One of the coolest parts of the Raindance Film Festival was my first introduction to VR technology. As I sat in a Masterclass I learned how challenging this new technology is for linear story telling. The viewer could be looking left while the big murder happens to the right. The rest of the story doesn’t make sense if you don’t have your head turned the right way. VR storytelling could become a challenge and an art of coaxing the viewer to look where you want them to look.
This could be a call to write a non-linear story. There could be a story where the elements inspire a person to explore as they feel compelled. The climax is their personal understanding of an important message – the meaning behind all the actions and symbols they experienced in the world of the story.
This idea was pretty exciting for me because I wrote a book on a story structure that is non-linear. There are thirteen beats – key elements in the transformation of the protagonist – but they can happen in any order. I don’t mean you can use flashbacks and leaps into the future. The story can unfold in any order and when a critical mass of understanding is reached the story reaches its climax. Its like the viewer is writing the story through the way they experience it. The story teller is creating the space where the elements of personal growth are all waiting to be found.
My book is called The Virgin’s Promise. Its name comes from a virgin forest – trees recognised as being valuable just for being themselves. The Virgin story is of learning who you are, separate from what everyone else expects of you, and bringing your true self to life. This internal journey is in high contrast to the hero’s journey, which focuses on overcoming external dangers.
VR storytelling, with the viewer as a part of the story, has a natural compatibility with stories of internal growth.
The movie Arrival for example, could make an excellent VR movie. People would know to go to the pod at a specific time each day to be pulled forward in the plot. The rest of the time they could be wandering between the masculine and the feminine perspective trying to understand whatever inspired their curiosity. They could be driven by a desire to experience novelty or to feel the contrast of masculine science and war and feminine communication and relationships thinking styles and see how those differences produce different world-views.
In non-linear story telling, the viewer could make their discoveries in any order and the insight would still be profound. The climax happens when the protagonist, in this case the VR viewer, reaches an internal connection to something that is meaningful.
The arrival of VR technology has created a marvellous challenge for storytelling. We can create devices that will pull the viewer in the direction of a linear story and we can write stories that are virtual playgrounds for the viewer to explore and reach their own insights.
Author of The Virgin’s Promise