What’s with the lines and boxes and backstory?

Tuttle in boxes and lines

What’s all this about then? Well it’s becoming clear to me that there are two things that I need to do that I’m not doing enough of. First is that I should be writing more publicly about what I’m doing and how. But also that the connections between seemingly different bits need to be articulated too.

Wait. There’s something else we need to sort out first. This isn’t about me. I mean obviously it all is but that’s not because I think what I’m doing or thinking is particularly important or even interesting but because it’s the material that’s closest to hand.

I am interested in how stories get told on the internet and the rest of the world, and how storylines can move between the two. How narratives can carry over from blogs to films to games to comic-strips to conversations down the pub to a picture on the wall. That’s what transmedia storytelling is to me. Many definitions of transmedia include the word “fictional”. I think it’s valuable to operate at a higher level of abstraction and include elements that might be fictional or might be factual or maybe predominantly factual but include elements that are wholly and explicitly subjective interpretations of the “facts”.

And social art field trips like Tuttle2Texas are non-fictional transmedia experiences. And I know that it’s sometimes difficult to explain or understand what they’re for. They’re not *for* anything. They’re not a means to an end. They are deliberately at such a level of abstraction that their primary purpose is to help illustrate how stories (fictional or otherwise) might be co-created and told, because we don’t know that well enough yet – and if we operate only at lower levels of abstraction it’s much harder to learn what works and to transfer that learning between domains of interest.

So what I’m trying to here before my brain explodes is to shift up yet another level and say OK, if you take #tuttle as an element and #tuttle2texas as an element and that consulting work we did last year as an element, how do they all fit together?

Not “How can we find the common thread so that we can present a coherent marketing pitch?” But rather, given that this stuff is as coherent and congruent as anything else, what connections need to be articulated to help you suspend your disbelief? What needs to be explained? How wide and empty can the gutter be? What might I fill the gutter up with to help you across? What backstory is useful that helps you get to the beginning. And what is the beginning? Where do you start? Because when you’re telling this kind of a story, each element may have a beginning, middle and an end, but the great thing about having near infinite capacity to co-create and store stuff is that we can stretch the story out as long as our patience and interest and attention can last.

And if we can work it out at this level (and I’ll only do that by doing it) then perhaps there are valuable lessons that are more generally applicable.

I think.

3 thoughts on “What’s with the lines and boxes and backstory?”

  1. I love the root imagery of film —->> pub picture (and presumably back again).

    Given what I know of your projects specifically, I would say your Beginnings, Middles and Ends can;

    1. be defined by narrowing entry and exit routes,
    2. be controlled by splitting content into events and sub events with start and end dates,
    3. be given away to your viewers/readers/participant – defined then by their journeys through your never ending story,

    or some mixture of the above…

    How do your elements fit together? Well if it was a story (and it is) those elements are plot points that the *characters* produce. => Character’s become your anchor.


  2. I think you’re hinting at something I call the collective narrative (or world narrative, if I’m speaking about an entertainment property). Part of the uniqueness of transmedia storytelling (v. mono-media, single-story content) is that the creative technically loses control over the narrative sequence (i.e., the order in which the audience experiences the various stories) once more than one piece of content has been published.

    For transmedia properties, the only thing creatives control regarding the narrative sequence is the order of publication (the desired sequence), not the order of experience (the actual sequence). That’s why transmedia storytelling can be both incredibly liberating from a creative standpoint but also incredibly daunting, as each new offering has to meaningfully co-exist in the collective narrative with its predecessors, even though the creative has no idea what stories the audience has already experienced, much less in what order.

    If the intent is to fold in UGC to make the property collaborative and/or an ongoing property (think franchise), the challenges increase exponentially.

    I like to think of the collective narrative as the net that supports the individual stories. The sum is, indeed, more than its parts. But, as we have found ourselves following the 3-act structure for storytelling, ongoing properties have to continually balance the need to provide finite closure at the individual story level while maintaining a sense of infinite openness at the collective narrative level.

    All of this is to say that audiences build their own collective narrative based on the sequence and specific stories they experience, and those will obviously differ across audience members. So, the question, “what’s the beginning?” sort of breaks down at that point. The beginning is the entry point for the audience member, whatever that happens to be.

    Personally, I think the situation you’re describing is one where creatives have to resist the urge to completely control the audience’s experience. Trust the audience to put the pieces together. The higher up the abstraction ladder you climb as a creative, the more you’re going to have to trust your audience, anyway. You don’t have a choice.

    That said, I’m intrigued by the suggestion you seem to be hinting at that creatives/storytellers can stitch together stories that may not be obvious, threading apparently disparate tales into something that takes on new meaning simply by its reorganization or association. But then, isn’t that what creatives do naturally, anyway: point out what everyone else has missed? ; )

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