I Walk (Off) the Line

October 4, 2009

Nonlinear Storytelling Starts Before Post

careertnOne month into the fall semester, my classmates and I have completed or are working on a diverse complement of projects. We’ve produced Flash slideshows, planned mock marketing campaigns and have begun developing biographical Web sites. No matter the product or audience, our professors have encouraged non-linear storytelling. Even if we have set starting and ending points in mind, we should create opportunities for users to take side trips along the way.

How to go about achieving this is a question commonly put off until post production. The content is still gathered in a linear manner. This can be fine, but it limits from the get-go the spontaneity that non-linear storytelling is all about.

The approach my Interactive Writing and Design professor is requiring students to follow for their biographical Web sites forced me to consider this more directly than I ever had before. The Web sites can take virtually any form so long as they include six images acquired during a class field trip last month.

This wasn’t just any field trip. It was a trip to the Elsewhere Artist Collaborative, a former thrift store whose massive collection of salvaged items inspire the artistic process, often becoming works of art themselves.

For their Web sites, students were to locate and photograph objects relating to six themes: nature, ancestry, family, community, career and entertainment. A thumbnail of my career image is above. My peers and I are now in the process of writing stories centered around the six images.

The way journalists are trained to gather news is another non-linear model. A good reporter shouldn’t have his mind made up as to where his story is going. Sources should drive the direction of the story and lead the reporter to other sources. Too often, though, whether out of deadline pressure, laziness or overt bias, a reporter pre-defines the story, asks the usual players their take on it and calls it a day.

In pursuit of non-linear stories, four of my peers and I are considering a journalistic approach to content acquisition for an extracurricular project we’re working on even though it’s a promotional product.

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