Transfiction and Transmedia: The Rabbit Hole to Immersive Storytelling

By September 19, 2016Blog, Uncategorized

My slowly-accumulating interactions with transfictionality and eventually transmedia storytelling have resonated with my own storytelling and writing.

I arrived at transmedia storytelling, and subsequently EMDD, because I decided to trail along with Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger, as he followed the man in black across the desert. This practice was undoubtedly influenced by my interactions with The Dark Tower series by Stephen King, which showed me how interconnected you could make narrative and story.

I am a writer, so creating immersive experiences through narrative makes sense to me. For years, I’ve explored new ways to tell stories. I began writing fiction when I was nine, which extended to learning every storytelling software I could get my hands on as I grew up, from Windows Movie Maker to After Effects and Premiere Pro. As I explored different storytelling mediums, I began interconnecting stories and characters, or, in other words, developing a storyworld. Now, through studying transmedia storytelling, I’m learning how to extend that – to make characters speak to one another across entire platforms.

I first read The Gunslinger by Stephen King when I was thirteen, and when I encountered Father Callahan in Wolves of the Calla when I was fifteen, I realized that I had already stepped foot in The Dark Tower multiple times: in Salem’s Lot, Hearts in Atlantis, and It. When I began to conceptualize how large the world was, I was enamored and obsessed, tracking down all of the other doorways and overlapping characters of the universe. I was familiar with narratives that extended over multiple books, like A Series of Unfortunate Events, Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Redwall. I had glimpsed Tolkien’s expansive worldbuilding in The Hobbit, although I had been unable to get started with Lord of the Rings.

All of these series are examples of transfictional narratives. Transfictionality “refers to the migration of fictional entities across different texts, but these texts may belong in the same medium” (Ryan 2013). The Dark Tower expanded my perspective of narrative and storytelling by showing me that a storyworld could exist outside of the established series. I understood that there were narratives that couldn’t be contained within a single book, but the Dark Tower felt different. It felt bigger, more sprawling, because there were entrances in vastly disparate spaces.

The other series I loved were just that – a series. There was a clear progression through the narrative. These books were clear indications of what was canon to the narrative, in addition to a recommended progression. Then The Dark Tower completely changed how I thought about storyworlds, writing, and constructing narrative experiences entirely, because I had to search for the other books, the other entrances and intersections of the narrative. I really internalized it as I began weaving my own storyworld, tying stories together as characters began to appear in different stories, having just left the plot of the one I had written previously.

Much in the same vein, transmedia storytelling extends transfictionality so that the narrative branches out into different mediums. An often cited example of transmedia storytelling is The Matrix franchise. While I was unaware of the extent of the franchise until I began studying transmedia storytelling, I realized that I had engaged with several of the different narrative fragments when I was younger: I watched the first two films, played Enter the Matrix, watched The Animatrix. I remember finding it really interesting seeing how “The Last Flight of the Osiris” connected directly to the video game, and the story continued across platforms. However, I didn’t experience enough of the franchise to really grasp how sprawling that world actually was. My first truly memorable interaction with transmedia storytelling, when I realized how it could be used, was Southland Tales.

Southland Tales is the second film by Richard Kelly, writer and director of Donnie Darko. Told in six chapters, the film is composed of chapters IV-VI, while chapters I-III exist as graphic novels. Southland Tales as a transmedia story aligns with Henry Jenkins’ view of transmedia storytelling, in which the fragments of the narrative are intended to be used to explore the overarching storyworld, in which each fragment is capable of being consumed and enjoyed independently of the other pieces. While I knew that the first three chapters were graphic novels, I didn’t read them for six or seven years after I had discovered the movie, but I was still able to enjoy the film. When I finally read the graphic novels, they completely changed my understanding of some of the characters, and the relationship of other characters, and my understanding of the storyworld and parts of the plot all clicked into place. For instance, the scene of Pilot Abilene walking around an arcade, lip-syncing “All of These Things That I’ve Done,” while strung out on Fluid Karma makes total sense after you read Chapter III, and Chapter II explains why the tattoo of Jesus on the back of Boxer Santaros starts to glow as the world is about to end.

Within a transfictional story, you’re making sense of the world through different texts, but they’re mono-medium. Transmedia storytelling allows you to explore and make sense of the storyworld through different mediums.


Works Cited

Jenkins, Henry (2003): “Transmedia Storytelling. Moving characters from books to films to video games can make them stronger and more compelling”. In Technology Review (online version).

Ryan, M.L. (2013). Transmedial Storytelling and Transfictionality. In Poetics Today, 34(3). Pp 361-388. DOI: 10.1215/03335372-2325250

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