Transmedia storytelling—telling a single overarching story through use of multiple different media platforms—is an extremely effective way to engage readers. It’s an especially effective way to reach kids and teenagers.
Last week, we talked about one reason for its effectiveness: that is, transmedia storytelling meets young readers online, which is where they are spending more and more of their time.
“The average young American now spends practically every waking minute–except for the time in school–using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device…And because so many [young people] are multitasking — say, surfing the Internet while listening to music — they pack on average nearly 11 hours of media content into that seven and a half hours.”
T Lewin, “If Your Kids Are Awake, They’re Probably Online“
However, transmedia storytelling isn’t just a matter of putting the right content in the right places. Magazine ads and television commercials have been doing this for decades. The effectiveness of transmedia storytelling lies in how it reaches young readers, as well as where it reaches them.
That “how” is the second reason transmedia storytelling is such an effective way to engage young readers: it taps into the social component of how today’s teens and preteens interact online.
Transmedia Storytelling Taps into the Social Component
Despite the increasing amounts of time spent online, today’s young people may be the most socially connected generation ever. They don’t simply watch a video or read a story or scan a web page: they’re looking for ways to share the experience with friends and followers. When their entertainment has an online component, sharing becomes that much easier.
Take the “Trail to Old Stump” game my boys played last week. They didn’t simply play solo: the game became a social experience. They told friends, recapped funny moments, replayed the game to show off their skill, and explained its connection to the Oregon Trail game they’d played in elementary school. They played head-to-head to see who could finish with the most surviving sheep (and party members!). One game started a cascade of social interactions, even though it was a simple flash animation, not an immersive transmedia storytelling experience.
Transmedia storytelling can provide your readers with several types of opportunities for social interactions and connections, each of which increases the story’s appeal.
At its simplest level, transmedia storytelling provides an opportunity for shared experience—the same way as any good story, movie, or game. If you tell a good story, readers will want to tell their friends—discuss plot twists, speculate about what’s going to happen next, claim fave characters, etc.
For example, check out the 17th Shard, the official Brandon Sanderson Fansite, where users discuss everything from book news to typos to how a particular character survived a high storm in Words of Radiance.
The 17th Shard also includes fan art, The Splintercast podcast, the Around the Cosmere blog, an interview database, and The Coppermind, a wiki for the magic, characters, world, and other details found in Sanderson’s books.
Brandon Sanderson’s expansive fantasy world building, and the fact that all his books seem to be set in the same “cosmere,” make his works a perfect fit for this type of fan response—but this type of social interaction isn’t limited to lengthy adult sci-fi and fantasy. For instance, the More Than Magic Mirrors website is a wiki of “fantasy authors, themes, and books” created by a young adult librarian. It compiles information about authors, books, characters, and more for a wide range of children’s and young books—including Laurie Stolarz’s paranormal romance, Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Hilari Bell’s sci-fi and fantasy, and more.
Sanderson’s novels present numerous puzzles for readers to figure out and piece together—another way transmedia storytelling can encourage social interactions. Give your readers a puzzle to solve, and they’ll brag when they discover the answer…or recruit help when they can’t. Both give your readers something to talk about, which translates into a deeper connection with the story and the story world.
Take this discussion on Reddit, where readers go WAY over my head as they explain how the map shape in The Stormlight Archives is derived from a slice of a mathematical function called the “Julia set.”
Scholastic Publishing uses puzzles and riddles to pull readers deeper into the universe of the 39 Clues book series. Readers don’t necessarily collaborate to find the 39 clues, but they do work alongside one another via moderated message boards. The message boards provide lots of trivia that can be helpful in the hunt, as well as additional world content, Q&A opportunities, and opportunities to interact with the series’ authors.
Ways to Add Social Connections to YOUR Fiction
You don’t need to launch a full-fledged transmedia storytelling campaign to create a “social component” to your story universe. In fact, you don’t have to create that social component at all—forums, wikis, and other fan-created sites may spring up spontaneously once you reach a critical mass of fans.
