Monday, March 5, 2012

Story Structures for Transmedia Narratives - Part 2

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One of the biggest challenges of transmedia narratives is developing a story structure that fits a linear narrative into a non-linear transmedia framework. Fragmenting a story across multiple platforms won’t work for most members of the audience (Norrington, 2010). When designing the structure of transmedia narratives, it is important to maintain the things that engage audiences in stories – linked strings of cause and effect, characterization and character motivation, and the dense interweaving of micro- and macro-plots (Abbott, 2005, p. 531).  

This is the second of two posts on story structures for transmedia narratives
  • Hub-Narrative Structure: The hub-narrative structure is similar to the converging structure in that it has multiple stories with their own protagonists and antagonists. However, the hub-narrative starts with a significant event (e.g. an accident, crime, etc.) that in some way affects all of the protagonists, who are present at the same location at the time of the event. The narrative then flashes back to tell the stories of how each of the characters came to be in the same place at the same time. Like the converging structure, the hub-narrative developed as a transmedia narrative can use separate media to tell the individual stories.
  • Fish-Bone Structure: The fish-bone structure provides additional detail by allowing a user to branch from a linear narrative while keeping the user from wandering off by making the extended information visible inside or beside the original narrative. When well done, the fish-bone structure adds context and understanding. However, a poorly done fish-bone structure can result in the narrative losing its flow and the audience becoming lost in trivial information. (Love, 2004).
  • Vertical Structure: The vertical structure has a dominant story thread from which a series of narrative “shafts” branch to provide additional detail. This structure differs from the fish-bone structure in that the “shafts” are not organized to align with the linear narrative. In a transmedia narrative the vertical structure can be used with additional content presented using different media in a non-linear manner.
  • Frame-Story Structure: In the frame-story structure serves primarily as a vehicle for the telling one or more other stories. For example, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness has a narrator telling a story while the protagonist is quoted so as to give the appearance he is telling the story. In The Princess Bride a grandfather reads a romantic fairytale to his reluctant grandson. In the frame-story structure the outer narrative serves as a vehicle for the primary story, which is the inner narrative. For a transmedia narrative, a frame-story structure may be used to pull together one or more stories from within a storyworld that are presented on multiple media.
  • Story-Within-a-Story Structure: The story-within-a-story structure is similar to the frame-story structure in that one or more narratives are presented within the action of another narrative. With the story-within-a-story structure, however, the outer narrative is the primary story while the inner narratives may disclose the background of characters or events. In some cases, the inner stories may be independent of the outer narrative and can be read separately or skipped entirely without affecting the meaning of the outer narrative. The story-within-a-story structure can be used in transmedia narratives in which the dominant outer story links to multiple inner stories that are published on different media.
  • Epistolary Structure: The epistolary structure is a narrative created as a series of letters, diary entries, or other documents. This structure became popular in the 18th century and was used widely in novels. Mary Shelley’s Frankensteincombines the epistolary and frame-story structures as the story is presented through the letters of a sea captain and explorer who encounters Victor Frankenstein and records the dying man's narrative and confessions. Blog entries, video clips, e-mails, tweets, and other forms of digital communication have been used in epistolary narratives. There are three types of epistolary narratives:
    • Monologic – letters, diary entries, and other documents from a single character
    • Dialogic – documents from two characters, sometimes organized so that there is a back and forth in communication between them
    • Polylogic – documents from three or more characters. Some polylogic epistolary novels use simultaneous but separate correspondences of the characters to create dramatic tension.
This is the second of two posts on story structures for transmedia narratives

This blog is moving to a new blogging platform. Please go to and bookmark it so you have access to the additional features and content we are adding.

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