Just a few days ago, the web celebrated #BacktoHogwarts day. This event referred to the last Harry Potter book, published 19 years ago. At its end, J.K. Rowling gave a glimpse into Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione’s future. We see them reunited on September 1st in 2017, standing at King’s Cross on platform 9 3/4, saying goodbye to their kids. A new generation starts its trip to Hogwarts and every year, a new generation of readers discovers Harry Potter. The ones who grew up with Harry moved on to equally engaging books called ‘Grip Lit’ like Girl on the Train or Gone Girl (analysed in detail here). What would Harry’s kids read? What are young people reading, who can’t remember the world without smartphones (besides Harry Potter)?
Chat fiction, the mobile ‘Grip Lit’
Apparently, they also like to immerse themselves in stories but much shorter ones, like the ones Hooked, Tap, Yarn and oolipo offer. These apps serve a new trend in fiction for teens adopting text messaging in fiction. Chat fiction is short, fast-paced stories told in messages between two people per scene. ‘Grip Lit’ thought on mobile. For now, thrillers or horror stories are the most popular genres. Since Wattpad joined the game with Tap, romance and fanfic are also common. All real chat fiction apps (Tap, Yarn, Hooked) work with a business model based on subscription (weekly, monthly, per year) and a limited use case when it comes to interactivity or media. The most interactive part is the constant tapping necessary to keep on reading. Each tap triggers the next message to appear – if you don’t activate the handy play mode. To get more involved, you’d have to start creating your own chat fiction story. Apart from that, it’s only possible to like or share a story.
Social Media Storytelling
Likes and shares are the backbones and the goal of storytelling in social media. On Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Medium, YouTube or Twitter, the audience’s reaction is more critical and direct than in other media. Creators adapt to this need and share content that triggers feedback. The most common form of stories told on social media are anecdotes that come with a tendency to exaggerate for greater dramatic effect and higher emotional response. For storytellers, it’s more interesting to have a look at what kind of content is created and shared. Social media storytelling increasingly consists of audiovisual content: images, video, and audio, making the text less important. Users scroll and swipe to go through feeds and individuals stories. They tap, heart, comment, and share – they are used to interactive multimedia stories which chat fiction serves only partly.
Thinking mobile first
The oolipo story format adapted to the way people communicate on their smartphones and the way they consume and interact with content. What oolipo shares with Hooked, Tap, or Yarn, is the serial storytelling and the possibility to create chat fiction (like the German only story The Message by Tibor Rode). Also, switching from reader to creator is easy. The free, web-based creation tool is in closed beta at the moment and will be released later this year. However, oolipo focuses much more on audio-visual storytelling and interactivity than mere chat fiction apps, even in stories where messaging is a central motif like it is in Jellybone by Kate Pullinger. Flo, the main character in the story, receives messages – texts, sounds, videos – from dead people all the time. In the ten episodes, available on iOS and Android on September 14th, she learns not only to decipher them but also to solve a mystery that’s been haunting her. Kate Pullinger, Suli Breaks, Karrie Fransman and Matt Thorne are the authors oolipo collaborated with while creating this new storytelling format. Matt Thorne appreciates that oolipo “colors your reading but it doesn’t shut it down, so it gives you an extra feeling, or emotion, or psychology, or a sense of who the characters are.” For his high school drama, High (the first four episodes will be released on September 14th), he changes character perspectives continuously. Thanks to a feature called multi-thread, the reader gets a choose-your-own-adventure experience. For artist, Karrie Fransman, who contributed on the graphic novel Darkness Behind Our Eyes, with oolipo, “the key is interactivity.” The neo-noir graphic narrative with its vertical reading, sound, and animations feels quite different from digital comics. How to call that new format? Kate Pullinger describes Jellybone as “a novel for smartphones.” Reading becomes so much more with the technology available. Until there’s a new word for it, let’s go with oolipo.
oolipo is available in the app store and will be released on Android on September 14th.