Experimenting With Story Forms

I’ve recently noticed an old post about taking an adaptation approach versus taking a transmedia (or crossmedia, as they say these days) approach gaining a lot of traffic (thank you). When I wrote that post, I was trying to learn everything I could about both adaptation and transmedia (crossmedia), but it was all reading and not a lot of practical application.

Nearly two years before I wrote that post, I was starting to work on an aspect of my story world, which led to my writing a lot of little scenes exploring netrunning and the more cybernetic aspects of the world. One of those stories, the vignette “Wired Out“, has found new life over the last month or so as I’ve recycled it a couple of times over.

It kind of started by accident. Last month, wattpad announced they had partnered with SoundCloud to allow writers to add sounds to their stories through the Android app. So, I decided to try it out and see what was involved. It was not easy. It was not intuitive. But if you check out “Wired Out” through the wattpad Android app, you can now hear me read it to you. (I’m still not even sure I set it up correctly. How’s that for sad?)

But just narrating a story as it’s written with no changes or embellishments really isn’t an adaptation. You’ve simply changed its form from text to audio.

Last week, hitRECord’s Comic Collective asked participants to to create a comic with a personified character. At first, I thought about a story I’m working on where elementals run a bit rampant. I thought about how elements are portrayed, their symbolism and associations, and it gave me a headache. (I’m more easily overwhelmed these days than I thought.) But as I lay there, hiding my head under my pillow, I suddenly had the thought: The data ghosts in New Glory’s net are energy personified. I had quite a few notes on how they worked…and I had a vignette where one of these creatures was wandering around.

So, I sat down and spent more time than I probably should have converting a scene of roughly 100 words into a six-panel comic script. It was an experience. I really had to think about how to convey what I see in my head so that someone else could do something with it (assuming they didn’t go their own direction with it). Effectively, the story has been split into its dialogue and its visual elements. To me, that feels more like an adaptation.

I’m going to keep looking for ways to change the form of some of my older stories. Who knows? I may even find another way to use “Wired Out”. It’s interesting to see what a story can become when you present it through a different medium.

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Copyright in a Remix Culture

Necessary Series Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. The information presented in this series is based entirely on my experience as a creator and curator.

Remixing has become an important part of our culture. We learn through remixing. We comment through remixing. We share inside jokes through remixing. We entertain through remixing. If you’re at all familiar with Kirby Ferguson’s “Everything’s a Remix“, you know that remixing is actually not a modern concept. We just seem to have the most sarcastic sense of humor about how we approach it.

For those unfamiliar with the practice, remixing is when you take a sample (or a number of samples) from one or more sources and put them together in a new creation. If you’ve been reading this entire series, that statement probably just triggered a number of thoughts. Remixing, like adaptation and fan fiction, is a treacherous path to go as a creator. Where some creator/copyright holders are flattered to be sampled in a successful remix, others are very protective of their copyright and have no trouble expressing that to remixers.

The problem is, the material being sampled is often under copyright, and not all remixers think to check out the copyrights of their samples or to pursue proper permissions. Even worse, some remixers take a sample they know is copyrighted, and try to claim Fair Use. If they can get explicit permission or a license to use the sample, that’s the best outcome. If they can find Public Domain materials to sample, they’re in the clear. When they try to claim Fair Use, they’re often on the same shaky ground fancraft creators are.

Remember that Fair Use allows for a minor portion of a copyrighted artifact to be used for specific reasons, including education and critique. If you can prove your remix falls under either of those categories, you might stand a chance. If you make a profit off the remix, you won’t.

I realize I sound like I’m bashing remixers, but I’m no more against them than I am against fancraft creators. In so many cases, it’s an honest artist who doesn’t understand copyright (when it’s so easy to educate yourself). I do think remixing is a great learning opportunity and it provides an interesting venue for analyzing and criticizing material. There are a number of YouTube channels that prove this on a semi-regular basis.

Remixing has its place in our culture, but it’s a copyright landmine that has to be approached with care and respect.

Copyright in Adaptations

Necessary Series Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. The information presented in this series is based entirely on my experience as a creator and curator.

It seems like every time we turn around, we hear about another book or comic book being adapted into a movie or television show. Is nothing original anymore? (No, and it hasn’t been in a long time.) However, adaptations are one of those situations where copyright comes heavily into play.

