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Narrative structures in interactive documentaries

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Florent Maurin

on 17 October 2014

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Transcript of Narrative structures in interactive documentaries

Linear narrative
Concentric narrative

Parallel narratives
Threaded narrative
Le corps incarcéré:

Bucharest Below Ground:
- Easy to generate, easy to use. You just have to write a "classic" documentary, and split it into theme-defined chapters users can browse through.
- High dramatic arc control: emotions are easier to convey.
- Pretty low « Information tsunami » feeling (you're not frightened by the amount of information still to be seen, as you get a sharp feeling of the amount of time the story will take to unfold).
- Very weak interactive level, and thus very weak involvement.
- Interaction is no part of the story at all. Each user gets exactly
the same user experience.
Examples :
It's the most classic way to tell a story : with a beginning, an end, and adventures in between.
Kind of a « control freak » structure:
there's only one possible story, events occur in a narrator-defined order.
A widespread structure.
Users are given access to a central « hub » (a map,
a thumbnails mosaic, a list of subject titles and what not),
and radiate from there, in any order they want,
to each and every different elements of the story.
Sometimes, one or more of those elements
can be subdivized into a bunch of smaller parts.
Stains Beau Pays
Behind the Veil
The Iron Curtain Diaries
Examples :
- Seems simple.
- Seems great in terms of user freedom.
- Grants the possibility to order heterogeneous
elements so that they seem related to each other.
- The author's view on the subject may be blurred,
or even disappear.
- Very strong « information tsunami » alert.
Only highly motivated users will have
the curiosity to browse through all the different items.
This narrative structure was invented by Prison Valley,
an award-winning iDoc.
In this structure, there is one main linear central story,
but from time to time, circumvolution are suggested
to the user, who can explore those "sub-stories"
and then go back on the main track.
Examples :

Pine Point
Prison Valley
- This structure is a strong one, as it shares
similarities with the linear narrative.
- This is a decent mix between straight forward narration and interaction.
- Authors may feel more comfortable with the idea that all of their work is visible.
- It can look very close to linear storytelling, which can be annoying to some users. If the iDoc can be summarized to a very straight forward form, are the circumvolutions of any use ?
- Fairly high « information tsunami » alert. Each time the user gets away from the main story, it's uneasy to dive back into it.
At defined moments, in order for the story to unfold,
users have to make choices (sometimes binary choices,
sometimes more complex ones). Once they decide
what they want to "do" (or see) next, the documentary
continues to the next decision node.
Examples :
Journey to the end of coal
Most of the interactive docs produced with Klynt. http://www.klynt.net/
- A potentially very interactive structure. If users are provided with a sufficient number of interesting choices, they can really get a strong feeling of freedom and dive into the topic at stake.
- Low « information tsunami » alert: as users gets involved in the story through their choices, they never feel lost and constantly wish to know more.
- Potentially huge production costs. 2 choices = 4 stories. 3 choices = 8 stories... 10 choices = you may have to shoot 1024 (at least partially) different stories !
- Authors may face frustration , as part of their work may never be seen by the average Joe. In fact, authors need to change the way they look at things: they have to consider the audience not as a sum of individuals anymore, but as a whole. Nobody will explore all the possibilities, but there will be enough users so that every single sub story will be explored by at least one person.
This is in fact a branching narrative that has collapsed on itself. The story is articulated around a series of nodes. Users decide to follow one of the many possible paths, but no matter what, they'll at one point see those pivotal elements. This structure is thus close to a linear one.
- Fairly high interactive level. Even though the feeling of freedom is restricted by the mandatory nodes, it is clearly higher than in more classic structures.
- Very low « information tsunami » risk: users are involved by the choices they makes, plus they get the feeling that, no matter what they chooses, no important point of the story will remain unseen.
- Relatively sensible production cost, when compared to a branching narrative.
- Just like the fishbone narrative structure, this is a linear story in disguise. This can be very disappointing to a freedom-loving user.
- This negative point can eventually be fixed, by conceiving context-variable mandatory nodes
- Another solution would be to provide the user with a "choices related" conclusion. But then, another issue arises: the designer has to make sure that the cause/consequence relationship is understandable enough.
The point, here, is to tell a story according to different points of view. This is a more scenarized version of a concentric narrative, with bridges from node to node so that the user doesn't always have to get back to the central hub. This also is a "multiplayer parallel" narrative, where some stories may share common elements, or be 100% independent.
Inside the Haiti Earthquake
- The user experience can potentially be very enjoyable and highly eloquent. Many different stories can be told at once, as in some sort of interactive "Pulp Fiction".
- Ideally, users can access all the parts of the narrative simultaneously, so they can move forward in the story with any character they want.
- Very high potential « information tsunami » alert level. It is tough not to lose the user, and hard to clearly show the links between the different stories.
- Very complex design: as different stories are interspersed, it is important not to unveil some information too early in the narrative. Access to some parts of the story should be denied to users, as they may not understand them if they have not seen other parts beforehands.
Gaza Sderot
Merci !
Jour de vote
The Refugee Challenge
Jeu d'influences
Le Grand Incendie
Narrative Structures
in interactive documentaries
Full transcript