Archive for December, 2012

☞ Telling a company’s brand story involves knowing its brand history, and acknowledging the customers’ and other participants’ roles in the narrative.


“Every brand has a story.

Everyone wants to be part of a story. Being human means living a story.

That means all your customers, prospects, employees and suppliers want to be part of a story.

Tell a compelling story, and they’ll want to be part of yours.

But – here’s where most brands fall short – to tell a good story, you must know your story.

To know your story, you must dig deep into the vaults of your brand’s history, and into the minds and lives of your customers, employees and stakeholders.

Bestselling novelist Stephen King likens writing a story to digging for fossils. Finding fossils and digging them up safely is a specialist skill., You must know where to dig, how to dig, and what you’re looking for.

That’s what these 72 questions are tailored to do.”

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☞ Although often taken together, narrative and gameplay do not always work together perfectly. One possible dissonant relationship between the two may result in narratives with bad endings, which, according to this article from the International Business Times, was especially noticeable in the year 2012.

“A thriving indie scene produced stunning and challenging works. Games like “Spec Ops: The Line,” “Dishonored,” and “Mass Effect 3” told their players breathtaking stories. And “The Walking Dead” broke new ground in interactive fiction and episodic content, showing zombie fans that a game adaption of a popular comic book and TV series could actually be a good thing.

The narrative pieces of video games still have an uncomfortable relationship with their more game-like properties, however. As the game critic Tom Bissell wryly noted, its hard to believe that Max Payne is an “incompetent failure” when, moments after drinking himself into a stupor, he starts “leaping in slow motion from a speedboat while shooting an incoming RPG out of the sky and then single-handedly massacring an entire army of Kevlar-encased Brazilian commandos.” The technical term for this is “ludonarrative dissonance,” and it’s rarely more glaring than in the final moments of a game’s story. Game designers, or at least the marketers and PR managers around them, often tell players they are the true owners of the stories that unfold before them. As players, we want to believe them. And we can, for the most part, until that final moment when the narrative designer has to step back in and remind us of their vision for the direction the story was meant to take.”

“I don’t mean to fault games like “Mass Effect” for having sloppy endings. Many of the games that had the worst endings I could think of were also the best games that came out this year. But as games become more self-consciously cinematic, and as CGI inches ever closer to the uncanny valley, their so-called “ludonarrative dissonance” is only going to become all the more glaring in turn. With that in mind, I present for your consideration some of the silliest moments where story and gameplay butted heads in 2012. …”

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☞ Quite an unusual way to write stories: beginning with names, and the stories are conjured after the names of characters and places have been given.

“When Tolkien came up with what sounded to him like a name, he would play with it a bit, experiment with its sound structure, and eventually a system of linguistically related names would emerge. Thus a family was invented, a family with relationships to other families in a mythical place, ready to take part in stories. As Tolkien explained in the letter already mentioned, “The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse. To me a name comes first and the story follows.” And in his lecture on creating languages, ‘A Secret Vice’ (1931), he wrote “the making of language and mythology are related functions” and an invented language, at least one developed at length, will inevitably “breed a mythology.”

Tolkien was always a philologist, whether in scholarship or fiction. He treated his fictional languages as though they were real, as though he were discovering rather than inventing them. In his scholarship, reconstruction of the sound system or grammar of languages like Old English and Old Norse was routine.”

“Other Hobbit clans have different types of names from those of the Bagginses. Brandybuck names have a distinctly Celtic shape, given the profuse -doc suffix: Gormadoc, Marmadoc, Saradoc, and, of course, Meriadoc. The Tooks prefer names from medieval romance and beast epic: Adelard, Ferumbras, Flambard, Fortinbras (rather than Armstrong, which has a quite different shape), Isengrim, and Sigismund, for instance. The Longfathers have names constructed from Anglo-Saxon elements: Hamfast and Samwise, in which -wise may mean, as it sometimes does in Anglo-Saxon, ‘sprout, stalk’. Over the generations, clan marries into clan, and the names mingle and develop new patterns: the names are the genealogical architecture of a culture.

Through alliances and friendships, Hobbit culture reticulates into the wider web of cultural relationships across Middle Earth and deep into the mythology of which the story of Middle Earth is only a part. The linguistic bases for cultural relationship and contrast are woven tightly and everywhere into the fabric of Tolkien’s fiction. In the middle of the mythological pattern, Tolkien has pricked in the -o and the -a, suffixes that say something about who the Bagginses are, or who they think they are, something that allows one Baggins to find the Ring and another to destroy it, just in time.”

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Modern classics: The new book is the third in a series of fashion fairy tales

☞ One of the ways to present a person’s biography is through narrative, and one of the favourite genres of narrative used for this is the fairy tale. This is the schema used by Camilla Morton in her biography of Diane von Furstenberg. There are two sides to a fairy tale, of course, and one wonders if the schematisation here is entirely positive (the full title of the book has the phrase “The Empress’s New Clothes” in it).

