Podcast: StoryForward, Episode 22 -- Chris Dahlen

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In this special episode, co-host J.C. Hutchins chats with narrative designer Chris Dahlen about video game writing, transmedia storytelling and “Mark of the Ninja,” an XBox Live game that Dahlen recently wrote. If you’ve ever wanted to learn about the unique narrative opportunities and challenges found in creating video games, this interview is a great primer. Dahlen also shares his past experiences as a video game journalist and how they influenced the game stories he now writes.

The conversation takes a fascinating twist as Dahlen also shares his experiences as a transmedia storyteller. Dahlen helped craft a key component of the out-of-book experience for J.C.’s novel “Personal Effects: Dark Art.”: the online persona of character Rachael Webster. Dahlen discusses how writing Rachael became something more creatively rewarding than he ever expected. We also discuss lessons learned.

Links mentioned in this episode:

Podcast: StoryForward, Episode 20 -- Felicia Day

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In this special episode, co-host J.C. Hutchins chats with actor, writer, producer and entrepreneur Felicia Day. Day has starred in acclaimed TV series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Eureka, but is perhaps best known as the creator of the groundbreaking, award-winning comedy web series The Guild.  She also co-founded the Geek & Sundry YouTube channel, which debuted in April. During our conversation, Day shares her experiences creating transmedia-ready stories for The Guild, and the transmedia narratives she helped craft for BioWare’s Dragon Age video game storyworld.

The Guild’s sixth season debuts on the Geek & Sundry network on Oct. 2! Check it out!

Links mentioned in this episode:

VIDEO: Transmedia Unboxing -- Yimmu Logistics Artifacts

Yesterday, I received a mysterious packet in the mail from the Interplanetary Union, an organization based in a location called "New Lyon City," on the planet Centauri. I've received some very strange packages in the past, but none with such a cool return address!

I filmed my experience of opening the envelope, and sharing some of its contents. That video is above; low resolution scans of some -- but not all -- of the documents are below. If you'd like to get as close to the experience as possible, DOWNLOAD THIS PDF, which features high resolution scans of the packet's complete contents.

You'll notice that I chronically mispronounce the words "logistics" and "Koatoa" in the video. My apologies. If you knew how nervous I become when talking on video, you'd be shocked that I could properly pronounce anything at all. :)

Enjoy the video, and a few low-res images below. Learn more about the Yimmu Logistics alternate reality game "We Are Earthborne" at the Unfiction forum thread. Also check out the "Oceanus" wiki for more info.

And remember: If you want high resolution scans of the complete collection of transmedia artifacts, download the PDF FOUND HERE.

Remember: If you want high resolution scans of the complete collection of transmedia artifacts, download the PDF FOUND HERE. Enjoy!

--J.C.

Upcoming Presentations & Conferences!

I've been a busy bee this week, finalizing travel plans to several transmedia/game conferences in the upcoming weeks. Now that these engagements have been booked, I can share the news with you!

Multi-PlatFORUM 2012

Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada March 27-28

Multi-PlatFORUM is a two-day networking and professional development event focusing on digital content creation from both creative and business perspectives. I'll be speaking about how transmedia storytelling can help companies achieve their financial and marketing objectives. I may also be on a multi-guest panel discussing transmedia.

Transmedia, Hollywood 3

Los Angeles, California April 6

Transmedia, Hollywood is a one-day public symposium exploring the role of transmedia franchises in today's entertainment industries. Academics and practitioners converge to share insights and best practices. I'll be an attendee.

PAX East

Boston, Massachusetts April 7

This legendary east coast convention is dedicated exclusively for gaming, created by the folks at Penny Arcade. I'll be speaking with transmedia superstars Jan Libby and Marie Lamb in a presentation called "Transmedia, Alternate Reality Games and Storytelling -- Why Players (and Creators) Should Care." We'll examine past attempts to expand game worlds beyond the screen, discuss what worked and what didn’t, and ponder the future of this kind of storytelling.

If you're attending any of these fine events, please come see me and say hi!

--J.C.

 

Podcast: StoryForward, Episode 004 -- Michel Reilhac

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Hosts Steve Peters and J.C. Hutchins have a fascinating chat with Michel Reilhac, who is the Executive Director of Arte France Cinéma and Director of Film Acquisitions for ARTE France. A passionate evangelist of Transmedia Storytelling, Michel shares his experiences pitching and producing projects in Europe, and talks about the changing transmedia landscape there. Links from this show:

Podcast: StoryForward, Episode 003 -- Joe Lidster

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In this special episode of StoryForward, co-host Steve Peters talks with Joe Lidster, a television writer best known for his work on Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures and most recently, the online story content for the BBC series Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

They talk about the unique process behind the TV show, which, in true transmedia storytelling fashion, simultaneously spans your television screen, multiple websites and more.

