Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Storyworlds - What are They?

The term “fictional world” is sometimes used to describe the "universe" within which a transmedia narrative is set (Dena, 2009, p. 21). The term "storyworld" has also been used to describe that "universe". Dena specifically rejects the use of the term “storyworld” because some transmedia products incorporate game elements that are not narratives (Dena, 2009, p. 23).

Because transmedia narratives can be fiction, non-fiction, or a combination of both, the use of the term “fictional world” could be misleading. Narrative/story is an integral element of a transmedia narrative. Therefore, I will use the term “storyworld” rather than “fictional world”. It also helps that "storyworld" is increasingly being used as the term of choice by professionals in the field (and the recent Storyworld conference further supports the use of the term).

As the term “storyworld” becomes increasingly common in the discussion of transmedia narratives and is an integral part of their definition, I'll use a definition in which a “storyworld” refers to the shared universe within which the settings, characters, objects, events, and actions of one or more narratives exist.

As we dig more deeply into the structure of transmedia narratives, you will see why a solid definition is needed and (hopefully) why I've gone with this one.

(Christy Dena's excellent thesis on transmedia practice can be downloaded from


Works Cited

Dena, C. (2009). Transmedia Practice: Theorizing the Practice of Expressing a Fictional World Across Distinct Media and Environments. PhD disseration . Sydney, Australia: University of Sydney.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Challenges of Transmedia Narrative Design

I've been a writer in one form or another for all of my working career, starting out as an "ink-stained wretch" in the daily newspaper business. I've written lengthy feature articles for magazines, scripts for interactive video projects when the video was still played on 12-inch analog laser discs, and worked my way through a wide variety of web-based projects as we went from Notepad being a state-of-the-art HTML editor to the latest generation of Adobe publishing tools.

Writing in each of those areas presented its own unique challenges, but none of them compare to what the writer(s) of a transmedia narrative face. The nature of transmedia narratives brings with it a host of information design challenges. The individual elements of a transmedia narrative – text, images, audio, video, and other forms of media – present their individual opportunities and challenges.
“Each medium has its own affordances, its own systems of representation, its own strategies for producing and organizing knowledge. Participants in the new media landscape learn to navigate these different and sometimes conflicting modes of representation and to make meaningful choices about the best ways to express their ideas in each context.” (Jenkins, Purushotma, Weigel, Clintion & Robison, 2009, pp. 87-88)
The creation of transmedia narrative involves not just figuring out how to work with different media, but also working with the production cultures associated with those media. For example, there are significant production culture differences between film, TV and theater production, digital media production, and book production (Jeffery-Poulter, 2001, p. 155).
“In transmedia projects that involve distinct media which are part of existing creative production cultures, a practitioner needs to not only understand the affordances of the medium, but be able to negotiate the associated industries.” (Dena, Transmedia Practice: Theorizing the Practice of Expressing a Fictional World Across Distinct Media and Environments, 2009, p. 64)
In addition to the affordances of the individual media in a transmedia narrative, a whole new set of challenges occur when trying to integrate several different media into a cohesive and coherent overall narrative. The diverse set of knowledge and skills required to author a transmedia narrative is a major challenge.
“These works require a different kind of knowledge and skill. A creator may be well versed in writing novels and screenplays, but not necessarily skilled in writing stories that begin in a novel and continue in a film, in the rhetoric necessary to guide their reader to become a player, and even in understanding the combined effort these media platforms have on experience.” (Dena, Transmedia Practice: Theorizing the Practice of Expressing a Fictional World Across Distinct Media and Environments, 2009, p. 5)
Much is still unknown about the process of creating effective transmedia narratives. The current stage of transmedia narrative has been compared to the silent film era when new creative approaches for moving pictures were being developed (Kohn, 2011). From a creative perspective, transmedia narrative projects will require changing how storytelling is done and transform the art of storytelling (Hoefs, 2011). The aesthetic criteria for evaluating transmedia works are still poorly defined (Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, 2006, pp. 96-97), presenting another challenge as the field develops.

