Guest Post by Elaine K. Phillips
Admit it: You primarily joined Pottermore because of the Sorting Hat.
Still, not only because of the Sorting Hat. We join Pottermore to read the new shorts J. K. Rowling periodically posts and to write our own fanfic when these stories fall short of our excessively lofty expectations.
But why do we care about fanfic? With the books and the film adaptations behind us, why do we care about Harry Potter World and the International Quidditch Association’s Global Games? We care because we love the characters—enough to follow them on a merry chase across media, from books to films to websites to mobile apps to quidditch pitches; enough to immerse ourselves in their world.
Our merry chase didn’t happen by accident. The Harry Potter universe expanded across multiple media via careful planning. Our experience of the Potter-verse was crafted for us more or less according to the principles of “transmedia storytelling.”
Guess what: you don’t need lucrative deals with Bloomsbury, Scholastic, and Warner Brothers to create a magical experience for your audience. Thanks to transmedia’s flexibility, even independent artists can craft stories that immerse an audience in unforgettable experiences.
What is transmedia storytelling, anyway?
In a word: fun.
In a pretentious explication: transmedia storytelling is the process of crafting what Christy Dena calls a “transmedia composition,” which I’ve described elsewhere as “a coherent story-world that features one or more protagonists whose interlinking narratives are told across multiple media platforms, which allows the audience to immerse itself in and contribute to the narrative as much as desired.” Whew. Let’s unpack that:
A coherent story-world…
The most aesthetically and economically sound transmedia compositions germinate in the creator’s mind as an expansive yet coherent world. It’s neither platform- nor plot-centric. A transmedia story-world lives in the creators’ and audiences’ imaginations as something bigger than the story itself.
…that features one or more protagonists whose interlinking narratives are told across multiple media platforms…
Christy Dena theorizes that transmedia storyworlds fall into one of two camps. The first is an intercompositional transmedia or “West Coast” storyworld like the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), where each character’s story is told in whatever medium best suits his or her narrative. Iron Man and Captain America’s superhero narratives are grounded in film; in contrast, Agents Peggy Carter and Phil Coulson’s more realistically-paced character arcs are introduced in films and explored in episodic television shows. While each character has his or her own self-contained story, enabling the viewer to enjoy each film or show on its own, they’re all part of a bigger storyworld.
The second is an intracompositional transmedia or “East Coast” storyworld like Pemberly Digital’s “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” which spreads a single story across multiple media: YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, blogs, and a book. You’ll get most of Lizzie’s narrative arc if you watch only the YouTube episodes or read the novel, but you’ll miss key elements of the storyworld: Lydia and Charlotte’s video diaries, Jane’s fashion-savvy Tumblr, Gigi and Fitz’ “Dizzie” shipper Tweets, and Caroline Lee’s world-hopping. As in the MCU, each medium fits the character perfectly, but no single character arc or media platform is self-contained. If you want the whole story, you must immerse yourself in the world.
…which allows the audience to immerse itself in and contribute to the narrative as much as desired.
Transmedia storytelling is nothing new—Derek Johnson and others have argued that the early Roman Catholic Church was one of the earliest and most successful transmedia pioneers—but there’s no denying that its interactive nature is a perfect fit for the Internet age. We can all contribute our fanfic and fanart to our favorite stories, debate theories with fans from across the world, and reinforce or disrupt the canon as we choose. Of course, we can choose not to invest to this extent. But carefully envisioned and executed transmedia offers the depth required to foster a lasting, mutually profitable relationship between reader and character, between audience and creator.
The Heart of the Hype
At its heart, transmedia storytelling is a deeply social art that creates communities through stories—and stories through communities. Whether or not you ever achieve that coveted corporate media deal, you too can use transmedia tricks to create a coherent, scalable, immersive experience for your audience.
Explore how with “Transmedia Storytelling: Why it Works for Indie Creators.”
Elaine K. Phillips recently completed her M.A. in Publishing at Oxford Brookes University, having penned her dissertation on transmedia storytelling’s impact on fiction publishers. From digital intern to magazine editor, Elaine has held diverse positions across the British and American publishing industries, but her greater passion is crafting thought-provoking adventure tales. She finished her first (bad, bad, bad) science-fiction novel at eleven and is currently writing an alternate history sci-fi novel set in fifteenth-century Britain and China. She’s obsessed with digital media theory, children’s media, and coffee, and would love to discuss any of the above with you on Twitter. Learn more about Elaine through her website and LinkedIn and Contently profiles.