When you think about a novel it’s easy to wonder how there can be different kinds. A story is a story and regardless of how it occurs, it’s still some version of long prose which makes it what it is. For a long time I’ve never really considered the differences between different types of novels and it was only this year that I realised they have different names, also.
It’s not just novels which portray stories in different ways; films, television programmes and even webseries can be created very differently from each other.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky) and The Color Purple (Alice Walker) are epistolary novels; stories told through letters, diary entries and other documents rather than the traditional prose and dialogue. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries are a fantastic way of putting epistolary stories onto a screen.
Some stories, such as The Storyteller (Jodi Picoult) and Sarah’s Key (Tatiana de Rosnay) are written using different timelines. The stories jump between the past and the present, each time period interlinking to create a carefully woken story. Something which can be seen in many different films and television programmes.
Even a more traditional novel can be split into different viewpoints, told through the eyes of several characters or just one. Some stories are narrated by someone on the outside (Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte) or a very personal story told from the eyes of the protagonist (The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne).
In fact, the more I think about different types of storytelling, the more I’ve come to realise that there isn’t really a traditional type of story. You could say that a story told through dialogue and prose is traditional, but then you look at the types of narration and points of view and the whole idea of traditional is thrown on its head.
Linear versus non-linear storytelling is a battle that I don’t think could ever be won. It’s all down to preference at the end of the day, and one really good linear story might twist the arm of a hard core non-linear fan.
But what about stories that give the readers or viewers the choice over how they want to consume the story? Remember reading those books as a child where you could pick what you wanted to happen next? It’s not exactly the same, but it’s not far off.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, as mentioned earlier, is a great example of epistolary storytelling outside of novels. It’s also an interesting portrayal of linear versus non-linear storytelling. Being a piece of fiction created through weblogs probably puts it in a very specific place in terms of its ability to tell stories in different ways. For someone new coming into The Lizzie Bennet Diaries they have different ways of viewing the webseries. The fact that there is one YouTube channel available makes viewing The Lizzie Bennet Diaries very easy. Except for one rather large factor, there are other videos on other YouTube channels that contribute to the story. There’s also a portion of web content that also adds to the storytelling.
I was lucky enough to watch TLBD from near the beginning, so that meant that I followed the story in a very linear way. I started at the beginning and I jumped between Twitter, their website and different YouTube channels in order to get a start to finish experience.
But there are people who came in at the end who may have watched every weblog that ‘Lizzie’ created before realising that Lydia created some of her own. Watching those as an aside would probably bring about a very different experience because it fills in the blanks. It’s a bit like building a wall – you can build a dry stone wall (the main story) and it can stand alone, you could put concrete into the gaps. The concrete isn’t needed, but it can be useful/make the wall (the story) a little different. That in itself would provide quite a nice type of storytelling. It would be a little like J K Rowling producing a number of short stories that interlink with the Harry Potter books. You may know a character’s fate, but by reading more about their experiences you could learn new things and feel like it’s added something to the original story.
The great thing about non-linear storytelling is that a story can be fantastic as a whole, but when broken down it can also be just as amazing split apart. I think one important aspect of non-linear storytelling is being able to tell a story which can be enjoyed from start to finish even if you don’t watch or read every aspect of it. The Harry Potter books are great as they are, anything extra would only be a bonus. The extra would also be enjoyable on its own. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries work all by themselves; Lydia’s videos add an extra layer to Lydia’s character, yet can be great all by themselves.
One day I’d really like to have a go at writing a novel that doesn’t fit the linear pattern, I’d like to tangle up storylines, interweave characters and create something that can be pulled apart and glued back together in whichever fashion a person wishes.