The diverse media used in a transmedia narrative also challenges the ability of individual readers/viewers to understand the meaning of the narrative. For example, a person familiar with reading a booking and using a computer may not be familiar with using both in a way that enables them to effectively engage the work in its entirety (Dena, Transmedia Practice: Theorizing the Practice of Expressing a Fictional World Across Distinct Media and Environments, 2009, p. 5). How to keep readers/viewers interested in a narrative scattered across multiple media is a critical concern for transmedia designers and developers.
“There is still a lot we don’t know about what will motivate consumers to seek out those other bits of information about the unfolding story…and we still know little about how much explicit information they need to know those other elements exist or where to look for them.” (Jenkins, The Revenge of the Origami Unicorn: Seven Principles of Transmedia Storytelling, 2009)

The process of creating a coherent story or set of stories across multiple media is significant.
“One very large and persistent problem has always been creating authentic transmedia stories – natural story arcs and bridges that lead you onward through a long format, multi platform experience.” (Hayes, 2010)

The purpose of my master's thesis was to address the question of how to create stories that are effectively communicated via transmedia narratives. Answering this question required:
  • Identifying key theories, methodologies, concepts, techniques and tools that can be applied to the creation of transmedia narratives.
  • Developing an ontology that represents the key concepts within the field of transmedia narrative design and identifying the properties of and relationships between those concepts.
  • Developing a theoretical framework that can be used to design and develop the narrative, the interconnections between elements of the narrative, and the interfaces that facilitate users’ navigation through the transmedia narrative.
The study of transmedia narratives should examine the relationship between narrative and media (Ryan, Introduction, 2004, p. 35). Doing so raises a number of secondary research questions, including:
  • How are effective transmedia narratives structured?
  • How can specific concepts and theories from information design theory be applied to narratives that integrate multiple media?
  • How do the intrinsic properties of a particular medium shape the form of the narrative and affect the narrative experience?
  • What properties of a particular medium are favorable or detrimental to the creation of a narrative?
  • What can one medium do that another can’t when used to create a narrative?
  • What narrative genres, approaches, and techniques are unique to a particular medium?
When I got into this project, I knew I was trying to get my head around some big questions. But it wasn't until I was so far in that I couldn't back out that I began to understand just how complex a form of communication transmedia narratives are.

It's my hope that addressing some of these questions will begin to set out a framework that lets us understand what is needed to create effective transmedia narratives and how to do it.

Friday, November 25, 2011

What is a Transmedia Narrative? (Part 4 - Defining Fiction vs. Non-Fiction)

The term “fiction” has been used in a number of definitions of transmedia narratives (Dena, Transmedia Practice: Theorizing the Practice of Expressing a Fictional World Across Distinct Media and Environments, 2009; Fahle, 2011; Kinke, 2011).

Transmedia narratives, however, are not restricted to fiction; non-fictional narratives can also use transmedia techniques (Miller, 2008, p. 161). The issue of what constitutes fiction and non-fiction becomes even more blurred when a transmedia narrative integrates fictional settings, characters, and events with real-life locations, people, objects, and events. The term “panfictionality” has been proposed as a way to describe the merging of fiction and non-fiction (Ryan, 1997).

Because of these issues with the term “fiction”, I don't restrict the definition of transmedia narratives to fictional narratives.
Books Mentioned


Dena, C. (2009). Transmedia Practice: Theorizing the Practice of Expressing a Fictional World Across Distinct Media and Environments. PhD disseration . Sydney, Australia: University of Sydney.
Fahle, R. (2011, July 11). Are You Ready for the Transmedia Revolution? Retrieved July 12, 2011, from
Miller, C. H. (2008). Digital Storytelling: A Creator's Guide to Interactive Entertainment (2nd Edition). Amsterdam: Elsevier.
Ryan, M.-L. (1997). Postmodernism and the Doctrine of Panfictionality. Narrative , 5 (2), pp. 165-187.

