Interactive storytelling – good examples of both traditional and electronic?
October 24, 2005 6:28 PM   Subscribe

There’s a long tradition of telling a story, say, around a campfire, or to a group of friends in a bar, and based on the feedback you get, changing the story to suit or entertain your audience. Today, the web gives everyone the ability to tell a story and receive feedback from a much wider audience than was previously possible. Two examples I can think of are the blogging phenomenon and Shelley Jackson’s hypertext writings. I’m looking for traditional/historical examples and sources as well as as well as online equivalents?
posted by chocolatepeanutbuttercup to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure if you're looking for something specifically literary, but...serial publication, perhaps? Dickens famously derailed his characterization of Miss Mowcher in David Copperfield after a reader objected. Similarly, this student project notes how critical feedback may have affected the plotting and characterization of George Eliot's Middlemarch. (A Victorian serial would be reviewed as the parts appeared.)
posted by thomas j wise at 6:56 PM on October 24, 2005

It's a little unclear what you're asking, but the mention of Dickens reminded me of the nineteenth-century lecture circuit. Well-known authors like Dickens and Mark Twain would go on the road, the way bands do today, and read or talk before packed houses night after night. Scholars spend a lot of time with their lecture notes and correspondence, which often feature marginalia like 'really killed 'em tonight with the Tiny Tim bit!' There was a great deal of honing and shaping going on. Twain used much of his lecture time to develop stories that eventually appeared in Huck Finn.

Then, also, there's the tradition of reading in the round (sitting with a group of writers and reading your work out loud, in turn). This has been done at least since the Beats - in fact, the Romantic poets and authors seemed to be into it, too.
posted by Miko at 7:58 PM on October 24, 2005

The academic term for this is oral tradition. Try reading the works of Harold Innis or Marshall McLuhan.
posted by acoutu at 8:07 PM on October 24, 2005

Anything you can find from the late, great Dana Atchley is an excellent example of Digital Storytelling. Next Exit seems to be down or gone but The Center for Digital Storytelling has info on him. I was lucky enough to see him perform Next Exit before he passed away.
posted by m@ at 8:11 PM on October 24, 2005

How about when comic book writers "re-tell" the origins of various characters (especially the various X-Men), updated to fit modern sensibilities and to emphasize qualities in the characters that are more popular now? The X-Men's origins must have been re-told like six times now, even though it's not hard to find and read a reprint of the original Uncanny X-Men #1 from 1963, which has Beast uncharacteristically sexually harassing Marvel Girl.
posted by Asparagirl at 9:42 PM on October 24, 2005

I think the Marx Brothers did a touring performance of scenes from A Night at the Opera to figure out which bits worked before making the film. Also, vaudeville in general would provide a similar opportunity to tweak your performance, I think, like the one time Harpo spoke on stage (when they were vaudeville unknowns) and got a review that said something about how it spoiled the whole thing and so he never spoke on stage again.
posted by dagnyscott at 6:16 AM on October 25, 2005

Hm -- good call acoutu. I am shamed for not honing in on the questioner's aim; this is supposed to be my field, after all.

To add: do note that 'oral tradition' is a really specific term. It's actually a subfield of folklore and performance studies; in other words, the oral tradition is just one of the many ways in which folklore is transmitted (What is folklore?). It is also known as oral expression. Verbal lore presented as story can be called narrative or, where its subject is at least partially the speaker as opposed to a traditional story, personal narrative. You may find the best results by using 'folk' or 'folklore' as a basic search term and narrowing with oral tradition, narrative, tale, and/or storytelling. This should give you the broadest array of scholarly sources.

Here'sa teacher's unit on oral tradition in folklore; an article on lying in storytelling from the Journal of Folklore Research (pay for access or go through your university library). Richard Baumann's Verbal Art as Performance is a recommended text. Finally, a nice research guide.
posted by Miko at 8:01 AM on October 25, 2005

Thanks to all that responded; I appreciate your taking the time to share. There's certainly enough info here to get me started.
posted by chocolatepeanutbuttercup at 6:12 PM on October 25, 2005

Yes, "oral tradition" was coined by Innis, I think. It's an important communications theory. My field also.
posted by acoutu at 10:47 PM on October 26, 2005

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