Bryan Alexander's Blog: The New Digital Storytelling

August 18, 2011

I'll be speaking on a panel about digital storytelling next month.  It's Saturday, 9/24, at the Burlington Book Festival. Stop by!

Storytelling-the ability to describe a world beyond the present moment-may be the defining feature and crowning achievement of our species. Nearly everyone is a storyteller, but those who tell stories with great skill enjoy special status and power in our world. Thanks to developments in digital media, yesterday’s storytelling elites-news anchors, Oscar winners, scholars-now compete for attention on a more equal footing with anyone able to craft a compelling story and leverage the digital tools to tell it. A curious phenomenon emerges: New ways of telling stories challenge some deeply held notions of what a story is. So, what is a story in the digital age? Are digital stories true innovations in the ancient craft of storytelling or merely technological variations on time-honored themes? Panelists at this discussion will broach such questions by presenting original digital stories created with a range of digital tools.

Panelists/presenters include author Bryan Alexander, as well as students in Champlain College’s Master of Fine Arts program in Emergent Media. Erik Esckilsen, author and Champlain College professor, will moderate the discussion.

Time: 12-1 PM

Place: Fletcher Room, Fletcher Free Library

(photo via Don Shall)
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Published on August 18, 2011 10:25 • 303 views • Tags: digital-storytelling-burlington

July 9, 2011

Time magazine discovers fanfiction.  It's a bit late, given that fanfic dates back to the 1960s, if not way earlier, but the mainstream recognition is nice.

I introduce fanfiction in chapter 8.  It's a great way for first-time writers to practice the craft.

(via MetaFilter)
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Published on July 09, 2011 08:16 • 180 views • Tags: fanfiction-digitalstorytelling

June 20, 2011

I'm briefly interviewed in this OCLC newsletter.  There I connect futurism and storytelling:
“Digital storytelling, for example,” he explains,“opens up manifold possibilities for expression and recollection, which also means multiple spaces for informational innovation.”

Bryan says that digital storytelling involves deep personal engagement, a reduction in technology anxiety and a reconsideration of narrative. Because of this, using new storytelling modes can actually make you more creative while you develop your innovation message.

“These new kinds of storytelling,” he continues, “require finding and using multimedia files ranging from personal content swarms to the full spectrum of licensed and open Web content. It teaches creators about copyright, identifying legitimate open content sources, explaining the use of licensed material, and handling files to maximize integration.”
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Published on June 20, 2011 12:19 • 159 views • Tags: futures, libraries, storytelling

June 15, 2011

How does digital storytelling play out in our time? It's instructive to imagine how storytelling itself appears on this fun schematic (Steward Brand):

On the one hand, people in each layer use storytelling for various purposes.  Government agencies have always done this (cf propaganda), as have businesses (marketing) and fashion (ditto).  On the other hand, different storytelling approaches mobilize different forces from these layers.

(thanks to Steven Kaye)
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Published on June 15, 2011 14:06 • 239 views • Tags: storytelling-visualization

June 13, 2011

So, I invented her.

The blog A Gay Girl in Damascus just announced itself to be a work of historical fiction.  The authorial voice of Amina Arraf became "Amina Arraf", a fictional character, created by a male grad student.

The purpose was political and historical, to urge popular action through documenting reality:
the narrative voıce may have been fictional, the facts on thıs blog are true and not mısleading as to the situation on the ground...

I only hope that people pay as much attention to the people of the Middle East and their struggles in thıs year of revolutions. The events there are beıng shaped by the people living them on a daily basis. I have only tried to illuminate them for a western audience.

The blog's logo has changed, from


More explanation, defenses, and apologies appeared in today's post.  This NPR blog post goes into some detail about how various people became suspicious of, then began investigating the identity behind "Amina Arraf" (h/t Jesse Walker).

It's a fascinating example of digital storytelling from several angles.  First, storytelling by hoax predated the internet, of course, and lives on through digital formats.  Hoaxes are often used for political ends, as the Report from Iron Mountain (1967) pretended to government/think tank authorship as satirical critique, or when Alan Sokal pranked an academic journal to criticize some trends in humanities scholarship (1996) (I document some more of this kind of storytelling, plus others, on this wiki).

