Tuesday, 29 October 2013

My Storytelling MOOC

Today I began a new MOOC: "The Future of Storytelling" from Iversity. There is an emphasis on working & learning from each other and creative tasks, rather than simply just grades, which I liked. The design and delivery of the videos was really inviting and interesting. I think the format is clear, neat, and well done. They've used nice layouts, a variety of talking heads and visuals (someone sketching in a book was great!), and our main tutor Christina Schollerer is a really warm and engaging presenter. 

So, what is Storytelling? Some of the tutors gave their opinion in the opening video. Before they did this, I paused the video and tried to come up with my own definition:

It is a way to relay a moral, share an experience, tell a joke, create a sense of wonder, imagine a different possibility, or express a feeling. In my mind I always see an image like the one above when I think of storytelling. There is a sparkle in the eye, either in the narrator or the person listening. It's something we can't wait to tell someone, or something we can't wait to hear. A bit like the opening to the Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge - the Mariner has to tell his story, and the wedding guest can't help but stop and listen.

The tutor broke storytelling down into two parts, 1. The Story, 2. The Telling. There is a difference between the material of the story, and the way it is told. That seems quite simple, but I thought that was quite a neat distinction. We then looked at the history of storytelling - from orality to literacy. This was an interesting change; when a story is written down you don't need the rhymes, the structure, the rhythm, and climax. As a result. stories became more introverted when written down - we begin to glimpse more of the author rather than just the story itself. I wondered if we could be going back to the oral tradition now - in the sense that we are losing the voice of the individual within the digital world? We looked at the many different mediums for telling stories. I wondered if this is such a big deal necessarily, or is it simply down to the talents of the individual storyteller? So, for example, George Melles used film creatively - but was it his creativity, rather than the medium he used that made it so powerful? 

What is the difference between story and plot? The story is a linear series of events. the plot is how you tell it - the pace, emphasis, structure in which you relay these events.
We also looked at the way beats, scenes, sequences, and acts build up to create the structure of a story. It must have a hook, a hold, and a payoff. Story design can build from an inciting incident, to an object of desire, to a pursuit of the desire, to a climax. All shaped in a progressive way. The protagonist of a story must be someone we can identify with - this makes the pay off work.I liked how we looked at stories from different mediums as examples - books, movies (Pretty Woman), and computer games (Super Mario). 

Our creative task for this week:"Please think about which story you have read, seen, listened to, played or experienced has impressed you most in your life. … Which story can you still very well remember? Write down both, the summary of this story (what you remember of the story, not what Wikipedia says.. :) and – on the other hand: – what made it so special to you that you can still remember it."

This was quite hard to choose. I thought about stories from my childhood like the Just William books or the Hans Christian Anderson fairytales. Then I thought about authors whose stories I remember well - Charles Dickens, O Henry, Italo Calvino - I admire each for the breadth of their imagination, their humour, and their originality. In the end I plumped for a more recent story - the Pixar film, "Brave". It's the most recent story I've heard. I liked it very much, and it was also a glimpse into traditional storytelling mixed with modern methods and art forms. The story is of a young princess who is due to be wed to one of three suitors. She rebels against this though, and in an argument with her mother rips a tapestry and runs away from her home. She hatches a plot to change her mother's mind on her impending marriage by getting a spell from a witch. What she doesn't anticipate is the effect of the spell - it turns her mother into a bear. This is all the worse because her father, the King, has a sworn vendetta against bears, one of whom injured him in a fight many years ago. So, not only does our Princess have to fix the tapestry, and the relationship with her mother, she has to protect her mother against her father who sees her only as the bear he must vanquish. In the end she succeeds and harmony is restored. The family bonds are fixed and the story is resolved.

The reason I liked it is that it fused a lot of traditional story elements - metamorphosis, stone circles, witches, family arguments, pursuit of freedom - with modern animation, artwork, and techniques. It is also funny and moving. I listened to the DVD commentary and was fascinated by the producers talking about how they created the film - things like how they left good scenes out, changed story lines, introduced key themes early on, and played with physical humour and animation to help tell the story and advance the plot. I also liked how they used call backs and little details to help the unity of the story. And also the skill and detail that went into creating the characters and animation.

What is your favourite story? And why?

PS - here is a map with the pins of all the other MOOC participants in. Imagine if this were your visual storyboard - what tale would this tell?!

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