The Participation Continuum: Storyworlds and the Evolving Conversation Between the Storyteller and the Audience
In October 2012, StoryTech, Co-Founder and Chief Storyteller Brian Seth Hurst was invited to speak at the inaugural “Future of Storytelling Conference.” This short film was made to introduce conference participants to the speaker and the concepts pre-conference. The principles about which are spoken in the film are even more relevant today and have become part of the operating philosophy of StoryTech.
For generations, the relationship between storyteller and audience has been largely one-sided, but today, as the visionary entertainment consultant Brian Seth Hurst explains in this illuminating film, audience and storyteller can achieve levels of engagement with each other that were never possible in the pre-Internet, pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter era. And this fact is fundamentally changing the way stories and storyworlds are conceived, disseminated, and branded. Hurst sees four distinct levels of conversation betweenstorytellers and their audience, each one progressively more engaging and intimate. The most basic level is what Hurst calls “Here’s the Story.” This is the way mass media has been presented to audiences since the dawn of the printed word; at this level storytellers have a limited ability to interact with their audience, beyond tracking ticket sales or TV ratings or bookstore receipts in order to understand whether they were reaching their audience effectively or not. The second level of conversation is called “I’m Listening.” Storytellers at this level are doing just that: paying attention to fan fiction sites, for example, or Twitter and Facebook communities, and then using that feedback to guide them as they craft future storylines—the audience has been heard! The third level of conversation builds on that connection; Hurst dubs it “My World, and Welcome To It.” At this stage the creator has built such a rich and multifaceted storyworld, with such well-drawn characters and multiple modes of engagement—Web-based extensions of TV shows, for example, or graphic-novel adaptations of films—that fans can actually inhabit it. Finally, some stories attain such a richness and complexity and achieve such a degree of audience engagement that they become self-sustaining mythologies, with their own pantheon of heroes and canon of lore. At this level, which Hurst calls “Take It, It’s Yours,” audiences become full-fledged collaborators, enhancing the canon and profoundly influencing the evolution of ongoing narratives within the storyworld. What Hurst finds the most fascinating about this ever evolving conversation between audience and creator is that it is based on the most fundamental social behavior: our need to belong, our need to communicate, and, perhaps most important, our need to be heard.