At the International Summerschool of the CCCLab I introduced already some years ago transmedia storytelling (TMS) as a creative way to communicate the issues of climate change. Here again and updated, some basics of TMS.
- “Transmedia … is one way of talking about convergence as a set of cultural practices.… one logic for thinking about the flow of content across media.” (Jenkins 2011)
Transmedia Storytelling – you now find it almost everwhere: commercials and entertainment use it, and even when sharing their lifestyle or spreading their (political) messages, people like to tell their stories. They do it in a special way, telling the stories across a variety of media, opening many entry points and offering a pervasive and intense, engaging experience of their story..
I. TMS | what is it about?
Since Henry Jenkins in 2002 coined the term “Transmedia Storytelling” (Jenkins, 2003), there have been numerous definitions to try and explain how it can be understood. Some of the most common definitions are:
” … telling stories over a number of media platforms, stories that are connected to a higher or lesser degree, but always connected and rooted in a common story world. ” (Staffans 2012, 09)
“… telling multiple stories over multiple mediums that fit together to tell one pervasive big story.” (One 3 Productions 2011)
“ …the story-universe does not limit itself to one single medium but takes advantage of the strengths of every medium to create something new out of their symbiosis.” (Coelle et al. 2011, thesis 06)
In order to have a clear understanding, it is helpful to consider each term closely, which are each used partly as synonymous.
(2) Storyuniverse, storyworld, canon
Unlike various Grand Stories about progress and freedom – which were significant for the Modern Age, but ended with the postmodern era (Lyotard 1979) – the storyuniverse or the storyworld offers no meta story. However, the storyworld provides a kind of narrative superstructure which consists of a canon, a set of binding rules for the storytelling: e.g. opinions, principles, figures, and events. (Pratten, 2011 p.61).
In developing the storyworld and its canon, it is important that the storyworld leaves space for variety in history and figures. For transmedia, a storyworld with many different optional paths is perfect; as “…my path = / = your path. What I experience in the storyworld is not precisely the same as what anybody else experiences” (Chuck Wendig 2012, 09)
The storyworld can be an existing or a fictitious world. It is crucial that it will be widely described in its canon with:
- a past and a future, so that the stories are able to look back, tell a vision, and can show surprising turns;
- captivating and pleasing figures who are pursuing their goals, delivering conflicts, overcoming barriers, and experiencing climaxes and downs etc
- offers to the participation.
(3) Multiple stories, big story, entry points, rabbit holes
Each multiple story in the storyworld is related to each other and they fit together to tell one big story which is wider than only the sum of the separate multiple stories:
The multiple stories tell supplementary insights (“additives comprehension”, Neil Young), and only from them, the whole story can be revealed. They build the big story, for there is no singular original text apart from the multiple stories.
TMS does not provide a linear narrative from the beginning (about the crisis) until the (happy) end, as we are used to in classical story.
“This is a very different pleasure than we associate with the closure found in most classically constructed narratives, where we expect to leave the theatre knowing everything that is required to make sense of a particular story” (Jenkins 2007).
The multiple stories open up different forms of access (entry points, rabbit holes) where different ways and connections (bridges) can be followed (Wendig 2012), for example how the rabbit hole of Lewis Carrol’s “Alice in the wonderland” introduces the depth and complexity of the wonderland. The multiple stories offer attractive access from which non linear and tied up paths into the story can be experienced and entertained. “Story bridges and rabbit holes – places they can cross knowingly or spots they can fall into the narrative unexpectedly – are necessary components to the infrastructure.” (Wendig 2012, Point 18).
II TMS | How to do it?
(1) (Never ending) telling
TMS is, above all, the “telling”, and the process of developing a story. With the storyuniverse, a horizon is outlined which is open to a continuous adding of parts, re-editing, and so on. The big story in principle finds no definitive end, but stays open: “The story-universe has the potential to become a breeding ground for a never ending story through sequels, spin-offs and perpetual re-use of story-elements.” (Coelle et al. 2011, Thesis 09).
Due to its open and diverse structure, TMS is the ideal format for collaborative storytelling.
“Transmedia storytelling is the ideal aesthetic form for an era of collective intelligence…A transmedia text does not simply disperse information: it provides a set of roles and goals which readers can assume as they enact aspects of the story through their everyday life.” (Jenkins 2007).
Different forms of knowledge, from the everyday experience to the particular academic knowledge, can feed into the multiple stories. “It is highly impossible to put all this on one person’s shoulders – much better (and much more true!) to give key people the mandate to interact with each other and with the audience, within the context of your story and story world. You’d be amazed at what springs up.” (Staffans 2012a, 31)
The integration and coherence of collaborative story telling will be protected by the canon of the storyworld as a common and obliging reference point.
(3) Participation, cheese-holes, sandboxes.
Actively involving the audience is the next step of the collaboration. “Your audience is your audience, but at the same time they are your co-creators, investing themselves in your story and inevitably bringing change with them, engaging the audience” (Staffans 2012a, 07).
