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Monday, August 8, 2011

SL ARTS & LITERATURE: Stories are Alive for the Telling!

"The Storyteller" Dogstar telling tales.
“Everything is a story. What is there but stories?  Stories are the only truth . . . we had power over our own stories.  We shaped our world as we wished it to be. It was our glory.”     

-“Gian Hen Gian” from Christopher Moore’s Practical Demonkeeping.

A bit over a month ago I heard a story presentation by someone I had not heard before.  Dogstar was billed in SL Events at “The Storyteller” which drew me right away.  In the air breathing world you will hear it said that the art of storytelling is dying, and I doubt you will find places outside of children’s sections of libraries and some upper crust bookstores where literature (stories in perpetua) are read aloud to an audience.  Dogstar was performing to a standing-room-only crowd of nearly twenty avatars: adult human, kid avis, furries.  His vocal presentation was strong and dynamic.  He used affects discretely to enhance his story: when he told of gruel overflowing a pot it did so, spilling in amongst the audience; when he told a story involving goblins and a puppy which had a repeating sequence as many traditional tales do, illustrated images appeared to support the action.  As I looked around I wondered, where all these people had come from?  I thought of them sitting in homes at or near computer screens, with headsets or speakers on.  I wondered what had brought them to this?

I have been presenting literature and stories in Second Life myself for over three years now.  It has introduced me to forms of literature and authors I never would have found on my own, and it has been terrifically rewarding in that regard.  I have gotten to work with and be exposed to writers, traditional storytellers, and to begin to tap into those reserves in my own creative psyche.  I have read or told to groups of twenty-five to thirty avatars, known people to have gathered family members within hearing of the computer, known people to buy books or pursue other works of authors I presented, and have had people actually ask me to take them on as private clients – reading stories just for them!  Why?  -- Why? Why? Why?  So I asked around.  Because I know that Dogstar’s performance was an occurrence that is not unique on the SL grid.

More of Dogstar "The Storyteller"

I sent out a short four question survey out onto the grid by every means I could think of.  I asked the following:

~ What appeals to you about stories presented in Second Life?
 ~ Do you have a preference for how those stories are conveyed? (Reading, Telling, Plays, Dance, Machinima...???)
 ~ What elements about a story presentation make you want to return to a venue or a presenter to experience more?
~ Has listening/experiencing a story in SL caused you to look for stories, books, other author works in Real Life?

The response was astounding.  So many diverse and passionate responses that sorting through them has been like cleaning a closet – where and how to begin?  And like that odious task, in my accounting of them I am bound to have left out some excellent and eloquent answers.  The bottom line was this: people are transported by imagination,  in a way many had not been since childhood, by the act of hearing or of telling a good story. 

There were individual preferences as to how those stories were presented, but the essential elements of how and why they appealed were remarkably constant.  Telling stories, living stories, breathing stories is part of our human condition.  As the character Gian Hen Gian asserts in the opening quotation, stories are our means of shaping our world and making sense of it – our only truth.  We have taken that ingrained truth to the virtual world – a fertile field where stories and storytelling manifest themselves in many, and remarkable ways.

Photo of "How To Train Your Dragon" by Bear Silvershade
(quotes credited where possible – many were submitted anonymously)

~ What appeals to you about stories presented in Second Life?

  • I find a number of things fascinating.  There is this blending of small group story telling or reading with old style radio shows in a high tech virtual world. An unusual and unexpected thing.  I was unaware of the phenomena up until I thought about doing it myself  . . . There's an unpolished honesty about the readings I have been able to attend.  I've been impressed with the multi-member recitations I've seen - like the old style radio dramas. – SL Clemens

  • I like the community that gathers. I like hearing the stories out loud with someone else giving their interpretation. - LoCE99Ch8 Morpork

  • There is no venue in RL that I know of that does storytime for adults.  That in itself is wonderful.  You don't have to leave the comfort of your own home, and can listen in bed with your PJs on.    After a long day at work, you can come home and relax and listen to a story.    In addition, there is the fantasy component added by the medium of virtual worlds.  You can come "in character" to a story.  Going to a story about dragons, come as a dragon.  Stories told at a location that adds to the story are even better.  I also like the stories told around the fire on the shore.  Gives it a very primitive feel in a high tech setting.  Adds a certain flavor to the story. The virtual world options make it even more enjoyable.

  • It is a chance to share a pleasant time with others.  Whether it’s an old favorite or entirely new, hearing a story in the company of friends makes it more enjoyable.  – Gyro Muggins

  • Not for kids or just for kids. People dress to match the storytelling theme or come in other than humanoid form so it's inclusive. It's also interactive since people comment on the stories in chat without really interrupting the storyteller.

  • I think I have always loved stories and as a kid avi it's a time I look forward to when I can wiggle down on a chair and listen to stories I have heard and some that I have not heard. I think the stories open up the mind.  In a story you create the picture that goes on...not a TV.  And everyone’s vision of a scene is different.  -Mirabelle Savira

  • I enjoy both plays and story hours as well as open mics. This all is quality time and a friendly sort of thing to engage in. I enjoy storytellers who make the words come alive and who really have an appreciation for literature.  - Ginger Jorgental

  • To me it's a real thrill that people who might not be able to share their stories in RL for all sorts of reasons - living in isolated locations, health problems or maybe just shyness - can have that experience here. I like original writing most of all. It's also wonderful to hear how people increase in confidence and their performance gets so professional with time and practice, as does their writing. The virtual world can help people overcome stage fright - something that can't happen in the real world as you can't overcome this phobia in front of a live audience. I know because I overcame stage fright here in SL and can now read in real life too. I spent decades unable to read in front of people and now I can thanks to SL.

  • What appeals to me immensely is the experience of recapturing a joy I have not had since childhood...of having a gifted storyteller bring a story to life while you listen.  This is not something that is readily available in RL unless one lives in one of those places with no doorknobs on the inside of the doors  - Dagmar Kohime

  • I love the chance to listen and surround myself in the pure sensation of the words, I often close my mind to the visual, thereby making myself focus of the sensations generated by the words- a really good story quiets my rather overactive mind... It is amazing how internal and how deeply i can get into the words. I truly "feel" them. – Carrera Jung

  • I love to listen to stories and some times to read because they are very relaxing. We can feel each other somehow, and to communicate between words are good things. They are good part of the world. On tv, news, internet are very many bad things. So, reading stories and listening to others reading stories is very useful for us: for improving a language, for relaxing, for therapy, and finally for happy communication between words. – Cata Charisma (Note: Cata lives in Europe-Asia and leads a group of SL residents who attend stories and readings as a means of improving their command of English as a second language)

Stories presented in SL present a unique combination of intimacy in a community environment.  People comment that the technology (people often wearing headphones or ear buds) makes it feel like the story is being read privately to you.  Yet the ability to comment and engage in typed chat while the story is underway (as is acceptable in most story venues) without bothering the presenter makes it a communal experience.
Photo of Faerie Maven with "Giant Tales" by Bear Silvershade
People’s preferences in the manner in which a story is presented varied greatly (Reading, Telling, Plays, Dance, Machinima).  This only makes sense since, as individuals, we absorb information in a variety of diverse ways – what makes a connection for one person is not the same as for another.  Some people preferred more immersive story environments, and clearly valued settings.  Some people valued innovation and challenging the “box” of traditional presentation. Despite these preferences, there were a lot of commonalities in what drew people back to a specific presenter of venue.

People valued events that began on time, were well hosted, and where they were made welcome.  The most successful music and club venues in SL apply exactly the same logic: create a friendly environment where people feel expectations are clear and they are welcome, supported, and safe. 

