In praise of Creatavist

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Creatavist is a digital publishing platform from the team that brought us long form non-fiction publisher/app The Atavist.

I managed to swing myself an invite to the Beta version, and last week I used the platform to publish a short story.

I’m not easily impressed (something to do with copious amounts of self-loathing) but I’ve been running round like a giddy schoolgirl all week telling everyone who will listen how great Creatavist is. Let me explain why.

The platform allows content creators - writers, photographers, filmmakers - to easily publish multimedia stories for apps, ebooks, and the web.

Their tagline is ‘Storytelling without limits’ and after playing with the software for five minutes it’s easy to see why. Firstly, It’s simple to use.

Secondly; the finished product looks pretty fucking spiffy.

Originally designed for The Atavist team to produce their multimedia-enhanced e-singles and long reads, the tool allows creators to easily embed audio, video and text into an ebook.

With non-fiction the advantages of this are clear; making additional information available to the reader - extended video footage, interviews and appendices - without affecting the main narrative. 

Now with Creatavist (see what they did there?) the team have made their in-house publishing tool available to the individual user, opening up the platform to content creators from multiple storytelling disciplines.

For me, it provided the opportunity to experiment with multimedia to enhance fiction, rather than non-fiction. It’s an opportunity to tell a richer story, to enhance the experience of the reader.

Imagine a character in your story finds a map. With Creatavist you can easily upload an image of that map, and then embed it on the word 'map’. Users can then choose to click the word to see it for themselves. 

Or let’s say a character is discussing a real world event. Perhaps a news story. Why not embed a video of the news report to let your reader learn more about it, to give those unfamiliar with the story the chance to catch up.

You could commissioning a soundtrack to play in the background, or just drunkenly sob into the microphone so the reader knows exactly how miserable/drunk you were when you wrote it. Yay art!

I used the enhanced features to add an audio file to each chapter, so you can choose to listen to me read the story in my Northern English accent if you wish (I’m no Neil Gaiman, but by all accounts I did a serviceable job). 

The story I chose to test on Creatvist was a short I’d previously made available on my blog, expanded and re-edited for this new outing.

The character is a personal trainer, and talks quite technically about exercise and the body. When I first wrote the story back in 2004, I added footnotes, letting the narrator speak directly to the reader to explain certain terminology.

I cut the footnotes in later drafts, but for this version I decided to bring them back, albeit in multimedia form.

For example, when the narrator references a particular exercise, you can click the term and see a YouTube video of some equally ridiculous personal trainer demonstrating the exercise.

When he references an article he’s reading or a makes a particular topical statement, you can click to see a sidebar and read the relating news article in full.

Fun fact: I trawled back through the Googles to find the actual news items I’d read when first researching the story back in 2004. 

And that’s not all Creatavist does. You can upload multiple cover images so it appears correctly on all devices, you specify Twitter and Facebook sharing links and copy, you can add ISBNs and customise the metadata.

Hell, if you’re so inclined and have the know-how, you can specify custom CSS for your book, should you need particular pages or passages to appear in a certain way. 

Once I was done with my story, I selected the formats I’d like to generate and with a single click of the 'publish’ button, my story was available to read on the web through my own Creatavist homepage, through their app, and to download as .epub and .mobi files so I could put the short on iTunes, Amazon, Kobo and more.

What I did was quite basic, really. Very soon people will be using this platform with all manner of auto-magical techno-wizardry to create amazing, unique multimedia stories.

Creatavist is a work in progress. There are optimisations yet to make - hence why the platform is currently in Beta - but apart from a few minor adjustments there is nothing I need as an individual that it doesn’t provide.

Essentially Creatavist changes everything, and it changes nothing.

For the individual user it makes creating and publishing your own ebooks effortless and with a much greater scope and scale, but at the same time, you still need a great story to tell.

Creatavist gives you the tools to enhance what is already there, but it can’t spit-shine shit.

As storytellers we’re standing on the crest of some grandiose and overused metaphor, with tools like this giving us new ways to communicate with readers.

But more than ever we need to remember why we tell stories in the first place. Just like 3D and CGI at the cinema, we risk losing our stories and our readers under the flabby gut of unnecessary gimmicks. 

Done well, in moderation and with imagination, we can use technology like this to expand our stories and delight audiences.

Stories began life being spoken around fires, and purists will argue that that’s all we need, the story; not the bells and whistles. 

But back in the day (a Wednesday I believe), someone artistic type decided to start drawing those stories onto the walls of caves.

Another bright spark decided to write those stories down on animal skins and tree bark and eventually paper.

A chap with a dream and a tool shed invented a printing press. Someone else a word processor. We got photographs and celluloid film and projectors. We got an internet and ereaders and Twitter.

We will always tell stories, but they way in which we tell them will grow and change and evolve.

I’m excited about the opportunity presented by Creatavist. I hope you will be too. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

You can read my short story here, or read more about Creatavist here.