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Experimenting with Stories: Transmedia Storytelling 101

Photo credit: juhansonin / / CC BY

Photo credit: juhansonin / / CC BY

Everyone in the entertainment industry is learning the value of social/new media. It is being used to make important connections, produce content in an efficient matter, create projects they may not have otherwise been able to do on their own, and of course used by everyone to promote their work and themselves over multiple social media platforms. However, there is one aspect that studios and indie productions are just beginning to tap into: the ability to use these new forms of media to expand their stories.

This use of various means of technology (or media) to help augment and extend the narrative of a given story has been dubbed with many terms: Transmedia, Cross-Platform, or Multi-Platform Storytelling. In essence, it is taking a 360-degree approach to the methods of storytelling and allowing a story to take form across various platforms the audience already consumes. This extends the number of touch-points for a story from the traditional once a week, to the possibility of multiple points on a given day. Not only does this keep a project top of mind with the current audience and fanbase, but also opens it up to the possibility of gaining new audiences due to these additional platforms.

There are two schools of thought when discussing this type of narrative approach. The first, more traditional approach, is of StoryWorld building. This can also be viewed as the “franchise model”. This model would involve the creation of a world in which the story lives, and then allows various types of stories to be told in this world on a multitude of platforms. The various narratives are told separately and could be told on a varied platforms: movies, TV, comics, books, video games, social media narratives, etc. A good example of this type of storytelling is the worlds created for Star Wars or the Marvel Universe. In both cases there are various types of stories told which feed into each other, but may not directly effect each other. For instance, in the Star Wars universe the animated “Clone Wars” is entirely separate from the movies, however it is part of the same storyworld and may have narrative strains that fans of the movies, or extended universe novels or comics, may be familiar with.

The second type of transmedia or cross-platform storytelling, most relevant to its use of social and new media to extend the story, is where various parts or narrative threads of a story are told across different platforms at the same time. A mainstream example is the TV show Castle. The TV show exists as one narrative form, the character Castle has a comic book released (under Castle’s name as the author) by Marvel comics, various novels have been published from the same author, a twitter feed representative of Castle’s character, as well as a website/blog used to promote the fictional character’s books. While the TV show is obviously the main component in this example, things happening in the show effect what is posted on twitter, what type of content is included in the blog, and, the publication schedule for new novels or comics.

An additional, new media related, example of this type of 360 degree method of storytelling is “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” Co-Executive Produced by Hank Green and Bernie Su, this vlog style adaptation of Jane Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice”. Starting with the narrative of a classic story, Bernie and Hank introduced a new audience to this timeless work by creating content living where the audiences interacted, mainly YouTube, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook.

Why has “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” had such a huge success as a cross-platform/transmedia experience? They started with strong source material. From there they were able to take the story and introduce it to new, young audience on the platforms that the audience regularly consumed (Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook). But, it started with the story. If the story is good – it will drive all other interactions, and that was the key to its success.

Over the course of my articles I will be looking at various female creators who work in the cross-platform space, tools that can be used to make your storytelling more effective, and interesting projects using the most of this space. However, the most important thing to remember when writing for any platform is that people will not be emotionally invested just because of how the story is told, but how well the story is told. I look forward to taking you on this journey with me.


About Angelique Toschi

Angelique Toschi is a social media professional who is active in multiple social media communities. She uses her BA in English from UCLA and MA in Mass Communications, Advertising from Cal State Fullerton to help her create strategies and write social media content for various clients across multiple industries. Some of her current and former clients in the entertainment industry have included The International Academy of Web Television, web series “Lenox Avenue”, and Transmedia LA. She also currently handles social media and corporate communications for Shakey’s USA, Inc. (57 locations across the US).