Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Future Narratives. Guest post by Ausar English

I recently returned to New York City and met up with a friend in a cafe on the penumbra of Union Square. It was after New Years, and the air felt brittle and tired. The friend, Ausar, joined me to discuss our fiction works in progress and the conversation moved to the current state of the narrative. It seems something of a cliche to think that the state of the prose is under attack, or that it is (will?) undergoing some great changes due to technology (people still read, it's what they're reading that's changing). Nevertheless we discussed this, discussed the myriad of ways that technology today would take narratives as we know them and turn them into something else, something that perhaps hasn't even been done yet.

Now, when it came to this subject, I sensed that Ausar had a little more insight into the matter given his ability to partake in multiple storytelling forms (whereas I merely focus on one). So I asked if he would be able to write something up for my blog. Luckily, he did. So without any more delays, I present his thoughts below. Enjoy:


When I decided to write about my thoughts on the future of storytelling, I would never have guessed that Fifty Shades of Grey would be my inspiration.  A few days ago I snuck into an evening showing of the adaptation of the S&M literary phenomenon. The lights went on, the end credits began to roll, and I smiled, relieved that I hadn’t wasted $14.50.  It’s not that I was expecting a contender for the Oscars—even though the film had top notch direction and cinematography, and a star-turning performance from lead actress Dakota Johnson— the problem was that I couldn’t figure out why a book that had whipped millions of readers into an erotic frenzy made for such a boring film.  Even more puzzling was the fact that much of its dullness stemmed from the performance by the lead actor playing Christian Grey. Christian Grey: in a few short years the name has become synonymous with sex god in popular culture, and yet every time the character came on screen I wanted to fall asleep. In his New York Times review of the film, A.O Scott observes that “... In print, Christian is a blur and a blank — a screen onto which any given reader can project a customized masculine ideal. “But that “On the screen, he risks becoming just some guy, which is how Mr. Dornan plays him…”  

As A.O Scott’s point out, print differs from other mediums like television and movies in that a big part of the written word depends on the reader’s imagination, but due to current developments in technology prose is beginning to adopt aspects from those same mediums. 

Not only are more people opting to read books and articles on tablets, kindles and smartphones, a lot of what they’re reading is now being designed with audio and visual enhancements. Online journals like The Atavist are routinely incorporating audio and visual illustrations in their journalism and non-fiction features. And then there are book trailers.  In the past, someone looking to learn about a book before they bought it could only rely upon reviews or jacket-cover synopses, but now, video previews and teasers, once solely the domain of movies and music videos, are used to promote everything from fiction to non-fiction. 

Yet, not only is technology changing the literary world, it is also creating new forms of storytelling. Case in point: virtual reality. No longer just a plot point in science fiction, virtual reality is on the cusp of becoming a part of real life. With companies like Microsoft and Samsung heavily investing in it, by all accounts virtual reality is at a point similar to where the development of television was in the early 20th century.  The most viable vr prototype so far, the Oculus Rift headset, is so promising that Facebook bought its company for 2 billion dollars last year. More recently, guests at this year’s Sundance Film Festival were treated to exhibitions of several Oculus Rift projects. The standouts included one that places its user in the perspective of a flying bird and another that allows you to assume the viewpoint of a sex-crime victim. If a major reason to tell stories is to foster empathy, the possibilities seem endless.

Then again there are those who fear that new technology will result in the extinction of traditional forms like prose, but such anxiety is misguided. The same way that movies never replaced photography, even as new mediums like virtual reality are established, the written word will always exist. In fact, a benefit of technological progress is that different mediums are able to influence one another while maintaining their uniqueness. After all, the essence of telling a story is the same whether you’re reading, playing a videogame or strapping on a headset. That will remain true no matter the future. 

Ausar English is a NY-based, writer/actor

  • Website Title: The New York Times
  • Article Title: Review: In ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Movie, Sex Is a Knotty Bus[…]
  • Publisher: The New York Times
  • Electronically Published: February 12, 2015
  • Date Accessed: February 23, 2015
  • Author: A. O. Scott

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1 comment:

  1. A great article. One thing it does make me think about is whether or not the written narrative (in the form as we know it today) will have to change to gain more eyeballs in the future. Will it have to co-opt the technologies as you mentioned, or will it become some, as you mentioned, separate and merely supplement other forms of storytelling? Very hard to predict.

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