Doing Digital: Instagram Stories
If you are a writer or poet who uses Instagram, you probably follow or know of those who have become Instagram famous as writers. Certainly, there are examples of stories or characters that have begun on Instagram and have been pulled out for traditional publishing (I’m looking at you Harlow, Sage & Indiana). But how do you go about telling a story using a platform that is all about the visuals?
Here are a few tips.
Know the beast
Instagram is a visual platform owned by Facebook. It relies on an image that must fit into a pre-set square shape (with added filters, etc. to develop a mood) with captions that cannot have links in them. You can use hashtags to your heart’s content, but beware of over-clogging the story itself and consider how you can best use the hashtag to insert your Instagram image into a stream.
Are you risking losing readers by asking them to jump to a website, Twitter, or Facebook page?
Choose how to tell your story
Yes, Instagram is a visual medium, but there are a few options for using it to get your writing out there. The first is to put the story in the image. This is a popular format for poets, and some make great use of this by writing, stylizing it, and taking a photo of it (or using programmes to write on the image itself).
Filters and prettiness is optional, and you need to think of how altering the image may add to or detract from your story – for instance, will it benefit you to put the image in black and white if you are at a somber point in your story?
The second way to tell your story via Instagram is in the caption by choosing the best image to relate to the section of text that is presented. This is done by the authors of Hey Harry, Hey Matilda to a great effect. Remember, in the case of Instagram stories, you need to think of how the image and text will work together or against each other, and what effect you want that to have on your reader.
Make a plan
You can’t be scatty when it comes to posting on Instagram unless you are posting in the voice of a character that embodies that sort of chaos. When you set out to tell a story here, you need discipline and timelines to guide you.
We often look back at our first drafts and cringe, so I’d steer clear of writing your first draft on a social platform. It’s usually better to write out a story and then share it in sections. That way you get to choose how to present your work (text as part of the image, mood of image, location, etc) and how you want it to be distributed.
If you have the whole story in front of you, you will be able to better see how you need to break it up in order to present it in the image (smaller bit of text) or in the caption (longer text with hashtags to create a stream) for it to make sense. This way you can create cliff-hangers and keep your readers wanting more. The next step is to decide on timings. Choose how often you want to post, but probably not more than 2-3 times in a day. You want to create a balance of making sure readers get enough to get into the story you’re telling and not over-filling peoples’ feeds.
You want to create a balance between making sure readers get enough to get into the story and not over-filling peoples’ feeds
Will you make things cross-platform?
Are you risking losing readers by asking them to jump to a website, Twitter, or Facebook page? In short, the answer is ‘potentially yes’, simply because there is a chance to lose people to the depths of the internet if you ask them to click away from your story as they see it.
It’s always a good idea to have the platform tell some form of a complete story. This isn’t to say that each platform can’t enhance the story, but, ideally, you want a reader to be engaged with you on Instagram, and then they could go to your website/Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest, etc. to increase their knowledge of your story – not to read the ending. This works particularly well if you use different platforms to engage with a different angle of the same story – maybe use Instagram to tell the story from the point of view of your artistic character, Twitter for the chaotic character, and the website for the trustworthy narrator’s point of view (or as a fake news repository, etc.) of the same tale. This way you get a full story everywhere you go and each platform adds to the rest.
Regardless of if you decide to work across platforms, the thing to remember is that your readers’ time is short and their attention is limited. Make it easy for them to inhale your story in the place they frequent.
What do you do with it once its complete?
This is a loaded question that plunges into the depths of the internet as a final resting place for stories, characters, and forgotten social feeds. For our purposes, however, we don’t need to get philosophical about it, instead, look practically at the options for your story once it’s complete.
Readers’ time is short and their attention is limited
You can pull together your entire stream using a programme that does it for you, like Storify. You can then package it and try to punt it to an agent or publishers (using follower numbers and engagement as a sales predictor) or self-publish. You can keep the characters going, and create new stories using them. Or, you can let the stories go the way of some social feeds, quietly holding their ground online, well-marked and waiting to be found.
Whatever you decided to do with it, the key here is sharing. After all, stories and poetry, like books, are now social.