“From marrying a prince, to founding one of the world’s most famous fashion labels, Diane von Furstenberg has led a seemingly charmed life.

And now, the designer’s story has quite literally become a fairy tale, thanks to author Camilla Morton.

Titled Diane von Furstenberg and the Tale of The Empress’s New Clothes, she blends the plot of Hans Christian Andersen‘s The Emperor’s New Clothes with details of von Furstenberg’s own history.

The designer was heavily-involved with the project, not only working with Morton on the story itself, but also providing all of the illustrations.”

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☞ This is another article on how narrative can be constructively used for coming to terms with incomprehensible acts of extreme violence, such as the Newtown massacre.

The power of storytelling is exactly this: to bridge the gaps where everything else has crumbled.”—Paulo Coelho

“On Friday, December 14, 2012, a lone gunman entered an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and killed 26 people, including 20 children ages six to seven. These deaths, coming in the same year as mass shootings in a movie theater, a mall, and a house of worship—and interspersed with violent acts every day on our streets—created a shock wave of sorrow and disbelief throughout the U.S. and the world. With the loss of children who had birthdays and graduations and their entire lives to look forward to, we asked whether this time would finally be the catalyst for action against gun violence, and address when the right to bear arms abridges the right to live and prosper. There were calls for and attacks against gun control, access to mental health care, security in schools, video games, media attention to killers, perspectives on race, and the glorification of violence.

But what we didn’t ask is how we proactively design a world that allows us all the chance to live in safety, and supports a shared goal of opportunity and care for all.

We keep searching for point solutions. We weigh one factor against another in the hopes one solved factor will solve the whole. But societal issues are complex and systemic and intertwine with each other. Answers can never be either/or.

We need to start designing our culture such that holistic sets of solutions, policies, and customs take hold, and hold us to a new, 21st century (and beyond) social contract between the individual and the collective.

How do we do this? One essential way is through story: The only way to truly comprehend the human costs of policy frameworks and cultural constructs is to listen to and exchange stories. The humanitarian and emotional perspectives are often more persuasive than only the rational ones when we are creating livable societies. To build a culture of possibility, we have to build both a movement and an ethical framework grounded in multiple narrative from multiple voices, and fostered by co-creation networks that act for the good of the collective and the protection of the individual.”

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☞ Many of us are trying to come to grips with the incomprehensible mass killing of children and their educators in Newtown. The article below and the following article argue that narrative may have an ameliorative or even curative effect on us, and it can help both the victims and the perpetrators of violence. The article below was published on the 20th of December in the Huffington Post. It was written by Sloan Gorman, who is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

“Five days have passed and I am still finding it nearly impossible to comprehend the events of 12/14 in Newtown, Conn. I am an experienced clinical social worker who specializes in the treatment of psychological trauma, yet I am still at a loss in understanding what happened on that hideous day.

When working with a client in therapy to help them heal from a traumatic event, one of my goals is to help them create a coherent narrative about what happened. A coherent narrative is essentially a story that makes sense.

A coherent narrative is one of the things that helps us to integrate new information with what we already know, so that we can heal and move on.”

“The Newtown tragedy continues to trouble me personally, and us collectively, because it is so difficult to formulate a coherent narrative around the events of that day.

Why has it been so difficult to do so? Perhaps it is because it is just too tragic. Perhaps it is because too many innocents died. Perhaps it is so difficult for me personally because it hits too close to my home in Milford, Conn.

Or maybe, just maybe, the reason I am not able to form a coherent narrative around these events is because there is none. This story does not make sense, no matter which angle you view it from. Perhaps there will be continue to be no coherent narrative until the laws are changed about what kind of firearms individuals are allowed to own.”

☞ Choices may be a factor in our response to narrative. But these choices are in a way determined by the writer or the producer of the narrative. Are video games different? Are the choices in a game authentic or are they actually illusory?

“…the choices given to the player are almost always an illusion to make it seem like they matter. But what makes them matter is not that they are there, but that they allow the player to feel the impact of these moments through the story. It is within choosing the Stormcloaks over the Imperials, in curing the Genophage over tricking the Krogan, in saving Doug or Carley, where the narrative takes shape depending upon our choices. But because of this seeming betrayal of trust in the audience to distinguish the two styles, the theme of choice have become a pariah of sorts thanks to this perceived notion of railroading storylines.

In actuality, that is nothing new or against the mechanical design of the choices given in video games. For story-driven games, the choices will always be tied to a plot written by the developers, but controlled by the players. The real value of this is not that the story eventually doesn’t matter, but that the journey the story takes, the changes in the narrative because of how the player controls the story, will make the experience worthwhile. It is a gamble each time, and this past year we have seen many games succumb to the wrath of players because the plot ended a certain way.

