Immediately there are opinions.
Love it or hate it?
“Soft porn for the modern woman” or a “humorous and lighthearted reflection of modern day life and love”?
Love it or hate it, it hasn’t lent itself well to transmedia storytelling (so far!) Jeff Gomez, CEO of Starlight Runner has said of genres in transmedia that, “any genre would work, but some would be more challenging than others.” My research has highlighted that sci fi, thrillers, detective & crime stories, such as Girl Number 9 and Level 26 work extremely well transmedially as the very nature of these types of stories draw you in and make you want to dig down and find out more – the mental thought process of ‘investigation’ is a natural one. As quoted by Henry Jenkins, “Transmedia represents the integration of entertainment experiences across a range of different media platforms,” and for me the key word here is ‘experiences’. I am now writing a transmedia chick lit/romcom with the aim of deepening and enhancing those ‘experiences’.
My initial hurdle is, that contemporary women’s fiction comes from a completely different mindset to what is currently working in transmedia storytelling and to write for this savvy-audience requires respect and awareness. When I began writing Staying Single for my MA in 2007 I spent the first few weeks exhausting myself in the forums as I tried to force-feed conversation and interaction. I spent hours working on EA Games SIMS 2 trying to video-capture ‘Sophie’ ice-skating. It took me 8 hours to create a 3 minute Machinima clip for the ‘Sophie Dilemma’ channel for little more than a sprinkling of interaction from my thousands of readers! (OK, I’ll admit it – about 20 responses.. My idea was great, but my tech skills were terrible…)
So what did I learn? Women read this type of story to escape. Not to interact, decision-make or get involved. They made their decision when they chose to buy your book or ebook or read your blog. Leave it there! These women readers might be constantly (and possibly even subconsciously) making decisions and coordinating families and social lives on a daily basis and they don’t want to make decisions in their ‘chillaxing’ time. Women are multi-tasking every day and want to be told the story – and it seems, they considered that was my job! Over the weeks it became clear that my readers enjoyed discussing the story dynamics between themselves on the forums that I’d set up and I found that they were very opinionated in the forum space about who Sophie should choose as her ‘Mr Right’, but comments directly on the Staying Single blog or YouTube channel were minimal. The readers had spoken and I’d climbed a massive learning curve…
In terms of community-building for women’s fiction, Harlequin Mills & Boon are front-runners and are focussing on listening to what women want and to forging and nurturing online communities (the Staying Single forum worked as a community, right?) Carina press are offering non DRM ebooks, which is placing trust in their readers and nurturing their sense of loyalty to brand.
At Tools of Change last year I felt that a huge chunk of the conversation was about publishers immersing themselves in existing online communities, embedding themselves within genre-focussed communities of readers/audience and to have their ‘ear to the ground’ on what the readers want. This bottom-up, rather than top-down approach is to listen rather than dictate and predict, which is a huge shakeup for publishers who were always gatekeepers of story and the distribution of, based on track records and market experience.
So, two years on I’ve begun to write my 5th novel which I’m hoping will be one of the first chick lit/romcom digi-novels and will be a transmedia story where every mode of delivery is completely relevant to the story. Which got me thinking about the sticky topic of genre, how women like to read and the escapist nature of chick lit – a sub genre which has already been overly-fragmented. Wikipedia states, “Over time the genre diversified into other experiences women have. Such as Ethnic chick lit, Brit chick lit (also known as Singleton Lit), Lad lit, Workplace tell-all, Bride lit, Mommy lit, Widow lit, Christian chick lit, Mystery chick lit and Hen lit. Ethnic chick lit also has sub genres, such as Indian chick lit, Asian chick lit and Black chick lit.” I think this becoming ridiculous! I can see that these sub genres exist to indicate genre style and target audience, but they’re also extremely restrictive. Are there such ‘organisation charts’ for other genres? Ethnic Crime? Singleton Crime? Lad Thriller? (oh yes, there probably IS that!), Widow Sci Fi? Is it me, or does this type of diversification make the strong heart of chick lit into a parody of itself? Harlequin Mills & Boon are the ‘Queens’ of women’s fiction and have elegantly broken down their genres by brand – Spice, Nocturne, Blaze – giving a hint at the content and genre but without the ridiculous titles!
Which leads me to Henry Jenkins (again!) His blog post about ‘The Pleasures of Not Belonging’, discusses Interstitial Art (which I Googled, only to find lots of references to cystitis, but then went on to find out also means ‘inbetween’.. phew!).. Jenkins states that, “most current academic thinking dismisses the idea that genres are stable and essential categories, that we can determine what genre a work belongs to once and for all, and that doing so tells us all we need to know about the example in question. Instead, this new scholarship talks about what genres do rather than what genres are and describes the processes by which works get classified and reclassified over time,” and what genres do is exactly what I’m trying to tap into with my transmedia chicklit project. I believe that chick lit as a transmedia story will need to offer ‘experiences’ and because of this might fall into one of those ‘inbetween’ genres that fall between two posts.
Digital and ‘e’ is bringing an inevitable shake up of all business models and modus operandi of entertainment industries and, whilst I could see Doris Day as a chick lit Miss Marple (investigating Rock Hudson as to who he’s colluding with) or an offshoot story all about Princess Leia and her daily struggles in the sci fi world, I can’t see Carrie Bradshaw or Bridget Jones in a Martina Cole novel.
‘Without a Trace’s’ Samantha Spade, Special Agent in the New York City FBI, however would be a great character to draw away from Without a Trace and create a women’s fiction which delves more into her love/personal life. I believe the key to creating the successful transmedia chick lit/romcom ‘digi novel’ experience will be to retain the structure and storyworld of the romcom environment, whilst adding choice, options for ‘drilling-down’ into a more immersive/interactive experience, a thriving community to discuss and support the story, and a series of platforms completely and totally relevant to the story. (women won’t want to move between devices unnecessarily – they are too busy, too multi-tasking and will not be bothered to stick with it!) Women want choice, accessibility and value, and I’ll be posting soon about how to tick these three boxes and more, so stay tuned…