Linear Storytelling

Everyone from Aristotle to Spielberg has taken advantage of the powerful emotional and mental impact that linear narratives have upon audiences. As humans we are hard-wired to linear storytelling as its form is so close to how we perceive and experience our own lives: as a series of beginnings, middles and ends. Our connection to the ordered sequence of events in a story is copper-fastened by the “plot” which acts as the most important device in creating compelling dramatic action.

Previously: Storytelling and Technology: Part 1

In my last post, I discussed how storytelling has evolved alongside technology allowing storytellers to re-craft compelling tales in emerging media. We journeyed forward through time, starting with one of civilizations first examples of human storytelling: the cave-paintings in Lascaux, France; and ended up in the 20th Century where a plethora of new media like radio and television emerged.

In this post, I want to highlight an important aspect that all of these traditional forms of storytelling have in common – they all make use of linear narratives.

Plots tend to use the same framework and devices to generate emotional responses in the audience. It is not so much a formula as a form. The plot starts with a premise or controlling idea and develops through various individual story arcs, as characters experience obstacles, take risks and face crises. Dramatic action revolves around turning points in the plot where characters experience situations that polarise their opinion from positive to negative, or negative to positive. The plot builds up to a climax, where the character of the protagonist is tested, and the moral or key message of the story is revealed.

Assuming the storyteller has done their job right, in most cases the audience will walk away from the experience of the story with a common emotional response, a central idea, or message and most especially, closure, where the audience subconsciously feels the ending is appropriate based on the characters journey through the plot.

This linear storytelling form has been utilised by story writers and tellers for centuries as its efficacy at impacting audiences is well understood. But something in the last twenty years has radically changed the way stories are told forever.

With the dawn of the digital age, a new idea or concept has emerged in storytelling – “interactivity”. This has transformed how we tell and consume stories and its implications are only beginning to surface.

Next Post: Storytelling and Technology: Part 2

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