Imagine a blank piece of paper. A black line appears in the right margin. To the left, a red one. Both stop moving before they reach the center. The black one seems anxious while the red is unsure. The red line recedes and disappears where it first emerged. The black line follows it. Both appear again at the upper margin, first the red and then the black, following it. They appear and disappear on different parts of the page, the black line always after the red… Until the chased line stops and decides to remain in the middle. The black line follows suit. They face off and stare at each other tentatively for a few seconds. Then the red line starts to slowly get closer to its pursuer. The black line trembles slightly, but soon composes itself and also moves toward the other line. When they make contact they both feel a chill, pure magic. The two lines intertwine and begin a dance that brings them to cross the page again, but this time in a soft and loving harmony…
Phil Parker usually begins his lectures with this simple love story. This is how he answers the question what is a story. It is something we identity and are moved by. It’s that simple. Who hasn’t chased love like the black line? Who hasn’t changed their mind like the red line? Haven’t we all felt the magical spark of love at least once? It doesn’t matter if it’s two lines on a sheet of paper, star-crossed lovers in Verona, or two passengers on the Titanic; what transcends the window dressing, what transcends the characters themselves, is emotion. If a story doesn’t move us, it has not fulfilled its main objective. Stories move us, identify us, and define us. Years ago, when I worked at ABC I had the opportunity to interview Pardito, a sculptor whose work created something of a controversy among the residents of the Madrid suburb where it was on display. I asked him if this worried him, and his response was forceful: “It evokes emotion and that is the purpose of all works of art.” This is a simple but momentous reflection.
Many professionals in the communications industry are worried about being at the cutting edge. A few years ago it was multimedia, the digital narrative; then came transmedia storytelling, and now virtual reality. Many start producing without knowing what they are doing or why. It doesn’t matter; the important thing is to be a pioneer or become the guru of the day. “Let’s make viral content.” If I had 10 euros for every time I have heard that expression… It doesn’t matter whether content goes viral or uses transmedia storytelling; the important thing is to tell a strong story that interests a specific audience. The how of distribution is a separate issue.
We shouldn’t lose sight of our work and vocation. It is hard, but we must forget the noise and focus on moving the audience. As occurs in mainstream films, it is often easier to focus on the fireworks and forget the vocation of storytelling. In 2011 I had the opportunity to go to Malmö University to research transmedia narratives. I arrived very concerned with understanding what transmedia storytelling was and what it wasn’t. Once again, I heard a few words that taught me an important lesson. This time it was Erling Björgvinsson, my research advisor who spoke them. He told me: “It doesn’t matter what transmedia is. What matters is your story and its needs. Don’t worry about definitions. That is just noise.” And with that I would like to propose the following goal for this space we are opening today: let’s talk about stories without worrying about the noise.