Tuesday, 3 September 2019

How I Write: Transmedia for Indie Authors


With the rise of social media, streaming services and other technological advances, we’ve seen the birth of transmedia. What is this? Well, it’s the act of telling a single story across several platforms. The Matrix was an early adopter of this, telling the tale through the three feature films plus anime and shorts. The TV series Heroes then took this to the next level, filling in gaps in its narrative through webisodes and web comics that released between episodes.

With today’s technology, the only real limit on transmedia is imagination. Well, that and finances. While it might be nice to develop an app that accompanies a book, or a webseries, chances are you don’t have the skills to do it all yourself, or the cash to pay someone else to do the work for you. However, that doesn’t mean indie authors can’t engage in a basic form of transmedia storytelling. Here are a few suggestions.

1) Artwork—Whether you produce it yourself or commission an indie artist, you could create artwork, perhaps showing additional scenes mentioned only in passing in the book. You may have this available for free viewing (via a link in your eBook) or sell it as a print. (N.B. To be true transmedia, it needs to offer additional elements to the story, hence my suggestion that it show an off-the-page scene.)

2) Comic—Take the above idea a step further by creating a short comic featuring your characters. This could be a ‘missing’ scene from during the book, or a prequel or epilogue to the story. And, again, you could have this available for free via a link, or sell it. However, if it’s a prequel, putting it up for free prior to the publication of the book could be a way to entice new readers to purchase the main work.

3) Music—This could work well if your story features musicians, or if music is important in the tale. Create some songs for the character/band. If you are musically inclined, you could perform and record them, then upload them somewhere for readers to hear. The other option (if you don’t write music) is to craft just the lyrics and have a link to those in the book. (N.B. Though fun, playlists of songs that inspired you when writing the book, or that make you think of your characters are not a form of transmedia.)

4) Web-Based Short Film—You could take the ideas from the comic book section but do them as short films, making it live action rather than illustration. This is the option that requires the biggest commitment, but it might be doable if you have amateur-actor friends willing to help you out for free. In general, this idea would be easier for a contemporary work than, say, for a fantasy in which you might also need special effects etc.

5) Online Interaction—Is there some mystery element involved in your story? Place cryptic clues on your blog and social media that readers can gather. Maybe have a small prize at the end. This kind of ‘quest’ could be a good pre-release strategy, to get people interested in the story and characters before the book comes out. The quest should add something to the book itself, so maybe treat it as a prequel, where the result of the interactive mystery leads naturally into the main plot of your novel.

6) Tweets—Have a profile for one or two of your main characters and have them tweet prior to the book release. Set up the characters through the tweets, sharing background info that will add to the reader’s impression of them when they read the book. Another way to do this is to organise a readalong after release. Do a chapter per day and have the character’s tweets relate to what is happening in that chapter, adding nuggets of information about the plot and/or the characters. A further Twitter option could be to tweet a prequel story (one tweet per day) in the lead-up to the main book release.

The key thing to remember when thinking up ideas is that if can only be termed transmedia if it adds information/contributes understanding to the world, plot, or characters. Ideally, the reader could enjoy the book on its own but would get even more from the story if they also read your related comic or listen to the songs you created. If what you are producing only includes information already present in the book (e.g. a posed character portrait) it is not transmedia.

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