As our world becomes more hectic, complex and immediate, I’m fascinated with the growing success of rich, visual storytelling in popular books, film and television series.
It seems counterintuitive for a culture that obsesses with the immediate moment to be willing to invest their time and energy in reading and watching lengthy, serialized stories in multiple franchises.
So, what’s the big attraction?
One answer may be that regardless of age, race or culture, human beings love a good story. The better the story, the more we’re willing to immerse ourselves in it. The fact that there are so many different ways to experience these stories at first seems overwhelming. You would think that multimedia applications would dilute complex stories into a confusing mess of inaccessible nonsense.
But in reality, something completely different is happening.
The use of transmedia storytelling is creating a deeper, richer entertainment environment that provides multiple access points for audiences to engage with a story. People aren’t just watching anymore, they’re participating and becoming part of the story itself.
We are no longer observers in the audience, we are actors in the play itself.
So, why is all this happening now?
Big reasons include a more, sophisticated, tech-savvy audience and more complex storytelling strategies by the creators and tellers of such tales.
In his paper, “Audience Value and Transmedia Products,” Charles A. Davis points out the shift in storytelling strategies. He notes that there are 7 Principles of Storytelling in the growing transmedia approach:
Spreadability vs. Drillability. The ability and degree to which content is shareable and the motivating factors for a person to share that content versus the ability for a person to explore, in-depth, a deep well of narrative extensions when they stumble upon a fiction that truly captures their attention.
Continuity vs. Multiplicity. Some transmedia franchises foster an ongoing coherence to a canon in order to ensure maximum plausibility among all extensions. Others routinely use alternate versions of characters or parallel universe versions of their stories to reward mastery over the source material.
Immersion vs. Extractability. In immersion, the consumer enters into the world of the story (e.g. theme parks), while in extractability, the fan takes aspects of the story away with them as resources they deploy in the spaces of their everyday life (e.g. items from the gift shop).
Worldbuilding. Transmedia extensions, often not central to the core narrative, that give a richer depiction of the world in which the narrative plays out. Franchises can exploit both real-world and digital experiences. These extensions often lead to fan behaviors of capturing and cataloging the many disparate elements.
Seriality. Transmedia storytelling has taken the notion of breaking up a narrative arc into multiple discrete chunks or installments within a single medium and instead has spread those disparate ideas or story chunks across multiple media systems.
Subjectivity. Transmedia extensions often explore the central narrative through new eyes, such as secondary characters or third parties. This diversity of perspective often leads fans to more greatly consider who is speaking and who they are speaking for.
Performance. The ability of transmedia extensions to lead to fan produced performances that can become part of the transmedia narrative itself. Some performances are invited by the creator while others are not; fans actively search for sites of potential performance.
So, what does all this mean?
It means that as viewers, participants and receivers of stories, we are a lucky bunch. Publishers and Studios will continue to create multi-tiered, complex storylines using this transmedia approach.
And we will have the pleasure of being drawn in and taken away to myriad universes beyond our imaginations.