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:


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 …


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

Transmedia Storytelling Blog Series

Transmedia StorytellingThis 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

Why Transmedia Storytelling Engages Readers: Reason #1

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.)

A Million Ways to Die in the West game

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.

[Tweet “Expand storytelling to include web comics, video, & other online media to reach teens where they are–ONLINE. “]

Have you seen the same trend toward increased time online in your home? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

More on the BBC’s Sherlock and Transmedia

sherlockSince 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!