But if you don’t yet have a critical mass of fans—well, don’t you think it makes sense to try to give readers opportunities to make those social connections?
I’ve been brainstorming different ways that writers can engage readers using transmedia storytelling techniques, preferably without breaking their metaphorical time banks! Here are a few of those ideas, with links to a few examples:
- Have one of your characters Tweet occasional updates—or better yet, clues to help answer story questions or solve story puzzles
- Create an Instagram or Tumblr feed for a fictional character, school, or business
- Add “Easter Eggs” to your storytelling—clues, puzzles, or hints that readers can follow to a reward. That reward doesn’t have to be a traditional prize: bragging rights, or simply knowing something that most people haven’t discovered, is often reward enough.
- Reward readers who respond to your story—feature fan fiction, fan art, fan music, etc, on your website (Anyone know of any authors who do this? It seems like a no-brainer, and yet I haven’t been able to find any examples!)
Do you have other ideas for using transmedia storytelling techniques to make your writing “more social”, or simply easier for young readers to share and discuss online? I’d love to hear them–please share thoughts, ideas, questions, and inspiration in the comments!
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This May and June, we’re taking a look at this “new” buzzword in the writing industry, transmedia storytelling–what it is, how it works, and how you can use transmedia storytelling techniques to reach more readers and provide readers with a deeper, richer story experience. Posts will share plenty of examples, as well as ideas for ways to incorporate a bit of transmedia storytelling into your next writing project. As each post goes live, I’ll share the link here to help you navigate the entire series.
Please check out the articles in this blog series, share your thoughts, and join the conversation on how writers can leverage “transmedia” techniques to broaden our audiences and give our readers an unforgettable story experience!
Contents: Transmedia Storytelling Blog Series
Last month, we kicked off a series of posts on transmedia storytelling–what it is, how it works, and how you can use transmedia storytelling techniques to reach more readers and provide readers with a deeper, richer story experience. You can view a complete list of back posts here.
This past week, I had one of those spontaneous moments of laughter and shared experience with my kids that I couldn’t plan if I tried. My boys–both teens–are well on their way to becoming adults. As such, they have their own friends, their own schedules, and their own likes and dislikes. Their lives no longer perfectly parallel mine the way they did when they were little–when every activity required parental permission, a chaperon, and (most likely) a chauffeur. So you’ll understand when I tell you that this unplanned event was the highlight of my day! We were discussing a silly game recently posted online, a marketing gambit for the movie A Million Ways to Die in the West. (Go on, check it out…you know you want to! And you can probably beat my high score of…zero!…sheep successfully delivered to Old Stump. I did have four surviving party members, though.)
This game reminded my kids of an educational game they’d played in elementary school, the “Oregon Trail”. The goals of both games are similar: get your wagon train safely across the country via the Oregon Trail. Accomplishing this task is near-impossible for both games as well. The new version, though, is sort of a mash-up with Frogger, and Donkey Kong, and is immensely more entertaining (although probably less educational….) It had my kids in stitches! They staged a head-to-head contest, each playing the game on a different computer, to see who could reach the game’s end with the most surviving sheep (and party members!)
The “Trail to Old Stump” game is an example of transmedia advertising–the movie makers used a video game platform to entice a different audience segment to learn more about the movie, and this audience segment might not have checked it out otherwise. It’s not transmedia storytelling, though, because it doesn’t add to (or even retell) the story told by the movie. It’s just a bit of fun to attract more viewers.
However, the incident provides an excellent illustration three reasons why transmedia storytelling is such a powerful way to engage your audience. ESPECIALLY if you write for young people. We’re going to look at the first of these three reasons today…
#1: Transmedia Storytelling Reaches Young People Where They Are: ONLINE
If you have teens in your house, you’ve probably seen the same progression I have. Although we started out with the best of intentions to monitor and limit our kids’ time online, it’s become more and more difficult with each passing year–and not just because my boys are older and more independent. Over the past decade, more and more of kids’ activities have gained an online component. That’s where they go for entertainment. That’s where they collaborate with classmates (simultaneous editing on a Google doc, anyone?). They have to check class notes and assignments online; they have to have internet access in order to complete homework; and when they finish assignments, those get turned in online as well.
