ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.

A Brief History of Storytelling


Mesopotamia (image by harvest breeding via Flickr)

Storytelling is often thought to have originated in Mesopotamia, where shamans would tell stories orally as a means of teaching and entertaining communities. Before we had written language, storytelling was told through a combination of drawings, which were often prompters for the storyteller to then bring the story to life through voice, dance or music. When writing was adopted in societies, various forms of media were then used to record these stories, for example etching on bark, or drawing on pottery or bones. (Simply Zesty)

A bit slapdash, perhaps, but a tidy nibble at the bigger story… Check out the post, “Social media has evolved into the art of storytelling, and we must all become masters of it.” if this nibble’s made you hungry for more. Though I should warn, the post’s thin on history and long on latter day storytelling jingoism.

Stories: Relief from the Darkness

Pour yourself a cup of tea and toss a few pop rocks down the hatch. Now lean back and enjoy this quirky visual tale about the power of stories. Dabbling in childish imagery but presented in a decidedly adult collage, this video ditty is an enjoyable reminder why storytelling is so compelling. Although I need a little help with “devine”…

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Creativity, Yes. Ownership, No.

It was difficult to think about metadata, RFDI chips and code breaking in the same context, or environment as storytelling. We had to rewire our thinking back to a simple place where story was central – but then apply the basics of that to an audience who consume story so very differently. Keep it simple, but then make it complex enough to engage on new, immersive and constantly evolving levels of engagement… I was lucky to debrief over coffee with Alison Norrington (PHD researcher, transmedia writer, storyteller) and we touched on the difficulties facing writers who want to work in this new environment… Lance Weiler called transmedia storytelling the return to a more ‘campfire scenario’ where stories become passed down, elaborated on, reinterpreted, and retold. So here we have flashes of Barthes ‘Death of the Author’ – since text and author are even less related under new storytelling methodology.

As a writer, or a storyteller, once again your creativity is at the heart, but ownership can’t be. (“It’s not you, it’s Media.”)

Wish I’d been able to participate in those three days in London!

In any event, the debrief is food for thought. For mind wandering. For wondering, and musing and mulling over and… Create. Share. Dig deep. Invent from the source. Share. Surrender your creation and move on.

What do you think about the future of storytelling in the digital age? Where do your storytelling dreams fit into the transmedia landscape?

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Storytelling Humanizes

Social Media Success Process (graphic via Ripple100)

This graphic grabbed me. Irritated me. Fascinated me. Lead me to the Significant Objects Project… Eureka!

Let’s start with the grabbing. The graphic is titled, “Social Media Success Process” not “Process by which social media CAN drive increased market share.” There’s an implicit confidence, an assertion that collecting and sharing stories help a company. That humanizing a corporate entity through storytelling is beneficial. Amazing! Not everyone sees it that way. Some worry about the stories. Not the good ones. The other ones. Some worry about the loss of control. The potential damage to a brand. Of course, the near ubiquity of social media has changed so much for big corporations, not the least of which is that they can’t control and spin their message the way they once could. The consumer can access and share information readily, freely, easily, often. It’s easy enough to come up with the risk to companies today. Better play fair! But it’s even more intriguing to consider that stories of all sorts serve to humanize companies and therefore contribute kinship, community, value.

So, what irritated me? Perhaps this same confidence, er, hubris. Maybe it’s that third step: “Humanization Creates Kinship“. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it reinforces bias, distinctions, tribalism. Unless the stories are being curated carefully, thoughtfully, continually. But that’s not really the problem either, because I actually do believe that open storytelling will lead to open corporate culture which will lead to corporate consumables that have nothing to hide and nothing to spin. Some bumps and bruises might be incurred during the transition to this ideal model, but I’m confident it will happen. So maybe it makes sense to say that kinship will follow humanization, but it will be organic and gradual if storytelling and story sharing is truly open. Which leads me to the principle irritant: harvesting. In a model where we’re talking about humanizing a company, it is disingenuous to speak about harvesting stories. You harvest corn. Or apples. You don’t harvest people’s lives, people’s experiences, people’s memories, people’s emotions, people’s emotions, people’s stories. That would be dehumanizing. Make sense?

