Transmedia Narratives: Why Bother?

Creating a transmedia narrative can be a complex, time consuming, and frustrating task. So why bother? Aren’t books or film or stage productions or any of the other older forms of telling stories just as good?

The full possibilities of transmedia narratives have yet to be realized, but the transmedia works published over the past decade have shown they can be a powerful form of storytelling that lets users delve more deeply into the world of the story. Ed Sanchez, a member of the Blair Witch production team, said:

“What we learned is that if you give people enough stuff to explore, they will explore. Not everyone will but some will. The people who do explore and take advantage of the whole world will forever by your fans, will give you an energy you can’t buy through advertising…It’s this web of information that is laid out in a way that keeps people interested and keeps people working for it. If people have to work for something they devote more time to it. And they give it more emotional value.” (Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, 2006, p. 103)

Transmedia narratives have attracted the attention of the film, television, and publishing industries because of the creative and business opportunities they present.

“Transmedia storytelling uses the tools of the storyteller – emotion, engagement, universal themes, personal connection, and relevance – to create a communication experience instead of a message.” (Rutledge, 2011)

“The transmedia approach is such a powerful storytelling technique because it enables the user to become involved in the material in an extremely deep way and sometimes in a manner that eerily simulates a real-life experience. By spanning a number of media, a project can become far richer, more detailed, and multifaceted.” (Miller, 2008, p. 152)

Richer, deeper experiences that rise above the “digital noise” are helping drive the adoption of transmedia storytelling as the “new standard for 21st century communication”(Rutledge, 2011). One indication of the growing importance of transmedia narrative is the recognition of the title “Transmedia Producer” by the Producers Guild of America (PGA). The emergence of transmedia narratives is likely to significantly disrupt the entertainment and communications industries (Kohn, 2011).

The emergence of transmedia narratives has taken the process of creation of communication to an unprecedented level of sophistication, in the process significantly increasing the complexity of information design.

“Each increase in the complexity of our communications vehicles – the moves from pictographic languages to abstract alphabets or from cave painting to digital image manipulation – has been motivated by the desire to improve the range and richer of meaning we can share.” (Macy, Anderson & Krygier, 2000)

While the technology of transmedia is 21st century, the content that it carries is as old as the human ability to communicate about things that have meaning to us.

The critical issue, however, is how the information provided is designed so it engages users, drawing them into the storyworld more deeply without losing them. An effective transmedia narrative is more than a collection of story elements or stories scattered across a number of different media. It involves the careful user engagement design, narrative design, and interaction design to create a narrative that draws user in, keeps them engaged, and helps them move seamless through the storyworld.

More experience with transmedia narratives will help content creators develop new ways of combining media platforms and producing exciting new storytelling experiences (Miller, 2008, p. 162). Chris Weaver, a scholar in the field of media studies, said that there have not yet been any creators of transmedia works that have been able to successfully construct a unified project that harnesses the power of each medium (whether through the producer’s skills or collaboration with other creative people) to its largest potential (Leavitt, 2010).

The purpose of this blog is to provide some of the insights that will help transmedia narrative designers move towards the construction of those unified projects.

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