Tag Archives: narrative

Jam of the Week: “Take on Me”, by a-ha

There’s a pretty good chance that you’ve already seen the video for a-ha’s “Take on Me.” I mean, you’re on the Internet right now, and I’m guessing it’s not for the first time. It’s a pretty famous video, and won a bunch of awards, for good reason. It’s creative, original, and it really illustrated what the then relatively new medium of music videos (or is it a genre?) was capable of.

It’s also a really catchy song, which is why I decided to write a Jam of the Week about it, because one of my co-workers got it stuck in my head.

But I’ve been trying to write this post for like a week, wracking my brain to figure out how to connect this song to writing. It hasn’t been easy, but I think I might have something.

Watch the video, but pay attention to the lyrics. They have nothing to do with each other, do they? Music videos, near as I can tell, come in pretty much two flavors: with a story, and without. The latter is usually just the band performing or the artist dancing or something (take a look at Solange’s “Losing You”). Videos with a story try and tell a story. Sometimes the story is kind of thin, just an excuse to show somebody dancing (most of Michael Jackson’s videos, amazing as they were, fall into this category). Sometimes the story is more coherent, it has a narrative flow, characters,  etc. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” which is more a short film than a video, and is absolutely amazing, is a great example of this.

So “Take on Me” has a story, but unlike, say, “War,” from the first installment of this column, that story has, well, very little to do with the lyrics. But that’s not really important, because the story has characters, it has a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion (or rising action, a conclusion, and a denouement, if you prefer). Try watching the video with the sound off, and the story still makes sense. It’s a simple story: girl meets boy, boy pulls her into comic book, boy gets in a fight with random bikers (?), girl flees comic book, boy is transported into real world, they live happily ever after.

Maybe there’s something deeper going on here. Maybe the guys in a-ha really love comics, and this is a statement about the depth of the medium, and its ability to draw readers in. Maybe its about the dangers of relying too heavily on escapist literature and the potential for fracturing your grasp on reality. Maybe it’s just a really cool idea.

I think what I’m getting at here, is that stories can, and will be, interpreted in different ways by different audiences. I mean, this is essentially why people study literature. But more than this, it’s possible, with a little thought, to reinterpret your own work for a different medium, or a different audience. If a-ha hadn’t rethought their song as a music video it probably never would have been as popular as it is. Keep your medium in mind, and adjust your story to fit within it.

And as a final note, I give you this, the original “literal version” or a-ha’s “Take on Me,” created by youtuber DustoMcNeato. If you haven’t seen this, you don’t spend enough time on the Internet.

From Screen to Page: “The Mind’s Eye”

from screen to page logoThis week I want to write about narrative organization. Namely, I want to write about how simply presenting things to your audience in chronological order can sometimes work against you.

For this, I’ll be referring to an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, called “The Mind’s Eye.” Now, this is an interesting challenge for me, because while I’m a huge Star Trek fan (the technical term is Trekker), I can’t assume that my audience is, or knows anything about Star Trek. So this means I need to give you all a summary of the episode, but not confuse anyone with a lot of references to the series that don’t make any sense.

The episode in question is about one of the main characters (Geordi) being kidnapped and brainwashed by some of the Bad Guys. They do this so they can use him to assassinate an ambassador. He goes back home thinking everything is fine (he’s brainwashed, after all) and goes about his business. Then some mysterious stuff starts happening, and the Good Guys are accused of helping some Other Bad Guys. Geordi gets his chance, and tries to kill the ambassador, but the Good Guys stop him, figure it all out, and he is cleared of charges. The episode ends with Geordi talking to a psychiatrist, trying to unravel what happened to him.

So that’s the break down. If you want a more detailed version, check out the episode’s Wikipedia entry here. For a really detailed version you can check out the entry at Memory Alpha, the Star Trek wiki. Continue reading

Creating a Digital Narrative Through a Video Game

It’s easy to overlook the thought and development that goes into creating a story-line for a video game. Sometimes, it’s easy to say, “that looks fun, I’ll give it a go” without really considering the story that pulls it together and makes it interesting. Usually, at the end of the game, gamers want to know what’s next. It’s not just the awesome game play that leaves you yearning for more; it’s the story.

Of course, what is a good story without a cliffhanger to keep you going? The anticipation has to build up so that when the next game, or book, comes out, you’re anxiously waiting for the release. It’s probably the best and worst part of a narrative.

Is the effect the same if there is no cliff hanger? What if you have complete control over every aspect of a narrative?

In the novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, each person is given the opportunity to create their own narrative of their own life however they want. In the year 2044, the “reality” world has gone into chaos as natural resources are running out, living space is hard to come by, and trying to exist in any way is nearly impossible if you aren’t rich. Similarly to now, when Wade Watts, the main character, or any of the other citizens of this futuristic earth, want to escape from the misery of their reality, they play a video game.

ready player one

The OASIS is the video game that everyone owns, but it’s not just a video game; it’s a new way of life, and a new way that people live, work, and communicate. Think of the ultimate social networking site plus a MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game) with quests and all that comes with it.  In a way it’s Facebook meets World of WarCraft, but so much more than that.

In the OASIS, people go to school, have houses, form relationships, have paying jobs, and everything else that one would do in reality. The currency in the OASIS is how people buy things in real life too. The OASIS is the replacement for reality. You can be whoever you want, do whatever you want, even live in any type of world you want (Firefly, Star Wars, anything).

The book is filled with 80s references and video game, movies, and TV shows that any nerd or 80s aficionado would love. I won’t go into super details about the plot other than to say that it becomes a competition to who will inherit the fortune that the creator left behind. There are flaws in the writing overall that makes one question the story, but that’s not why I’m writing about it. The focus for the sake of this article, is the OASIS.

Continue reading