Storytelling here and there

Posted on March 24th, 2013 by Chris Twigg

I came across 2 articles about storytelling on the same day this week, one by Jonathan Corum (1) related to the recent Tapestry conference (on Storytelling and Data Visualisation) and the other from Emma Coates (2) at Pixar, relating to 22 ‘rules’ of storytelling.

Though I can’t at all claim that comparing both articles is a fair thing to do, reading them adds to my hunch that story is thought of so differently in data visualisation than it is in most other places. And this is partly no surprise at all, because in data vis generally the idea of story with a clear beginning, middle and end, with characters and narrated voice and such is not the norm.

But what really got me thinking is that in data visualisation a lot more attention is put on visual methods for displaying data and their effects on users trying to ‘decode’ the visuals — than it is for say the ‘craft’ of telling a story and entertaining. Can I even expect to have favourite books, films AND visualisations?!  This is where it seems to me that data vis can learn from storytelling in other mediums. Sure most dataviz is not really intended for entertainment more so than it is for orientation and understanding complexity, but nevertheless people surely want to be entertained and engaged with a compelling story

I am exploring what relationships exist between data visualisation and storytelling in some current research. What I am finding is a curious kind of storytelling mode that happens through data visualisation: curious because such data-led, objective and fact based stories (not to mention the way narrative can emerge in them through interaction), are hard to reconcile with a traditional storytelling approach. Basic story elements like plot, character, narrator, suspense, conflict and closure can all and often be missing

Yet this doesn’t seem to make the work any less interesting and when I see a compelling visualisation it makes me wonder about cause and effect, and perhaps how people may have been involved or affected in the phenomena that are presented. A natural thing to do, to try and make sense of it by making it a complete story.

One impression is that a lot of Data Visualisations give the same effect of a vignette, more so than a full story.

Link to 2 storytelling articles:
1. http://style.org/tapestry/
2. http://io9.com/5916970/the-22-rules-of-storytelling-according-to-pixar

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