My fascination has already revealed itself. Stories and storytelling – at best – are not formulaic. Sure, we all learned the basic ingredients for a well crafted story as school children, but good stories invite us into an un-formulaic relationship with another person. Good storytelling is personal, authentic, intriguing, original. Good storytelling builds a unique bridge between story creator and audience. This is why we trust the storyteller, why we WANT to trust the storyteller. So it fascinates me to see this corporate storytelling model reduced to a tidy flow chart. A formula. Fascinates me largely because I think it is pretty accurate!

It lead me to writer and New York Times columnist Rob Walker, and the Significant Objects project. But first, let me connect a few dots. I got hooked up with Ripple100’s Andre Yap (@andreayap) a day or two ago in the magical jungles of Twitterlandia. Turns out we’re both story traffickers, albeit of slightly different stripes. This graphic was the top story on his blog, a good read if you’re a storytelling wonk, and after a little poking around while ruminating on the graphic, I learned about Rob Walker.

“Here is what Rob did. He purchased a bunch of random objects on Ebay. He then distributed the objects to his friends, asked them to write a short story about each. He then put the objects back up for sale on ebay, essentially sold $120 worth of objects for $3,612 – a 2,776% significance markup as he calls it. All based on stories.(Ripple100)

Wow! That’s right. He turned $120 worth of knickknacks into $3,612 by adding a story to each auction item. Genius. Or is it? Maybe it’s just real world proof of what we already know. We love stories. Whether we realize it or not, part of our human nature is an appetite, possibly even a need for storytelling. And yet, it is difficult to put a value on stories. A book? Sure. A movie? Sure. A song? Sure. A short story published in a magazine. Sure. But in each of those cases, the value of the story gets muddled with the value of the storytelling vehicle.

“What is the actual value of a story? Are people prepared to pay more for something if there is a story attached to it? It turns out that they are. That is the outcome of a very original experiment by writer / NYT columnist Rob Walker… So people were prepared to pay a lot more than the initial value of the storyless object. In fact the difference was so big that Rob concluded that the real value was in the story – the object was merely the vehicle for the story.” (DoubleThink)

So it would seem that the value of each story was the difference between the original price of the object and the final price paid for the object and the story. You can review the experimental data, but it only tells part of the story. Remember that the storytellers intentionally or inadvertantly promoted the experiment, as did the organizers, bidders, etc. In other words, the experiment developed a story of its own. So not only were the objects vehicles for stories, but the entire project became a metastory. It bridged people, connecting them, creating meaning, memories, emotions. In short, the items, the storytellers and the project organizers were “humanized” by virtue of telling stories and weaving others into those stories. Or am I pushing the formula too far? You decide.

“What are people really buying? … There are no easy patterns to sort of say, like, well, this is exactly the answer… Every single object sold for more than we paid for it… The project itself became a story and what, in some ways, people were buying was a souvenier of this experiment.” (Rob Walker)

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Story Hackers

Video via

For years I’ve been talking about stories and storytelling. For years people have rolled their eyes and reminded me that storytelling is for kids. Okay, that’s not quite true. I’ve managed to win over a few along the way who’re willing to admit that stories and storytelling are among the most vital building blocks of community, of education, of entertainment, of marketing, of sales… Especially in the last few years. Finally folks seem interested in storytelling. Storytelling is cool! This makes cocktail parties a little more exciting for me, and it encourages me to explore further, question more, dream bigger.

This morning I woke up thinking about the intersection of storytelling and technology. My mind was racing. My rumination included various dissimilar but related ingredients including:

  • Intersect – a site where people can share stories and chart them by time and place to see where their paths might cross.
  • Storify – a next-generation storytelling platform that lets you build stories from social media.
  • Hacks/Hackers – “a network of people interested in Web/digital application development and technology innovation supporting the mission and goals of journalism.”
  • – a newspaper-style interface for curating and accessing Twitter content.
  • Apture – a tool enabling readers to search and explore rich content and media from the web without even leaving the page
  • Mrs. Farnsworth – A.R. Gurney’s comedy in which I’ve been playing the part of Gordon Bell.