There were consistent strong responses that pointed to elements of the performance itself, and the majority stated that as the key to why they would return to another event at the same venue, or follow a particular performer to another event:

  • My favorite storytellers who those who are expressive, relate well to the audience, and well prepared.  Reading aloud is an art; one cannot grab a book off the shelf, plop down in the seat, and do a good job, even if you think you know that book well.   – Derry McMahon

  • I think a good reader helps draw me back as well . . .  changes pitch in the stories  to good parts and bad parts  so you really feel you are there . . .  engages the whole crowd and leaves us sitting on our chairs for more.   I think that type of thing is what brings me back over and over.  –Mirabelle Savira

  • Clear voice, differentiation between characters/voices, hearing the enjoyment the storyteller has for the material come through, setting the scene in a build if they've got the time. Just a little set-dressing and storyteller appearance can set the tone and spark the imagination to fill in the rest. – Crap Mariner

  • My main requirement is that the storyteller reads naturally so that the people speaking in the book sound as if they are speaking with the feelings appropriate to their situations.  When a book is read, even if quite clearly, as merely "read material" it is not only boring to me, it is sometimes intolerable. – Gyro Muggins

  • Sometimes I return to see if they are learning and improving.  How strong is their skill at speaking, timing, rhythm?  How well do they know the material and perhaps history of the author?   Do they interact well with the audience? Even someone who is just starting is worth seeing several times, just to watch them grow. – Olde2wings

  • I think this rests very much with the ability of the storyteller.  If the person weaving the story is fully engaged, gifted in voice, and, well, “good”, I will always come back for more.  Secondly, it is definitely an added bonus if the environment has been set to match the mood of the story being presented. - Dagmar Kohime
Photo by Bear Silvershade of "A Tolkien Celebration"

Without exception, the dozens and dozens of responses reinforced that exposure to a story or author in SL created RL action:  looking for other works by an author, surfing the internet for additional material on a subject, buying a book, visiting a library.  In once case, an adult experiencing stories in SL was inspired to share some of these same stories and authors with her 7 year old son.  In the process her 21 year old son was self-inspired to read these same books on his own – something he had not done in many, many years.

The incredible appeal of a good story does not leave us – though the fulfilling of it may lay fallow for years, awaiting an awakening experience.  For myself as a presenter/performer I am transported when I tell stories.  Time and time again over the last three years I will go into a session not feeling well or having had a bad day, and if I fully embrace the materials those feelings melt away.  Even illness will abate, to return with a vengeance about 15 minutes after I am through.  But for that hour or so, I personally am immersed in a world of my own shaping – full of feeling, humor, discovery, and glory.

Someone new to a live story event recently typed within my sight the words “Once you have heard a story presented well live, there is nothing quite like it –it is magic.”  Find a story today.  Search SL Events under Arts & Culture, or just type “Story” into the search window and see what comes up. 

Terrigen Darkthorn presents Epic Tales
Or join one of these active groups:
  • Bookstacks
  • Seanchai Library
  • Book Island Events
  • Communication Arts
  • Epic Tales
  • The Virtual World Story Project
  • The Storytelling Guild of Second Life
  • Stories Unlimited! (A Subscriber Group – not a standard SL group)

If you hear of other active groups, please pass their information to me.  I am always looking for new events and new presenters to cover.  The one thing about stories that is undeniable is that they are best when shared.  The more the merrier!

~Caledonia Skytower, Reporting
“Any ink is good ink, even if it is virtual”


  1. Excellent article, Caledonia! I was so happy to find that oral story traditions live on despite our very technical virtual age. I've enjoyed every storytelling event I've been to and hope to hold some more storytelling events of my own this fall. :-)

  2. I just wish I had time to attend more readings. RL just seems to get in the way.

  3. Fabulous article! I am excited to check into this more... sl is such an amazing resource for authors and artists. Thx for the great reporting ;D

  4. Great article! Thanks for putting my pic in there, and listing my group! I try to attend a variety of readings, when I can, and also hope to do more soon myself.


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