Why Transmedia Storytelling Engages Readers: Reason #3

Lately, I’ve been a transmedia storytelling evangelist here on the blog. Which is kind of funny, come to think of it, since I’m not selling transmedia anything. There are quite a few companies and consultants out there who will help you create a transmedia campaign… which does sound mighty fun, but it’s not what I’m doing right now :).

It’s just that the more I learn about transmedia storytelling, the more I’m excited by its possibilities! And human nature is to share the things that excite us with others, right? Right.

Over the past weeks, I’ve told you how transmedia storytelling…

  • Tells stories in new ways—because you can reveal information through multiple “pipelines”
  • Reaches young readers through the media where they’re spending the most time
  • Creates “easy-to-share” content, tapping into the social aspect of how today’s youth interact online

Student Online

Today I want to look at one more reason that transmedia storytelling is relevant to today’s young people:

  • Transmedia entertainment’s interactive and immersive nature capitalizes on today’s growing participatory culture (check out this interview to learn more about participatory culture; or this one). Transmedia storytelling invites your audience into the story. It encourages readers to make the story their own.

If that sounds a little confusing, don’t worry. It confused me at first, too. I mean, what does that even mean:

MAKE THE STORY THEIR OWN?

It turns out scholars—from anthropologists to sociologists to media professors—are publishing geeky articles and technical books about all of this. An entire team at the New Media Literacies project is studying how our culture’s relationship to media is shifting. The Digital Youth Project spent 3 years and more than 3 million dollars to learn what kids are doing online, why, and how.

So it’s no wonder if the topic is a bit confusing for those of us just starting to think about transmedia storytelling.

Don’t worry, though. Much of the power of transmedia storytelling boils down to this idea of participatory culture. That is,

Kids and teens today don’t just want to watch/read/listen to a story. They want to become part of it…and transmedia storytelling encourages participation.

Participatory Culture

“Audiences, empowered by…new technologies, occupying a space at the intersection between old and new media, are demanding the right to participate within the culture.” –Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture, 2006

Audience participation isn’t a new idea. The best stories, transmedia or otherwise, invite readers to respond in some way, right?

Readers of Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy books spend long afternoons pretending to be princesses-in-training. Frozen fans choreograph elaborate dances to the movie’s soundtrack and transform into Princess Elsa, belting out the words to “Let it Go!”

So what’s new about inviting audience participation?

Two things.

First, today’s culture is shifting away from passive entertainment to participatory culture. That is, people want to respond to stories, participate in it in some way—whether that means voting via text message or trying to solve the crime along with a favorite TV show character or creating media-inspired art.

Second, with the rise of computers, the internet, and social media, it’s easier than ever for fans to respond to their favorite stories in some way—and easier than ever to share their responses with the rest of the world.

Take Minecraft…

This computer game is more like an online version of playing with Legos than the average shoot/slash/explore game. If you do a YouTube search, you’ll discover about 49 million—yep, MILLION—videos where kids and teens and kids-at-heart share Minecraft-inspired creations. They show off the amazing buildings and machinery they’ve built in the game; they write Minecraft-inspired songs; they create complex animations for fellow fans to enjoy.

Recently, my two teenage boys (my study subjects of choice) roped me into watching a particularly hilarious Minecraft music video …

THE WITCH ENCOUNTER, by slamacow

This video led to another…

and another, until we’d whiled away a couple of hours watching and laughing and talking Minecraft. And I don’t even play Minecraft!

The same passion that drives hundreds of thousands to post YouTube tributes to Minecraft has also sparked a growing collection of fan fiction, fan art, fan music, and fan videos for favorite books, TV shows, and movies.

  • My Little Pony has its own subculture of musicians and artists creating pony-themed novels, stories,  videos, and more. (And I’m talking about Big Kids loving this series, not just little girls. Ever heard of Bronies?)
  • The Harry Potter books have their own wikis, a kid-managed and written online newspaper (The Daily Prophet, of course), and fan sites.

Fan-created content isn’t limited to the bestsellers, either. On FanFiction.net, you’ll find more than 500 different categories of fan fiction in the fan-written books section alone, where each category is the book that serves as inspiration for the stories. What are the top twelve inspirations for writers of fan fic novels, you ask? Currently:

  1. Harry Potter (29,193)
  2. Twilight (11,842)
  3. Percy Jackson and the Olympians (6,557)
  4. Hunger Games (2,681)
  5. Lord of the Rings (2,265)
  6. Maximum Ride (1,937)
  7. Warriors (945)
  8. Mortal Instruments (863)
  9. Kane Chronicles (787)
  10. Chronicles of Narnia (748)
  11. Inheritance Cycle (586)
  12. Artemis Fowl (512)

Did you realize how much fan-created content is out there? I mean, I knew that my kids and their friends spend hours reading fan fiction…but I wasn’t prepared for the sheer volume of fan-created written and visual art that exists on the web!

Transmedia storytelling: I think it’s worth exploring because the way audiences consume and respond to stories is changing. Radically changing. And although all these changes can be a bit overwhelming, they’re also exciting–don’t you think? Please share your thoughts, ideas, inspirations, doubts, worries, or WHATEVER in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.

:) Cheryl

Santiago_Nicolau_Flickr_Creative_Commons-ribbet

This week, we’re taking a look at different ways to spend time with our characters. Why “spend time” with them, you ask? Because we want to learn more about them…and since most of us don’t have a crystal ball, we’ll have to actually get to know those characters up close and personal-like. If you want your […]

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