Telling Transmedia Stories

Telling Transmedia Stories

Hey everybody! Sorry about my absence for over a month. I am certain you all missed me terribly and did not know what to do with your lives without me, but I have returned from my vacation with existential funk (a music scene that I do not recommend). I have returned to you to talk about Transmedia Storytelling, a sometimes successful storytelling venture that is fascinating to behold and near impossible to pull off.

quantum break

Sourced from Remedy’s promo material

Recently a game/television show called Quantum Break released, sort of, as a multi media experience. It is both a game and television show fused together, using the techniques of television and videogames to deliver its story. Each episode is part interactive game experience and part story driven sci-fi show. Time will tell how this pans out but its an interesting idea. It’s not exactly transmedia storytelling as we usually see it, but the implementation is close enough that I am interested to see how Quantum Break turns out.

In 2013, Universal Cable Productions and Trion Worlds attempted a similar venture with the show and game crossover, Defiance. Unlike, Quantum Break, the videogame and show segments exist as separate entities. You could watch the show and play the game independently of each other, but the goal was to tell different aspects of the same story in two different mediums. This is transmedia storytelling. Unfortunately, Defiance, was unsuccessful, as the show was cancelled last year, leaving just the game which is still getting some support from Trion Worlds.

Tales Across Mediums

Transmedia storytelling is loosely defined as, “is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats.”  This is different from what Marvel and DC are doing with their comic books, tv shows, and films. As far as I can tell, the different mediums employed by the superhero genre are separate incarnations of these stories, instead of the same story told different ways. For instance, in the current DC comics, the Black Canary is Dihna Lance, a rocker/slacker who fronts a rock band. However, in the Arrowverse shows, the Black Canary is Laurel Lance, a straight edge lawyer who is putting her self back together after a series of traumas. In both incarnations, the character is called the Black Canary, but these two mediums are not telling the same story.

The examples most frequently upheld are the enterprises that were created for the purpose of being stories told through different mediums. Henry Jenkins, describes transmedia storytelling from the perspective of marketing, and he uses the example of the Matrix series to discuss how transmedia narrative works. The Wachowskis created the films and the games to all exist in the same universe and contribute to the same story. Enter the Matrix helps to fill in some of the gaps of Matrix: Reloaded. To get the whole story, you have to watch the movies and play the games. Enter the Matrix sold decently well, but neither it nor the second two films in the Matrix trilogy are well regarded. Many of the efforts to create transmedia worlds for the purpose of brand name stories do not turn out well, likely due to the calculated nature of these projects.

space-station-423702_640My favorite example to hold up is 2001: a Space Odyssey. Both the film and novel were created simultaneously as the brainchild of filmmaker Stanley Kubrick and author Arthur C. Clarke, and both the film and novel serve as companion pieces to each other. The novel fills in the back story and character motivations, while the film shows the characters’ actions and the motion of the story. To appreciate the full effect 2001 you need to read book and watch the film, but you can still appreciate them separately. They are solid works on their own, that do not require each other to be understood.

Successful Transmedia Worlds

Thus far, the most successful attempts at Transmedia storytelling did not start with the intention of creating stories

Sourced from Comic Newbies

Sourced from Comic Newbies

across mediums. Franchises like Star Trek, Star Wars, Assassin’s Creed, and Halo started as works of specific mediums that were adapted and expanded into other mediums. Star Trek started as a television series; Star Wars as a movie; and both Assassin’s Creed and Halo began as videogames. Now, they expand across films, shows, comics, novels, and games. Each of these series have an extensive series of novels. Both Star Wars and Assassin’s Creed have expanded into comics. Star Wars and Star Trek have several games. Halo has been made into movies and tried a tv series. And Assassin’s Creed has a movie coming out this year.

I have not read, seen, or played all of these works. I am not sure there are enough hours in the day for me to do that. But my research into these transmedia franchises seems to indicate that these adaptations are expansions, for the most part, of the stories and worlds of the franchises and not separate incarnations of them like the Marvel and DC universe adaptations.

The “How To” Part

If you want to build a world for delivering stories in these different mediums, here are some tips.

Sourced from Google Images

Sourced from Google Images

Read everything you can on the subject: There are a ton of books and articles on the subject of Transmedia Storytelling. I recommend starting with Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins. He focuses a lot on the marketing behind creating theses stories, but the information in his book is invaluable.

Know the mediums you want to work with: Each medium- films, novels, comics, and television- all have their own narrative devices and tools for storytelling. Learn them. You do not want to just have the television version of a book or the game version of a movie. History has demonstrated how that does not work. Study how the different mediums operate and gather a group of people  who know to implement them.

You are not going to be able to do this alone: This one feels like a no-brainer of course, but it bares repeating. Creating in one medium already requires multiple people anyway. So, not only to you need to be familiar with the different narrative mechanics, but you need people to help you create them. If your skill is film and your want a novel expansion, getting a writer to help will benefit your vision a lot more than trying to do it yourself. Learning the narrative mechanics of writing will help you to explain what you need to the writer.

Sourced from Amazon Images

Sourced from Amazon Images

Learn How to Build Vast Narratives: You are trying to build a story or universe that can be told over multiple mediums. It’s not going to be small. Writers and creators are studying Vast Narratives just like they are studying Transmedia Storytelling, so there is some material out there. Check out Third Person: Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives. Its a collection of essays on the topic, discussing franchises like Star Wars and Dr. Who (Pop Culture academia is awesome!).

Transmedia storytelling is a fascinating prospect. Personally, I love studying the different mediums. Narrative mechanics and delivery as well as Popular Culture are my areas of interest in academia, so I intrigued to see where this type of storytelling goes in the future.

  • I think the key to a true transmedia experience is making it so that every media platform is essential, not a choice (not like choosing to read Marvel comics or only watch the movies). I remember when Lost used transmedia to enhance their world (secret websites, the Gary Troup novel), and I can also think of a few web series that have used Twitter to develop characters outside of their 3-minute episodes, but I rarely see someone due a truly blended transmedia story. Maybe it’s because you have to get buy-in on so many different platforms to overlap and you can only get the audience in the middle of that venn-diagram.