The Magnitude of Medium

As I hope you’ve noticed over my past few entries, I like stories. I read them, I watch them, I play them, I, um, listen? to them. In any case, here’s something I’ve noticed: the medium of a story is, in the hands of a deft writer/creator, an incredibly powerful tool.

Let’s start with books. Everyone’s (hopefully) read a book or two dozen. If not, then, well, I’m not sure what to say to you. Anyway. Books tend to be long affairs. Within them you can weave long and intricate plots and introduce dozens of characters. You have the space and you have the time to make your plot as convoluted as you want. Then there’s the beast known as internal dialogue.

One of the beauties of The Hunger Games is Suzanne Collins’ description of Katniss’ mind. Pages are devoted to the protagonist’s analysis of everything going on. Furthermore, we’re able to explore her psyche and past, getting to know just what makes her tick. This wouldn’t work in a movie, video game, or tv show. It could probably work in a comic, but nowhere near as in-depth. It’s one of many things unique to the format of books.

Now, another way to tell a long rambling story the ends with a very enigmatic ending would be television. Like books, serialized shows have time. An excellent example of a story that could only be told through serials is Lost. You may hate the ending. You may (like me) love the ending. That’s not the point here. Fundamentally, Lost is a show about characters. Everyone’s fleshed out through extensive flashbacks explaining just who they are and why they do what they do. None of their actions are out of character because we’ve had the time to learn what makes them them. This wouldn’t have worked to the same effect in a book (it’s a lot easier to watch a flashback than to listen to over a dozen characters have volumes of internal dialogue with no obvious bearing on the plot [also: no score by Michael Giacchino]). Alternately, a film simply does not have the time to so thoroughly flesh out so many characters.

Comedies probably fare the best with the serialized format. Shows like Community and How I Met Your Mother give you seasons to become (again) familiar with the characters and join their group. Those characters combined with season-spanning running jokes you’ll find that good tv comedies really use their format. The tv show starts to geel more like hanging out with old friends.

There’s another medium for storytelling that’s on the rise. Well, relative rise, anyway. Video Games. Yes, I know, we get a lot of really dumb shoot-’em-ups where the plot is about half as thin as Commando. But games like Halo, Mass Effect, and Uncharted are quickly proving that video games can tell a darn good story without having to be a role playing game (yanno, like Final Fantasy). In Uncharted the story telling has all the strengths of a good movie: strong characters, an engaging plot, and epic set pieces. But more than that, Uncharted lets you play as Nathan Drake. You get to be the hero, guiding him along the way. All the adventuring? That’s you in control. As the ship capsizes around you or the ruins crumble out from under your feet, you’re still in control, it’s you. You’re the hero.

Where video games really come out on top is immersion. In Mass Effect, Bioware created a sprawling, breathing science-fiction world with volumes of research behind it. Cool. But then you have Shepard. Well, no, sorry, you are Shepard. If you’re like me that means you spent… much more time than you should’ve on the character creation scene attempting to give Shepard a passing resemblance to yourself. Within the story you get to make choices. Do you kill this person or let him live? Do you renege on a deal and gain an allegiance at the cost of another? You actions have consequences, bringing you deeper and deeper into the world. In no other format can you gain that level of immersion.

There are others I could get into, of course. Movies, comics, webcomics, oral tradition, short stories, epic poems, all-too-short-British-tv-shows-starring-Benedict-Cumberbatch-and-Martin-Freeman-that-really-need-a-new-season-sooner-rather than later, and so on and so forth. But I think (or at least hope) I’ve made my point. Stories can be told in countless ways. The trick is to make sure you’re not only telling it the right way but using the medium to its fullest potential.

‘cuz c’mon. If it’s a good story it deserves to be told right.

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