Narrative vs Story in The Eureka Room
For the purposes of this post, “Narrative” will mean the actual objective facts and “Story” will mean an individual’s subjective interpretation of what they have perceived.
When I design a Eureka Room program, I’m not just considering the narrative. I’m thinking about the most important story – the one that a visitor will be telling themselves.
The visitor’s story can include what the visitor pays attention to on the screen, what happens in their head, as well as their interpretation of what happens before and after the experience. It can include everything from the first time they heard about the Eureka Room until the last thought they ever have of it.
Some of the highlights of a visitor’s story might be:
- “The Eureka Room is at some dude’s house!”
- “Joining us in the experience was this couple from Holland.”
- “The program was this meditation thing but you had to caw like a crow a lot. It was like singing a song sort of.
- It kept getting stranger and stranger.”
- “At one point I and the Holland guy were cawing right into each other’s faces for what felt a minute.”
- “We had been stressing earlier in the day, but when the program was over it was like the sun came out.”
- “Mike invited us back to test some other programs next month.”
A visitor’s story might include thoughts like “wow. this is weird/fun/crazy” or “what’s going to happen next” or “I’m so glad we came to this”.
If you’re not careful, it’s easy to see the creation as being the writer’s domain and the reaction being the participant’s domain: I, the writer, focus on what I am creating. You, the visitor, focus on taking it in and reacting. Let’s hope it works out for both of us pretty good, huh?
Um. Instead maybe let’s see how we can help the visitor write their story.
Help The Visitor Write Their Story
Instead of me focusing on my work and my narrative, I try to focus on the visitor’s story. Because the story that they leave with is way more important to both the visitor and the success of the Eureka Room than any narrative I could ever write.
I would rather have a jumbled mess of a narrative that creates a great story for visitors than to have a great narrative that visitors hate. The latter might impress other creators like myself because they can appreciate a great narrative, but other creators are not my target audience.
My target audience doesn’t care if there are plot holes in the narrative as long they as get to leave with an awesome story.
Here’s four techniques of my techniques that I use to co-write the visitor’s story:
- I write the narrative while standing in the participants shoes, not the narrator’s shoes or the Eureka Room owner’s shoes. I ask “what would I want to feel now? And now? And now?” I don’t think about what I want to see as a creator (applause! praise! power! etc!), but what I would love love love to see as a visitor.
- I remember that the lead up to the visit, the location, and the welcoming to the space are all components of the story. I can use these to help guide their story. For example, I want to create surprise and wonder. So I purposely don’t tell them much, creating gaps in their story which heighten curiosity and mystery. But at the same time I’ll present some strange images or colorful backgrounds that I hope will trigger some associations in their head and maybe lead them to write a certain type of story.
- I give them status so they feel some power to write their story in what is mostly an agency-less experience. To do this, my go-to is to use dumb and/or crazy narrators in the programs. Using narrators that are a bit off their rocker can make the visitor feel superior to the narrator while keeping a sense of mystery. Both of these can be very memorable parts of a story. Visitors write lines like “The guy in the video giving us instructions was crazy. I was never sure what he was going to ask us to do next!”
- I create moments that I believe will be felt generally the same by most people. For example, I’ll create a moment (or beat) that temporarily pauses the action in the middle of the craziest part of the program. This gives them (I hope) just a brief moment to reflect on their experience, which I hope is something like: “this is crazy/nuts” or “I love coming to Austin” or “(friend’s name) has gotten me into another weird situation!”.
One very important note: I never ever ask “What do I want them to do now?” I am here to serve the visitors, not be their puppet master. Asking what I want to see them do is not putting me in their shoes.
Those are just a few of the ways I try to create a great story for the visitor, but ultimately the story is one they write.