Did you hear about the Secret Story Network?
It’s an R&D project we have been developing on the QT at Bellyfeel.
It’s a series of live interactive stories delivered in chat apps to audiences who collaborate on telling the story together as an immersive storygame experience. The stories are led by a “Story Conductor”.
This year we collaborated with several Universities, working to research and develop the idea, and we were awarded funding by the Arts Council of England to develop story ideas and test them with live online audiences.
It was an unusual idea to outsiders, but anyone who knows what we do at Bellyfeel knows this is what we love to do – take “traditional” writers, get them to write less narrative, and let the audience play a major part in what happens in the story.
It didn’t all go to plan, and there were a few surprises…
We started by playing SSN stories and games with writers and storytellers on WhatsApp.
Then we had a day long workshop where we did improvisation training, dissected story ideas and held a live story event in the room (on post it notes).
This was followed by the development of 12 stories which were then delivered to live audiences.
Here are some trailers for these stories:
We had similar problems to games producers – should the story be ?
Defined to a large extent, with options the audience can take, but starting with a good idea of where the action will go and making sure the ending pays off nicely.
Starting with a set premise and characters but letting the audience go wherever they want, the story conductor is pulled along and helps guide the action but can end up being one step behind and that can lead to a compromised ending.
Either can work so long as the story conductor is responsive to the audience and story as it plays out. (My favourite is open, with game mechanics that define the ending.)
Being a story conductor is a special role.
Part storyteller, part improvisor, part cat herder…
You never know for sure what will happen when the audience get their teeth into your story, but you can prepare yourself…
Here’s what story conductors have told us about their experiences…
GOLDEN RULES of STORY CONDUCTING!
• Less is more
• Don’t be afraid – be brave
• Create an experience
• Don’t panic
• Again, don’t PANIC!
• LESS media is better. The players will create their
own visions in their heads.
• NEVER be afraid to kick players out of the game.
Just do it.
• Don’t over-complicate the story as the players will
bring their own details to it.
• Use narrative media content to communicate
the rules and limitations of the story.
• The story conductor is a conduit for the players
to complete their story. Don’t over involve yourself.
• If it doesn’t work, lose it.
In general, the younger storytellers had a much easier time creating and running these stories. They all know what Dungeons and Dragons is, and they are exposed to interactive storytelling through video games as their main cultural diet. The younger members of the team took to this project like ducks to water.
Others in the group found it difficult to engage with the project. (I believe there was some unspoken fears about stepping into the unknown that people weren’t able to admit.) I should note, being a story conductor scares me rigid, more than when I used to go onstage and play music in front of 20,000 people!
STOP PRESS: A recent discovery! Having the audience play as prewritten characters is a great way to expand the story in a live context. This adds another dimension that we don’t usually get if players are playing themselves or making their own characters.
I hope this SSN info was useful and/or interesting – there’s a lot more that I will be writing about…
For info and ivites into the storytelling events go and sign up at the Secret Story Network website.
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