We’re entering a new world of storytelling, in which digital exists as an experience; a visceral exploration of a story outside of a print book.
The idea that print books exist at the top of a storytelling hierarchy, with video games, web series, YouTubers, podcasts, zines and interactive apps beneath them, is archaic and regressive: all platforms should be as highly regarded as print. Thankfully, there’s a raft of new companies demonstrating how digital publishing is adapting to suit tech lifestyles.
For instance, The Pigeonhole, an app that serialises fiction and allows reading to be social and interactive, is disrupting publishing. As co-founder Anna Jean Hughes explains:
“Little on the Internet is ever tempered or rational, it’s all fizzy and hyperbolic, and it is this wonderful exuberance that we want for our books.”
Similarly, Visual Editions, a publisher creating books that tell stories in a visual way is testing how we engage with books, exploring narratives through shifting text and visual. This inspires creativity without boundaries, a feat of tech-meets-publishing. As long as we remain inclusive, these tools will help us to rethink education and improve access to new texts.
That being said, there’s an extraordinary feeling that comes from holding a book in your hands. A beautifully illustrated hardback will always have its place, but this shouldn’t stop us being excited by the prospect of extending the reach of these storyworlds beyond the people who already love reading and have access to print. But libraries are changing, bookshops are changing, and we each need to be able to accommodate and support this change and continue to invest in digital stories. Digital gives instant access to a character’s world, or as The Pigeonhole put it, “something that goes beyond the book”, from essays and new text content to soundtracks, videos and maps.
Digital can be seen as a puzzle, an exploratory path, something sensory. Words can evoke the senses so that you can almost reach out and touch the crow’s brittle plumage in Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Imagine if the next generation could have that times ten, and if ten times more of them could have it: the readers that struggle with print, that don’t have the privilege of time to sit and lose hours to a novel.
If Minecraft can construct characters and narratives that reflect and challenge our everyday perceptions, and if that story can connect with a much wider cross-section of society, it would be ridiculous for us not to hold it in high regard. Digital diversifies narratives, increases accessibility; any story can be posted online for free in a series of formats from text to image, video, audio, tweets, gifs, memes – everything is valid. These can then be a subject of discussion for an online and inclusive community spanning the globe.
Involving digital in the diverse storyworlds of publishing is to realise the context of narratives across fiction and non-fiction. Digital allows characters, costumes, locations and colours to exist beyond the page, something that has always happened in our imaginations. The process of reading is to visualise all elements of writing, to engage the senses, to have an emotional response.
As children, storytelling takes precedence. It isn’t romanticised print-book-in-hand ideologies that concern us as we plunge into narratives, it’s the voice of a storyteller. People and the emergence of collaborative community voices in are what matter, and this is fully understood and enabled in digital.