What is a Transmedia Narrative? (Part 3 - Defining "Transmedia Narrative"

The definition of “transmedia narrative” is still being hotly debated, with some defining it as a single story told across multiple media platforms, while others see it as many stories based in a single “story world” being told on multiple media platforms (Clarke, 2011).

Adding to the confusions is a proliferation of terms that describe many of the same elements that characterize a transmedia narrative. These terms include multi-platform storytelling, interactive storytelling, cross-platform, deep media, cross-media, multi-platform, genre-mash, new media storytelling, reading mashups, chaotic reading, format independent, immersive games, collaborative fiction, hybrid, media enhancements, participatory media... are all worlds associated with the multi-platform world (Lamb & Johnson, n.d.).

A broad definition of “transmedia narrative” is the “process of conveying messages, themes, or storylines to a mass audience through the artful and well-planned use of multimedia platforms” (Gomez, 2011). The term “transmedia storytelling” has been used synonymously with “transmedia narrative”. Henry Jenkins states that “transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes its own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story” (Fahle, 2011). Another definition of “transmedia storytelling” requires a story that can be told in a way that seamlessly blends technology and story (Krozser, 2010).

The number of stories told in a project involving multiple media has been used as the basis for some definitions of what constitutes a transmedia narrative. For example, the terms “multimedia”, “crossmedia”, and “transmedia” have been defined as (Holme, 2011):
  • Multimedia – a single story is told using different media, with the core narrative being supported by story elements spread across several types of media.
  • Crossmedia – a single story interpreted independently in different media.
  • Transmedia – multiple stories set in a single universe (or storyworld), with different stories being told via different media.
The Producers Guild of America (PGA) defines a transmedia narrative based on the number of narrative storylines the project involves:
A Transmedia Narrative project or franchise must consist of three (or more) narrative storylines existing within the same fictional universe on any of the following platforms: Film, Television, Short Film, Broadband, Publishing, Comics, Animation, Mobile, Special Venues, DVD/Blu-ray/CD-ROM, Narrative Commercial and Marketing rollouts, and other technologies that may or may not currently exist. These narrative extensions are NOT the same as repurposing material from one platform to be cut or repurposed to different platforms. (Kinke, 2011)
Transmedia narratives have been categorized as two fundamental types -- intracompositional, which are works that use multiple media to create a single story, and intercompositional, which are works that create interrelationships between multiple narratives across multiple media (Dena, Transmedia Practice: Theorizing the Practice of Expressing a Fictional World Across Distinct Media and Environments, 2009, pp. 97-98).

I define a “transmedia narrative” relatively broadly as any intracompositional or intercompositional works that have one or more stories set in a single “storyworld” and told via at least two different media. In other words, when I'm talking about transmedia narratives, they consist of:
  • One or more stories
  • One storyworld
  • Two or more different media
This definition was deliberately developed so it is the broadest possible interpretation of what makes up this emerging artform. From this point forward, I'll be talking about how to design transmedia narratives rather than arguing over what they are.


    Clarke, R. (2011, March 22). What’s Transmedia? Retrieved July 10, 2011, from Storify:

    Dena, C. (2009). Transmedia Practice: Theorizing the Practice of Expressing a Fictional World Across Distinct Media and Environments. PhD disseration . Sydney, Australia: University of Sydney.

    Fahle, R. (2011, July 11). Are You Ready for the Transmedia Revolution? Retrieved July 12, 2011, from

    Gomez, J. (2011, February 22). Storyworlds: The New Transmedia Business Paradigm. Retrieved July 10, 2011, from Tools of Change for Publishing:

    Holme, P. (2011, April 17). The Differences Between Multimedia, Crossmedia, and Transmedia, Somewhat Explained. Retrieved July 10, 2011, from Tools of Change for Publishing:

    Kinke, N. (2011, April 5). Producers Guild Of America Agrees On New Credit: "Transmedia Producer". Retrieved June 18, 2011, from Deadline|Hollywood:

