Storytelling has existed in various forms throughout humanity; including oral tradition, print, and television. However, in modern society there has been a greater effort to integrate multiple platforms of media to tell one cohesive story. This is called transmedia storytelling, and while not exactly modern, for the art of storytelling is very old, it is taking on several modern twists.
Transmedia Storytelling in a Nutshell
The concept of transmedia is highly complex. In its literal definition, transmedia means “across media,” but that does little to further clarify transmedia storytelling, how it affects modern society or how it relates to narratives. According to Henry Jenkins, professor of communication, journalism, and cinematic arts at the University of Southern California, transmedia storytelling involves spreading certain elements or chunks of a narrative across different media, and ideally each chunk significantly contributes to the overall narrative.
This is a book that coincides with the film, “Dr.Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.” There is also a comic series that portrays Dr.Horrible’s past.
For example, “Star Wars” employs many methods of storytelling, though the overall story arc is the same. Fans can watch the “Star Wars” films and then read the novels that fill in the films’ gaps. There is also an animated series, “Star Wars: Clone Wars,” which also takes place between films.
There are several functions that transmedia storytelling should fulfill if it is to be successful, according to Jenkins. He names them as developing back story, mapping out the fictional world, offering another character’s perspective, and deepening audience engagement. All of these elements help enhance and make the narrative more complete.
For instance, to accompany the Internet musical “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” there is a comic series that details Dr. Horrible’s past and shows the progression toward his status as villain in the musical. The two different media provide a single cohesive storyline, and each medium enhances the other. One could peruse them separately for part of the story, but fans get most of Dr. Horrible’s story with the musical and the comic.
Today’s Fans and Transmedia Storytelling
There are two consequences, according to Jenkins, of transmedia storytelling that do not necessarily add to the story arc. Those are franchising as well as the creation of fan communities and fan fiction. Franchising adds nothing to the overall storyline, and despite the fact that technically neither do the fans, they can criticize and comment on the fandom.
Although fans can interact in many ways with the fandom, especially with the Internet, we will focus on two: fan fiction and posing as characters.
Fans pose as characters on social media sites and interact with each other. A prime example is Bram Stoker’s characters from “Dracula” having Twitter accounts. You can follow Mina Harker and Dr. Seward on Twitter and read tweets such as one from Seward, “Received med school alumni newsletter. Even #JohnWatsonMD’s gotten hitched. Just last year to a woman called Mary Morstan.” While it is not part of the “official story arc” it does allow fans to interact with older characters in a modern setting.
Fan fiction is another medium for fans to interact with the fandom. In some ways, fan fiction functions as transmedia storytelling, since some of the fiction deals with creating back stories or retelling an event from the story in another character’s point of view. Sometimes fan fiction gets even more creative with plot elements like original characters added to the cast and alternate universes. However, some scholars are hesitant to consider fan fiction as transmedia storytelling, since it is not officially part of the story arc. However, others recognize the audience’s ability to manipulate the storyline similar to the original creator’s story and praise the audience’s participation, according to doctoral student Kevin Moloney of the University of Colorado.
Transmedia Storytelling: Modern Day Elements
With the ever increasing prevalence of digital technology, some story arcs have adapted transmedia storytelling elements to the 21st century. This includes characters having Facebook or Twitter accounts, their own blogs and websites, and sometimes even their own YouTube channels.
In the modern-day adaption of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” the “Lizzie Bennet Diaries” is a YouTube series that follows Lizzie Bennet through her video diaries as she interacts with her sisters, their suitors, and the mysterious Mr. Darcy. In the same medium, other characters also have their own YouTube channels. Outside of YouTube, Bennet has her own Twitter and Tumblr accounts that fans can follow and to get the story of Bennet.
Also a YouTube series, “The Most Popular Girls in School,” is a story that revolves around several high school girls from Overland Park and follows their daily lives; however each character is portrayed by a Barbie doll. Each main character has her own YouTube channel and one character, Brittnay Matthews, has her own Facebook. Even minor character Lunch Lady Belinda has an email account. Both help flesh out the characters.
BBC’s “Sherlock” is also a modern adaption of older fiction, in this case Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes.” In the pilot episode, John Watson and Holmes mention that they have their own websites. The audience can search for them on the web, follow Watson’s blog and view Holmes’ The Science of Deduction. Both add extra elements that are not mentioned in the TV show, and show underlying motives for multiple characters.
Though not new, transmedia storytelling stays relevant and modern in the digital age by employing social media and blogging sites to continue the story and give fans a new way to engage with the story.
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