95% of Teens (ages 12-17) Are Online –Pew Research Internet Project, Teens Fact Sheet
Communication with friends also happens online, whether through email, Facebook, Facebook chat, Google hangouts, or other instant messenger client. “Get-togethers” often involve logging onto a multiplayer computer game with friends, where they can chat while battling for a star system, building a model on Minecraft,
…or teaming up to defeat a zone boss in the latest MMORPG (massively multiplayer online roleplaying game–such as Eve Online, WildStar, or the old standby, World of Warcraft.)
“The Internet has become THE youth medium of choice.” –”Born to Be Wired: The Role of New Media for a Digital Generation“
According to a study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, today’s young people spend more than 7 1/2 hours consuming media–streaming music, checking social media, Web surfing, playing video games, etc. Add in the growing tendency to multitask? Researchers found that during that 7 1/2 hours, they packed in an average of 11 hours of media content.
Have you seen the same trend toward increased time online in your home? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
Since I’ve mentioned the BBC’s Sherlock TV series in both this week’s post on transmedia and the week before’s post, I thought I’d direct you to a great resource if you’re interested in learning more. The StoryForward podcast publishes biweekly interviews with writers, producers, actors, and others involved in transmedia projects. One of their first episodes discusses Sherlock and how it was designed to be a transmedia experience from the beginning. From StoryForward:
In this special episode of StoryForward, co-host Steve Peters talks with Joe Lidster, a television writer best known for his work on Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures and most recently, the online story content for the BBC series Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. They talk about the unique process behind the TV show, which, in true transmedia storytelling fashion, simultaneously spans your television screen, multiple websites and more. –StoryForward.com
Hope you enjoy this great interview!
One of the things I love about writing is that the writing community is so incredibly generous–both in their willingness to celebrate with others’ successes, and their willingness to share the ups and downs along the way. Patrick Ross, over at The Artist’s Road, is a great example of an author/blogger who has shared his ups and downs, struggles and triumphs, in the years since he publicly committed to an art-committed life more than four years ago.
So it’s with great delight that pass on his recent good news: his memoir, begun September 2010, will be published this fall. From his blog:
The Artist’s Road Memoir will be Published this Fall
MAY 12, 2014 BY PATRICK ROSS
So it’s official. I’ve signed with an enterprising independent publisher and my memoir–four years after I first started working on it–will be published this October. So many readers of The Artist’s Road have traveled with me as I’ve chronicled this pursuit. I’ve shared my highs and my lows, and there were a fair number of the latter. But you’ve always supported me, and so this triumph is in part yours.
The original banner of The Artist’s Road blog, taken on my 2010 cross-country U.S. road trip on Wyoming’s 1-80 West.
I plan to share more details about the publishing plans–and the book itself–in future posts. What I can say for now is that Committed: A Memoir of the Artist’s Road will be available in print as a soft launch from Black Rose Writing on October 16th, 2014, and in print and ebook formats a few weeks later in stores and online retailers such as Amazon.
For now, I think it’s worth looking at those highs and lows, in the hope that it is helpful to someone moving forward on a long-term creative project.
- September 2010: I complete a five-week cross-country U.S. road trip in which I interviewed creatives of all types. I had drifted away from my own creativity, but the artists I encounter inspire me to return to the path of the art-committed life. I give notice to the board of directors of the nonprofit I run, and agree to serve through the end of the calendar year as they recruit a successor.
- October 2010: I launch The Artist’s Road blog in part to share my story, but also to hold me publicly accountable to my new commitment to creativity.
To read more of Patrick’s inspiring journey from idea to publication–and his growth along the way–visit his blog, artistsroad.wordpress.com. And join in the celebration!