The ‘Discovery’ Channel

With Power to The Pixel looming again I’ve been looking back at my notes from PttP 2009 and realised how much Ted Hope’s presentation has helped frame my PhD research.  He defined six pillars supporting cinema, one of which was discovery and how, by ignoring these pillars filmmakers and producers were isolating the narrative, preventing it from expanding.

Discovery is something that has come up in Robert Pratten’s blog post ‘A Content Strategy for Audience Engagement’  as part of a three-step pattern under the larger umbrella of ‘Engagement’.  Robert has brilliantly defined the three-stages of Engagement as Discovery, Experience & Exploration, explaining that each of these stages occur as readers/audience ‘engage’ on a platform, and then again as they move between platforms.

Discovery has also raised it’s head in conversations I’ve had with the fabulous Jeff Gomez and Mike Monello as we’ve discussed how important it is that audience/readers ‘discover’ or ‘stumble upon’ threads that are, inadvertently, entry points to a transmedia storyworld.  The fact is that ‘brand’ is bigger now than ever before and story is being used to sell, sell, sell.  We have branded content emblazoned in our on and offline worlds and for audience to feel that they’ve ‘discovered’ something without being led-by-the-nose can have a huge and massive impact –both on the experience and the validity of a project/discovery.

Take for example Sex & The City.

First there was the TV series, then the movie(s).  If the Sex & The City tours in New York had been woven in to that first series I doubt that women would have queued up and shelled out $40 for a bus ride to see the cupcake shop or go to the art gallery or the flat where Aidan did something or other….  But for Sex & The City fans who are tourists in New York FIRST and SATC fans SECOND, the ‘discovery’ that there is such a bus tour adds to the experience – the ‘discovery’ of it conjures a fab ‘look what I’ve found’ emotion, rather than a ‘look what they’re trying to sell now!’ feeling.  (Note: the SATC bus tours have been set up by and not HBO).

I can see how this ‘discovery’ vein blurs slightly with the much heralded ‘viral’ strategy – in that everybody wants their project to ‘go viral’, but I believe that the success of this is deeply rooted in the strategy, planning and ‘seeding’ of those loose tendrils of a storyworld that sweep and hook people in as they ‘discover’ them….

For me, discovery IS a part of the bigger picture of engagement and is rooted in strategic planning, awareness of audience behaviours (which should help dictate the WHERE in terms of where to seed these entry points to be discovered).  Audience behaviours/types are mentioned on Robert Pratten’s blog and have been broken down by Richard Bartle where he concluded that there were four player types:

  • Achievers – like to achieve defined goals such as leveling up, gaining points etc
  • Socializers – like hanging out with other people (either as themselves or role-playing a character)
  • Explorers – like discovering new parts of the world
  • Killers (also known as Griefers) – like to dominate and upset others!

and Nicole Lazzaro’s Emotional Goals of Players, identifying four keys to unlocking emotion in games:

  • Hard Fun – players who like the opportunities for challenge, strategy, and problem solving. Their comments focus on the game’s challenge and strategic thinking and problem solving.
  • Easy Fun – players who enjoy intrigue and curiosity. Players become immersed in games when it absorbs their complete attention, or when it takes them on an exciting adventure.
  • Serious Fun – players who get enjoyment from their internal experiences in reaction to the visceral, behavior, cognitive, and social properties.
  • People Fun – players who enjoy using games as mechanisms for social experiences and enjoy the social experiences of competition, teamwork, as well as opportunity for social bonding and personal recognition that comes from playing with others.

These definitions of players/participants, which might translate into audience/readers got me thinking about the issue of genre and novel writing.  I was intrigued to see Andrea Phillips (@andrhia) has begun to write blog a new series – Writing for Transmedia,  as this is something that I’ve been looking at as I write my romcom transmedia novel.  As I consider the pillars supporting cinema, and begin to use them to help frame pillars supporting publishing, I’ve focussed most recently on the ‘engagement’ and ‘discovery’ elements and how the practice novel writing and transmedia writing merge and also differ.

I have my traditional synopsis, character profiles, story timeline, inciting incidents and know exactly where and how my story is moving forward – the character journeys and outcomes.   I’ve also got my transmedia strategy weaved in– my storybible, project timeline for setting up character blogs, live events and lots of other secret things that I can’t possibly divulge yet! 😉

So, then I begin to marry the two.  Which is tough.  I’d written up to chapter 11 as a series of text chapters for the print book, organically weaving in subtle, extremely relevant and immersive transmedia elements from an early stage – (it’s pointless attempting to include them afterwards, for transmedia to work they must be built in from before the start!) Then I realised that I’d started with far too much backstory and have subsequently scrapped the first 4 chapters!  Causing the transmedia elements set up in chapters 1-4 to shatter!  @Andrhia is right – “when you’re writing a novel you have to wrestle with tense and point of view” – but I’m used to that part!  I’ve written 3 print-novels and a blog transmedia novel – I can cope with the wrestling.   She also mentions that she’s been “trying to think very methodically about the tools and advice widely given for writing static fiction to see how it translates to the work I do now”, i.e. transmedia storytelling!  Now, THAT’s what I’m talking about and what I hope to try and get a handle on over the next series of posts here.  (Don’t be surprised to see me popping up on Andrea’s blog and perhaps to see her here, as it seems we’re both digging into the same area at the moment…)!

