The Connection between the Creator and the Audience in Social Media Storytelling
While composing my short story to share on Twitter, incorporating four Instagram images, posted by other creators with the hashtags #cmwp2018 and #24melbourne, I realised that the linear story I was constructing would not be consumed by the majority audiences in that order. Once the final Tweet has been posted, the closest a viewer would get to seeing my original story would be to land on my feed at the last image, decide to scroll to the beginning of the feed and work their way through the chronological posts returning to the story’s end. What seems more likely, however, is that the audience would see one of my Tweets among unrelated posts, either within their own feed or within the context of a hashtag. Considering how users interact with social media, do previously accepted concepts of narrative structure apply to this medium?
In an interview with Mark Cousins for The Story of Film: An Oddessy (2011), Baz Luhrmann identified the first rule of making his Red Curtain Trilogy as ‘we need to know the story up front.’ Luhrmann elaborates explaining, ’In this participatory cinema…you need to know where it’s heading and you need the story to be extremely linear, one thing happens precisely after another like maths so that you save time. You can take the human moment…and we could expand the emotional experience of that beyond the reality in life. …we’re making something that happens in life better than it is in life – bigger than it is in life’ (The Story of Film: An Oddessy 2011). These ideas resonate in context of social media storytelling where the audience enters the story at the most recent content, particularly on Twitter. If the audience chooses to go from the most recent post back to the beginning, they are aware of what is coming at the end. Also, the story itself is comprised of moments that, when shared, go beyond the reality of life. The reality is distorted by the captions, filters and modifications that the content creator uses to influence the audience’s perception of the moment, and by the ability for the audience to choose how much time they spend examining the content. However, in terms of narrative structure, these stories are not complete. We enter them midway through the telling, not at the end, and they often do not follow a linear series of meticulously crafted events.
In social media storytelling, it can be difficult to define a beginning, middle and end, taking us into what Robert McKee identifies as ‘Nonplot’. ‘Story dissolves into portraiture, either a portrait of verisimilitude or one of absurdity. …Although they inform us, touch us, and have their own rhetorical and formal structures, they do not tell story’ (McKee 1999, p. 58). The complete collection of images and captions shared by the content creator offer an insight into their day-to-day existence, inviting audiences to perceive the world as they choose to perceive it. McKee (1999, p. 58) continues to say that “Although nothing changes within the universe of a Nonplot, we gain a sobering insight and hopefully something changes within us.”
These examples of narrative structure presume a distance between the audience, the creator and the content, however, in the social media medium, users occupy both roles and have the ability to interact and manipulate existing content. One new narrative approach born from this interaction has been collaborative storytelling through hypermedia. Liu et al. (2011, p. 1546) states that ‘participants can develop different story branches in hypermedia while in [a linear appraoch] they share a single story path.’ This approach allows for multiple versions of a story to exist, with multiple creators contributing to the growing narrative world while crediting the proceeding creators. Liu et al. (2011, p. 1546) states ‘social media that facilitate social creativity on the Web must create an environment that attracts potential contributors around the world to participate in creative works.’ Such an environment could be the platform for the development of new narrative structures where single path stories can evolve into an interactive labyrinth without a singular and all-knowing creator.
Liu, C-C, Liu, K-P, Chen, W-H, Lin, C-P & Chen, G-D 2011, ‘Collaborative storytelling experiences in social media: Influence of peer-assistance mechanisms’, Computers & Education, vol. 57, pp. 1544-1556.
McKee, R 1999, Story, Methuen, London, UK.
The Story of Film: An Oddessy (episode 14) 2011, TV mini-series, More4, UK, directed by Mark Cousins.