So, you want to tell a story; you have a brilliant idea that is simply bursting to get out, and you won’t be able to get any rest until you’ve told it. Nevertheless, a decision must first be made: how do you tell it?
Prose seems like the natural choice. It’s the most common form of writing, and can often be mistaken for the most appropriate method of telling a story. However, not only is there a great variety of other writing forms (poetry, script, etc.), there is also a huge range of other art forms at your disposal. Paintings, conceptual art, music, they all tell a story in a distinctly individual way.
It’s easy to prove how effective music can be in telling a story – take any horror film and watch it both with and without sound. If it’s a good score (and sometimes even if it isn’t) you will feel noticeably more scared when the sound is included. Even if the audience cannot guess what the actual story is, music is good at expressing the ‘emotional truth.’ Soulström, a piece by Jodie Blackshaw, told the story of the composer’s personal struggle with the aftermath of her father’s death. Although it would be impossible to guess the details, the ‘emotional truth’ – the confusion and grief of the composer – was clearly conveyed.
Art is similarly effective in expressing a sentiment or telling a story. Conceptual art, by its very nature, is driven by a concept or desire. It uses a large degree of symbolism to tell its story; Ai Weiwei’s installation Sunflower Seeds told the story of China’s static culture and downtrodden people through the eight-million handcrafted sunflower seeds. Occasionally easier to understand, physical art (paintings, drawings, sculptures, etc.) uses more technical aspects to share its story. The literal image conveys a story that is either complemented or contrasted by how the artist has crafted it; an image can be equally joyous or ominous depending on the choice of colour and line.
You don’t have to limit yourself to one form, though; there has been plenty of success in combining two art forms to enhance the story. Books can be released with soundtracks that match the mood of the chapters. Songs, combining words and music – often forgotten as a storytelling method – work in the same way, the music creating a mood which complements the lyrics. A good example is The Decemberists’ Mariner’s Revenge Song. Graphic novels and memoirs, such as David Small’s Stitches or Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, use image and text to clearly convey their story. Shorter and generally humorous comics and webcomics (e.g. Poorly Drawn Lines by Reza Farazmand) are another popular form combining image and text. Games – which use image, audio, and text – are becoming increasingly story-based, while still allowing the user to fully interact with the story.
When telling a story, think about the best way to tell it and the best form to use. Don’t assume that the only way to express it is through lengthy prose. Some of the most engaging stories can be told through the simplest or most abstract of forms, with or without text.
– Ariel Skippen