As I’m learning more about transmedia and starting to view adaptations through the filter of what I’m reading, I’ve started wondering if taking a transmedia approach over an adaptation approach might stem the desperate search for retellings and sequels where they shouldn’t exist.
Adaptation is taking a story that exists in one medium and retelling it in another medium. The greatest challenge in adapting stories to different media is that each medium has its own rules and limitations that can make a clean adaptation difficult. It used to be that movies were adapted into novels where more background information could be provided, but as we’ve become a more multimedia society, more books are being adapted into movies and television shows, where the intersection of time and audience attention span limitations cause background material to either be cut out or relegated to a background set piece that may or may not be noticed. It’s an interesting exchange, and one that frustrates fans.
What’s even more interesting is that some stories are now being written with an eye toward the eventual movie or television deal. Both Alloy Entertainment and Hyperion have had mixed success with this, with a successful book series turning out a mediocre movie series or a mediocre book series turning out an intriguing television series. Some stories are just better told in the right medium. But part of the problem, too, for adapted works is that there is only so much material available for adaptation. Deviations from the original material or extensions that just don’t exist in the original medium then become new material. (For those curious, this is what actually got me thinking about the line between adaptation and fan fiction to begin with.) For now, it’s the popular route when a publisher or creator wants to bring their story to a wider audience, but is it always the right one?
Transmedia is the art of weaving a story across two or more media. Each medium will be home to a complete story, but no one medium will have the entire story, encouraging consumers to move between media to experience all of the story’s content. While this might sound daunting, transmedia stories are often designed so that if a consumer can’t or doesn’t want to view one medium, that decision won’t reduce their understanding or enjoyment of the core story itself. A transmedia narrative is like any other storytelling experience, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Transmedia stories can be released all at once, allowing the consumer to experience it at their own rate, or designed to reveal new content with the right triggers. They can also be released as episodes, and a long-running story can be broken up into seasons.
Consumers can experience the story passively, exploring and viewing the content, but some transmedia narratives invite the consumer to become an active participant in the story. Some do this by adding an interactive fiction or game element. Marketers have had transmedia narratives designed to help market a movie, television show, or book. As consumers start to explore the deeper world present in the transmedia narrative, they develop a stronger bond with the story and characters in the movie, television show, or book and they begin naturally seeking out more of the story.
Producers are only just starting to tap into what it means to build a transmedia story, so it will be interesting to see how both paths continue to develop for properties as they look to tell their stories across multiple media.