If storytelling is how we change the world, why aren’t you plotting?


I may have been wanging on about needing “new stories of us” for years, but even I haven’t been practicing what I preach and doodling secret scifi in a Black & Red. So it’s interesting how many projects have been launched this year that are literally calling contributors to articulate different worlds. What IS really in your furtive fiction drawer?

Photo Ryan Jacobson on Unsplash


Vaporwave is dead, apparently. Learning about artist Ramona Xavier for a #NewBlueMonday post, I discovered that the oeuvre she was initially seen as part of is already over. A retro synth sort of sonic collage of story fragments, Vaporwave seemed to be playing with failed visions of the future. Maybe it turned into Conceptronica – which you should also look up and drop into your social stream nonchalantly – but I’ve long said that every music album should be some sort of concept.

If you’re going to bother writing a bunch of musical ideas together, why not create a unifying theme for them and trade up your offer to a bigger experience? After all, that’s what artists are offering us – an experience, to take us out of normal life and change the way we feel.

Call it pain management, or maybe hope management, or just helpful distraction or simply good old fashioned sensuality but art is, apart from anything else, about human wellness. We psychologically depend on the emotional re-tunes it offers us. And the way it grabs our attention is usually some sort of story hook.

“Story is a gateway” said Diana Williams, Producer and Co-Founder of Kinetic Energy Entertainment on a UK House livestream this week. She described it as an invitation to access ideas and entertainment.

She was talking on a panel of makers connected to a new production by the much respected immersive theatre group Punchdrunk, Dream. A rich collaboration of skilled storytellers, writers, performers, artists, pushing technical and personal boundaries for this latest impressive online experience.

Which is all as inspiring and spectacle making as it is a bit distancing for less wizardy mortals.

Yet the real power of storytelling isn’t in grand technical scope, which theatre companies like Punchdrunk know well. It’s about enabling participants to inhabit a different way of seeing and feeling something.

Pretty essentially ruddy handy for dumb ol’ you and me in a time of slightly terrifying planet crises, huh.

So what alternative futures are you trying to picture?


Getting over the awks of a drama workshop.

Business may be starting to cotton on to this question. After a decade of everyone talking about storytelling, is the way to develop a more sustainable human planet to actually try writing some new stories of what the world could look like instead?

Just three of the invitations I’ve come across this week I’ve included below. They illustrate an interesting trend in trying to move into ACTUAL stories of us.

Collectively workshopping creative is always, I think, a bit awks to begin with. A bit clunky to loosen into. But this is the business of drama teachers and storytellers, to free us up from some inhibitions of self expression that are very culturally ingrained – that art isn’t for us.

While I do love a worthy manifesto, and feel like I’ve written a few, I can’t help feeling that frameworks and principles aren’t really engines of real change. Writing one can feel splendidly like you’ve done something, worked something out, and it can even fuel a good preach or book tour. But unless we move our bodies into testing those principles, that manifesto will stay academic on a shelf. Like most town vision documents.

If we’re going to make futures that inspires us to take some agency, we’re going to have to get stuck in. Feel our way in to them. Write our way in. Start staking out the shape of the worlds we we’d rather inhabit. Try them on. Dress up in them. Walk about in them and see where they chafe.

So what is your vision of the future? Who’s in it? How did they arrive there? How do they navigate it? What sustains them? Why aren’t you already writing it?

What are you still doing reading this?


Stories From 2050

What is a protopian future? Or Women World? What if AI made lying impossible, even in real time? What if we discovered a planet that had a radically different emphasis in environment – how would we communicate what we’d experience there compared with home as we know it?

It’s an exercise in participatory creativity from the stuffy old European Commission. But the Foresight On Demand Consortium – which is definitely my next Conceptronica project – is really trying to build a scrapbook of dreams and what-ifs. Stories, visions, messages to future selves – emotional projections, to help envision the worlds we really want to see built.

I sat in on a launch session and found myself immediately scoping alien worlds with strangers from around my home planet and trying to see life from a a fundamentally different perspective.

Stories for life.

An initiative born out of collaboration from the Green Economy Coalition, Wellbeing Economy Alliance, The SpaceShip Earth and Friday Future Love, Stories For Life aims: “To bring forth new and ancient stories into our culture, which weave a narrative of interconnection and help us design a new type of economy.”

It quotes Rebecca Solnitt: “We think we tell stories, but stories often tell us, tell us to love or hate, to see or be seen. Often, too often, stories saddle us, ride us, whip us onward, tell us what to do, and we do it without questioning.”

It’s a collection of ideas weaved together exploring the need to re-frame transformation in firmly storytelling terms, that sees the root of all our converging crises as a destructive economic narrative of disconnection and consumption. I attended a workshop for this the autumn before lockdown and it was a rich mix perspective on re-thinking the components of the story we all think we’re in.

It’s a call to get stuck in and write, with some frameworks for thinking to dip your pen into.

This must be the place

This project powered by Nesta entreats “Shared visions of Scotland’s future.” It’s presented in a little interactive site of poetry and concepts of different aspects of what the country could look like, feel like, function like in a healthier future of a more healthy kind of community economics. It also appears to include a hover wheel chair which is also the sort of thing I’m looking for in visions of tomorrow.

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