Jeremiah Karpowicz on Digital Storytelling

Jeremiah Karpowicz stumbled onto “True Stories Well Told” earlier this summer and shared his interest in telling stories via electronic features (eFeats) with me. I have always loved the idea of combining images and words to tell stories–I like the way Jeremiah and his colleagues are merging techniques originating in the graphic novel and the cinema and pushing toward a new frontier in storytelling.  I pass his thoughts and links along to you.

-Sarah White

Telling stories digitally is not a novel concept. Websites, eBooks, youtube videos, blogs, and a number of other digital developments have been around for years now and all of these things tell their story by means of words, videos, pictures, and/or a combination of all these things.  eFeats, which is short for electronic features, are different though because they are designed to take all of these elements and mold them into one cohesive story that brings the audience closer to that story. showcases how an author can take all of these things and arrange them to tell a particular story.

The degree of intimacy you can achieve with this technique is unmatched because you can reveal and explore so many different things in so many different ways.  Authors have always described the emotions that their characters are feeling and have always had to tell their audience about what their character was dealing with. Literally showing these things, they can affect their audience that much more.

Reading about how a person is coping with their situation is different from watching them do it.  Having a tough conversation between two characters transcribed is much different from hearing it.  Seeing a picture of what someone is looking at is much different than simply having a description of it.  These are some powerful tools available at an author’s discretion. Wielding them in the proper fashion is a big part of making this storytelling technique successful.

As the author, you can alter the layout or alter the aspects or alter the subjects. As the viewer you can choose to read through first or watch the videos first. It’s all up to you in terms of how you want to tell and experience these digital stories.  And that freedom can lead to some incredible things.

eFeats have pictures, words, and videos all in the same space but all of them are doing different things to tell the same story. They’re arranged to work with each other rather than attempt to explain everything on their own. The images allow the viewer to see exactly what is going on while the videos literally take them to the places that are being talked about. The audio accounts allow a viewer to hear conversations or firsthand accounts while the text ties everything together. The font, colors and arrangement also allow an author to personalize their story and give the viewer a totally unique experience. You can see in this eFeat which showcases a trip down the Hollywood Walk of Fame how all of these elements work together so that the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts.

That unique experience is an essential part of eFeats as different people will respond to different things. Certain people might pick up on a certain person, place, thing, or emotion in a particular eFeat and that reaction is unique for every viewer. In this particular eFeat, certain people might pick up on the isolation of this place, others might pick up on the heat, while others might pick up on the beauty. No matter what they respond to the fact that people have these kinds of responses is proof that these elements can and do affect readers in different ways and that’s an essential element to telling a good story.  This technique can create a totally new experience for both the author and viewer which will could change the way both approach storytelling.

I could give you words that describe everything about the Haight Ashbury Street Fair but none of it will ever compete with seeing it and watching it. I can tell you about the stories that were told there or describe how the crowd moved to the music but nothing will ever come close to seeing and hearing those things for yourself.  Admittedly, this technique takes away some of the imagination that is inherent with writing but it’s an acceptable trade-off when you consider what you’re gaining in terms of putting an audience inside a story.  Ultimately that’s what this is about as the technique can create a new experience for the audience and provide a whole new level of accessibility.

Accessibility is a benefit of digital storytelling. Being based in the digital world allows them to be accessed by anyone at anytime, as long as they’re online. There are no middlemen between the audience and the author. Authors can create and tell the story they want without worrying about anything else.  This allows people to talk about and experience issues in a new light which you can see here. This eFeat showcases a reaction to some of the wonderful and awful things about the world but it does so in a manner that allows the author to demonstrate their point objectively while still being able to subjectively analyze the world.

While digital storytelling might not be a totally new concept, getting people to see and understand what can be accomplished with this technique is not an easy task for many different reasons.  I truly believe these types of stories will become very popular as authors seek new and different ways of telling their stories, and viewers become more familiar with devices like the iPad.  Whether you want to see this digital revolution happen or not I hope all of this gives you a better understanding of what’s at stake. This technique represents a totally new way for authors to tell a story and for readers to connect with those stories.

Jeremiah Karpowicz

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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