On the one hand, last night I performed in Mrs. Farnthsworth at the Old Mill Studio in Elizabethtown. Community theater. Amateur. Fun. Short run. We started out at BlueSeed in Saranac Lake and we head up to SUNY Plattsburgh later this week. The show dishes up plenty of political snarkiness and the audience is the final judge of what is true and what is fabrication. This Thursday and Friday you can judge Mrs. Farnsworth for yourself.

I haven’t acted in a few years, and my first inclination was to decline when I was approached last winter. But then I read the play. And I reconsidered. Not because of the politics. Not even because of the uncanny coincidence that my character was also a creative writing teacher. Two stronger reasons compelled me, a longstanding fascination with acting as a form of storytelling and the notion that remembering how a play is produced (as seen from the inside out) might serve to make me a better president of the Depot Theatre board. I’ll weigh in again on this once we conclude our run.

Last night was our fourth performance of six. Not out best. That was Friday. We really aced it on Friday. Actors were at the top of their game, and the packed audience didn’t miss a beat. Such fun. Virtual reality in the oldest sense! It’s a quirky play, especially fun for me to play Gordon since I’m both a teacher and a writer. Reminded me of moments in the classroom when a lesson was really humming along, students were totally in the zone and ideas were popping. An amazing experience. Addictive. Just ask a teacher. It also reminded me that my first moment in a classroom was storytelling… But that tale for another day.

On the other hand, I spent yesterday experimenting with Intersect’s story sharing platform, and urging Storify to let me “alpha preview” their storytelling platform. Both services offer so much promise! I really enjoy the stripped down simplicity of Intersect, but I’m fascinated with the curatorial potential of Storify. Both platforms are still mere glimmers of what they might become, not exactly prenatal, but early, early in their development. That said, these two technologies offer two of the essentail ingredients for the future of journalism: intersection and curating. I don’t just mean sharing content easily and across multiple platforms. I don’t just mean offering a clumsy threaded link list to interested story followers. I mean that convergence of these two platforms could literally reinvent journalism, collaborative, real time reporting and storytelling.

Stories, by their very nature are rhizomic. Instead of simply converting traditional print journalism and storytelling to digital (most of what the large media outlets have undertaken so far), the future isn’t flat. Nor is it linear. Nor is it ever in final format. The future is fluid. Information is viral, mutable, shareable. Collaboration is critical. Content affinity is critical. Similar and/or complementary content must connect. And as the massive proliferation of content overwhelms us, curating and aggregating and reviewing/commenting and fact checking become essential. Information strata and intertextuality and multimodal media must interlink, be sortable, trackable. Trying to flatten this future model of journalism, of storytelling into one dimensional print interface will not only be more and more challenging, it will also be less and less necessary, less and less desirable.

Although it’s a somewhat restricted example of the sort of story aggregation and curatorship that could be possible with next generation tools, Tim Carmody’s (@tcarmody on Twitter) “Lobbying for Followers on Twitter: A Love Story” offers an amusing and powerful example of where we’re headed. Add video, audio, slide shows, comments, forums, etc. to the equation, and it’s staggering what you wind up with. How will we navigate, sort, verify, absorb, enjoy this new content interface? Verdict’s still out, but I can’t wait to begin experimenting.

Which takes me back to the video and to Tristan Harris, the CEO of Apture, who waxes enthusiastic but befuddled about the need for a convergence in technology and storytelling:

“You need people from a computational background and from a storytelling background to be able to satisfy the interest of say a publisher who is trying to tell stories and the people who consume information while also satisfying the… and leveraging, I guess, the technology of the medium itself that let’s us do innovative things that we couldn’t do before.”

Yes, we need those people. And we need them to imagine and build and support the next generation of storytelling tools. In the mean time, I’m going to keep exploring their efforts while telling my own stories. And I’m going to continue enjoying the fact that folks finally know (and care) what I’m talking about at cocktail parties!

Intersect Launches Storytelling Service



A warm welcome to Intersect, a virtual campfire for storytellers around the globe. This Seattle startup, under the able leadership of former Microsoft vice president Peter Rinearson, promises the connectivity and community of Facebook with the storytelling prowess and archive of your favorite uncle!