Ultimately, we need to take to heart the fact that in the end there are no true consequences, no fully changed outcomes to be gained in a fixed plot. But there are consequences in the choices made because of our attachment to them, to the characters and the often moral implications of their predicaments, that allow us to shape the eventual narrative we experience. It is through this illusion of choice where we see the crux of the narrative that gamers become attached to, and in the end the choices matter only because we made them that way. We control the illusion by making the choices, which in turn help us tell the story, the emotional meat of the experience.

So don’t blame The Walking Dead or the next game following the buzzwords of “choice” and “consequences” for eventually removing the facade of the choice in an instant. What truly matters in a narrative is not that the plot can change, but that the circumstances of the plot, the actual story behind your actions, dictate the tone of the overall experience. In doing this, Telltale Games, along with many other industry leaders can craft stories with hard choices and consequences for them. But a little give and take regarding what can be influenced, and what can’t needs to be recognized for the illusion to work its magic.”

[Slightly edited] Read more…

“The truth is, we need popular fiction in our lives as accepted parts of the literary world. In one of my first creative writing workshops, the professor urged us to avoid “genre” fiction, claiming it was lazy writing. Over the course of the semester, many stories were shared, the majority of them lackluster, and, to be frank, boring (mine were no exception). The class was inundated with dysfunctional relationships and the daily tribulations of young urbanites.

One day a student turned in a piece that showed real promise. It was a children’s story, for around the same age as Bailey School Kids or Boxcar Children. It concerned a school for supervillain children, and one student who didn’t want to grow up into the next Lex Luthor, but instead wanted to become a tailor.

The story was, in a word, delightful. It was fun, clever, well constructed; I could see it selling well as a series or being the talk of the Scholastic Book Club. The entire class loved it, and told the writer so.

The professor tore it apart. Called it “juvenile” and said that it “wasn’t really literature, which is what we’re trying to write here.”

I was shocked. Even on a purely technical level, this was one of the better written pieces we had seen so far, and yet here the professor was, decrying it, with all of the knowledge accumulated from his three or four published stories.”

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☞ The incident mentioned by Nathan Elwood above was unfortunate. There is certainly a place for popular literature in creative writing classes, and most examples of popular literature can also be described as genre fiction. The students (and Elwood) might have attended a course for writing serious literature, but it is not always easy to determine beforehand if this was what they paid for, and if the teacher had a more liberal attitude towards fiction in general.

“The New Testament contains two Christmas stories, not one. They appear in Matthew 12 and Luke 12. They have some points in common. But there are many differences in their characters, plot, messages, and tone.

In the familiar version of the Christmas story, Mary and Joseph travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Because there was no room in the inn, the baby Jesus is born in a stable and placed in a manger. His humble birth is celebrated by choirs of angels and shepherds, and he is given precious gifts by the mysterious Magi. This version freely blends material from the two biblical accounts. It has become enshrined in Christmas carols and stable scenes as well as the liturgical cycle of readings during the Christmas season.

Giotto’s “Nativity, Birth of Jesus” from Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel, Padua, Italy c. 1304-1306.

Giotto’s “Nativity, Birth of Jesus” from Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel, Padua, Italy c. 1304-1306.

My purpose here is not to criticize blending the two Christmas stories or to debate the historicity of the events they describe. What I do want to show is that by harmonizing the two stories we may be missing points that were especially important for Matthew and Luke, respectively. I want also to suggest that appreciating each biblical account separately might open up new perspectives on the infancy narratives for people today.”

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☞ Fr Harrington argues that the two Christmas stories in Matthew and Luke need not always be blended together, but there are virtues in looking at them separately. By doing this, the contexts in which they were written would be better appreciated, and there would also be a better understanding of the respective writer’s intentions. What this article emphasises is the importance of the appropriate contexts in reading religious narratives.

“Nonfiction means that our stories are as true and accurate as possible. Readers expect — demand — diligence. I won’t say that nonfiction writers don’t on occasion make mistakes or even knowingly make stuff up, as for example Jonah Lehrer did in his recent book, “Imagine,” or James Frey did in his memoir, “A Million Little Pieces.” (Yes, truth in memoir is often a matter of memory and perception, but that doesn’t mean that the writer shouldn’t strive for accuracy at every opportunity, even when ideas and information are presented in scenes, as in the Williams-Feeney encounter.) As I explained in my previous article for Draft, all creative or narrative nonfiction books or articles are fundamentally collections of scenes that together make one big story.

But to reconstruct stories and scenes, nonfiction writers must conduct vigorous and responsible research. In fact, narrative requires more research than traditional reportage, for writers cannot simply tell what they learn and know; rather, they must show it. When I talk with my students, I introduce a process of work I call the three R’s: First comes research, then real world exploration and finally and perhaps most important, a fact-checking review of all that has been written.”

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