Pretending to be someone else raises all kinds of issues of appropriation, especially when ventriloquizing a politically marginalized voice from a position of relative privilege.

Second, "Gay Girl" shows how effective blog writing can be to create a sense of character.  When a new voice on the blog announced that "Amina" was arrested (actually a total fiction), readers mobilized for her release.  MacMaster had successfully evoked a voice, a person well enough to spur his audience into activism.

Read the second half of this apology post for a sense of his method.  Part of it is an arc through social media practice:
First, she was just a name. Amina Arraf. She commented on blogs and talkbacks on news-sites. Eventually, I set up an email for her. She joined the same lists I was already on and posted responses in her name. And, almost immediately, friendly and solicitous comments on mine appeared.

Amina came alive.

Other people's blogs, news-sites (newspapers' Web pages, apparently), email lists, then Facebook, and ultimately a character blog: a voyage through Web 2.0 and other social tech.  Blog post after post, comment after comment followed.  Finally the authorial reveal came about through the blog, appropriately.

Part of the MacMaster/"Arraf" story is just classic creative writing practice, independent of technology, as old as campfires and song:
I could hear her ‘voice’ and that voice and personality were clear and strong. Amina was funny and smart and equal parts infuriating and flirtatious. She struggled with her religious beliefs and sexuality, wondered about living in America as an Arab; she wanted to find a way to balance her religion and her sexuality, her desire to be both a patriotic American and a patriotic Arab. Amina was clever and fun and had a story and a voice and I started writing it, almost as though she were dictating to me. Some of her details were mine, some were those of a dozen other friends borrowed liberally, others were purely ‘her’ from the get go.

This story shows how far digital storytelling has become.  It's in the mainstream, popularly accessible, and capable of being used for political ends.
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Published on June 13, 2011 08:11 • 466 views • Tags: blog, hoax, storytelling

June 8, 2011

Small Town Noir is a fine example of storytelling by blog, plus storytelling through remix.

Remix: Small Town Noir's contents are news accounts of crime in New Castle, a western Pennsylvanian burg.  They are supplemented by by Diarmid Mogg's observations.

Blog: STN publishes bits of this archive through a blog platform.  You can read through, or wait for new items to appear serially through syndication.
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Published on June 08, 2011 07:27 • 192 views • Tags: archive, blogs, remix, storytelling

May 30, 2011

A nice example of interactive fiction can be found in Vicious Cycles.  The original story appeared in 2001 or so, a tale of time travel and terrorism.  Formally, the interesting bit is that it requires repeated replaying of a situation.  Your point of view character experiences an odd sequence of events, things end badly, then... you start again.

It's a fiendishly elegant series of puzzles, with good emotional heft.

The Bloomengine fellow did a neat job of redesign, creating an interface which doesn't require text entry.

Play/read/experience it.  And don't feel ashamed about hitting the Hint button.

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Published on May 30, 2011 11:38 • 252 views • Tags: if, interactivefiction, storytelling

May 28, 2011

A model of story generation from XKCD:


This does two things:
1 Offers an elegant machine-generation model.
2 Explains why some of us don't follow sports.

The alt tag is important, as always: "Also, all financial analysis. And, more directly, D&D."
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Published on May 28, 2011 09:49 • 211 views • Tags: storytelling-xkcd

May 25, 2011

Can we tell stories with Facebook? One example answers in the affirmative. A Polish historical archive created a Facebook page for one Jewish boy who was born in Lublin, then killed in the Holocaust.

It's using social media to portray a character in time, akin to storytelling through diaries.  Henio Zytomirski's short life appears through historical photos, real and imagined voice, about page and status updates.

There are other examples of Facebook stories, but let's not discuss them in this post.  Let the Brama Grodzka Cultural Center's historical, personal work reverberate for now in your mind.
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Published on May 25, 2011 06:22 • 180 views • Tags: archive, digitalstorytelling, facebook, history

May 24, 2011

“Facebook is the novel we are all writing.”

Katie Rophie
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Published on May 24, 2011 16:51 • 197 views

The New Digital Storytelling

Bryan  Alexander

This blog springs from my 2011 book, The New Digital Storytelling.
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