Great Migrations in Storytelling

David MarlettBy David Marlett, Managing Director, enkHouse

Recently I was introduced to the Great Migrations series on National Geographic HD Channel. Stunning. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

A key feature that particularly grabbed my attention was the innovative integration of various popular musicians and segments from select music videos. To me that is a great use of multi-media, yes even ‘Transmedia’—pulling together otherwise and historically incongruous materials to tell a much broader story. Songs from artists such as Train (“If It’s Love”) humanize the gorgeous images of the biology of this planet.

That kind of out-of-the-box production design is what makes this new Transmedia industry not only a blast to engage in, but also a thrill to experience as a member of the audience.

The series sparked me to thinking about the role of biological evolution in these ‘great migrations’ of creation, and specifically the evolution of man during his migration across this earth, across space itself, and through time. Also, I was intrigued by the further irony that nature’s migrations almost always bring the species back to where it began, time and time again.

National Geographic Channel's Great MigrationsAs some of you may know, I am currently completing a book titled Tablet to Tablet – The Journey of Storytelling (yes, the title keeps changing, slightly). Researching and writing this book has been a particular pleasure, not only because the history is fascinating, but the stories themselves resonate and entertain, even if thousands of years old. Our stories, like us, are evolutionary and migratory organisms.  They bring us back to where we once began, time and time again.

Though highly trite, the maxim is nevertheless true: the more things change, the more they remain the same. Whether presented on a stone or digital tablet, the essential elements and themes of our stories told remain remarkably unchanged: survival, God, sex, humor, war, children, love, power, internal and external conquests.

These apply whether it is a story of love etched on a stone tablet, or James Cameron’s Avatar seen in 3D on a tablet computer. It is truly and remarkably the same thing.

The key difference is of course the ‘depth’ of the transference of the story and the width and breadth of the audience. The love story etched in stone was perhaps limited by the medium, but remained unlimited in the imagination of the reader. One might argue that perhaps Avatar on a digital tablet is ultimately more limiting as it has a tendency to bind the audience’s imaginations

How many of us left the theater imagining alternate endings or additional characters or other planets to accompany Cameron’s vision? It is a trade-off, a balancing act, though not a valuation of one being “better” than the other. But the fact remains that our imaginations are the land of infinity and that simple fact should always remain the focus in any Transmedia production/publication.

This past week I have been working with a top-notch editor on See Jack Die, by our author Nick Black. (See last column for more info.) A central conceit to the plot is the ability of the main character (Jack) to move between the living and the dead worlds/dimensions. This movement (migration) not only of the character through the plot, but across time/space, gives us a terrific storytelling opportunities in an enhanced, interactive eBook.

But the question is: which tools to employ and at what cost? What tradeoffs are required? How can we best maintain ‘transmedia balance’?

If we have the pages slide up/down (rather than left/right) to accent the character’s two ‘worlds’ and their simultaneous existence, do we lose the reader in the process? Or does such a vertical page movement supplement and enhance the story and the reader’s experience?

If the pages are slid ‘down’ when Jack enters the ‘Dead World’, do we need additional material written as to what the living characters are doing in the “Living World” above the main storyline?

So far our methodology for making these decisions has been working…or so it appears. Next column I will dive into that. Suffice it to say that it ain’t a dart throw decision-making process….but it does require an ear for one’s ‘gut’.

Write on,

David Marlett is the managing director of enkHouse, a transmedia production company based in Dallas and Los Angeles, focused on enhanced eBooks and interactive apps for the publishing, film and other entertainment industries.

Interested in learning more about using transmedia storytelling and cross-media strategies? Join us at StoryWorld, the only major gathering of industry leaders, decision makers, and transmedia specialists, to explore new business models, innovative partnerships, and fresh revenue streams.

One thought on “Great Migrations in Storytelling

  1. MAYUS

    This project connects to me, I have been looking for different resources to enhance our experience through reading, I work with Mexican children, teachers and parents, I have been doing some research and students are loosing attention in classrooms, also they have very few time foucusing on reading. So I know the answer is what you are doing!!!! I would love to know more about what you are doing, I have some projects



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