“Cheese holes” or “sandboxes” (Staffans 2012b) invite the audience to participate with their own stories. Usually, the “cheese holes” are various social media such as blogs, social networks (Facebook, Twitter) and platforms for different media (Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, Soundcloud). (Miller 2012, slide 18).
You can measure five levels of increasing participation in your TMS project:
- Attention: people find your story and read it.
- Evaluation: people reflect on your story.
- Affection: people are touched by your story and show it, becoming followers or friends.
- Advocacy: people share your story, telling friends.
- Contribution: people tell and add their own stories. (Pratten 2011, 23)
While the first two stages “attention” and “evaluation” comprise of a more passive participation by reading and forming one’s own opinion, active participation starts with the “affection” e.g. when you “like” a post on Facebook, followed by “advocacy”, when you share on Facebook or retweet on twitter. Strong participation means to contribute to the storyworld with a story of your own.
Not each TMS project must engage the audience until the last level of participation, and the mode of participation can also vary during the project. (Pratten 2011, 07)
- “My ideal transmedia project tells a story that is striking and resonant with its audience, fostering their participation and creative expression within the context of the story world, but also sparking dialog between us all outside of the story world. The power of this technique is that it triggers action, whether that is the action of “liking” something on Facebook or the action of taking an insight from the story and your dialog with the story world and applying it toward improving your life in the real world.” (Jeff Gomez in: Staffans 2012a, 16).
III TMS | Which tools and platforms?
The storyworld’s multiple stories imply a variety in media. “In the ideal form of transmedia storytelling, each medium does what it does best-so that a story might be introduced in a film, expanded through television, novels, and comics, and its world might be explored and experienced through game play.” (Jenkins 2003)
Medium and message, medium and story, build a strong relationship as the medium is not a neutral transmitter, but leaves its traces to the message: “Medium is the message.” (McLuhan 1964) “The media at the same time generate what they transmit.” (Krämer 2005) So it is important to tell your story by the medium that fits best to the message which is being told. Using different forms of media – text, picture, video, audio – transmedia storytelling “takes advantage of the strengths of every medium to create something new out of their symbiosis.” (Coelle et al. 2011 Thesis 06)
- For example, a main character can be introduced on a social media network by a personal profile with pictures, personal news, friends and interests); background information on places or locations can be provided by maps; an exciting sequence of events is shown within a video, but quiet considerations are written in a blog article etc.
Platforms are “the combination of media plus technology. So YouTube and ITunes would be two different platforms even if they can both deliver video. A printed book and the Kindle would be two different platforms. A cinema, a living room and an outdoor public space are all different platforms.” (Pratten 2011, 28)
There is no universal rule for selecting the “right” platform, but you should consider two points:
First, the strength and weakness of each platform, scored by these criteria:
- Cost (including time) of delivering content
- Ability of platform to enable social spread of content
- Remarkable features as popularity, timeliness, quality. (Pratten 2011, 28)
Second, think about your audience:
- Where and how do the people hang out who should experience your story? Which platforms will appeal to your audience’s lifestyle?
- How skilled is your audience in using media and specific platforms? Do they like to go online or do they prefer print media and events on site?
- What are the interests of your audience and on which platform do they share them?
A “mix” of currently existing and popular platforms is recommended, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, vimeo, Instagram, SoundCloud, Tumblr and WordPress.
(3) Build and share your story
storify is used by numerous NGOs to tell and spread their stories on the web. A “storified” TMS can be a documentation of current events, a call for action, a personal experience, or a fictitious story. “Transmedia … is one way of talking about convergence as a set of cultural practices.… one logic for thinking about the flow of content across media.” (Jenkins 2011).
Storify makes it easy to build, publish and share your story. The story is always editable, open for adding new elements and stories. Storify helps your story go viral, too. All the people whose stories you add, will be notified and you can share and embed your story anywhere on the web.
Coelle, Maike et al. 2011: ‘Transmedia Manifest – The Future of Storytelling’. [2014-06-25]
Jenkins, Henry. 2003. Transmedia Storytelling | MIT Technology Review . [2014-06-25]
Krämer, Sybille. 2005: ‘Turning Viewers into Witnesses. Reflections on the Context of the Performative, the Media, and Performance-Arts.’ Inst. für Philosophie, FU Berlin und Helmholtzzentrum für Kulturtechnik, HU Berlin. [2014-06-25]
McLuhan, Marshall. 1964: ‘Medium Is the Message’. In Understanding Media – The Extensions of Man, edited by Marshall McLuhan, Reprint 1994, 07–21. London: Routledge. [2014-06-25]
Miller, Carolyn Handler. 2012: ‘Transmedia Storytelling – What It Is and How It Works’. Entertainment & Humor [2014-06-25]
One 3 Productions. 2011. Transmedia 101. [2014-06-25]
Pratten, Robert. 2011: ‘Getting Started in Transmedia Storytelling – Transmedia Storyteller’. [2014-06-25]
Staffans, Simon. 2012: One Year in Transmedia. [2014-06-25]
Wendig, Chuck 2012: ‘25 Things You Should Know About Transmedia Storytelling’. [2014-06-25]