As on Facebook, Intersect users create a personal page, [but] the big differentiator with Intersect is that stories get matched to a specific time and place, with visitors able to locate a person’s story on a map or scroll through an online timeline of a person’s life.

“Basically, it gives people the ability to tell stories collaboratively and in a way which we think is going to be really interesting and fun,” said Monica Harrington, who joined Intersect earlier this year as chief marketing and business development officer. “It is really about bringing storytelling to the Web.”

“Stories are how we communicate values, essentially how we connect with one another,” Harrington continued… “There’s no way to tell our stories in a way where we can be connected together,” she said. (

Perhaps claiming to bring storytelling to the web is a little bold, since there have been all sorts of web-based digital storytelling options for a decade or so. But it does sound like the first user-friendly community open to the public for sharing storytelling. And for searching out stories. An open archive for storytelling. Open source storytelling!

I’ve offered to participate in their beta launch, and I’ll post updates if/when I get the chance to play around with the prototype. Throw another log on the fire and let the stories flow… I’m contemplating a narrative meander around Crown Point fort. What story would you tell?

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A Muse to Amuse Your Ego

I’ve just polluted a perfectly wonderful blog post over at Multi-Hyphenate, and I’m feeling a little ashamed.

No, not the blog troll sort of graffiti that I find reprehensible. But the kind of run-on comment that should have been a blog post instead of clogging up someone else’s blog post (which I alsofind reprehensible.) So… aside from a mumbled apology at the end of my comment, I’m reposting my thoughts so their wise editor is free to abbreviate or remove the comment I posted to Annie Q. Syed’s “There is No Muse“.

A “muse to amuse your ego” is an amusing and clever tongue twister that I can’t resist borrowing for a quick blog post… But I’m not sure I’m 100% convinced.

I’m with you here: “At the end of the day… you are simply a storyteller and you have a job to do: tell the damn story. ” Just spent this morning listening to Tom Ashbrook interviewing Eric Bogosian about his novel, “Perforated Heart”. (You can hear the On Point rebroadcast, but note it was originally broadcast May 26, 2009.) He tells the story. In more modes, manners and muddles than most storytellers,

Eric Bogosian

Eric Bogosian (Image via

Bogosian tells the damn story. An acquired taste, especially if you’re not male and/or not connected in some way with NYC, but Bogosian is a storyteller without precious, pretentious muse mongering.

Or is he? Perhaps we just don’t meet his muse. Perhaps Bogosian’s muse is personal, intimate, private. Perhaps it is a changing muse, evolving along with his own writing style, ambition, skill. I don’t know. And frankly, I don’t much care because his storytelling stands on its own, muse or no muse.

What’s the point? I think that storytelling need not be divorced from muse. A muse. Many muses. But the story, the finished product, need not reflect the role of the muse in the creative process. A storyteller’s craft is complex, and the journey is often long (as you’ve readily acknowledged) between story seed and finished story. For me, the muse is one part of that journey. She’s part inspiration, as you’ve mentioned above, but she’s also my collaborator. I don’t mean to get too fanciful hear, but recall that storytelling is not a hermetic art. It requires an audience. Else it is mere babbling! The burps and farts of a crazy man. You’ve said, “Sometimes when I write words feel like picking precious beads in sand.” Right! And why? Because you’re not writing for yourself alone. You’re telling a story for an audience and precise, accurate language is the currency of a storyteller if s/he is to find a receptive audience. I’ve slipping into pedantic drivel, sorry…

So inspiration, yes, but my muse is also more of a collaborator. Like music to a dancer. And perhaps also like a dance partner. I’m a crumby (but enthusiastic) dancer, so take this comparison for what little it is worth. I can dream up a clever dance, practice and refine my steps, my rhythm, my gesture, my poise, etc. But it’s only when I attempt this creative process in conjunction with music — real or imagined — that my dance evolves away from the dizzying courtship of a park pigeon into something more compelling, more complete. And better still when I extend my hand to a dance partner — real or imagined — to enter into the dance with me, to mirror, to oppose, to resist and beguile and charm and challenge that something beautiful can be born.

