Participatory Storytelling

“There may be someone out there already hard at work on the Great American Twitter Novel, tweeting and retweeting and subtweeting it one day at a time” (Crouch, 2014, para. 9).

I had a professor in college who over the course of a semester wrote a novel in tweets. He was a “cool” professor, of course, and he had devoted followers both in real life and online. I think he was a welcome contrast to our more traditional English department faculty, someone looking forward instead of back. He was probably the first professor I had who actively engaged with the question “What kind of writing will develop with new technology?”

“If you have a name like Benedict Cumberbatch, that’s half your tweet gone … you have to modify a few of the elements of the story to accommodate the brevity” (Taylor & Williams, 2014, para. 6).

Tackling Twitter storytelling myself (though as a community assignment instead of an individual effort) I found that the arbitrary boundaries of the platform called for a different kind of creativity. I’m not a strong creative writer and it is not something I necessarily enjoy, but having to play within the rules of a tweet gamified the assignment for me. I liked thinking about the economy of words—how could I move the narrative forward, keep it short and sweet, and still produce a quality of writing I’d be willing to put my name to? My favorite moments in the assignment were when members of the cohort discovered tricks or work-arounds to enhance the story, but still play within the rules. I’m glad to have participated in this assignment, and to have done it as a team, as I know it would not have been a storytelling venue I would have ventured into by myself.

Project #1 – Infographic

To continue my game analogy, I like statistics. I like keeping them, analyzing them, and improving them (which drives my volleyball team crazy). For having spent my extensive educational career firmly within the humanities, I really do have a soft spot for data. This naturally leads to a minor obsession with infographics. If you want people to pay attention to your data, put it on a colorful poster with interesting formatting.

infographic for #onid16This was my first try at making an infographic from scratch, and after a couple hours it was clear why there are so many free templates available: effortless design is not easy. I can be rather detail-oriented so I fought with this infographic for way too long, posted it, took it down, fixed it, and posted again. So, God bless the graphic designers out there, and keep up the good work!

I chose the topic for my infographic “How We Write When We Write Together” because I was curious about what kinds of writing and narrative decisions would naturally occur during the process. I think we all have a writing style that we’ve developed over the years, but how do we adapt when we write as a group? When making my initial list of items, I focused on having a mix of foundational numbers (tweets, authors, images, locations), notes about the kind of writing (type of narrator and genres), and a little bit of linguistic data (most used, unique, literacy test). While I do not think anything particularly exciting was revealed, it was interesting to see the breakdown. The one stat that I was somewhat surprised by was the result of the readability test. I ran our text through an online Fry readability formula (assesses average number of sentences and syllables per 100 words). We are a pretty highly educated group, but when we write together, according to the Fry graph, it would be at the appropriate reading level for a class of 5th graders. I would have guessed at least upper middle school, but we should keep in mind that it does not account for there being a second language, and, because of the boundaries of Twitter, our sentence structure and word choice were likely on the short side.

Project #2 -Book Track

I confess my second project was an afterthought. I was feeling that my infographic may not have fulfilled the creative requirement for the assignment, so I poked around a little more until I found Book Track. The site allows you to upload your text and essentially make a soundtrack for your book. It is dirt simple to use, and it’s clear from looking at the site “bookshelf” that even elementary-age students are using it in classrooms. But, part of being simple comes at the cost of more advanced customization. The sound library is limited (though you are able to upload your own mp3 files), the text cannot have images embedded, and other than adjusting the volume there is little else you can manipulate once the sound in placed in the text. While I probably would not pursue another project with Book Track, I think it is an interesting concept. Layering sound files over the text does help set the scene, and, in our case, build suspense. I liked that I was able to layer more than one sound at a time (ex. background music and sound effects), and that the reader was able to control the reading speed. I could see the benefits of using it in a classroom because it does require close reading of the text to make an effective soundtrack, and for students who cannot read in silence, it provides sound that enhances their reading experience.


Crouch, I. (2014, July 23). The great american Twitter novel. The New Yorker. Retrieved from

Taylor, A., & Williams, M. (2014, September 30). Alexander McCall Smith on the art of Twitter fiction. ABC Radio National. Retrieved from


5 thoughts on “Participatory Storytelling

  1. Clarity of message
    I enjoyed reading project #1. Super cool how you dissected the story into facts and info.
    Depth of message
    Soundtrack was very interesting…how did you do it?

    Writing Standards
    no problems noted.

    Quality and appropriateness of media
    Superb and such a great perspective on our participatory story!

  2. I think the dual project you have is neat. I like that you analyzed the way we wrote and created an info graphic with it. I think that made the information pop. The booktracks project was interesting too. I think you did a pretty good job with the sounds, particularly the door noises in the beginning. Together the projects are different looks at manipulating the story content, not just audio/visual, but from a data stand point and an entertainment standpoint. They seem to balance each other out nicely.

    It would be nice to read a little about why you chose these projects.

    Over all well done.

  3. Good job. I don’t want to repeat everything that has already been said so will be brief. I like the data aspect as well. Did you use a specific program? I looked up fry graph and couldn’t find anything like your creation. So I was wondering if it was something you created from scratch after analysis or all done at once by a program? Regardless, I found it to be interesting.
    The use of Booktrack was nice too. As others stated it was two completely different approaches. While working on this assignment, I have been frustrated by the availability of images or sounds that could work together to create what I want.

    If I want to be picky and search for a comment to make, it would be the presentation of the story in Booktrack. It appears that you may have pasted the archive in and so the twitter typing is present instead of a more formal format. However, by doing so it also preserves the spirit of the participatory story.

    Good job.

  4. I love your infographic that analyzes the story process and elements and your soundtrack works well with my graphic novel. 🙂 It really sets the tone for the story and makes sure you are properly creeped out as you start the story. What’s lacking is, of course, your narrative about the experience of creating the story and creating your projects. Looking forward to seeing those.

  5. I love your idea of approaching our Twitter storybuilding process as a game. I’ve never thought of ti that way before, but it makes sense in this context–and perhaps it mitigates the frustration of not knowing what’s coming next by making it part of anticipatory process of gaming. You’re forced to deal with whatever comes your way.

    I love both media elements that you chose. I’m particularly intrigued with Booktrack. It might make an interesting project to provide a story and ask students to add a soundtrack of their own choosing/making to see how they conceptualize the story personally and to see how different people conceptualize it. The ability to upload your own mp3s and to layer sounds is intriguing. It might make for some interesting writer/musician pairings.

    Very nice work, as usual.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *