The Medium and the Story

The story: what is told. The medium: how it is told. The medium is not the story, and the story is not confined to the medium. This happens all the time: a book gets turned into a movie (The Lord of the Rings), or a comic book gets turned into a television show (The Walking Dead). Sometimes the stories improve, sometimes worsen. Elements of the story, perhaps even entire plots, may have to be changed to adapt to a different medium, but it is possible to tell the same story through multiple mediums of storytelling.

As a storyteller, this is important to me, because I want to know what medium should I use for my story. Should my story be a movie? A videogame? A play? There are options available, and storytellers should be considering their options, choosing the best medium to go with their story. However, too often I idolize the mediums of storytelling themselves, rather than treating the medium as a tool for the story being told. As a writer, my storytelling gets caught writing in one way: the novel.

Ah, the novel. The writer’s magnum opus, the glorious dream of every homeschool kid like me that someday I would visit Barnes & Noble and see my book sitting on a shelf next to my favorite authors. For years I wrote draft after draft of novels, convinced that this was the art of the true storytellers.

I was wrong. Novels are a good medium, but I was limiting myself by refusing to consider any other mediums. Too often we deal with writing in one way—we only write the novel, or the short story—when there are a multitude of mediums to choose from: lyrics, comics, gaming, poetry, playwriting, television, movies, and more, many, many more. Not only are those options, but each medium has genres and storytelling options within itself. Breaking Bad and Wolf’s Rain were both made for the medium of television, but one is live-action, the other animation, one is focused on being concrete in this world while another is built on a fantasy-future. But both are still stories told through the same medium: television.

With such a multitude of mediums, and within each medium, multiple options for telling the story, why do we confine ourselves to thinking in only one way of storytelling?

I think the problem lies in our mainstreaming of mediums. Rather than celebrating all forms of storytelling, we have become convinced that certain storytelling devices are better than others. For us right now, the big ones seem to be movies and television. A lot of people have watched Game of Thrones, or The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but those same people don’t open Martin’s or Tolkien’s novels.

Why is that? Is it just the hype of flashy things on the screen, or because the medium itself is better? Are the stories better told through TV and Movies? Or are we as audience members, readers, and listeners to stories growing lazier, and thus more interested in a visual medium that requires less work to be engaged in then, say, a novel or play script?

Personally, I am not fond of either of those lines of thought. I am not convinced that any storytelling medium is better or inferior to any other medium of storytelling. Rather, I think each medium should be viewed in the strengths it provides for storytelling.

There isn’t a hierarchy of mediums. Rather, we are dealing with a case of personal preferment. We are raised and educated to enjoy certain mediums more-so than others. For some, movies are for the common folk, but literature is for the educated. For others, literature is for snobs, who are too self focused to enjoy a perfectly good movie.

Hogwash. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found excellent stories in literature and excellent stories in film. And I’ve also experienced terrible…terrible movies and works of “literature”.

There is certainly a mainstreaming of mediums, which I find problematic. I’ve met a lot of people wearing Captain America t-shirts, excited for the new movie, but they feel uncomfortable at the mentioning of comic books. So there are prejudices, but our personal preferment of storytelling mediums doesn’t mean we should toss out all other mediums of storytelling.

There doesn’t need to be a competition (Which is better: movie or book?) but rather collaboration (What’d you think of both the movie and the book?). Don’t limit yourself to just novels or movies, but go to plays, play a videogame, marathon an anime series. Watch how the world is telling stories in all its various shapes and forms, and figure out which medium belongs best with your story.

After all, as storytellers, we do not need medium warfare, but rather an appreciation and understanding of the different mediums in order to tell the best tales.


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