Adapting a classic work of literature into a transmedia story happened for the first time in 2013 with The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Since then, more than 70 other transmedia adaptations have been created, with more currently in development. They adapt classic literature in the public domain such as Jane Eyre, Little Women, or The Scarlet Pimpernel to an interactive, multi-platform experience. Although transmedia adaptations of text are centered around a webseries as the main form of conveying the narrative, they take advantage of other platforms, such as Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram or websites to tell parts of the story and give audiences a chance to talk to the characters or even participate in the narrative. It is important to note that while some of these adaptations are produced by small groups of independent creators, others are funded by media and entertainment companies, such as KindaTV and New Zealand On Air. This signals that the transmedia adaptations are moving out of the realm of Internet idiosyncrasy and into the world of mainstream media consumption.

Transmedia literary adaptations use a specific form of transmedia storytelling – distributed narrative – to adapt classic works. Instead of using transmedia storytelling to give the audience many different narratives that all take place in the same storyworld, works with a distributed narrative tell one linear narrative across multiple platforms. In the case of transmedia literary adaptations, this narrative is adapted from a novel or play.

Narrative theorist Marie-Laure Ryan argues, “The only two media between which people will easily switch are novels and movies.”  The majority of adaptation theories agree with this. However, the prevalence and popularity of transmedia literary adaptations might prove this to be incorrect. By finding underlying patterns and frameworks in both the process of creating the adaptation and in the product itself, it might be possible to discover a new paradigm for both adaptation and transmedia storytelling that uncovers exactly why this particular form of storytelling is so effective.

This project will target three guiding questions. aimed at examining the relationship of the transmedia adaptation to its source.

  • How is adapting text to a transmedia series different from adapting it to another type of story?
  • What underlying patterns exist in how the book is adapted to transmedia in relation to the specifics of the narrative, such as plot and characters?
  • What connection is there between how the narrative is spread over different platforms in a transmedia story and how the narrative is conveyed in the original text?

The purpose of this study is to uncover common patterns in how text is adapted into transmedia stories in order to develop an overarching framework that could be used to analyze other transmedia literary adaptations or to develop future ones. This will be accomplished through the use of a modified grounded theory that will be developed through the analysis of the source text and transmedia stories themselves. By using a modified grounded theory approach, the transmedia stories and the sources they are adapted from will dictate the research journey. This research is critical because it addresses a rapidly growing genre that has had little research examining the stories themselves and the way they actually take a book from a story that tells to a story that both shows and interacts.

There is no published, scholarly work examining transmedia adaptations of text as a genre or specific phenomenon. Although some articles exist that look at The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, these concentrate on content, such as through a rhetorical analysis or by analyzing how it adheres to postmodern tenets. Thus, this study has the potential to both fill a hole in scholarship, as well as bridge adaptation theory and transmedia storytelling by extending existing adaptation theories that deal with interactive stories and applying them specifically to transmedia literary adaptations.

Far from simply being another drop in the bucket of scholarly work, this study also has the potential to contribute to the future understanding of transmedia storytelling and its ever-shifting definition. Christy Dena argues that transmedia storytelling is in a pre-paradigmatic state. There is not an accepted popular definition of what transmedia storytelling is, whether it refers to a universe with many narratives or one narrative distributed across multiple platforms. However, she says, “To me – seeing the success of LBD (The Lizzie Bennet Diaries) with audiences, with peers, and the way it is described, and the way transmedia is described – indicates a paradigm.” Seriously examining work in a genre that might be the paradigm for what transmedia storytelling is understood to be can provide frameworks for future creators and lead the way to further research in transmedia storytelling.

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