Going Boldly Where Everyone Has Gone Before (sorrynotsorry)
The originator of the term ‘transmedia storytelling,’ Henry Jenkins, writes that it “represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience” (Jenkins 2007). Transmedia works, then, either tell multiple stories or follow one narrative thread across different media in such a way that all fit into the same universe and honor continuity. One of the most discussed examples we find of this type of narrative is the universe of Star Trek. Through multiple TV series, movies, video games, books, and more, storylines are developed using the same sets of characters.
In examining what what transmedia storytelling is, it could be helpful to examine what it is not. Transmedia narratives are a departure from traditional narratives which were typically only given through one medium and were encapsulated. Because of this, transmedia works are usually more interactive, since they contain many components and encourage participation from viewers/readers as they attempt to piece together all parts of the story. Transmedia narratives are also not crossmedia, since the latter type is involved with spreading the same message or story across various media as opposed to advancing or contributing to story lines. As Harvey writes, “In other words, licensed tie-in media do not constitute examples of transmedia storytellng because they can’t affect the core narrative from which they’re derived (Harvey 24). He complicates this, in part, by examining fan reaction to tie-in and crossmedia artifacts; if fans accept it these contributions, shouldn’t they be considered valid to a certain degree? Going back to Star Trek, we see all types of tie-in novels that are enjoyed by casual and die-hard fans alike, which means that perhaps novelizations of movies and TV shows can be just as welcome a part of the transmedia experience since they drive fan interaction and appreciation.
Ultimately, it’s this fan engagement that the creators of transmedial works seek, since without fans, they wouldn’t have required budgets and interest to continue their fictional universes. Keeping fans interested in transmedial works is easier said than done, however. Scott writes that “it is expected that transmedia storytellers will ‘lead’ their partners in this narrative dance across media platforms. But transmedia auteurs must also remember to treat their audience as their partner and, if they aren’t willing to let them lead, they should be wary of treading too frequently on their toes or interpretations” (Scott 50). So, creators and auteurs must provide clues and stories that fans want to decipher and engage with but at the same time cannot blatantly dissect every nuance, which will turn fans off. Star Trek, again, has done a fairly good job with this over its long run. Despite its many iterations, it retains a sense of freshness as fans pursue discussion and try to tie together various threads (just look at how populated conventions tend to be), while those currently at the helm of the franchise release information but never too much (rumors and info surrounding the upcoming Star Trek Discovery is a good example).
Harvey, Colin. Fantastic Transmedia: Narrative, Play and Memory Across Science Fiction and Fantasy Storyworlds. Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
Jenkins, Henry. “Transmedia Storytelling 101.” Confessions of an Aca-Fan: The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins. 22 March 2007, http://henryjenkins.org/2007/03/transmedia_storytelling_101.html.
Scott, Suzanne. “Who’s Steering the Mothership? The Role of the Fanboy Auteur in Transmedia Storytelling.” The Participatory Cultures Handbook, edited by Aaron Delwiche and Jennifer Jacobs Henderson, Routledge, 2013, pp. 43-52.