When most of us think of reading a story or novel, we think about opening a book or clicking on an ebook link and reading, turning or swiping pages as we go. Lots of people also experience stories by listening to them, too, either through podcasts or as audio books. Those traditions (reading in the ‘regular’ way and listening to stories) have been with us for a very long time.
But times change. So does technology. So does our knowledge of how people learn from what they read, and how young people read. And this means that the options for experiencing stories are changing, too. This is a broad topic, so I won’t be able to do justice to it in one post. Hopefully these few examples will suffice to show you what I mean.
One of the many changes we’ve seen in the last years is the availability of crime fiction classics in graphic novel form. Several of Agatha Christie’s novels, for instance, have been re-published as graphic novels. For instance, Ordeal by Innocence is, as Christie fans will know, the story of the murder of Rachel Argyle. Her adopted son Jacko was arrested, tried and convicted in connection with the killing, and died in prison. Two years later, Dr. Arthur Calgary visits the Argyle home, Sunnyside, with news he thinks will please the family. He can conclusively prove that Jacko Argyle was not a murderer. He wasn’t able to give evidence at the trial, because he had amnesia. But he wants to put things right now. Far from being grateful to Calgary, the family members don’t want this case brought up again. They know that if Jacko was innocent, then one of them is a murderer. This novel, and others by Christie, have been recast as graphic novels by Chandre, and many people find them enjoyable. What’s more, research suggests that, for struggling and reluctant young readers, graphic novels can provide an important way to experience a story and build reading skills.
Several of Arthur Conan Doyle’s works have also been adapted as graphic novels. One of those is The Hound of the Baskervilles, adapted by J.R. Parks and Vinod Kumar. That classic story of a supposed family curse, and mysterious deaths associated with it, has been one of Conan Doyle’s more popular Sherlock Holmes stories. And it was one of only four full-length Holmes novels. Many people argue that making this and the other Holmes stories available in graphic form helps interest new generations in the Holmes canon. And, as I say, there is research that supports such formats, especially for struggling and reluctant readers, as well as those who are language learners.
It’s not just a matter of graphic novels, either. The ‘photo you see is of a video game version of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. In that game, players take on the role of a character who ends up on Indian Island with the ten people Christie depicts in the novel. As the story goes on, the player’s task is to find the clues and discover who’s responsible for the killings that take place. The game permits the user to ‘travel’ from room to room, ‘talk’ with the various characters and so on. And this isn’t even the most updated of video games. Christie’s The ABC Murders, for instance, is available for both Playstation and X-Box users. The modern gaming industry has made possible a whole new way of experiencing a classic story.
Stories can also be published, co-written, shared and so on – on telephones. Apps such as Wattpad allow readers to experience a story on any device that can host the app. Such apps are flexible, too, allowing authors to make changes or add to a story instantly. They can write a story a little at a time, much like stories told in serial form in newspapers and magazines. My Wattpad account is right here, so you can see what Wattpad is like.
And it doesn’t stop there. Twitter users will know that there are stories written in the 140-character-at-a-time-format, and then sent out to Twitter followers. This allows for a lot of flexibility, too, since Twitter allows one to include a ‘photo or video as part of a tweet.
In fact, so does Wattpad (and it’s not the only app with this capability). Certain apps allow the author to integrate ‘photos, videos and audios, so as to make stories multimedia experiences. And there is logic to it. Research has shown for years (to my satisfaction, anyway) that we don’t just think and know in one way. We all have different intelligences, as Howard Gardner puts it. Those intelligences include visual and musical as well as linguistic. If that’s true, so the logic would dictate, why not provide a story that allows the reader to follow the plot on more than one cognitive level?
Not everyone is happy with these new developments, though. There are questions, for instance, about how such new formats help young people build actual reading fluency. And for many people, there is nothing like the feeling of opening a paper book and reading the words, letting their imaginations fill in the gaps. Others have concerns about ‘watering down’ books by adding multimedia elements. Still others wonder about things like focus and attention spans if young people don’t experience books as they were originally written.
What do you think of all of this possibility? Is a story still a story if it’s told in a multimedia format? In the form of a video game? If you’re a writer, what do you think the implications are for your work? It may not just be a matter of deciding whom you’d like to play the role of your main character in a TV or film adaptation. For the author, this could mean working with game developers, graphic artists and others in the visual arts field to add different components to your stories. On the one hand, wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to add a video of, say, a rainstorm or ocean if that’s the context for your story? Or a street map? On the other, is that necessary? Or even desirable? It’s certainly not a settled matter, but, technology being what it is, I doubt it will go away soon.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Timbuk-3’s The Future’s So Bright (I Gotta Wear Shades).