'Transmedia' storytelling allows for maximum creativity, engagement

Storytelling is a part of human nature. We are drawn to stories and what they highlight about the human experience.

Stories have been adapted to new mediums as technology has developed — theater, movies, TV and most recently, the Internet. But what happens when storytelling allows the reader to become part of the experience and interact with characters as if they were best friends?

What if the audience can be thrown into the story?

Emma Approved,” a series of video blogs that retell the trials and tribulations of one of Jane Austen’s most beloved characters, Emma Woodhouse, is the latest from producer Alexandra Edwards. The first vlog opens with a stage-winking modern day heroine who introduces herself as “Emma Woodhouse: beautiful, clever and brilliant.”

This Austen novel in particular has been retold and adapted several times — one such adaptation includes the beloved classic film “Clueless,” starring Alicia Silverstone and Paul Rudd.

In the first entry in the “Emma Approved” series, viewers are wrapped up in Emma’s world, including her relationship with friend, business partner and love interest Alex Knightley (who has been renamed so as not to be confused with any other Austen villains you may love to hate).

“Emma” is the follow-up series to “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” which began in April 2012 from producers Bernie Su and Hank Green (of “Vlogbrothers” Internet fame).

I was immediately hooked on “Lizzie,” and so were the show's YouTube channel's more than 200,000 subscribers. This fresh representation of Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” had everything you could want: a witty Lizzie, a handsome and mysterious Darcy and a crew working around the clock to preserve the essence of the tale. The series even won a Creative Arts Emmy for its interactive and groundbreaking work in “transmedia,” a method of storytelling that incorporates multiple outlets through which the one can engage with a story, the characters and the creators.

“Emma Approved” has fallen right into these footsteps. Transmedia storytelling has allowed them to make the story bigger and better — adapting it to the modern day and allowing the audience to become even more invested in this world.

After watching the videos, I can check out Emma’s blog and Twitter account, along with profiles for the other characters. The story almost happens in real time. It’s a character-driven story that is perfect for transmedia. People are the focus, rather than special effects or wild plot details, and because these vlogs are only 4-5 minutes long, they always leave you wanting more. However, this is more than a marketing gimmick — the content is quality and the integrity of the story certainly remains intact.

Another crucial aspect of being successful in transmedia storytelling is transparency, which the “Lizzie” producers, Green and Su, have pulled off beautifully. The latest post on Su’s Tumblr page even discusses some of the recent changes that may have to be made to “Emma,” for the sake of the story. The creators are constantly working with the audience to address questions of concern as well as open the door into the creation process.

Transmedia storytelling is bringing new and exciting possibilities to the table both technology- and community-wise.

It’s important to remember that all the software in the world can’t replace an excited and enthused fan base. The success of transmedia hinges on the community that is built and how the fans engage.

The community of “Lizzie Bennet Diaries” and “Emma Approved” fans is stronger than ever and is telling of why transmedia works: People care about the story, and they care about the characters.

What more could content creators ask for?


Reach the columnist at rasimpso@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @BeccaSimpson

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