At least since HyperCard debuted in the late 80s people have been talking about how electronic media enable “new forms of storytelling.” That phrase (along with “non-linear”) has introduced so much plotless tech-wanking, so much storytelling that wasn’t so much new as simply unbearable, that I tend to become hyper critical whenever I hear it.
That was my knives-out attitude when I visited “We Tell Stories,” a Penguin UK-sponsored site that riffs on classic novels with “new forms of story.” So I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be… not entirely awful. Some of it was OK.
The site presents six pieces (or will when it’s done — the sixth comes out next week), each in a different format. The first, 21 Steps, I quite enjoyed. It’s nice and linear, like a story should be. So linear that it’s told via the info bubbles on a Google Map. This worked much better than I expected, though by the middle I felt like I was watching from the Goodyear Blimp.
Slice is told through two fake intertwined blogs. I’m so up to my eyeballs in what I think are real blogs that this just seemed like more of the same; I couldn’t really tell the difference between it and the tripe you come across on LiveJournal et. al. every day.
There wasn’t much new about the rest of them. Your Place and Mine was written live, which struck me as coming from the Automatic Writing/Spontaneous Prose tradition. Though to be fair, writing with an audience is an interesting idea, the full effect of which I couldn’t judge, since I missed the show, as it were. The writing itself is about as good as you might expect live, unedited writing to be.
Fairy Tales is a mad lib, plain and simple. And Hard Times is a Harper’s Index ripoff, but not as smart, or funny.
The lead designer of We Tell Stories said in Boing Boing that the best is yet to come: Mohsin Hamid is the author of the April 22nd installment, which might be worth checking out. As is 21 Steps, at least for a chapter or two. The rest? Read a book. Advice Penguin probably doesn’t mind.