What is Transmedia?

Please note: Passages from this article appear (in expanded form) in and provide the basis for the first chapter of COMICS FOR FILM, GAMES AND ANIMATION, “What is Transmedia?” 

Transmedia. Deep Media. Cross Media. All of the above. Whatever works. At the end of this transition period (probably another five to six years), it will just be what it is: storytelling. But until that time, and before we can fully dive into a series about transmedia (the word I’ll use for a few reasons, namely that it’s the one most people know), it’s best to come up with a working definition so we’re all on the same page. Here’s mine:

Transmedia storytelling is the crafting of stories that unfold across multiple media platforms where various story pieces interact with the others to deepen the whole – but are capable of standing on their own – giving the audience the choice as to how deep into the story experience they go. 

Let’s take a look at the components of my definition:

“Crafting of stories that unfold across multiple media platforms…” Pretty self explanatory. You create a story that can only be told across multiple platforms, utilizing all they have to offer. My own Whiz!Bam!Pow! project could only be told across multiple platforms: a comic book from 1938. A radio show from 1949. A novella.

“… Where various story pieces interact with the others to deepen the whole…” We’re not just breaking up a movie or game into multiple pieces here. We’re bringing in different media and letting them play with one another.  Think of the whole as a Wikipedia page. Think of the transmedia elements as the other articles you link to. Now take that link page and deepen it from there. How can you deepen the lives of the characters in a film through a web series? Or through a blog? A short film? The possibilities are endless – which is why discipline is required.

“… But is capable of standing on its own…” This is a key element in my mind. There’s nothing worse than a spate of sub-par, tacked-on transmedia pieces to a focus medium. Each piece should tell a complete story, but at the same time deepen and expand the piece that came before it – and make someone ask the immortal question of great drama: “What happens next?”  It’s a tricky balance. Which brings me to the final piece…

“… Giving the audience the choice as to how deep into the story experience they go…” Your audience isn’t going to be filled with obsessive fans who want to consume every piece of your project. It may be filled with people who only want to consume one piece. This is about choice; the choice of immersion or passivity; of casual consumption, or obsessive. We have to make sure we give each something to enjoy. We have the opportunity to deeply engage a fan base, and squandering it is a cardinal sin.