Feb 24 2012
An interesting question about fiction and nonfiction transmedia storytelling was raised in a recent LinkedIn discussion. Wendy Bancroft, in the Transmedia Storytelling group, said:
Most people interested in transmedia approaches have fiction in mind–stories that can move across platforms, that can change, that can involve gaming… What about non-fiction? How can non-fiction work in a transmedia world? I can see where text can hyperlink to deeper information. I can see limited audience interaction, e.g. deciding which videos/graphics to see. What else???
There’s no question in my mind that transmedia approaches can work equally well for fiction and non-fiction. The first 18 years of my working life was as a journalist and I had a particular passion for in-depth investigative stories. At the time (the 1980s) there was a movement at the newspapers where I worked to shrink the length (and depth) of stories, which made it extremely difficult to tell complex stories.
With transmedia storytelling, it would be possible to “have it all” when it comes to telling these complex stories. It goes beyond simply hyperlinking to deeper information and some additional video, graphics, or other media. Transmedia storytelling, for example, could be used to tell the same story from different perspectives using differ media. Perhaps a series of YouTube videos can be used to present one perspective, a blog a different perspective, and so on.
The key is to have each of these perspectives present a story that is complete and can be seen as a unified whole. One of the hazards that I see in transmedia narrative design is the temptation to scatter a story across multiple media, with unity and coherence being lost as a result.
I’ve also seen the approach (in fact, used it myself in the early days of the web) of having a story told using a primary channel and background information available elsewhere. While this is fine for those who want to dig more deeply into, for example, source documents, it discourages the vast majority of the audience reading or viewing the primary story.
Back in the 1980s I became deeply involved in an investigative journalism project involving military chemical, biological, and nuclear warfare programs and open-air testing (including testing on civilian populations). I found thousands of pages of documentation on what had gone on over a period of three decades. Unfortunately, the news stories that I wrote were able to cover only a tiny fraction of the content, basically hitting the highlights.
Putting the documents themselves online would certainly have made the background information available, but I doubt that any significant number of people would have combed through them in detail.
Whether it is fiction or non-fiction, I see stories and characters as the two key drivers for moving the audience from one medium to another. If the stories and the characters are compelling enough, the audience is much more likely to make the leap across media.
Imagine having the same series of news stories, but adding more content based on the documents via various media channels. For example:
- A series of YouTube videos of 4 or 5 minutes each in which participants in the testing were interviewed
- A Google Maps/Earth mashup in which locations identified in the source documents are linked to the documents and an analysis of precisely what was tested and when
- A series of tweets presenting a day-by-day synopsis of documents describing individual trials
Each medium would present one or more stories that are both meaningful on their own and, when integrated by the audience, take on an even greater meaning.
There is no reason to limit these transmedia stories to being either fiction or non-fiction. It would be very interesting to weave together a series of stories that combine fiction and non-fiction, creating a synergy based on the particular strengths of each form of writing.