#Transmedia Book Excerpt 2 - I Hate the Blank Page
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be pulling select excerpts from our upcoming Macro-Narrative Transmedia practice guide, The Great Narrative Expansion. This particular excerpt, “I Hate the Blank Page. It’s My Enemy” piggybacks off the last excerpt and highlights another of the reasons we decided to publish the book. Enjoy.
I hate the blank page. It’s my enemy.
As writers, it’s our mission to defeat the blank page by filling it with story; however, before most writers begin a project, it just sits there, staring at them and taunting them. So, what do they do - procrastinate. Once they start writing, it’s nearly impossible to stop, but before the first words hit the page, they procrastinate as long as humanly possible.
Maybe I’m the only who thinks this way, but I’d bet dollars to doughnuts there’s a host of content creators who consider the blank page a shapeless and disorienting bully with no borders. I’ve found, though, that if I have a map to guide me through the Great White Wasteland, I can start the process with confidence and the blank page becomes much less intimidating. I know where the first step is leading me and I know the direction in which I’m headed.
Therefore, the second goal of this book is to help writers and content creators disarm the blank page by giving them a starting point, an end point and every major checkpoint in between.
Before the Great Westward Expansion, embarking on a cross-country journey was intimidating and dangerous. Today, it’s not. Why? Because it’s been mapped for us. If I’m taking a road trip, I don’t simply step out of my house in Los Angeles, get in the car and drive. I know I’m heading to Cincinnati and that I’ll be stopping at the Grand Canyon, Santa Fe, Omaha and St. Louis on the way. I have tremendous freedom in between those checkpoints, but at least I start the trip with a roadmap in my mind that allows me to budget, prepare, and maybe most importantly, persuade others to join me.
Check out the last excerpt - "I’m a Process Guy". Also, look for the next excerpt - “Star Wars Is Our Low Bar”.
Chekhov’s Gun has been historically thought of as a great technique to help writer’s tighten their stories. Essentially, it states:
“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”
It’s akin to the efficiency principle laced through mystery fiction and is used to foreshadow future events in the narrative. Judicious use of Checkhov’s Gun helps eliminate plot holes and needless red herrings.
Nevertheless, a recent transmedia article questions its use; inferring that it’s an antiquated concept that possessed purpose in traditional singular-purposed, top-down narratives, but loses its value in multi-threaded transmedia stories.
The article posits that since transmedia stories require such depth and richness and demand setup of multiple narratives, you need to litter the stories with guns to add color and flavor (despite whether you intend to fire them) and to give yourself something to call back on in a later story or narrative.
In fact, the article states, “The multithreaded and sometimes reactive nature of transmedia means that you can’t always go back and revise your first act to include a gun if it turns out, now that you’re in the third act, that you really needed one. Sprinkle your story with guns, just in case.”
While this perspective highlights the critical need of continuity and the unique nature of transmedia narratives, it seems too improvisational to me. I wholeheartedly agree that you need to litter a story with entry points for other narratives and that if you hang a pistol on the wall, it doesn’t have to be fired; however, the principle of Checkhov’s Gun still applies - everything needs to have a planned, defined purpose. Even if you don’t fire the gun in this story, somehow, at some point, in some intersecting narrative, deal with the gun. If you show the gun in the film, you don’t have to fire it in the film, but be sure to fire it in the comic or video game or novel, etc.
Plan it. Map out the stories. Rivet the callbacks in brass when you break the stories. Obviously, the organic nature of writing will force the story to incrementally deviate from your map, but just because it’s transmedia, doesn’t mean it’s extemporaneous or improvised. In fact, the very nature of transmedia necessitates an even greater level of planning to ensure continuity.
Ultimately, I don’t believe that transmedia and Chekhov’s Gun are mutually exclusive ideals, just like transmedia and thorough planning/ mapping. Also, I don’t believe that Chekhov’s Gun’s limit’s your creativity. In fact, transmedia franchises actually helps lift Chekhov’s Gun out of the tendency to become predictable due to the ability to crossover into separate narratives.
I appreciate the perspective of the article’s author and this highlights yet another example of how transmedia is changing the principles and rules of storytelling.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be pulling select excerpts from our upcoming Macro-Narrative Transmedia practice guide. This particular excerpt, “I’m a Process Guy” highlights one of the reasons we decided to publish the book. Enjoy.
I like to know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, and I’m taking it upon myself to presume that I’m not alone.
Much to the frustration and discontent of people around me, I’ve always questioned things. It’s not because I like to buck the proverbial system or that I get some bizarre satisfaction out of hassling people, but rather because I like to discover workflows and then burrow my way to the root to see how they were birthed and why they were developed.
Basketball scouts routinely refer to players who have “high basketball IQ’s”, which are players who not only know they have to run off a screen and then make a backdoor cut, but also understand why they’re doing it. Accordingly, I like to have a “high [input any sort of workflow/process here] IQ”.
Likewise, when I encounter a situation where there’s no discernible process or workflow, I immediately start implementing one. Maybe it’s my board game design background taking over or my analytical law school training kicking in or possibly an innate desire to control everything? Whatever the reason, chaos frustrates me. I have to know how and why, else I get shifty and weird and it’s safe to say that no one likes a guy who’s shifty and weird.
This is why I love listening to Martin Scorsese talk about filmmaking. He breaks down storytelling to a science and can expose all the gears, belts and wheels that make them tick. He can take them apart, tell you the ‘how’ and ‘why’ and then put them together again all over the course of a good cup of coffee. When I began seeing films in the same way and then when I started viewing all stories as intricately designed machines, I was ruined forever. It was like in The Matrix when Neo first saw the matrix as all the 0’s and 1’s; I saw the process, I saw the science - and I fell in love.
So, when I first heard folks like Jeff Gomez and Henry Jenkins spreading (pun intended) the good word about this wonderful concept called ‘transmedia’, I was excited. As a storyteller, I was immediately drawn to the prospect of applying this storytelling science on a greater narrative scale, and its relevance to today’s culture. Accordingly, I had our team spend the next year devouring every article, podcast, webinar and conference devoted to transmedia.
I got the philosophy. I loved the theoretics surrounding it. I was challenged by the high-level intellectualism that came with its application and I was drawn to the narrative possibilities it presented. I was a sponge, soaking up terms like ‘spreadability’, ‘hyper-diegesis’, and ‘intertextuality’. Then one day I woke up and discovered that no one had to convince me that it was the way to go anymore. I was sold. What started then was an insatiable desire know how to do it.
So, being a process guy, I started searching for a solid transmedia process, any process actually, but what I initially found were just other creative professionals debating definitions and staying on the theoretical side of transmedia. Remember in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when Dolores Umbridge refused to move beyond theory and Harry asked, “And how is theory supposed to prepare us for what’s out there?” Well, Harry, I certainly could relate.
Don’t get me wrong, theory is great. It’s what got me hooked to begin with. It’s the milk that I used to grow from a transmedia infant to a transmedia adult who was ready to leave home for the first time; however, at that point, milk wasn’t what I needed. I was hungry. I needed food. I needed process.
Look, I’m sure there were processes out there, but I couldn’t find them. I chalk it up to either me not looking hard enough, people not wanting to give away their workflows so as to maintain competitive advantage or them simply not being published yet because everything was so new. I would find ‘how’ scraps scattered about - an article about how to construct a story bible, a workshop on how to develop a storyworld, a podcast about building engagement with your audience - but even when I would then burrow to the root of those bits and pieces, I wouldn’t make satisfying ‘why’ discoveries.
Transmedia was (and is still) in an exploration phase where most transmedia professionals and enthusiasts were seeking the same answers, so I completely understood why I was coming up short, though it didn’t make it any less frustrating. Most importantly, though, I couldn’t find a process that was tailored to fit exactly what we wanted One 3 Productions to do.
Basically, I needed a soup-to-nuts process that was replicable, teachable, fit what we did, guided us through the intimidation of the blank page and actually facilitated the generation of transmedia-viable ideas and outputs.
So, we made one.
That, my friends, leads us to the primary goal of this book: to help usher transmedia out of the theoretical space and into a world of ‘best practices’ by designing a great ‘how’ and ‘why’. Let me take time to say that we’re certainly not contending that our process is the ‘best practice’ for the entire transmedia community. That would be a jerk think to say. Likewise, I’m not trying to establish the objective definition of transmedia.
I assuredly don’t think we’ve developed a magic bullet, nor do I think that universalist approach can be applied to any creative industry. I do feel, however, that our process can fit nicely into a best practices cupboard along with a nice collection of other best practices from other highly talented, creative and intelligent folks.
Look for the next excerpt - “I Hate the Blank Page - It’s My Enemy”.