Bold Content War, apps and books. Linear storytelling in a non-linear fashion.

We’re currently embarking on a social media storytelling project which allows us to take a linear documentary subject and break the information down into smaller social media friendly chunks. The audience can then navigate the content at their own pace, allowing them to branch off and learn more about one piece of the story and skip information that’s not relevant to them. 

This sparked my interest in other means of disrupting a traditional  narrative timeline so I took myself off to the Tate Modern for their Conflict Time Photography exhibition as I had heard they were using an innovative approach to display the work of multiple war photographers. 

Rather than grouping the subjects by photographer or by conflict they chose to display the works in a linear fashion based upon how soon after the conflict the photo had been taken. Some were mere seconds after a bomb had gone off like Don McCullen’s haunting Shell-shocked US Marine photo. Others were 10, 20 even 100 years after a conflict. Photographs taken seven months after the fire bombing of Dresden are shown alongside those taken seven months after the end of the First Gulf War. 

The exhibition was fascinating and the contrasting arrangements of minimal rooms placed next to rooms filled with bold powerful images made for a dynamic gallery landscape strewn with various degrees of shocking, beautiful and thought provoking photographs.

As a compliment to the images are words from Kurt Vonnegut, an American writer who witnessed the fire bombing of Dresden. In a strange coincidence I have just finished reading his book Slaughterhouse Five, from which the words were taken. I found the non-linear timeline that the narrative weaves to be an intriguing means of recounting a harrowing tale. The main narrative agent Billy Pilgrim, travels through time, finding himself in different parts of his life throughout the story. 

Although we follow a linear tale told by the narrator, the timeline is non-linear which makes an interesting and highly recommended book.

One of the challenges that we are coming up against in creating our interactive infographic is relinquishing the traditional role of narrator. As documentary filmmakers we are used to imparting information to an audience and paying great attention to how, when and how much information we dish out at any one time. Storytelling in the world of the iDoc, or interactive documentary as our infographic will be, takes a hands-off approach. We relinquish the reigns and let the viewer free to skip important parts of the narrative if they so wish. Like caring parents it’s hard to let go of this control but we must allow them to make their own mistakes, to skip essential nuggets at will, to create their own desire for knowledge but to always be on hand to provide advice should it be needed.

I recently downloaded an interesting app called Timeline which allows users to find more context about today’s current affairs. In an interactive manner users can delve into the past of a breaking news story to discover as much context as they see fit. I encourage you to give it a try as it’s a fun way to gain extra information. I have found that by using the app to delve into the past you sometimes acquire knowledge that changes your viewpoint of the information you were originally presented with. This is one of the great bonuses of interactive information gathering. By presenting a wealth of information and merely signposting viewers to discover content, we are not spoon feeding a passive audience, we are offering tidbits to a hungry crowd. They are more likely to retain the knowledge, having received a small rewarding dopamine hit for having found knowledge that they just created a desire for. 

By learning to let go of traditional storytelling paradigms we are opening viewers up to all manner of creative possibilities. The relationship between storyteller and listener is subverted in the non-liner world and I look forward to seeing how viewers will use our interactive infographic to carve their own pathways through the story.


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