In January 2013, there were several destructive bushfires wrecking the Australian state Tasmania. One of those resulted in an especially touching story that went around the world; the story of the family Holmes, which could escape the fire only by inches.
The Guardian worked out a digital story capturing the incident, and called it Firestorm (http://www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2013/may/26/firestorm-bushfire-dunalley-holmes-family). In my opinion, it is certainly convincing in its endeavour to catch the significant moments of the event and bring it closer to the audience. But let us have a closer look at how this is achieved: How does the website use storytelling techniques in order to achieve its goal? Is it successful or does it fail to send the right message? I will shortly analyse the first chapter of this digital story, as it shows the different techniques quite well.
The first technique that catches our eyes is probably the way that rhetorical devices are used. The text that is leading the audience through the story is marked by a certain tone that both evokes a cosy feeling for the readers as well as makes them feel that there’s something dramatic to come. The first effect is managed by the confidential tone that is prevalent in the text; like a real storyteller, the author manages to cast a spell over the reader. The latter effect, namely the feeling of a gloomy event yet to come, is achieved by some rhetorical highlights. Lets have a look at Chapter 1 and the ellipsis used there: “No birdsong. That was odd. Eerie, even. Like something was holding its breath.” It sheds a spotlight on a certain aspect – the staccato of a developing action.
Additionally, the “eerie” atmosphere is supported by the audio aspect. The irregular sound of a bird’s voice and the soft noise of water implies the gloominess of the silence before an approaching storm. The imagery in the background of the text adds to this atmosphere, too: It shows birds leaving the woods. As if something dangerous was looming somewhere. But I must say that I found the visual component sometimes disturbing throughout the digital story; in some parts the pictures make it hard for us to read the text. The high amount of techniques is working against the aim to put the focus on the story itself. It might have been cleverer to use less techniques sometimes. But this is only a comment on the side; I do not think that this slight overload does great harm to the overall appearance.
In the next step, the author uses a short video clip that retells the information in the text. This gives a personal touch to the story, and makes it more believable. It enables the audience to step into the shoes of Tim and Tammy Holmes. This is one approach described in the Cookbook by Joe Lambert, just that the Cookbook refers to how you tell a story in order to let the audience get into the scene. But the same is valid for the way you use video to make the onlooker feel inside of the story. It is one essential step towards catching your audience. If you want to have a closer look at the Cookbook, visit http://newhive.com/cookbook/home; it is a webpage made by Eliska Zalabakova and me that aims at reflecting the most important aspects of Joe Lambert’s text.
Now that we have had an insight on the techniques in chapter 1, which reflects the whole appearance quite well, there is only one aspect left to talk about. It is the section of the story that makes it most fascinating: Tim Holmes’s pictures from his family taking shelter from the fire under the jetty. They give the whole thing a realistic touch, and make the narration seem more reliable. The pictures contribute to catch our attention and compassion for the Holmes family, and manage to actually establish a kind of relationship between them and us.
This is the goal of every digital story. And this one succeeded to do so, from my point of view. So, if you don’t have seen it by now, enjoy the Firestorm!