Transmedia storytelling is probably one of the hottest topics within the storytelling field right now. It’s not surprising due to the proliferation of digital media channels and the natural consequence, the rise of the prosumer.
What is Transmedia storytelling though? I do like the definition from Wikipedia:
[is] the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies […] transmedia production will develop stories across multiple forms of media in order to deliver unique pieces of content in each channel. Importantly, these pieces of content are not only linked together (overtly or subtly), but are in narrative synchronization with each other.
There are two things that do jump out to me, the first one is the notion that it’s essentially digital media. It’s hard not to think about digital nowadays, but storytelling, even if it’s transmedia, doesn’t cares what type of media, but the fact that the narration is contained in multiple ones. The Internet era has just made this creative resource much simpler to obtain due to the easiness of production, delivery and consumption of such materials, but we all know Transmedia has been around for eons, just smaller.
The other thing that strikes me as quite fundamental is the fact that each piece is unique. Transmedia doesn’t means displaying the same story all over the place, for example on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook. Henry Jenkins describes it very well on his 2003 article:
The current structure is hierarchical: film units set licensing limits on what can be done in games based on their properties. […] We need a new model for co-creation-rather than adaptation-of content that crosses media.
Honestly I’ve been struggling to understand how useful Transmedia storytelling can be. One of the things that stands out for me is the fact that such creative experience is, first of all, very appealing for the creators of the story. It allows the creator to explore different faces or dimensions of the story universe without the restrictions of a specific media.
I’ve talk multiple times about what I call the Fractal nature of stories. All the good stories, be it a book, movie or even a small blog post, only show a tiny fraction of what the creator had in mind. Actually, it’s the creative restrictions what turn a good story into something genius. The fact that Transmedia approaches allow the creators to explore all avenues is a slippery slope. On one side I love the notion of unbounded creativity, on the other, it’s scary to think that transmedia will become the excuse for mediocre creators to dump their brains without any filtering. I was recently listening to my friend Nicolás Alcalá (from The Cosmonaut fame) telling an audience that in the end, most of the content they shot ended up being used for Transmedia purposes. There is a risk that many creators (not you Nico!) end up using the Transmedia experience as a way to air their lesser drafts, instead of designing exclusively for each media.
Another issue I’ve seen is that, Transmedia consumption, only appeals to a very specific public. In most cases, Transmedia storytelling is tapping into the current trends you observe on Internet consumers, short attention spans and exacerbated multitasking. Needless to say that, despite what many people believe, extreme multitasking yields worst performances than monotasking. It’s thou, important to understand which generation you are targeting. Trying to enroll Baby boomers in Trasmedia experiences, depending on which cultures, might result in a gigant fiasco. Not only is the generational gap important, but the mindset. As Jenkins observes:
Younger consumers have become information hunters and gatherers, taking pleasure in tracking down character backgrounds and plot points and making connections between different texts within the same franchise.
And while, loyal fans of different sagas like Star Wars or Star Trek love follow ups, me included, there is an inherited danger of too much story fragmentation which ends up making your story experience futile (pun intended) and not worthwhile:
In a world with many media options, consumers are choosing to invest deeply in a limited number of franchises rather than dip shallowly into a larger number.
So while Transmedia storytelling can add a new dimension to a story, it’s not for everyone and should be handled with extreme care. Too many people are falling into the fad of it, breaking down an atomic story into a series of rough drafts with diluted quality that are then exposing all over the Internet in a vain attempt to look trendy. This fragmentation also breaks the whole notion of Transmedia storytelling where each piece should have independent entity so that anyone can access the story through any single part. A good example of this done right is The Beast game Microsoft did for Spielberg’s A.I. movie.
On the bright side, as Jenkins points out, one of the reasons why Transmedia storytelling is taking off now is the fact that social networking has exploded all over the world. We are more connected now than any time before in the history on mankind. This has brought the power of collective thought into our societies and through platforms like Twitter we can now start to understand or sense the planet’s beat. In exchange, story lines that used to be complicated to follow, like trilogies, are now becoming mainstream. The collective audience is demanding more and more complex plots with multiple layers of story which will be unvailed in a collective effort, through story-specific groups in the current popular social networks. This is where Transmedia storytelling fits very nicely.
All in all, it seems that storytellers have been using transmedia for many centuries but the rise of the collective web has, as with many other things, magnified the usage and scope of it, elevating it to an art in an itself. That said, it’s not for all stories and it requires very specific rules of engagement and audience following.
This post and other examples are the reason why I’m writing a book on the topic. If you’re interested in collaborating or showcasing your own stories in the book, follow the newsletter and become a supporter.