the inscribed words. It was the story of a king, Thon Lon told me later, though the 17-year-old could not say exactly what it told, or how it turned out, for words had been lost over the ages, crumbled right out of the record. Yes, even stones forget. We had come in late through what seemed a secret entrance. There were no crowds, few people. A welcome stillness in the galleries where, in bas-relief, appeared vivid scenes of struggle from the Hindu epics. The monks drifted northward, sifting through the 37 heavens and 32 hells, past demons, deities, warriors and their raging elephants. Thon pointed out Vishnu himself in the midst of eternal victory. He and his friends had come to the temple not to pray or chant, but casually. Because evening would soon arrive, and where better to greet it than among the old gods? We walked with the novices through several ages of myth and circled back out into more crowded courtyards. Their robes glowed against the sandstone. Like flares, or Mickey Mouse at Disney, they drew attention. Shy tourists photographed them from a distance, as though shadowing wild creatures. Bolder ones approached and asked permission. Rude ones pushed forward and made demands. Through it all Thon and his friends were patient and generous, so gracious that I almost didn’t see it, how no one ever asked for their names. – This is my last post from an on-the-road storytelling workshop in partnership with @passionpassport and @cathaypacific . It was a fascinating journey through Hong Kong and Cambodia, with people who’re finding + telling excellent stories. Many thanks to Cathay Pacific, Passion Passport, and the people within and behind these photos, for making it possible. – #cambodia #siemreap #angkorwat #elephantgate #Khmer #temple #monks #buddha #vishnu #hindu #faith #elephants #ruins #archaeology #myth #PassportToAsia @zachspassport #passionpass2016 A photo posted by Neil Shea (@neilshea13) on
Despite his success on Instagram, Shea views this medium as a supplement to more in-depth forms of journalism, not a replacement: “It would be a mistake to think that this kind of short-form writing can replace deeply reported, well-planned narrative nonfiction. I’ve said before that Instagram work shouldn’t be like newspaper writing, or even magazine writing. And I don’t suggest writers junk their long-form dreams. We’re talking, after all, about stories best read on phones. Writing for Instagram is different and should be approached with a distinct, possibly purer, purpose—the joy of finding and telling.”
These writers’ and artists’ work show that a modern storyteller can say as much with their choice of materials and publishing as with the stories themselves: the medium is the message, after all. With enough imagination, the medium in which a story comes to life can become another dimension for expression.
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