Adaptation is when a story exists in one medium, and then is retold in another medium. For example, X-Men originally existed as a comic book. But over the years, those stories have been adapted into at least different cartoon series and an ever-expanding list of movies. To the best of my knowledge, there isn’t a single X-Men cartoon or movie that presents an original X-Men story never before seen in a comic book. X-Men is a poor example, though, because copyright holder Marvel has had a pretty heavy hand in each adaptation. We’d run into a similar problem trying to discuss Harry Potter, where JK Rowling has been involved with the adaptation process as her books became first movies, and then a website.

But then you look at a property like Avatar: The Last Airbender, whose first season was adapted into a movie at the discretion of copyright holder Nickelodeon without really consulting the creators. (I am aware both Konietzko and DiMartino have said Shyamlan occasionally asked them questions, but it was very clear that their vision was set aside for Shyamalan’s.)

In some of these cases, it was the copyright holder engaging their right to remix and create derivative works. In others, the person wanting to create the adaptation had to license the property from the copyright holders. Where it’s a copyrighted creation being adapted, licensing is about the only way a non-copyright holder can play with a favorite property legally.

But what if the material being adapted is available under a Creative Commons license or in the public domain (and I promise, we will get to that)? Then that makes things easier, as we have seen from the countless Shakespeare adaptations we’ve all been subjected to (or genuinely enjoyed)…as long as the conditions are followed for properties licensed under Creative Commons.

Using the Discovery Phase to Set Up a Fairy Tale Adaptation

As I’ve said before, one of my current projects is adapting fairy tales to my futuristic storyworld. The first story I’m working on is Cinderella, which is actually pretty far down the PLE process, despite the fact I had to abandon it for a bit and then had to restart it when I picked it back up.

The first time through, I hadn’t developed the PLE process until I was finishing the outline and starting the rough draft, making this current work the third start in all honesty. When I started the story the very first time, I jotted down some notes common to all the Cinderella stories I was familiar with and started on a draft, writing scenes here and there with the goal of eventually stitching them back together. It didn’t work for this particular project.

The second time I started, I had recently laid out the PLE. So, I thought I’d run the story through the process, starting with asking myself why I was writing the story. The answer, predictably, was, “Because I’m writing a bunch of fairy tale adaptations for my storyworld!” And as we all know, that is not an acceptable reason to work on something in the PLE. The project was tabled a short time later as other demands took priority on my time.

A couple of months ago, I finally had an opening in my project schedule to give the project another shot. I looked over the PLE notes and thought, I can’t work from this! Most fairy tales are cautionary stories of one sort or another. So, I put it back into the Discovery Phase (Hey, sometimes you just don’t have a handle on a project until you’ve overanalyzed it to death!), and this time came out with a topic reflected both in the themes of the original fairy tale and through four of the five key characters in my adaptation. Finally, some progress! I now have a story I can really explore and tell.

Because I did the next two PLE phases pretty thoroughly the first time, this story will be moving to the fourth phase. But once it comes out of its PLE, I will move on to the next story’s Discovery Phase, but I will still be in the overarching project PLE’s Reviewing phase. Projects are funny like that.

Adaptation vs. Transmedia

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.

Twisting Fairy Tales

I broke down last week and finally bought Writing for Comics with Peter David. I loved Peter David’s work as a teenager, and every time I’ve thumbed through the book in the bookstore, I’ve found something very useful, something that’s made me think. The purchase was very overdue.

What ended up being the final straw was thumbing through and finding a section that suggested taking a myth or fairy tale and shaking it up a bit. Of course, this is a fairly common recommendation, and I’m planning to create templates for as many fairy tales as I can think of (thank goodness for my upbringing!). What ended up making that afternoon different was that I was looking for a starting point to play with interactive fiction. (I’m not using my original plan because it just has too many flaws that would be nightmarish to straighten out.) reading that page just triggered something in me. I took the book into the cafe, bought it and a hot cocoa, and sat down and started fleshing out some general ideas.

It was that trigger that caused the book to join my library.

A couple of days later, I was reading Shojo Beat, which features a series on creating manga co-written by a manga-ka I’m somewhat partial to. This month’s installment focuses on story plots, and talked about taking an old familiar story and twisting it into something else.

In my notebook right behind my notes from the day in the cafe are some notes I wrote while waiting for a movie. I took the old (mostly forgotten) fairy tale “Rose Red and Snow White” and started playing the What-If game. It’s a brief outline, full of symbols you have to follow to get through everything, but it’s a start. At the very least, it’s got my brain working in what I hope is the right direction.