The Medium is the Message: What’s Yours?

James Walker

During his keynote speech at the 2010 Writing Industries Conference, the novelist (and NTU MA Creative Writing tutor for Fiction) Graham Joyce warned that writers would need to be more flexible if they wanted to carve a successful (paid) writing career. The days of a large advance to pen your magnum opus were becoming more infrequent and so it was time to consider other formats and mediums such as mobile phones, gaming platforms and podcasts.

Fundamental to his call for versatility was technology and how this is radically transforming every aspect of lived experience. Fast forward eleven years and his advice has become more prescient. Social media platforms function as mini publishing studios and immersive technology, such as augmented reality and AI, are transforming how we tell and experience stories.

It’s with this in mind that I’ve been developing new modules at NTU to help equip emerging writers with the skills and knowledge needed to flourish in this ever-changing digital landscape.

One such module is Digital Storytelling, currently available to 2nd year Creative Writing students. This is very much built around experimentation, with students asked to adapt their stories to fit the grammar of different platforms and mediums. It quickly becomes apparent that what works well as interactive fiction on Twine does not translate well to a visual medium like Instagram. Understanding the relationship between technology, audience and story is vital if you are going to produce engaging and innovative digital work.

Another benefit of this module concerns the practical skills it provides. The visual essay at the top of this article was produced using the Werner Moron ‘real-imaginary’ path. (You’ll have to join the module to learn more about this method.) The visuals were sourced from copyright-free material and produced using free online tools. In creating a visual essay for YouTube, students learn to write a script, record audio, select images that reinforce the narrative, upload, tag, publish, share and promote. This provides a broad range of skills, all of which go some way towards helping them kickstart their digital writing careers.

The appeal of digital storytelling is the challenge of having constantly to adapt your writing to fit a medium. From interactive fiction on to Twitterature, each medium has its own form of constraint. A limited word count forces you to think carefully about what you want to say, whereas interactive fiction places greater emphasis on the experience of the reader (or user). Constraint is fundamental to creativity which is why I love jumping between mediums and platforms. It’s what maintains my motivation to write.  

James Walker is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Arts and Humanities at NTU. He specialises in digital storytelling projects. His recent work includes Dawn of the Unread and The Loneliness of the Lockdown Runner. He is currently working on Whatever People Say I Am and the D. H. Lawrence Memory Theatre. At NTU he is the module leader for the BA Creative Writing modules ‘Digital Storytelling’ and ‘The Freelancer’, and the BA English and BA Creative Writing ‘English and Creative Industries Project’.

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