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Writing & Documenting Open Storyworlds and Participatory Stories

robert | September 12, 2012  ‐  17 Comments

Released in Conducttr today is our new Quest Workspace. This workspace allows our authors to map their participatory storyworlds (Worlds) in a groundbreaking new way. This blog post shares the methodology we’ve developed so that even if you’re not a Conducttr user it’s still possible to revolutionize the way you plan and document your Worlds.

The strength of Conducttr is that it allows the building of participatory open storyworlds, for example, something like an ARG or a location-based story. By this we mean that the audience is free to roam the world and discover the story for themselves by questioning, unlocking, solving, visiting and generally exploring all the platforms made available by the creators.

Many writers and producers when they first come to transmedia storytelling aren’t sure how to tie together the storytelling part with the experiential part. That is, they may have a great story but don’t know what the user journey looks like; or they have some great ideas for an experience but not sure how to tell their story across that experience. Even when they have both parts it can be tough documenting how the two join in the middle.

Revelations and Quests

My approach is to break the story into blocks of revelations.

Start with a linear synopsis and pull out the major plot points and beats in the story – these are your revelations. Once the audience has this knowledge it will recognize that the story is moving forward. It could be the discovery of an affair or of a long-lost brother or it could be something small like finding an earring but importantly the audience must recognize that this discovery has significance. If the audience sees no significance then it’s not a revelation.

In Conducttr we call these revelations “Quests” because we’re going to ask the audience to participate in discovering these revelations.

The next step is to lay out the revelations along a timeline and consider the pacing of the story. How soon or how late or on what date will the audience be allowed to unlock the revelation?

Now connect the revelations with links and annotate the incoming link with important information that  unlocks the secrets of the Quest and on the outgoing link the information found in this Quest to be used in the next.

Presentation and Structure

So far I’ve found that the ideal structure is to start with an “inciting revelation” – usually a call to action – and end with a “concluding revelation” i.e. the payoff. In between there can be any number of revelations.

The image below is the “Quest Chart” for Lowlifes (created in Lucid Charts) – a murder mystery story that can be played via this website: http://ortegapi.posterous.com/  The goal for the audience is to find the murderer. They do this by questioning characters via email, SMS and Twitter.

The next step now is to decide what the audience does – how and where it will participate – and this is where we need to develop an engagement strategy to (re)consider:

  • purpose
  • participation
  • personalization
  • pacing
  • characters.

In the Quest Workspace in Conducttr we can drop verticals to mark important time periods (the pacing) and horizontals to show a layered experience. In the diagram here I’ve shown locations and videos providing information required to unlock the Quest revelation.

Drilling down inside each Quest we create a more detailed layered experience – this time looking at how characters respond to audience participation. In the next figure, events triggered by the audience are shown in the right column and the actions taken by characters at the intersection of the event and the character column.

I’ll leave you with a short demo video of the Quest Workspace in operation.