Blurred Lines and Transmedia Storytelling

My latest essay, BLURRED LINES AND TRANSMEDIA STORYTELLING: DEVELOPING READERS AND WRITERS THROUGH EXPLORING SHARED STORYWORLDS, has been published in the Fall 2014/Winter 2015 issue of SIGNAL JOURNAL: THE JOURNAL OF THE INTERNATIONAL READING ASSOCIATION’S SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP: NETWORK ON ADOLESCENT LITERATURE.

In BLURRED LINES, I examine my experience in teaching writing to a group of sixth grade students by allowing them to create their own superheroes and shared superhero universe, a la the Marvel Universe of the 1960s and the Marvel Cinematic Universe of today.

An excerpt:

Brought together, these four groups of rules formed an inchoate, character-driven story bible–that is, a document in which the rules were laid out for our shared universe. As part of an educational process to explore transmedia storytelling and to create an environment in which fan fiction can thrive as a creative educational tool, I recommend that story bibles be constructed as students analyze and discuss the works they are reading in class, be it Suzanne Collins’s (2008) The Hunger Games, Lois Lowry’s (1993) The Giver, or anything in between.

To allay potential concerns and anxieties that readers new to transmedia storytelling might harbor, allow me to underscore the following point: the book or text that students study in class does not have to be a transmedia experience for the method I am proposing to work. A teacher and students can transform any text into a world that invites fan fiction by asking questions needed to crafta convincing and visceral world that speaks to the students: Where does the story take place? Is it a city on the verge of collapse? A village of laborers? What is the world the characters inhabit like? Is it a utopian society? A dystopian society? A dystopia disguised as a utopia? When does the story take place? Is it set in the far future or the distant past? What historical events are unfolding parallel to the work in question? How is the society constructed? Are its societal and economic classes divided? Is there a form of caste system in place? How might previous history account for this? What do you think led to the permutation of the world evinced in the work in question? These are only a few of the discussions the creation of a story bible can inspire.

From the standpoint of teaching, the collective creation of a story bible provides a valuable analytical and discussion tool that allows developing readers and writers to think about stories in ways that go beyond theme and plot. In doing so, it gives them a chance to discuss the storyworld of a story and create a set of rules that allows for unfettered creation via students inserting themselves into a storyworld that already carries meaning for them. By establishing these rules and allowing students to create within the parameters they afford, either using pre- existing characters or by developing their own, teachers can create opportunities for students to internalize the thought processes that constitute a genuine and ethically sound (read: not crafted solely for the purposes of marketing and selling a product) transmedia experience, while developing an intellectual mastery of a constantly- shifting media landscape they wouldn’t necessarily have achieved through more traditional means. As Jenkins (2006) argues, “Just as we would not traditionally assume that someone is literate if they can read but not write, we should not assume that someone possesses media literacy if they can consume but not express themselves” (p. 177). Modern media literacy is not, then, only about consumption. It is also about creation, and educating students in the tenets of transmedia storytelling is key to their understanding the fluidity of our modern media landscape.

The complete essay is available to members of The International Reading Association’s Special Interest Group Network on Adolescent Literature (SIGNAL).