This week we’re excited to bring you an article from Rachael Bull, Programme Manager, Arts & Culture Programmes and Investments at Nesta. It’s an innovation foundation that works collaboratively, through experimentation labs and crowdfunding, to find solutions to the big problems facing society. Here she presents Alterrnaratives, an exploration of new forms of storytelling in the digital age. We applaud how Nesta is championing not just traditional methods or focusing on the new, but recognising the essential nature of both and bringing them together.

What is the future of short-form storytelling? How could stories look if writers used all the tools we now have at our disposal to tell stories in new and exciting ways? Nesta wants to explore ways to stimulate new forms of storytelling which might encourage and inspire a disengaged population of young people to read for pleasure.

Storytelling forms an integral part of our understanding of the world and has held an important role in our evolution as humans. Historically, traditional literary forms saw us submit entirely to the storyteller as a submissive listener, but with the rise of technology and an ever-growing experience economy we are leaning more and more towards active consumption. Theatre, traditionally seen as a passive experience, is rapidly embracing more experiential and personalised forms whilst gaming is seeing record growth. Immersive events, such as Secret Cinema, have pushed the boundaries of cinematic interaction. This emerging market means we increasingly expect to have more agency and interaction in our experiences – with the recent Olafur Eliasson exhibit at Tate Modern being another strong example of this. How could this type of interaction benefit readers and augment stories?

with the rise of technology and an ever-growing experience economy we are leaning more and more towards active consumption

Last month, Nesta launched the Alternarratives prize to find out just how many writers are already working in this way, as well as stimulating exploration from writers that aren’t. So, what sort of ideas are we talking about?

There are brilliant examples out there of writers creating innovative stories, which immerse the reader but perhaps not in the way you might expect. Breathe, created by Kate Pullinger in collaboration with Editions at Play and Ambient Literature, is a ghost story that personalises itself for every reader through APIs (application programming interfaces) that pull data from your phone, including place, weather and time, into the narrative.

Back in 2011 the writers of The Thick of It created Malcolm Tucker: The Missing iPhone. The idea was that the character Malcolm Tucker had lost his phone, you’ve now found it and can hack into his emails, messages and voicemail to unravel a scandal. It became the first app to be nominated for a BAFTA, showing the true potential of this emerging platform. These are just two examples of existing work but the potential is vast, and we hope that allowing creators research and development opportunities will unlock some really exciting content. Ultimately, we believe writers hold the key to good stories.

allowing creators research and development opportunities will unlock some really exciting content. Ultimately, we believe writers hold the key to good stories

Whilst demand for experiences is rapidly increasing, research from the National Literacy Trust has shown that reading for pleasure dramatically decreases in young people after they leave primary school. In this transfer to secondary education, the gap between students’ reading ability and their age grows wider each year; along with reading enjoyment levels having been shown to decrease in 2018. At the same time, findings from The Centre for Longitudinal Studies showed that reading for pleasure has a four times greater impact on academic success than one parent having a degree, as well as finding a link to young people being more likely to succeed after education and have more robust mental health. What is the potential for short-form narrative to address this issue and how can storytellers innovate the format to create captivating content for readers?

We want to hear what writers think the answers or opportunities are

Nesta is keen to explore this more, working across our priorities to bring the expertise of our Arts & Culture and Education teams together with the resources of our Explorations team. Could writers use technology to create a platform where the reader accesses stories online at the site of the scene? Could multiple contributors help change the ending for a character and transform their story? We want to hear what writers think the answers or opportunities are; creating projects that are easy to access and distribute – such as on phones and computers, not just VR and headsets.

Find out more about Nesta and the Alternarratives application process.

Posted by:Sophie Sabin

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