In a world of noise, it’s sometimes not so easy to stop and listen.
In a fast-paced, click-to-move-on domain of high-speed this, downloadable that, and ‘push’, listening sometimes doesn’t feature so highly. Questions continue to be raised about our ability to ‘see’ as opposed to ‘look’, ‘hearing’ measured up against ‘listening’. Sir Ken Robinson gave a rather brilliant talk on Changing Education Paradigms where he highlighted how our kids are being more stimulated now than at any other point in history. How they’re being medicated for ADHD to calm them down when what’s really happening is that they’re hyped and excited by the constant 360, 24/7 access to colorful, always-on, information.
I like that talk.
Because it’s not only kids that are being visually, emotionally, mentally stimulated – adults are too. The competition for our attention, the value placed on engagement and loyalty is now higher than ever as we continue to be bombarded with new things to play with and on a host of devices and platforms. These new modes for delivering stories – from episodic short-form mobisodes, tweets, status updates, or bite-sized chunks of filmed entertainment to binge-til-you’re-full Netflix series that are accessible, immediate and, quite frankly compulsive – have encouraged a gold-rush for creators. They’re rushing for that Midas Touch of free platforms and immediate uploads, relying on social media and clickable links to aid discovery, in the hope of creating content for an ‘always on’ audience.
But who ‘are’ the audience?
A dictionary definition reveals:
1. the group of spectators at a public event; listeners or viewers collectively, as in attendance at a theater or concert: The audience was respectful of the speaker's opinion
2. the persons reached by a book, radio or television broadcast, etc.; public: Some works of music have a wide and varied audience.
3. a regular public that manifests interest, support, enthusiasm, or the like; a following: Every art form has its audience.
4. opportunity to be heard; chance to speak to or before a person or group; a hearing.
Not once is ‘listening’ mentioned. ‘Spectators’, ‘support’, ‘hearing’ is referenced – but not listening.
For me, transmedia storytelling begins with listening. Well, that’s actually a lie, because it begins with story and theme: without knowing the core theme of your story, the DNA, the heartbeat – how can you know who you’re writing for? I often use one of the seven basic plots as an example of core story theme combined with genre and audience awareness. Take ‘Overcoming the Monster’ – a plot that lends itself to Hansel & Gretel, Jaws and Silence of the Lambs, and yet all three are written and produced for 3 very different audience demographics and in different visual styles.
But on plot and genre later.
For now we’re looking at listening.
There’s no doubt that conversations are evolving and Brian Seth Hurst’s study into ‘The Participation Continuum: The Changing Dynamic Between Storytellers and Audiences’ reveals four levels of conversation that exist between storyteller and audience – beginning with the ‘push’ broadcast model and then springboarding into new ways to interact, listen and participate in a storyworld.
Which is why a transmedia approach to storytelling makes sense. There’s no doubt that creating multiple points of entry is a fundamental value proposition and telling components of a narrative that echo and reinforce that core theme of story, along with varying levels of immersion and engaging experiential elements will help extend a story over timelines, territories and audiences.
But having a fabulous story might just not be enough.
Transmedia is not a quick-fix. It won't make a weak story strong, a poor story great or bring a heartless story to life. Transmedia is an approach to storytelling that, with a strategy that leans heavily onto a strong focus on audience and their behaviors, can allow you can begin creating a robust storyworld with a strong beating heart.