Esther Lim: Interactive Narratives and the Future of Storytelling
How do you breathe new life into a well-known story like The Three Little Pigs? Recast the folktale as an interactive storytelling experience across social media, which is precisely what one panel on “Interactive Narratives: Creating the Future of Literature,” did at South by Southwest Interactive Festival. The panelists—Esther Lim, Founder and Chief Experience Architect of The Estuary; Andrew Lewellen, Content Strategist at Razorfish; Scrollmotion Founder Josh Koppel, and Transmedia Storyteller CEO Robert Pratten—collaborated on a transmedia experience to show how social media could be used as a narrative platform in itself, rather than just a tool for marketing and distribution.
The panel took characters from the Three Little Pigs and gave them social media profiles on Twitter and Facebook for character development, back story, and interactivity. Mobile app developer Scrollmotion created an iPad app that also included entry points for audience interaction with the story. The experience was set up so that participants could determine the outcome of the story through interaction with the characters. At key points in the story, audience members could tweet what would happen next: will the Pigs be able to “run” away before the Wolf could “blow” down the house?
I caught up with Esther Lim, Founder and Chief Experience Architect at The Estuary to talk about the panel and the future of storytelling; Lim has over 15 years of experience in interactive agency consulting experience as a digital marketing leader, social media strategist, and game analyst. Lim created social media profiles for each of the characters in the Three Little Pigs story, who then interacted with the audience and with each other. Characters from other folktales, such as Little Red Riding Hood, herself a victim of the Big Bad Wolf, were also brought to life through social media and engaged with the main characters of the core story.
Why would you flesh out a story through social media? For Lim, part of the value of expanding the core story into social media lies in the ability to develop character and story beyond the original franchise. Plus, audience members can see the inner workings of the story more clearly and become more attached to the characters because they identify and associate with character behaviors more readily. Not only did this add to the back story and character development, but, by showing the dynamic between characters, social media added to the story world and expanded on the personality of the characters.
But, for Lim, it’s vitally important to make “organic choices” about what social media to use as a narrative platform. Some of the key questions creators need to ask include:
Questions about the story
- Is this a translation or an original intellectual property conceived in a multiplatform way?
- How well-defined is the story world?
- Are there subplots or other themes that could be expanded outside of the core narrative?
- How well-defined are the characters?
- Which characters are most appropriate to expand into social media?
- What is that character’s archetype?
- How would that character express himself or herself through social media?
Questions about the audience
- Who is the core audience of that intellectual property?
- What technologies are members of that core audience using?
- Is the use of social media to engage with your core audience or to expand to new audiences? If the latter, what technologies are commonly used in that target audience?
Care needs to be taken, though, when using social media as a narrative platform, and Lim offered some useful advice about executing this kind of transmedia experience. She advised that narrative “bridges” have to be written to link the core stories and the sub-arcs unfolding over social media. Creators need to look for opportunities in the core story where sub-arcs could be created, and even if there is an expansive story world to draw from, editing and focus are still important to the creation process or else the story becomes convoluted.
In terms of production planning, Lim noted that, interestingly, web series have begun to bring interactive elements in to augment their content. By filling up downtime (for example, while filming) with character development and world building through social media, the intellectual property continues to be consumed even while audiences wait for the next episode.
Finally, Lim emphasized how audiences are already engaging with characters, stories, and IPs through social media. In the end, it’s really the early adopters, creators that are already producing content across multiple platforms (sometimes with interactive and even collaborative dimensions), that are really driving the conversation about the future of storytelling.
Esther Lim is the Founder and CEO of The Estuary LLC, which specializes in immersive digital marketing. She is a seasoned Digital Marketer, Social Media Strategist and Game Analyst with has over fifteen years of combined interactive agency and consulting experience creating and leading digital, social media and transmedia storytelling programs for Fortune 500 brands, designed to attract, engage, and retain consumer audiences while building brand advocacy.
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