We have almost every storytelling medium known to humanity at our digital (and non-digital) disposal. This democratization of content creation means two things: one, you can make anything you want, whenever you want, and two, like Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility. You have all of these tools, but the key to digital and transmedia storytelling is knowing when and where to use them in creative and exciting ways that make your work irresistible.
Before we go further, I’ll note here, as I have in my book and in interviews, that I will only supply a definition of transmedia storytelling for the purpose of focus. Transmedia storytelling is, at this point, in a continuing state of definitional flux and while this is a detriment to most discussion and analysis of it, it’s a wonderful thing for creative people; it’s the mythical blank slate. It is what you make it.
With that in mind, I define transmedia storytelling as the crafting of stories that unfold across multiple media fragments, in which each piece deepens the whole, but is simultaneously capable of standing on its own, giving the audience the choice into how deep into the experience they go.
Three key takeaways:
1.) Fragmenting a story across media: a film, a television show, a comic book, etc.
2.) Each piece deepens, but stands on its own: you have to tell a complete and satisfying story within each media fragment. Like comics, each fragment may be someone’s first exposure into your world, but it could also be their last. Satisfy them.
3.) Choice. The audience decides how deep to go based on the quality of your stories and the technology easily available to them.
Let me add one extra quantifier: the focus medium, meaning the medium from which your transmedia explorations emanate, is a film, either short or feature-length, or any variation thereof. Let’s say for sake of argument and base-covering, that your transmedia explorations emanate from the film medium, regardless of the relative media attached (short, feature, something in between).
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about an important question: When do you go with transmedia?
To discuss that, it’s worth exploring another concept: the dreaded rite of passage between bad writer and good…
Exposition is the bane of a writer’s existence. It is the source of constant anxiety - what do I reveal, how much do I reveal, where do I reveal, when do I reveal, have I revealed too much, do they really need to know that the picture frame that contains the picture printed at the digital copy center is a re-used cheap relic from a Dollar store because, as you know, Timmy liked that picture frame when he was five and a half?
You get the picture.
In the hands of great writers, exposition is effortless, a whisper in your ear when you need it most. It is masked in conflict, hidden in the trenches, the itch you need to scratch, and, just when you crave it, there’s the great writer with a back scratcher that reaches just slightly above the itchy spot.
Transmedia expansions should function in the same way, doled out just when the audience craves it, when you’ve tantalized them into saying, “let me dig, let me go deeper, let me peel back the layers and see where all this goes.” It should not be hurled out with little thought as to its necessity, its quality, or its value as an entry point into the world of your story.
In my experience, both exposition and transmedia share a common thread: character. Exposition based on the needs of the plot is usually where the clunk happens. So it is with transmedia: if you think the audience needs to know certain information to move the world of your story forward, you’re probably going in the wrong narrative direction. Characters, real people, are the meat that audiences crave, the secret world whose secrets they want to unravel.
But let’s stop there for a minute. While most of this discussion has focused on the right time to provide answers, what about leaving lingering questions? Is there room for the audience to put forth their own answers? What is best left ambiguous?
(See what I did there?)
Both transmedia and exposition share a commonality: for them to work and to enhance the story experience, they have to be irresistible, not expectant. Transmedia expansions, doled out precisely at the right moment and with the same creative expertise and passion that you apply to the medium of film, have the potential to make the world of your film a living, breathing fictional entity that strikes an emotional resonance with your audience.
But one final word of caution: as we move forward with this series, we’re going to peel back transmedia storytelling layer by layer by layer. As we do this, do me a solid: never, ever forget this credo: the future of storytelling is the same thing it’s always been... great storytelling.
- More articles by Tyler Weaver
- Column D: Writing Exposition... and Two Camels
- Specs & The City articles by Brad Johnson
- Screenwriting the Dan O’Bannon Way
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