21st Century Storytelling

When I was 15, I told my Careers Advisor that I wanted to be a writer and make films. Her reaction was to smile and then point to a list of careers and say: “OK, so you’re a creative person? Have you ever considered working as a travel agent?”

Now I have nothing against travel agents, or careers advisors for that matter, but what his advisor was saying in as nice a way as she possibly could was that there are no ‘writing jobs’ per se, and that it was probably more likely – especially with my predicted grades – to think about living in the real world a little longer.

This was back in 1996.

Since then, the internet and technology have created incredible opportunities for writers to get out into the world, and storytelling as a whole has evolved. I can imagine that same Careers Advisor hearing a 16 year old say the same thing as I did now, and being greeted with: “Great! All you need is a laptop, some screenwriting software and a camera. Then post your film on YouTube!” It would certainly be what I would tell him.

Micro budget Filmmaking

Using the medium of film as an example of an industry that a great number of writers would deem an impossibility, mostly because when you hear the word ‘film’ you think of $200 million budgets and superheroes, but most filmmakers started out with an idea, their friends and their Dad’s camera.

Take Edgar Wright, writer/director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. He used to make amateur films with his teenage friends and send them off to little festivals. Now he’s making Hollywood films and writing scripts for the Tintin films for Mr Steven Spielberg. Not bad for a kid from Wells in Somerset.

Francis Ford Coppola talked about how technology would bridge the gap between the illusion of big budget filmmaking and the storytelling at its heart. On the set of the 1991 documentary Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, he said:

“To me the great hope is that now that these little 8mm video recorder and stuff now, some–just people who normally wouldn’t make movies are going to be making them. And, you know, suddenly one day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart, and you know, and make a beautiful film with her father’s little camcorder and for once this whole professionalism about movies will be destroyed forever and it will become an art form. That’s my opinion.”

That sounds to me like a pretty accurate description of what technology has enabled us to do with film with limited funds but a lot of creativity and passion. If you look at the horror film industry, low budget gems like The Blair Witch Project and the Paranormal Activity franchise has shown that being inventive doesn’t need to be funded by the budget of a third world country.


The same ethos applies to lots of other forms of writing. Take blogging for example. Although a number of the old guard in the journalism industry still consider it to be an inferior medium, blogging is a phenomenon has continues to grow and find new and interesting ways to be relevant.

For example, blogging is now seen as a way for a writer to slowly build momentum for the release of their novels, by posting excerpts or chapters slowly, building a following, and then releasing the novel as an eBook. It’s a very interesting way of getting your work published, and one that more and more writers and embracing. And with the likes of the Amazon Kindle and other tablets, the printed word doesn’t have to be the only option any more.

Take a look at the 50 Shades of Grey novels. They started out as slightly raunchy Twilight fan fiction on a website for Twi-hards. Now, it’s sold more than 40 million copies worldwide, either by download or print. Not bad work if you can get it! Those books grew out of a desire to write, and it started online, not by having a publisher take it on board.

The writing and reading habits of the world have evolved with technology. Long may it continue.

Social Media

The likes of Facebook and Twitter have enabled writers to build communities and get creative with different forms of writing. In the case of Twitter, having only 140 characters to form a joke or an intelligent statement – without resorting to text speak or poor spelling and grammar – involves careful and clever editing, just as it would if you were editing a story or novel.

Many writers have taken to Twitter to create works of fiction. In October this year, 21 well-known and established writers were given the challenge of writing a 140 character novel by The Guardian. Some of what these writers came up with are pretty great. Check them out and see what you think.

21st century storytelling has validated every writer’s decision to pursue writing as a passion, a hobby or a career. It can take you in all kinds of interesting and challenging directions, and should be embraced by everyone who wants to tell stories.

I didn’t listen to the Careers Advisor when I was 16, and writing has given me the opportunity to write for film, theatre, the internet and both print and online journalism. Everyone has a story to tell, and now we have the mediums to do it, in any way we see fit.

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