Alison Norrington and Storyworld Los Angeles 2012
This summer I had the pleasure of meeting author Alison Norrington, whose enterprising work in the publishing world has made her a sought after speaker on transmedia storytelling practices. She’s also the chairperson of the upcoming StoryWorld Conference in Los Angeles, which will bring transmedia producers and creatives from all corners of entertainment together to talk about the latest advancements in the art and science of storytelling.
Transmedia remains a controversial subject in the entertainment industry. Seen by some as a tainted marketing buzzword, its champions view transmedia as an emerging aspect of their craft. A methodology that attunes storytellers to their audiences, who are increasingly found spread out across multiple platforms.
“With each different way that you tell a story on each platform you pull a different audience in,” Norrington told me. “I created a YouTube channel around a chick-lit story which gained loads of male attention. At the end of every video clip I’d have a URL to the website. I can’t tell you how many emails I got from these guys saying ‘Oh my god, this is a love story?’”
Norrington said that these guys would never have picked up her “pink jacketed book” in a store. Yet their conversion into fans demonstrated the power of approaching the world she had created “with a different tone of voice and with a different perspective.”
Revelations like these about the strength of a transmedia approach have contributed to the industry buzz. Buzz that has a downside: bandwagon hoppers who use buzzwords as if they were magic spells.
“The gold rush philosophy is going to be one of the things that make people disrespect this approach to storytelling.”
The “gold rush” that Norrington refers to is a tendency for some producers to slap the term “transmedia” on just about any non-traditional project. Thinking that the word itself will attract an audience.
“I get sent quite a lot of projects to look at from people who are asking for advice and they say ‘it’s a transmedia story’. Don’t even tell me that. I mean, I know it is because they sent it to me. I want that to be a surprise. I think that’s how it should be with an audience. They want that to be a surprise. They want to find that rabbit hole or that diving board that’s going to leap them off somewhere else.”
Instead of a marketing checkmark, transmedia is best deployed as a term of art. The approach involves understanding the advantages and limitation of each platform, along with actively listening to the audience. Norrington also puts an emphasis on the technique of building a world that goes far beyond what any one story might show. She notes that J.K. Rowling used this for her most famous work.
“I went to the Warner Bros studio tour for Harry Potter just on the other side of London a few months ago. There are posters all around where she said that she had built the world of Harry Potter so vast that even with the amount of books that she put out, the skill was in the choices of what to show and what not to show. The world is so much more than we have seen.”