    Krozser, K. (2010, March 30). Thoughts on Transmedia Storytelling, or, Is It Right for Every Story? Retrieved July 7, 2011, from BookSquare:

    Lamb, A., & Johnson, L. (n.d.). Fluid Environments for Life-Long Learning. Retrieved September 3, 2011, from Lamb Learning Group:

    Wednesday, November 23, 2011

    What is a Transmedia Narrative? (Part 2 - Defining "Narrative")

    The term “story” has been defined as a sequence of events involving characters and settings;(Szulborski, 2005, p. 37), an account of an event or series of events that are fictional or non-fictional;(Simmons, 2006, p. 31), and a portrayal of characters caught in a dramatic situation, with a series of events being depicted from a beginning to a conclusion;(Miller, 2008, p. 5).

    “Narrative” has been defined as an “account of events, experiences, or the like, whether true or fictitious” (, n.d.). Miller defines as narrative as an account of events that are interesting or exciting in some way (Miller, 2008, pp. 4-5). Marie-Laure Ryan provides a more comprehensive view of what qualifies as a narrative:
    “A narrative text must create a world and populate it with characters and objects…The world referred to by the text must undergo changes of state that are caused by nonhabitual events: either accidents (“happenings”) or deliberate human actions. These changes create a temporal dimension and place the narrative world in the flux of history. The text must allow the reconstruction of an interpretive network of goals, plans, causal relationships, and psychological motivations around the narrated events. This implicit network gives coherence and intelligibility to the physical events and turns them into plot.” (Ryan, Introduction, 2004, pp. 8-9)

    The terms “narrative” and “story” are often used interchangeably (Miller, 2008, p. 5) and the Collins English Dictionary uses the term story within the definition of “narrative” (, n.d.).

    Some researchers make a distinction between the two terms, with a “story” being a collection of facts (events, actions, character, etc.) whereas a “narrative” is a particular way in which those facts have been arranged and presented to the audience (Wolff, Mulholland, Zdrahal, & Joiner, 2007). By their definition, the same story (i.e. set of facts) can be presented as one or more narratives based on different viewpoints, different selection of facts, or different media.

    I will use the terms “story” and “narrative” as synonyms, rather than the more restricting definition that makes a distinction between the two.


    Books Mentioned


    References (n.d.). narrative. Retrieved September 2, 2011, from Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition:

    Miller, C. H. (2008). Digital Storytelling: A Creator's Guide to Interactive Entertainment (2nd Edition). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

    Ryan, M.-L. (2004). Will New Media Produce New Narratives? In M.-L. Ryan, Narrative Across Media: The Languages of Storytelling (pp. 337-359). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

    Simmons, A. (2006). The Story Factor: Secrets of Influence from the Art of Storytelling. New York, NY: Basic Books.

    Szulborski, D. (2005). This Is Not a Game: A Guide to Alternate Reality Gaming. New-Fiction Publishing.

    Wolff, A., Mulholland, P., Zdrahal, Z., & Joiner, R. (2007). Re-Using Digital Narrative Content in Interactive Games. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies , 65 (3), pp. 244-272.

    Monday, November 21, 2011

    What Is a Transmedia Narrative? (Part 1 - Defining "Transmedia")

    The emergence of a new field inevitably brings with it an argument about how to define it. The emegence of "transmedia narratives" has certainly provoked such an argument. In order to write about transmedia narratives, it is necessary to define what they are and are not. Let's start by looking at the "transmedia" part of the term.

    The term “transmedia practice” encompasses a variety of theories, concepts, methodologies, techniques, and tools drawn from transmedia storytelling (Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, 2006), distributed narratives (Walker, 2004), cross-sited narratives (Ruppel, 2005), pervasive games (Montola, 2009), ubiquitous gaming (McGonigal, 2006), networked narrative environments (Zapp, 2004), superfiction (Hill, 2001), very distributed storytelling (Davenport, 1998), and augmented reality games (Szulborski, 2005).

