Transliteracy and Storytelling

Transliteracy: “the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media…” (Thomas et al.)

The art of storytelling fascinates me. The wordcraft of the writer, the stagecraft of playwrights, the complexities of film, the deftness of a visual artist, the memory and vocal modulation of oral storytellers.

But there’s a “new” kind of storytelling occurring on the web, besides community efforts at fiction writing. There is the re-telling of old stories.

Enter The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. This multimodal retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice employed YouTube, Twitter, and Tumblr, giving voice to multiple characters (including, but not excluded to, Lizzie herself, Charlotte, and Lydia). The spin-off, Sanditon went even further, encouraging viewers of the YouTube videos to role-play via Twitter and their own YouTube videos, filling out the fictional town of Sanditon with “real” citizens. As testament to its brilliance, LBD won a 2013 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media. LBD not only translated Pride and Prejudice into the modern world, it did so through Internet-based transliteracy.

I wonder how many LBD viewers have never read P&P. There were certainly such viewers present. So what makes LBD so much more entertaining than its progenitor that even non-readers will follow it? Maybe that transliterate storytelling makes for better stories?

Or maybe “we” just expect transliterate storytelling. The Internet generation (those of us who have been raised with technology like television, computers and video games readily available) is used to transliterate entertainment. Movies give us both visual and aural stimulation. Video games give us both of those, plus interaction. LBD and similar Internet storytelling make the stories multimodal and interactive (although with potentially less effort than a video game. Since you have to “beat the game” to move to the next part of the story in video games).

So how does a school media specialist, employing transliteracy, re-interest her (or his) students in books? One final example of Internet storytelling raises a fascinating possibility.

Pottermore. The official Harry Potter website which offers interactive scenes that go along with the book chapters, as well as opportunities to be a fictional Hogwarts student. Join a house, discover your wand, brew potions, and duel. All of these, and at the same time make friends with other HP fans from around the world. In a sense, it immerses users in the world of Harry Potter. Unlike LBD, however, Rowling intends the site to function alongside the books, encouraging site users to move through the scenes as they read the novels.

Most picture books and novels don’t have such a website (they are becoming more common though­– John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice has a similar, though less complex site). But perhaps the school media specialist can guide students in interacting with their reading. When a story takes place in another country, find that country on GoogleMaps and explore it. If the author describes an unknown plant or animal, find a picture. Older students (perhaps younger students, to a lesser extent) could create playlists that go along with favorite novels. Using Internet resources to supplement hard-copy books offers a wide range of possibilities in storytelling and retelling.

Come to think of it, transliterate storytelling along these lines would actually be a “learning experience” as well as entertainment. And that relates rather well to my essential question.

Thomas, Sue, et al. “Transliteracy: Crossing Divides.” First Monday 12, no. 12 (December 3, 2007).

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