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

How Dreams Can Inspire Your Fiction Writing

Laura K. Deal is both a wonderful writer and a graduate of the Marin Institute for Projective Dream Work, and she combines these two sides of her life when she teaches classes such as Writing and Dream Symbols, which I attended a few weeks ago. In the class, we performed a series of writing exercises beginning with images and dream symbols.

The experience was unexpectedly powerful. By beginning with a piece of artwork and a handful of symbols from others’ dreams, I was drawn into a waking dream. My mind pulled together these seemingly unrelated pieces to create a new image: a hilltop garden with five paths radiating outward, a silent woman standing at the garden’s center, a storm brewing in the background.

Strange as it sounds, this image led me to a new understanding of the magic system in the series I’m working on currently: relationships between races, key characters, magical rules—all of these stemmed from a twenty-minute free write that had nothing to do with my story problem. Or at least, I didn’t think it had anything to do with my story problem, which was perhaps the point. I’m supposed to be trusting my intuition. When I did, intuition led me where I needed to go.

But enough about me—Laura can do a far better job of explaining dream work and its power to inspire. Enjoy!

laurakdeal Could you explain dream work to the uninitiated?

The kind of dream work, or dream reading, that I do is consciously projective. I help people explore the meanings of their dreams and the symbols within them while staying aware that everything I see as a possible meaning for the dreamer is a possible meaning for me, as I imagine the dream for myself. What I say might or might not resonate with the original dreamer. Only the dreamer of the dream can say with certainty what her or his dream means.

However, we tend to be blind to some layers of meaning in our own dreams because dreams come to help us become more conscious about our own lives and motivations, and I might not see the deeper meanings of my dream precisely because that information is still unconscious for me. So when someone offers projections on possible meanings that I might not have seen, sometimes I will get an “aha” moment that indicates we’ve touched on some truth. The magic of working this way is that I can do much of my own inner work on the imagined version of other people’s dreams, so we all benefit and become more self-aware.

Why would one try to interpret a dream?

In addition to uncovering hidden motivations and unconscious patterns, I’ve seen dreamers perceive situations in their lives in a whole new way, which is the first step toward bringing creativity to bear to solve what might have seemed an unsolvable problem.

Dream work has uncovered physical health problems for many people. I had a short dream a few years ago that had a profound impact on my understanding of my relationships with beloved relatives who were reaching the ends of their lives. That dream is still yielding new information for me. I know dreamers whose life paths have changed dramatically for the better because they followed advice they found in their dreams. Also, nightmares usually lose their terrifying quality when the symbols are explored, so it can be of great comfort to the dreamer to understand the symbolic meanings of a dream that on the surface appears horrifying.

You offer a workshop that weaves together writing and dream work. Could you tell us a little about how that works?

I’ve studied both fiction writing and dream interpretation for many years. I realized that they have important elements in common: they both emerge from the same creative space in our minds, and both rely on metaphorical imagery and metaphorical thinking. It seemed a natural progression to bring them together.

I use the same kind of writing prompts that I use in my regular writing classes to tap into the creative well within, but instead of words and phrases pulled out of magazines or books, I have participants use several dream symbols to write a dream. It reinforces the similarities between the waking dream (the work of fiction) and the sleeping dream, and it takes off any self-editing pressure the writer may have since a dream doesn’t need to have a coherent narrative.

Writing Prompt

Sound interesting? If you’d like to try using dream symbols to inspire your own writing, Laura has shared one of the exercises from her workshop to get you started:

Jot down six dream symbols you remember from your own dreams or dreams of friends, or pick six symbols from a dream dictionary, then take 10-15 minutes to weave the symbols together into a dream. The more we play with dreams and metaphors and associations as writers, the richer our fictional characters and worlds become.

You can also learn more about dreams, dream symbols, imagery, and metaphor at Laura’s First Church of Metaphor blog—a great site for creative inspiration.

If you try this prompt, why not share your experience or part of your “dream” in the comments? This is an exercise best done in community, so please share!

Eleven Ways Writers Annoy Readers

Writers annoy readers all the time.

Hasn’t it happened to you? You pick up a book, intrigued by its premise or cover art. You skim a few pages. And you put it back on the shelf, because something about it just doesn’t work for you. Or you bring the book home, read halfway through, and give up in disgust because the main character keeps making the same mistakes or missing the same clues or doing the same stupid things.

Or—perhaps worse—you make it through to the end of the book and, after several hundred pages of buildup, the author lets you down.

Tambako the Jaguar Photo credit

It’s easy to know when a writer annoys you, but not always so easy to avoid doing the same thing in your own writing.

Start with this checklist of sure-fire ways to irritate your audience—and avoid becoming one of those annoying writers!

Eleven Ways Writers Annoy Readers
  1. Use fancy dialog attributions: snarled, coughed, barked, growled, murmured, muttered, pestered, blathered, etc.
  2. Overuse adverbs: Use adverbs sparingly, carefully, and delicately. Strong verbs communicate more effectively—and more succinctly—than a string of modifiers.
  3. Head hop: Change point of view within a scene, so your reader is confused as to who thinks what.
  4. Wordiness: Are you writing to hear yourself speak, or do you actually have something to say? Cut the lengthy descriptions and lovely turns of phrase; aim for brevity and clarity as well as style.
  5. Preach: Unless you’re a minister, readers probably don’t want to hear your sermons. If you have a lesson to teach, be wary of the sledgehammer approach. Children and adults alike are happy to explore different points of view with your characters, but will drop a thinly-veiled morality play like a hot potato.
  6. Info dump: Maybe your readers need to know that your main character was born in Pennsylvania where she photographed deer, kissed her first boy, and discovered that he was a werewolf—but they probably don’t need to know all of that on the first page. Dole out information sparingly, always leaving your reader wanting more.
  7. Research dump: Similar to the info dump, the research dump refers specifically to the writer’s need to incorporate all the research he’s performed into the book itself. Yes, you have five hundred pages of research. No, no one else wants to know all of it. That’s why you’re the writer: you get to do the research and sort out the best pieces to share.
  8. Make your main character stupid: I’m not talking about honest-to-goodness mentally challenged characters. I’m talking about the character who makes stupid choices without good reasons. The co-ed who goes down into the dark basement to investigate the strange noises after the power goes out even though she knows there’s an escaped murderer in the neighborhood instead of, say, dialing 911. Or the character who can’t solve the mystery that your reader figured out on page 2. It’s harder to sympathize when a character when deep-down you’re pretty sure they got what they deserved.
  9. Break your promises: If you build up an event early in the story, don’t skip over it in chapter 20. Similarly, if your book promises a love story, don’t kill off the male lead halfway through. I’ve noticed that many books in which a major character dies begin by foreshadowing the event, and I think it’s for this reason. If something bad is going to happen, we want to prepare ourselves.
  10. Break your rules: Whatever genre you write, you spend a great deal of your book establishing ground rules, whether those are for characters, a magic system, or a dystopian government. If your character pulls out a longbow during the climax, you need to establish her archery skills earlier. If your wizard casts a spell to defeat the big bad guy on page 200, you need to establish that the spell exists—or at least that it could exist—in the pages preceding.
  11. Cheat the ending: When you build up an astonishing series of events, the absolute bomb to drop is “And then she woke up.” If your story resolves by the discover that it’s all been a dream, you’d darned well better prepare your reader for the possibility in advance. Another cheat ending is deus ex machina—the sort of ending when the parent swoops in to save the child or the destitute mother solves all her problems by winning the lottery. Just. Don’t.