    “Transmedia” as a term is used in a number of research areas but describes different phenomena (Dena, Transmedia Practice: Theorizing the Practice of Expressing a Fictional World Across Distinct Media and Environments, 2009, p. 16). For this thesis, the terms “transmedia” and “transmedial” use the definition provided by Werner Wolf:
    Transmedia phenomena are phenomena that are non-specific to individual media. (Wolf, 2005)
    Carol Handler Miller notes that because the field is so new, a number of different names, including “multiplatforming”, “cross-media producing”, and “integrated media” have been used to describe what she calls transmedia. Miller adds that no matter what the terminology, transmedia works adhere to the same principles (Miller, 2008, p. 151):
    • The project exists over more than a single medium.
    • It is at least partially interactive.
    • The different components are used to expand the core material.
    • The components are closely integrated.
    Miller specifically states that transmedia productions “must combine at least two media (Miller, 2008, p. 151). This is the definition of “transmedia” that I will use.

    Books Mentioned



    Davenport, G. (1998). Very Distributed Media Stories: Presence, Time, Imagination. Proceedings 4th International Euro-Par Conference on Parallel Processing , pp. 47-54.

    Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York, NY: New York University Press.

    Hill, P. (2001). Superfictions: The Creation of Fictional Situations in International Contemporary Art Practice. PhD dissertation . RMIT.

    Miller, C. H. (2008). Digital Storytelling: A Creator's Guide to Interactive Entertainment (2nd Edition). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

    McGonigal, J. (2006). This Might Be a Game: Ubiquitous Play and Performance at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century. PhD dissertation . University of California.

    Montola, M. (2009). Games and Pervasive Games. In J. S. Markus Montola, Pervasive Games: Theory and Design (pp. 7-23). San Francisco, CA: Elsevier Science & Technology.

    Ruppel, M. (2005, November 22). Learning to Speak Braille: Convergence, Divergence and Cross-Sited Narratives. Paper presented at PhD Qualifying Exam presentation . Maryland, USA.

    Szulborski, D. (2005). This Is Not a Game: A Guide to Alternate Reality Gaming. New-Fiction Publishing.

    Walker, J. (2004). Distributed Narrative: Telling Stories Across Networks. Internet Research Annual , pp. 91-103.

    Wolf, W. (2005). Intermediality. In D. Herman, M. Jahn, & M.-L. Ryan, Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory (pp. 252-253). Oxfordshire: Routledge.

    Zapp, A. (2004). 'A Fracture in Reality': Networked Narratives as Imaginary Fields of Action. Networked Narrative Environments: As Imaginary Spaces of Being , pp. 62-81.

    Sunday, November 20, 2011

    Focus on Transmedia Narrative Design

    Each advance in information and communications technology (ICT) has brought with it an increase in the sophistication of how we communicate with each other. Transmedia narratives are emerging as a major new form of communication. Transmedia narratives – also called transmedia storytelling – present multiple components of a story across several different media in a closely integrated manner.

    A  transmedia story might, for example, present a character’s reflections as a  series of tweets using, a number of still images posted to Flickr,  written narrative posted to a blog, video clips posted to YouTube, and texts to  mobile phones.
    Transmedia storytelling uses the tools of the storyteller – emotion, engagement, universal themes, personal connection, and relevance – to create a communication experience instead of a message. (Rutledge, 2011)
    The  basic question facing designers and developers of transmedia narratives is “How  do you tell an effective story across multiple media?” While the transmedia approach has the potential  to deliver powerful and effective narratives, it is a relatively uncharted  area.

    This blog will attempt to answer that basic question and provide a venue for practitioners of this new artform to discuss the design issues they face.

    I'm within a couple of weeks of finishing a master's thesis focused on the theory and practice of transmedia narrative design. This blog will draw on that research.

    In the meantime, the next three posts will look at the debate over what transmedia narratives are and are not. I intend to post three times a week (time permitting) on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays so stay tuned.



    Rutledge, P. (2011, May 16). Transmedia Storytelling: Neuroscience Meets Ancient Practices. Retrieved June 18, 2011, from The Media Psychology Blog: