How do you man up when you’re down? When 16 year old Mat meets Elle she seems perfect. But over time Elle becomes more controlling and aggressive. Feeling like no one will believe him Mat isolates himself more and more. Their relationship fragments then explodes.
Stories are shaped to fit their form. The oral narratives of the past included epics, sagas, lyric poems, ritual songs, genealogies and panegyrics (praise poems) which were modified to suit a particular audience or occasion, and were often told with an intention to recycle knowledge back to the listener. With the development of writing and printing, story structures changed and moved from an oral-aural-sensory focus to a visual focus. With print, “words became things” that could be arranged on a page (Ong 1988, p. 118). With print, story closure was encouraged, a finality not seen in the oral tradition.
Today we are in the midst of another technology explosion so that once again, stories can change. I seek to take storytelling into the future. As a futurist I am inspired by the views of Brian O’Leary and Hugh McGuire in their book A Futurist’s Manifesto (2012), and by Mark Pesce who I first heard speak at the Sydney Writer’s Festival in 2010. In terms of transmedia storytelling, inspiration comes from Frank Rose’s The Art of Immersion (2011), and by transmedia storytellers such as Jennifer Wilson, Jeff Gomez, Carlo Scolari, Brian Clark, Lina Srivastava, Simon Pulman, Rob Prattan, Andrea Phillips, Scott Walker, April Arrglington, Alison Norrington, Lance Weiler as well as Australia’s own Dr Christy Dena and Gary P. Hayes.
David Varela has stated that “the medium carries a lot of the story’s power” (personal author notes, 2011). The Kiss Kill story is about a disintegrating and explosive relationship. In these fragments lies its power, with multiple texts and transmedia giving the fragments form. Varela’s comments confirmed what I had already been experimenting with. I combined prose with other narratives such as scripts, songs, notes, poems, comics, essays, texting, photos and more. Transmedia was used through blogs, YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.
What is Transmedia storytelling?
Definitions of transmedia storytelling differ but Simon Staffans says that transmedia ‘is telling stories over a number of media platforms, stories that are connected to a higher or lesser degree, but always connected and rooted in a common story world’ (2011, p 6). For Kiss Kill, Mat’s world is the story world.
Not only can readers interact with the story, in transmedia they can also participate in the story. Henry Jenkins (2003) makes this distinction between interactivity and participation:
“interactivity” refers to “preprogramed entertainment experiences” and “participation” to “tak[ing] the resources offered by a text and push[ing] it in a range of directions which are neither preprogrammed nor authorized by the producers.” So, to put it simple, interactivity gives the users a pre-set choice (ending a, b, or c; should the character do this or that next) while participation has users ‘do their own thing’ with the existing content – expanding it, altering it, continuing it, etc
Kiss Kill was written with no order. Mark Twain said that, “Ideally a book would have no order to it, and the reader would have to discover his own.” This appealed to me. Ideas appeared organically, were researched, created, randomly collated, and only after these processes did the novel take form. Mat’s story is a story of a boy who triumphs over a relationship with his abusive narcissistic girlfriend. The potential of Narcissism to destroy relationships (friends, family and communities) is explored, but Kiss Kill takes the traditional abuse story and inverts it so that young males can also be victims of relationship and emotional abuse, or bullying. With a rise in the incidence of Narcissism (Twenge and Campbell 2009, Twenge 2010) Kiss Kill is a modern cautionary tale. Despite the subject matter Kiss Kill is humorous and heart-warming, ending with optimism. However, out of concern for my readers I can direct those in need to organisations such as “Headspace, Australia’s National Youth Mental Health Foundation” and “Mensline Australia”.
Traditional storytelling involved ‘Listen, why I tell you a story.’ Transmedia storytelling changes this to ‘Let’s tell a story together’. Young adults (teens to twentysomethings) are adept at reading multi-platform narratives. They are used to reading non-linearly and they are used to interacting with narrative through sharing (social media) and co-creation. Mash-ups are a popular example of co-creation. Kiss Kill consciously provides multiple openings into the story for co-creation and the multiple platforms allow for engagement and participation. Readers can engage with me as the author on my blog (www.jenimawter.com/blog), or Mat the character on his blog http://www.whyidontgetgirls.com/. Facebook, Twitter (@mawter @kisskilldigital) and Pinterest are also used for sharing the story experience. Kiss Kill readers share their creations on Mat’s blog. They have created music and recorded their own versions of ‘Thought I Knew’ as well as made a YouTube for the haunting scene ‘How Do You Define a Man?’ Individual as well as community creation is encouraged so that this story can continually evolve.
As a writer I am aware that today’s young adult readers want convenience and connection. They want characters with emotional appeal, relevant to their own social networks, and about whom they care. Issues such as relationships, bullying and depression are relevant to them. In this way I targeted my reader and was actively involved in creating my audience. My ultimate goal is to build Mat’s fan base. The inclusion of the character blog deepens the audience’s emotional engagement as well as connects the character with my author brand. It inspires community comment, sharing and creation. Kiss Kill went on to leverage a community of creators, such as musicians and actors who produced the iTunes and YouTubes, and YA bloggers who wrote reviews.
Transmedia is not a new form of storytelling. However, it usually involves large entertainment corporations with big budgets such as television (BBC Sherlock series, Nike promotion); film (Breathe by Yomi Ayeni); alternate reality gaming (Perplex City) or live action theatre (Clockwork Monkey). In terms of children’s stories David Levithan’s “39 Clues” (Scholastic USA) was one of the first multiplatform stories published for children, but again with a sizable allocated budget. To the best of my knowledge Kiss Kill is one of the first transmedia young adult novels published. It is published for a global market, by a small publisher, on a minimal budget.
As a solitary writer I needed to educate myself on: multiple platform storytelling; writing non-linear narrative; and technology developments that seem to change daily. Instead of a steep learning curve, I am on a trajectory. Traditional publishing is yet to embrace transmedia storytelling so I was delighted when Sarah Bailey launched her ePublishing house “Really Blue Books” and rose to the challenge of transmedia. Every step of the journey has involved forging new pathways. Traditional processes in publication, distribution, sales, reviewing, publicity, and competitions are not applicable. These words of another storytelling futurist could well be my own:
I soon discovered that innovation is a messy business filled with long stretches of doubt, countless false starts, and a constant black cloud of indecision. There was no road map to follow, no guarantee that a story told this way would result in anything more than a pile of broken parts, (Patrick Carman, 2011).
Australia does not yet have a huge transmedia community. Last year I was fortunate to attend a conference on Creativity and Technology in New York and to speak with Bob Stein from if:book New York. Through social media I can communicate with transmedia storytellers globally. Online groups such as Digital Story World, Tools of Change, Transmedia LA, as well as bloggers and transmedia storytellers keep me up-to-date with the latest developments. Last year I attended the if:book non-conference in Melbourne and was fortunate to meet with Dr Christy Dena. Australia’s App developer Karen Robertson (Treasure Kai) has been both an inspiration and support.
Finally, I must make the point that not all stories are suited to transmedia. There will always be a place for traditional narrative. However, it is my belief that through daily digital technology developments Kiss Kill barely scratches the surface of possibility. It is exciting to explore new territories such as alternative income generating systems like crowdsourcing through Kickstarter, Indigogo and Pozible (Australia) instead of Advances and Royalties.
Where to from here? Who knows! I’m writing my future history in the ‘now’.
Carman, Patrick “Read Beyond the Lines: Transmedia has changed the very notion of books and reading” in http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2011/11/transliteracy/transmedia-and-its-multiplatform-brethren-has-changed-the-very-notion-of-books-and-reading/ November 4, 2011
Jenkins, Henry “Transmedia Storytelling: Moving characters from books to films to video games can make them stronger and more compelling” in http://www.technologyreview.com/biomedicine/13052/page3/ published by MIT /January 15, 2003
O’Leary, Brian and McGuire, Hugh A Futurist’s Manifesto: A Collection of Essays from the Bleeding Edge of Publishing, O’Reilly Media Publisher (2012)
Staffans, Simon One Year in Transmedia Storytelling 2nd Ed Blog posts are extracts from the blog SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS at http://muchtoolong.blogspot.com
Twain, Mark (n.d.) BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved March 27, 2012, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/mark_twain.html
Twenge, Jean M “The Narcissism Epidemic” in Psychology Today, May 12, 2010
Twenge, Jean M. & Campbell, W. Keith The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. (2009)
Ong, Walter J Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, New Accents. Ed., Terence Hawkes, New York: Methuen, 1988
David Varela, Digital Storytelling: Seminar organised by the Australian Society of Authors, Sydney 2011.