Ancient wisdom likes to remind us that we shall study long enough to eventually realize that we know nothing at all. Of all the sciences we may choose to get there the fastest, the most fulfilling may be the study of time, – or whatever else one may wish to call it.
We look at the clock when we want to know what time it is, but it won´t tell us what time actually is, or how it works on matters and minds. There is no available chrono-compass designed to help us navigate the so-called fourth dimension. All we have is a messy blend of memories and anticipations, backed by a handful of crutches: calendars, archives, chronologies, plans, scenarios, strategies, and increasingly, data. Eventually, not much more than a bag of tricks designed to help us through the fog, often creating more on the way.
Perhaps isn´t there anything like time as we´ve learned to name it in the “old” days, – maybe it´s something else than Kairos or Chronos, or something entirely unformulated, something we couldn´t conceptualize yet. Perhaps is it actually time for a new “time”: new models, new metaphors, new constructs.
A ticking clock or a timetable won´t translate the way we feel about seasonal shifts, – it can´t express our sense of change or repetition, it can´t sharpen our awareness of causality, our sense of (dis)continuity, novelty and cycles. Certainly less so now, in these so-called digital times, than ever before;- whatever before was. It can only measure, appoint and quantify. Time as we experience it remains ungraspable. Still, we live in time, – in digital times -, and these “times will tell” too, but what and how, this remains to be told.
So we´re left up with indirect strategies to deal with the blur, – a bunch of tactics to model the environment in which “things happen”, especially if they happen to us. Narratives, for instance, lets us structure “the world” as a (chrono)logical chain of events ruled by causal relations. The more we tumble forward, the more we can pretend to draw the path we´re actually finding. Whatever we seem to plan, we´re never doing anything else than orbiting around the unforeseeable.
Whenever we ´re looking “backwards”, we´re accomodating the past to our present´s needs, or trying our best to fill the gaps. Storytelling is a garage in which we fix our journeys past, present and future as if life was a customizable vehicle.
We´ve all learnt to become narrative tricksters almost as soon as we started to speak. We tend to model the world as a coherent narrative continuum, especially when or if we experience it as pure chaos. Trapped in the thick of life, storytelling and storylistening let us rehearse, revisit or re-model events as if time and causality were play-doh. The process of narrative design is, in this regard, a kind of a cognitive abracadabra reorganising the universe in a coherent linear cosmos, re-balancing agencies and causality in a new equilibrium between control and chaos.
When we tell stories, we´re negotiating the brutality of experience. When we listen to stories, we´re practicing our speculative skills. We memorize and we anticipate. We want to know what´s going to happen, we empathize naturally with characters and negotiate their tribulations emotionally as we witness them struggle through situations. We project ourselves in the unfolding of fictional events because we live our own lives as a permanent cliffhanger.
Storytelling is both a rehearsal workshop for real-life stunts and a thrilling ride of its own right. It´s also a precious tool to influence life with, even if we don´t know where we´re headed. We can´t skip the next episode and never will be “spoiled”. We´ve got to sit through the whole season and co-write the showdown as it goes. More often than not, storytelling itself provide us with a conscious opportunity to change the course of events.
What is really happening when we dissect points-of-views and chronologies? What kind of blind points and mental complexities are we juggling with when we try to translate a complex phenomena into a story? What kind of creative challenge is this really, and how can we make the most of it?
If stories seem to know everything about the world they depict, we know very little or almost nothing about their own “backstage plot”. They hide their own evolution, – they hide their own origin story. They keep the ropes out of the frame, – we´re not getting the raw cut, the alternate endings and the bloopers. All we have is the opacity of a finished product. Now, how should we learn to storytell if we can´t look inside the box?
There never was any better method to “build things” than to break them open. Stories are like clocks. By taking them apart and re-constructing them differently, we identify their active ingredients with a different awareness of their interplay. That´s one of the methods we´re out to practice.
Motion pictures are arguably the most immersive type of narrative experience. They provide an illusionary participation. They ´re designed to make us forget that they are made by people. The famous “suspension of disbelief” promises a satisfactory, semi-voyeuristic experience securing both thrills and security, distance and participation.
