“STORYTOLD: Your Stories. Our Words”
Perhaps you’ve heard this tagline, perhaps you haven’t. Either way, it catches your eye on first glance, and combined with an awesome logo (see above) makes you pretty damn curious about the new-ish student org “Storytold.”
At Middlebury, we’re always telling stories — how we got here, what we want to do with our lives, how to deal with living in an arctic tundra, why we’re in love with a Proctor Crush we’ve never met, how to cure cancer, you get the picture. Think about it: whenever we chat with friends, family, or ourselves we’re constantly creating narratives to describe our lives and the world around us. In this sense, stories consume our conscious and unconscious minds all day every day — and to my fellow lit majors/lovers, well, good luck to you and the Red Sox.
Point is, we tell and listen to stories to survive: it’s a human instinct, and we undoubtedly enjoy the process. However, among the crazy hustle that is Middlebury College we rarely have the time or motivation to get those stories on paper (or a Word Doc, sigh). Thankfully, that’s where Storytold comes in.
Storytold is “a serial, personalized fiction service for anyone who has struggled to find a certain kind of book or story, for anyone who has ever thought, “I wish someone would write about…” Basically, it’s a group of super creative, writing-inclined students here to make us happy, tell our stories, and let us read them: to “make our dreams a reality,” nonetheless. It’s like Seamless for stories except free and better. What more could we ask?
Storytold started up this year, and has hit the ground running. Because this kind of thing has a tendency to get a bit “niche-y,” we story-lovers at middbeat decided it’s crucial to spread the word on Storytold a bit wider. We’ve interviewed Storytold co-founder Ben Mansky ’15, and we’re excited to give you the scoop. Read up below, request a story here, and if you’re interested, join the Storytold team! They’re always looking for writers, designers, illustrators, and other interested persons, and feel free to show up to their weekly meeting, held each Wednesday at 9:15 PM in Chateau 107! Also check out Storytold on Twitter (@storytold1), Facebook, and at their website (go/storytold), it’s really cool, .
MB: So, simply said, what is Storytold?
BM: At its simplest, Storytold is a personalized, serial fiction service. What does that actually mean? It means that people ask us for stories, and we deliver. Like, we literally deliver the specific stories they ask for to their mailboxes in a series of hard-copy installments.
MB: Where did the idea and inspiration for Storytold come from?
BM: It was the natural conclusion of years and years of geeking out over the ridiculous variety of ways people have managed to construct a piece of fiction. Inspiration came from so many different sources, expected and unexpected. On the expected end, there’s an endless number of books, the indie video game industry, choose-your-own-adventures, and new interactive and alternative fiction platforms including Twine, Inform, and StoryNexus. On the less expected side of things, it came from food. I was working on a design for a fast food restaurant, and the idea of prepackaged vs. made-to-order had been stewing in my mind for a little while. Somehow, I made the leap to fiction. I figured books are currently served pre-packaged, but there’s no reason they couldn’t be made-to-order.
MB: Who’s in charge of Storytold, and how is it run? Who’s writing these stories?
BM: I suppose I’m in charge (along with help from our treasurer), though our writers do most of the work. Now that we’re officially a student org, we’ll be electing a third co-president for next semester. The group meets each week to check up on story progress, bounce around ideas on individual installments, do some peer editing and package pieces for delivery. Stories are delivered every other week so as to give the writers plenty of time to produce quality content while allowing our clients plenty of time to read. The stories are written by a group of approximately six or seven students who are passionate about storytelling, with a wide range in terms of year, major, and prior experience–we even have a couple of alumni on board!
MB: How long has Storytold been in the works?
BM: Fall 2013, Storytold was officially founded as a project at the Old Stone Mill. Still in its earliest stages, it was little more than an okay-looking WordPress site that received a tiny bit of attention from a small handful of friends and a couple interested students. At that point, it was mostly about figuring out how the system would actually work, and after we took our first few requests in spring of last year, it became clear that we would need more than two, three people to make this actually happen. Over the summer I switched to a different web platform, which allowed me to totally revamp the website to make our system clearer and more accessible.
MB: Will you take any story idea? What are the boundaries?
BM: We will take anything within reason! Our basic boundaries are built into the request form: only two out of a handful of genres can be applied, and it can’t run any longer than ten installments. We’re committed to giving our clients the stories they want, so unless a request seems terribly offensive, we will accept it. If it does seem offensive, we put it up to a vote among our writers. If it passes, it’s published, and if it doesn’t, it isn’t. If one of our writers is still willing to take it, that’s up to them. And if a request is just too ridiculous for us to accommodate, we’ll get in touch with the client and work with them to figure something out–but I don’t anticipate that being a problem!
MB: What’s the craziest story request you’ve received?
BM: It really depends on what you mean by “crazy.” We’ve had a couple of extremely specific requests, including one that required at least two “that’s what she said” jokes and a Spice Girls reference. In terms of something you won’t find on the shelves of bookstores, we’ve had a request for a story featuring a trans-identifying (female to male) princess (or prince, rather) who lives in a land where people occasionally turn out to be shapeshifters. We’ve also had some unusual requests on the other side of the spectrum, like the one that was just a couple lines of song lyrics.
MB: How do you go about matching a story to a writer?
BM: It’s largely personal choice combined with coincidence. Our writers see all the new requests at each weekly meeting, and stories are assigned based on who would prefer to write what. If a writer is already working on a story, she won’t be assigned a second one, but if she really, really wants to write a particular request, she can hand off a story to another available writer. In cases of story-swapping, we do our best to keep voice and style as consistent as possible.
MB: What’s been the most fulfilling part of Storytold so far? And what’s been the biggest challenge?
BM: The most fulfilling part has definitely been people’s reactions once they understand how the service works. There’s obviously some initial confusion with a service as uncommon as this, but when people realize the potential it has for the way people read and the way people view fiction, there’s this air of excitement that’s particularly contagious. Reactions have been overwhelmingly positive, and really, it’s extremely validating to see that I’m not the only one who thinks that personalized fiction is an avenue worth investigating.
We’re still a burgeoning student organization, and our biggest challenge has been staying on top of our bi-weekly installment schedule. We’re trying to amp up our recruitment efforts so that we’ll have writers to fill in if any one of us gets too busy to finish a particular installment, but as it is, we mostly just rely on our clients to be understanding with us and our crazy schedules. After all, we’re students too.
MB: What are your hopes for the future development of Storytold?
BM: I have high hopes for Storytold, and I think the potential for growth is nearly endless. In the short term, I’d love to see more writers getting involved, more stories being requested, more content being produced, more media being explored. As we’re now a student org (and able to host events), I’d like to hold monthly or bi-monthly write-ins for anyone who wants to just come hang out, snack, brainstorm, and write creatively. Eventually, we’ll produce a hard-copy publication containing the completed stories that appear on our website and perhaps a few that don’t appear anywhere else. If we are successful in our on-campus endeavors, there’s no reason this service can’t expand to encompass a significantly wider area. After all, if you can receive mail, you can receive a story. And if you can receive a story, you can have whatever experience you’d like with just a little imagination.
Middbeat wants to send a sincere thank you to Ben Mansky ’15 for taking the time to explain the in’s and out’s of Storytold to us! It sounds like a fantastic organization, and we encourage everyone to participate! Tell on.