Yes, I’ve overextended the metaphor. Apologies! But there’s an idea in there, an idea that a creator can extend the limits of his or her creativity significantly when amused by a muse. ;-)

That indulgent difference aside, there’s much we agree on. The work of a storyteller is also to know the difference between this creative dance and the hard work of distilling the finished product from the draft. After narcotic creativity transports the storyteller beyond initial inspiration and indeed often beyond the anticipated scope of the story, it’s time to begin the hardest work. The editing, the weeding, the focusing, the revising. The muse does not belong in this process, at least in my own writing. She’s a temptress, a dazzling temptress who’s creative genius forever outstrips my own. And so the time comes when I must bid her farewell, for a while, remove my dance shoes, sit down at my desk and work. Dancing is divine, but I have a job to do!

Story Circle: Digital Story around the World

The idea of creativity clusters has been around since the beginning of time.  Anything that works this well is worth noting!  Usually linked to the high-tech cluster in Silicon Valley, a creativity cluster is simply a collection of people in a high-performance environment that maximizes creative output. Building a cluster using digital technology and storywork is a powerful combination.

Story Circle is the first collection developed to track the digital storytelling movement around the world.   Exploring the digital landscape – consumer-generated content, memory grids, micro-documentaries, this book highlights who is doing what and where.  Following Joe Lambert‘s original version of digital storytelling as ‘knowing in practice’, Story Circle collects and describes digital projects in social, educational, activist and community contexts.  Great resource! (via

I’ve just ordered Story Circle: Digital Storytelling Around the World and I’m looking forward to plunging in. Will update you all soon!

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The Goal Is a Great Story

I agonized over lines, phrases, even single word choices. Chapters were shifted, characters reworked. I climbed into dark places that hit me so hard I took showers after writing certain chapters. But it was only afterward that I realized that what I was doing was getting the manuscript in the shape it needed to be in. While it was happening, I was simply in pursuit of authenticity—a story that only I could tell and tell it in a way that only I could do it.(

Heath Gibson’s guest blog post is titled, “If it hurts, you’re doing something right“, and he focuses on his personal experience getting his debut novel, Gigged, out of the gate on onto shelves. I’m especially drawn to the last assertion above: a great story is an authentic story, a story that can and will ONLY be told by you.

Read the full post at

How to Make a Digital Story in Front of 100 People

1 hour. 100 students. Mission? Teach the students how to make a digital story! Challenging for sure. Possible? Here’s Grimeland Merete’s story:

The other day I was asked to teach students studying to become pre-school teachers at The University College of Oslo how to make a digital story. At first I thought it would be a regular workshop with 15 to 20 students and that we would be able to use 1 to 2 days producing digital stories while I would supervise. These types of workshops I really love! I get to talk to people all the time, and help people tell their stories during the time we spend together in the workshop. And this is what I’ve done every time I’ve been teaching it to others – through workshops, and not lectures… So I was kind of surprised when Grete Jamissen said “I’m sorry, Merete. This is not going to be one of those cozy workshops we usually do. We have nearly 100 students, and you have to show them how it works in an hour. That’s all the time we got”. […]

I could have said that this post would be about how to make a digital story in 1 hour, but that wouldn’t have been entirely true, because Grete had spent quite a few hours preparing the raw material for me. Although I put it together, not entirely into a coherent story, I did spend 1 hour demonstrating how it’s done technically, while Grete probably has spent some 10 hours or so preparing the material. And I think she’s still working on it to get it down to a 10-20 min demonstration!

But doing it in front of 100 people, that was the challenge! So if you want to make a digital story live, you should have all your raw material collected and well rehearsed, especially if you’re recording it in front of an audience.

Your raw material should include:

  1. The story written down and/or printed – rehearse the recording 
  2. Selected pictures to compliment the story – numbering the might be a good idea so that you easier know what order you want them in
  3. Recording device or at least mic if you’re recording directly to MovieMaker
  4. Music (with clearance to use)

Read the full post at Sweet Chili of Mine

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