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This is the first in a series of posts where we will try to discover and define the art of online storytelling. The aim of these posts is to create a conversation, and as such, they will be posted in Facebook and relevant mailing lists. All posts will be tagged with “online storytelling” – I’d appreciate if you’d tag response posts the same so we could trace the conversation. Also, if you read this post not on my blog, I’d appreciate if you will post comments here too – so everyone can join the discussion – even if they are not on Facebook….

In a past post, I’ve detailed my view that Internet TV is only one side of video on the Internet, and as such, provide limited storytelling tools.

I was asked by a local College to create a course detailing the theoretical background and practical applications of this medium. We’ve created a multidisciplinary team, including a TV director and media innovators, to work together and define the medium.

In our work, we stumbled across many issues. It seems that the narrative tools of the Internet are complex, and yet to defined.

Here is an example – do Internet storytelling tools act as a film camera, or they are a manifestation of a fictional world? Though seems like a trivial question – it is definitely not an easy question to answer. The reason is that each answer have wide implications. If we treat the Internet as a camera, we assume that viewers and characters are accepting the convention of the existence of the camera- The 4th wall concept is accepted, and viewers and characters alike are not “aware” that the camera exist. In this case – one does not need to justify the existence of the camera – we agree that it is there, and we agree to ignore it. Therefore one can tell a story in the Internet with a clear entry point – a website that starts the story, and the storyteller can upload scripted and pre-recorded videos in its most simplistic way to advance the plot. However if the Internet is the manifestation of the fictional world – the writer needs to justify every piece of media that the characters upload to the Internet – meaning, every online activity has to be in the boundaries of logic of the character.

Sounds trivial – but it is far from that. If a character needs justification to every online activity, the narrative is limited to very specific story types – ones that there is a character that writes a diary  or online journal. While it provides a great narrative tool for drama, it complicates other genres such as crime or espionage story. How can you tell a story about a secret agent if you need to justify the fact that he has a blog or Facebook profile?

Furthermore it narrows the type to characters you can create – they have to be active online, otherwise they are not seen.

This point made me think about the final scene of Godfather 2Michael Corleone, in one of his darkest hours, remembered the past of his warm family. In a flashback scene, we see Vito’s Corleone birthday, where Michael tells his brother that he is going to the army. Everyone are waiting for the guest of honor, and then we hear a door open – it is clear that Vito has arrived. This emotional scene works great, and shows the difference in the life of the Corleone family through the years – for the worse. Merlon Brando refused to participate in this scene, and is not shown at all. It doesn’t change its impact, and sometimes I think that it increases its effectiveness. So, can we use the same tool in online storytelling? Can we use online characters to reflect on offline characters – and how does it affect our narrative possibilities?

My main concern with deciding that the Internet is just like a camera, and that viewers and characters alike are willingly buying in to the illusion it creates is the following:

1. The art of online storytelling is in its infancy. “Letting” creators “get away” with the 4th wall concept might be a slippery slope toward just posting video on the Internet and calling it online storytelling.

2. Online users do not get the same overall experience that films provide. When going to the theater, the dark room, sound system, and overall experience allows you to dive easily in to the fictional world presented on the silver screen. Online experience is different – viewers are less focused, which increases the pressure to create a reliable world that is adjusted to the medium, and not take for granted that users have their full attention to the creation they see.

In the mean time – take a look on this Nine Inch Nails / Godfather mashup…

YouTube – The Godfather Part 2 w/ Nine Inch Nails

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