I participated in Robert McKee’s STORY seminar a couple of years ago and he backed up Aristotle’s theories behind inciting incidents, story arcs and told us how we need to ‘put our characters up a tree….and then throw stones at them’.  I’m realising that Robert Pratten’s visions on engaging your audience and Robert McKee’s theories on story aren’t so far removed from each other in terms of structure.

‘Story’ is everywhere – ad agencies are seeing the immense value of engagement for brands and ‘story’ consultants are appearing at an alarming rate. say,

“Narrative just happens to be how we’re hard-wired. Social media now means that everybody is a storyteller. There’s a new level of discernment along with suspicion for the stories we’re being told. Because we have the power to produce and create our own stories. This fundamental shift is a driving force remaking the rules of branding, marketing, fundraising, sales, and persuasion”.

Which is inherently true, but social media can make everybody a storyteller in the same way that paper and typewriters could…

Robert McKee says:

People come to me thinking about movie trends and how the future of story is going to be in 3D technology and virtual reality, the young especially, because they’re always fascinated with technology.  But not me.  I know that no matter what the technology is, if they don’t have anything to say, and they don’t know how to say whatever it is they have to say,  it really doesn’t matter what medium or technology they’re using.  All I’m concerned with is the quality of the storytelling that inspires the work.  The medium they choose or the technology they use after that is their problem, because in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter.  If the future of story is in chalking out pictures on the sidewalk it really doesn’t matter.  What matters is the form, the content and the inspiration and talent of the artist.  Beyond that it doesn’t matter.”

What I like about this statement is that McKee (of course) sees the strength and value, the engagement and power of resonance of a great story.  What I also like is his statement “what matters is the form, the content and the inspiration and talent of the artist,” because in transmedia that ‘art’ isn’t only about the writing but is also the strategy, the production, the awareness of audience behaviours (genre) and knowledge of the entire architecture of what makes a fabulous transmedia experience….

But without that initial engagement, without the excitement and independence of ‘discovery’  (with relevance and value) stories – whether books on a shelf, DVD’s in a store, a live event ‘coming soon to a theatre near you’ or an intricately woven, fabulously written transmedia web-story – will remain unread, unwatched, unexperienced and yet another tumbleweed rolling around in those zillions of parties in cyberspace that nobody shows up to.


5 thoughts on “The ‘Discovery’ Channel

  1. This is excellent.
    It looks like we’re all documenting our process for writing and getting our stuff out there! You, me and @andrhia 🙂 I hope to have something up on Culture Hacker by early next week to elaborate on what’s below…

    Reading your post I was reminded of what someone else wrote recently in the their blog that the issue they have with transmedia is that the writer is supposed to be an expert in every media – novels, scripts, comics etc. Of course this isn’t true but his/her point was that each media has special demands and “rules” for crafting the story that can’t be ignored just because it’s part of a transmedia project. I agree.

    So here’s my pithy story for writing transmedia….

    I don’t play golf and one day when I was hacking at a ball and couldn’t hit it an old guy came over to give me a quick lesson. He said you look down the fairway to see the hole and you visualize the ball landing in it. You feel the wind and you visualize your swing, the power you’ll use, your posture and so on. THEN you look down at the ball and never take your eye off it. You hold in your mind the distance to the hole and all the other factors but now you’ve looked down you NEVER take your eye off the ball… and then you swing.

    Writing for transmedia is like this golf swing. You visualize all the media coming together and you block out the strategy for having all the components coming together: story, audience, platforms, experience and business model. NOW you start writing for the first media and you only focus on doing the best job for that media… yet keeping in mind the end game.

    • Robert – what can I say?! Totally brilliant explanation of writing for transmedia and I love the golf swing! There are so many elements to look at when writing a transmedia project – from everything intrinsic to the story – narratives, characters, plots, arcs, etc – and then merging those with the strategy, architecture and planning of the transmedia rollout and plan. I’m going to take a closer look at my own golf swing and try to get some clarity. Thank you…

  2. This is really interesting. I wasn’t previously familiar with that Pratten post. So many smart people talking about this stuff, and you can’t keep up with it all if you also want to MAKE things. ^_^

    I look forward to seeing what else you have to say!

    • Hey Andrea! That is SO true – it’s tough to keep on top of it all AND write/produce too. That’s why we all pull together, right? I’m really interested in the elements of writing FOR transmedia – there’s lots of talk about traditional story structure – 3 acts specifically – but I’m thinking that this can’t work for transmedia – it has a different rhythm, a different beat and needs an entirely different structure. Really looking forward to talking to you about this more.. 😉 x

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