Like many writers, I’m spending a lot of my waking hours rooting around in WordPress. Which is nice. In its own, kinda limited, way.

You write a post. You add a picture or graphic. Embed a video. And then press “Publish.”

The results are instant and SEO-friendly. And often dull.

What about page-spanning graphics? Audio and video files which auto-play when exposed? Layering? Special effects?

Creatavist used by Weather Channel

Is bigger, better online storytelling in your future?

 

Over a couple beers with my web developer, we realized the advantages of being the first to offer big storytelling capabilities to our clients (even if they didn’t bite). The work would be fun, and the product would differentiate us from competitors.

So we started looking.

The WordPress Option

If you’re committed to WordPress, the Aesop Story Engine is a set of WordPress tools that offer an “open-sourced suite of tools that empowers developers to build feature-rich, interactive, long-form storytelling themes for WordPress.”

Essentially, you start with an empty, full-width page, then add one of 12 different components from the story editor (Audio, Video, Content, Character, Galleries, Locations, Image, Parallax, Quote, Timeline and Document).

Here’s their intriguing video.

(My favorite component is Parallax, a “fullwidth image component with caption and lightbox. As you scroll, the image moves slightly to provide a parallax effect.”)

Aesop is still in beta, but it’s free, and offers a much larger canvas than your average WordPress site. I’m tracking it.

Creatavist

Creatavist is a hosted service that’s already seeing some use (view The Weather Channel’s coverage of Typhoon Haiyan or the disastrous Yarnell Hill Wildfire.

Yarnell Hill disaster, Weather Channel

Creatavist is already being used to create Big Stories.

 

Creatavist lets you build one free story, then charges $10/month to publish as many projects as you want (a branded app is $250/month).

Interestingly, they repeatedly highlight your ability to export your story as an ebook, which can be uploaded and viewed on readers. Hmmm.

For the in-depth pitch, visit their FAQ.

Some Realities

First, a warning.

Combining video, audio files, still photography, words, graphics and other relevant bits is not easy.

Obviously, you need someone to shoot all that video and still photography, write the story, extract the telling quotes, create the graphics, write and record (or find) the music, assemble the narrative and create a cohesive whole.

And that’s the short list.

A few screenwriting or directing skills wouldn’t be out of place. And it’s probably not going to happen quickly (the now-famous New York Times Snow Fall avalanche story site reportedly took 12 staffers nearly six months to create).

I find this kind of amplified storytelling interesting. But I also sat down with a pen and paper and sketched the costs of creating even a basic Big Story for a client.

Not cheap. Not even close.

Still, we’re seeing glimmers of a way forward — a larger online canvas for writers, artists, journalists and marketers.

Bookmark Aesop and Creatavist now. Then use them to impress your clients later.