Narrative Studies as a Tool for Understanding Digital Texts

Digital media, just like any other form of media, could consist of any number of different “types” of texts. These could be informational, data-driven, primarily visual, or narrative in nature. I think, then, that it is important to remember that a media form does not necessarily preclude or include a specific genre or mode. 

When considering digital narratives, though, the connections between these texts and narrative studies, or narratology, are strong. Narrative studies inform the ways that we make sense of narratives as a whole, and they allow us to better understand the structures, themes, conventions, and functions of the stories that we tell and have told to us. Narratology helps us to understand how and why we tell stories, and, in doing so, it colors the ways in which we perceive the world, its cultures, and individuals. When we consider these facts, it is clear that, as we move towards increasingly digital modes of communication, we should stop to consider how these same elements are shaped by and shape our digital world.

It is only in our best interest to continue to push the boundaries of narratology past the print-centric study that was dominant in the latter half of the twentieth century towards a much more inclusive model of storytelling. Questions about the nature of narrative, the contracts between authors and readers, and the process of sense-making that readers must undertake are still just as relevant, if not more so, in digital works as they are to non-digital ones. While considerations of these topics inspire many of the same questions when allowing for print or digital narratives, there are also some unique areas of exploration inherent to the multimedia, collaborative, and responsive capabilities inherent to digital media.

Born-digital narratives, or those created using a digital device and meant to be experienced on a digital device because of its unique technological capabilities, can be experienced in ways that print-based narratives cannot. Born-digital narratives could include moving images or Flash-based videos that complement alphabetic text, or, perhaps even replace it altogether. They can require readers to navigate through them in unique ways, and they can inspire collaboration between any number of readers and writers who have never met and who have uniquely different worldviews. When a text is constantly generated (or regenerated) as readers explore and contribute to it, than it only makes sense that narrative studies might have something to say about the nature of the relationship that text builds between the author(s), reader(s), and narrative content itself. How does this relationship differ from those inspired by traditional models of print publication? Any reader who has struggled to navigate through a complex digital narrative knows also the unique potentials of many of these texts, and, again, narrative studies can allow us to question how things that we might have previously taken as a given (say, how to move from page one to page two) are evolving in digital platforms. The intersections, then, between digital media and narrative studies are multifold. I do not believe that we have even begun to imagine the ways that digital technologies might continue to inform the texts that we create and consume in the near future, and, without narrative studies, we will be lost in trying to make sense of these modes of narrative representation.

Image on front page by VFS Digital Design and available on Flickr.


I found the part where you said, "the process of sense-making that readers must undertake are still just as relevant" in digital forms interesting.  I feel the multi-modal possibilities of digital spaces exceed even Flash and audio additions to a text.  A variety of visual clues are possible within a digital space, of course, including colour, placement, and more.  However, I wonder if digital space will allow more granularity in analyzing the reader reaction to a text, digital-born or otherwise.  For example, using digital tools might allow tracking the amount of time reader's spend reading particular sections, providing quantifiable data concerning the reader's process of sense-making.  Similarly, for embedded audio and video, the number of times these clips are replayed or if segments are replayed, might be useful in extrapolating the reader's experience.  

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