The art of storytelling has been an integral part of culture and the human race since the dawn of time. It is a way for people to connect with other people and places that they may not otherwise experience. Getting lost in a story helps people cope with the stresses of life by allowing them to slip from reality if only for a couple of hours.
However, with the explosion of social media and the Internet, the print industry was forced to adapt. People were no longer satisfied with simply reading words on a page. Online stories began to focus heavily on visual appeal and interactivity. As a result, people began to rely on visual storytelling and expected to be a part of the storytelling process. Social media had broken down the barrier between author and reader, which in turn made the author’s job more difficult.
Authors are forced to devise more visually creative ways to tell their stories. Where before a few illustrations or pictures would suffice, readers now have begun to expect the images to tell a complete story. Another problem authors are now faced with is the apparent decrease in attention spans. Authors must now make an effort not only to entice their readers at the start but hold it throughout the entire story. This has proven to be more difficult in a world where people have access to information instantly through Facebook messaging or a quick Google search.
Most authors found by making their stories interactive for their readers and giving them their own place in the story increases the marketability of their book. The applications for authors and publishers are limitless. Some have chosen a more obvious route through multimedia bonus content, while others have simply altered the traditional story format to increase reader participation.
Whatever the case may be, these authors have sought to reinvent the meaning of the word “book.” Whether incorporating multimedia elements, web links, and even smartphone apps, these stories go far beyond the mere words on the page to create a more immersive experience for the reader.
The mystery thriller “Night Film” by Marisha Pessl is one example of a novel that has fully embraced the use of multimedia platforms in its storytelling. Throughout the story readers will come across web links to short videos and other extra features. The book also has an associated app to “decode” portions of the text. These extra features help expand the universe of the book and gives the readers a more immersive experience in the story. While these features aren’t necessary to understand the story, Pessl recognized the more interactive she made her book, the wider her target audience would become. These interactive elements let the readers become a character in the story as they put together the clues along with the main character.
Illuminae and Gemini (2015, 2016)
The enhancements of the futuristic sci-fi duology “Illuminae” and “Gemmini” by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff may not be as obvious as “Night Film” yet, but the structures of these books make for a unique reading experience. Instead of being told through strict narrative format, this story is told through a dossier of hacked documents, including emails, schematics, military and medical files, interviews and more. This makes for a more fast-paced reading experience and makes the reader part of the story. The unique format allows the reader to investigate character files and forces the reader to connect the dots as the story unfolds. Since portions of the documents are redacted, the reader must use context and hidden clues throughout the book to piece together the plot.
J. J. Abrams and Dorst’s historical mystery “S” takes the concept of a story and enriches it. The book’s unusual format is presented as a story within a story. The novel itself is a recreation of an “aged” copy of a fictional story called the “Ship of Theseus,” however, the primary story is found in notes written in the margins by two strangers who are trying to determine the identity of the author. Also found within the pages of the book are photos, postcards, and other trinkets which play role in the plot. “S” is a complicated story told through a variety of means and is a lot of fun for readers who like to play detective while reading.
Between Worlds (2014)
The YA fantasy novel “Between Worlds” is one of the most innovative reading experiences on the market today. Skip Brittenham is the first author who has incorporated an immersive augmented reality component to his storytelling. Readers can download the novel’s companion app which allows the book’s colored illustrations to appear as 3D images. A reader can truly bring the story to life as the app lets them visually experience the world as they are reading. The app also provides the reader with bonus content about characters and locations in the story. “Between Worlds” is one of the first of its kind and has paved the way for more stories with a virtual reality element.
Emily Day is a senior journalism major and arts & entertainment editor for Cedars. She is an avid reader, runner and is a general Disney enthusiast.