So, what makes a good story? That’s a very personal question to answer. There are many story elements to choose from, but I would have to say suspense to me is the most important. Suspense is what keeps a person turning the pages well past their bedtime. Suspense is what makes people line up at midnight for a release party. Suspense is what makes your curiosity gnaw at you until you keep reading, playing or watching the story. Suspense is the reason people buy stories on multiple platforms to watch for changes and clues.
Now that that is out of the way let us discuss the two most important story elements that can add suspense and keep those pages turning. A strong plot with believable twist and turns is essential to keep the audience interested. In the “A Summer Story” (Sakata, A Summer Story) digital story we reviewed in class the plot was secondary to the setting. Whereas I like a new and interesting setting, the slow pace and lack of surprises left me bored and waiting for it to be over. Even though for a second, I thought something interesting was going to happen when the keys where jingling behind the character the resolution was a letdown. In the blog “LonelyGirl15” the plot shown in small bite sizes pieces kept moving and created a hook to see where the character was going. It sparked a curiosity about what this nervous girl was doing on the internet and what trouble she could get herself into. In “Where’s Norma Now” (Brown, WNN) the plot shared quite a few similarities with Lonelygirl because here again, you had a plot based around a person who was taking enormous risks and making changes. You may not even like the characters in any of these examples, but you may find yourself watching for the same reason people watch others doing stupid things and getting hurt on YouTube. It’s a plot you know something that is worth seeing is going to happen; you’re just not sure what it is or how the story is going to get you there.
The second crucial literary element is characterization. How well the audience can relate and connect to a character will decide how often they come back for more stories involving that character. The downside to character is it can be slow to build up a solid figure that people will live and die within a story. But, if you start with a robust and relatable archetype and allow your character to change for the better and worse throughout the story people will stay. In “Bandersnatch” (Slade, Bandersnatch)
By Black Mirror on Netflix, you would think it would be the “choose your own adventure” portion that draws people in, and that is part of it. The young programmer who the story centers around, Stefan Butler, is a draw in himself. He is a skittish slightly disturb young adult that clearly has some undefined issues from the start. He’s slightly off behavior draws in the audience and sparks that Curiosity to make you wonder where the character is going to go and if he can possibly change for the best. This digital story relies heavily on visual clues to let you know that things are not right with this character and those around him. Although this character is much younger than I, I was able to quickly relate and understand the character. If you look at Norma form “WNN,” you can see from the first episode that Norma is a funny, caring person who is looking to grow and change. In some cases, not by choice so much as by happenstance. Even though the character of Norma is significantly older, then I found her easy to relate to and understand. These two examples show how good characterization can drive a story.
Between plot and character, either one can create suspense and drag the audience in until the other element is up and running. If you want a great example of how to build suspense in nonfiction storytelling check out just about any TEDx Talks https://www.ted.com/talks. They have mastered a formula that creates suspense in nonlinear storytelling while relating a character to you the audience. You may think it looks natural and that those people are just good storytellers, but it actually takes a lot of work to present a talk. Tedx comes out and coaches anyone who is going to speak for them and teaches them the art of suspenseful storytelling with relatable characters. When looking at a digital story that you are working on ask yourself what is strongest? Can you start with an archetype character and jump right into the plot and create suspense that way? Or maybe a deeper connection to the character is where you should begin to build the suspense that way allow the plot to unfold a bit more slowly. Either way or another way you come up with remember to use character and plot to create conflict and suspense in the story and your audience will come back for more.
Sakata, A (Creator), (2015) A Summer Story Retrieved February 2019
Finders, Mesh (Creator). (2006, June 16) LonelyGirl15 Retrieved 20 February 2019
Brown, S. (Director) 2014 Where’s Norma Now (WNN) retrieved 2016
Slade, D. (Director). (2018, December 28). Bandersnatch [Video file]. Retrieved December 28, 2018, from https://www.netflix.com/title/80988062