By interrupting (or expanding) this suspension with various disruptive interventions, we´re “breaking” open the pandora box and gain access to the anatomy of narrative make-believe.
Movies are made of images and sounds transporting signals and signs assembled narratively to translate, organise, and manifest the dramaturgical potential of a story, – using a rich lexicon of visual rethoric devices developed accross the history of visual arts, from painting to theater and film.
Visual design is thus approached here from the perspective of narrative organisation: we´re looking at Images as “narrative fragments and devices” to be orchestrated on various levels of denotation (raw depiction of actions and relations), connotation (intra&intertextual meanings) and narrative organisation (sequential order, focalisation etc).
Our study of audiovisual narrative techniques relies on dissociative games designed to reveal the fragile balance of their components, manifest their role in the viewer´s decoding experience and motivate their creative recombination. As we strive to deconstruct and reconstruct , we realise that audiovsiual narrative processes actually confront us with thousands questions and choices: shot or reverse shot? Montage or mise-en-scène? day or night? wipe or fade? close-up or american? action or reaction? analog or digital? music, light, color, sound, cut, disolve …and who should we cast anyways?
However microcosmic these questions may appear, they point at greater representational problems and function somewhat like a dramaturgical macroscope. By forcing us to choose between so many possible alternatives, film-making ask us to know exactly what we want to say to whom, how, and to what effect. Minutious, detail-oriented questioning provide us here with extraordinary opportunities to observe and deal with the overarching themes ruling the story we are attempting to tell..
The audiovisual storytelling process is thus granting us in-depth access to a theme through its exploration and/or translation in a language (film) by making use of various coding processes. These codes are for instance related to the lighting, the framing, or editing of images.
These are depending of the cultural context (or genre) in which the story is told, and they are evolving with usage, exposure and diffusion.
“Audiovisioning” a story is the occasion to formulate (or re-formulate, – in case of an adaptation) its core dramaturgy in the specific language of film.
With the help of narrative prototyping games, we can approach a theme from a diversity of angles and generate questions helping us identify, structure and model dramaturgical issues of all sorts and scale, – could they have to do with the actual creation of content (such as a book, a film or a game), or the investigation of a real world problem (such as organisational design or institutional and/or political communication).
By creating miniature prototypal stories, we can explore a problem from a variety of point of views and with a diversity of “lenses” generating maximum contextual awareness. The usual narrative codes (focalisation, sequential order, etc…) serve here as variables to provide and exploit multi-perspectivity.
This multiple perspective is making use of the “stuff” a storyteller is normally willing to hide from his audience: charatcer´s internal monologues, “subsubsubplots”, offscreen colateral action, useless details or discarded ideas, dumped scenes, boring bits, everything that´s outside the frame, – all that is helping us uncover the questions we need to ask when we want to reformulate (and possibly solve) a problem with a story.
Our “storytelling games&studies” can find applications in various fields , from persuasive communication and communication strategy to organizational design, speculative design and change management. It can find applications in almost every domain of human activity, – from science and government to education and everyday online sociality.
“Narrative prototyping” is a set of techniques making use of audiovisual narrative processes to provide a question or a problem with a larger contextual awareness, thus helping to create, devise and navigate present or future situations possibly providing an answer or a solution. It frames and supports narrative ideation processes, and provides training ground to articulate them into audiovisions through successive iterations (from dramaturgical mapping and character design to storyboarding).
Our study of audiovisual narration is based on a series of games and exercises providing both the occasion to research a theme and explore a medium at the same time, – from illustration and film to game design or online video formats. These exercises can range from screenwriting a facebook sitcom or live-reporting a neighbour´s smoking habits, to comic-stripping the daily life of an internet troll, gamify the making of a cloudrap album, or gif-animating the bible.
They´re designed as simple and playful “enigmas” pitting message against medium on several levels of action and reflection.
Our primary interest is the development of sharp conceptional skills adapted to, and evolving with the digital landscape.
Our secondary interest is to analyse these skills and processes to discover what we can learn from them to develop a range of tools not only supporting narrative prototyping or content development as such, but research other activities as well (from platform development, interface or service design to campaigning, communication planning, social activism or organizational design).