Podcast: StoryForward, Episode 002 -- Mike Monello

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In this episode, Campfire partner and Chief Creative Officer Mike Monello gives us a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse into the Blair Witch mythology and how to navigate the fine line between creative storytelling, marketing and clients. He also discusses "Dark Score Stories," Campfire's transmedia campaign that supported the release of Stephen King's Bag of Bones. Links from this show:

Tell us what you think of the show by giving co-host Steve Peters and I a shout at info at storyworldpodcast dot com!

The Ebook Will Evolve. So Should Authors.

Note: This post originally appeared on the website E2BU. E2BU, aka the Enhanced Ebook University, educates authors and publishers on the creative and business potential of enhanced ebooks -- electronic books that transcend traditional reading experiences by incorporating video, online links and other multimedia elements into the narrative. Enhanced ebooks are an emerging storytelling form. I've yet to see an enhanced ebook that captures my vision for the platform's incredible narrative potential. I hope this post, which was originally written for authors and publishers, gets readers and creators thinking about the platform's potential.

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Here's some enhanced e-book wisdom for my author colleagues: It all starts with you.

I'm approaching this from a fiction writer's perspective, though non-fiction writers can benefit from this advice. Prepare your work's enhanced ebook experience from the very beginning, as you conceive your book. As you plot and write, always remember that you’re now armed with countless opportunities to push your narrative beyond words. Take advantage of that, and the many emotionally-resonant strengths other media have over text.

Presently, enhanced content is often an afterthought, tacked on at the end of a production process as a blingy differentiator. We are now in an age of storytelling where that model is practically insulting to a reader. These days, there are few good reasons for creators to ignore the potential of integrating resonant multimedia elements into their stories.

From my perspective as an online- and transmedia-savvy creator, "enhanced" content should make a meaningful narrative contribution to the main story.  Consider the narrative impact of experiencing fictional family photo albums, sci-fi computer dossiers, fake newspaper clippings, video blogs from your characters, etc.  Every genre can benefit from this story-centric approach, and can move readers in new ways.

Make this content mission-critical to the narrative experience. Cleverly devise ways to structure your story so that photographs you choose to fleetingly describe in text (for instance) are visible via the enhanced ebook. Inject visual clues/foreshadowing into those photos that will pay off later in the story; savvy readers will be delighted. If you’re an indie creator rolling your own enhanced ebooks, take advantage of the cheap and free online tools at your disposal. Get free phone numbers via Google Voice and use them in your stories -- readers can leave voicemails to their favorite characters. Is there a crime scene video that's heating up your cop thriller? Include it in your enhanced experience.

Tightly integrate these transmedia opportunities into your stories. Don’t do what publishers are doing now. Don’t create a so-called enhanced experience that plays merely like a novel with some multimedia elements wedged into the narrative for the sake of spiffiness. Readers are smart, and they’ll smell that rat a mile away. They'll probably feel like they’ve wasted their money. That's bad storytelling, and bad for business.

Avoid self-congratulatory behind the scenes content such as author bios, old drafts of your manuscripts and the like. Only longtime/hardcore fans are into that stuff ... and most authors don’t have longtime/hardcode fans. There's very little value in this content; certainly not enough to charge the premium most enhanced ebooks command. Give people what they want: world-enhancing, emotionally-resonant fiction in various media.

Speaking from experience: If your funds and production capabilities are limited and you fear your enhanced elements appear amateurish, slyly manage audience expectations in your text by referring to it as feeling home-brewed. The Blair Witch Project did this to great effect. This way, the videos you shoot with an affordable Flip cam or cell phone don't feel cheap -- they feel authentic. Same goes for photos, and audio recordings.

If you self-publish an enhanced ebook and it becomes a viral or sales hit, know that a mainstream publisher will come a-callin'. An editor will wave a check under your nose, and you'll probably be appropriately wooed. Awesome. But as part of your negotiations, make certain to insist that the publisher create "more professional" versions of that enhanced content, if you have concerns about its quality. Make it a deal-breaker if you have to. Remember, you're doing the publisher a favor by signing on the dotted line, not vice-versa.

We've yet to see a truly resonant enhanced e-novel experience, but this is probably mostly due to ever-conservative publishers being unwilling to pony up cash to get experimental -- and authors embracing the self-defeating notion that they "can only write books." The former is short-sighted. The latter is preposterous, and insulting to one's creative abilities.

Embracing multiple narrative media ensures that you're not just building "enhanced" content -- you're learning new creative and artistic skills, which will improve your life and work.

I believe a killing can be made in this space, but it requires resources -- measured either in publisher dollars or indie creator sweat equity -- a lot of beyond-the-page creative thinking, and a willingness to embrace risk.

Are publishers willing to pull the trigger? They've been pretty gun-shy so far. As with most evolutions in storytelling and entertainment, it'll probably require an indie creator to prove the model works ... or a publisher identifying a qualified creator or two, paying them, and making a business leap of faith.

--J.C.

How To Become A Better (And Future-Friendly) Storyteller

Note: This post originally appeared on the website WriterUnboxed. This is the first of several WU guest posts I'll reprint here on my site.

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I submit this for your consideration: Expand and improve your media vocabulary. It might positively impact your career now, and certainly will in the future.

I define "media vocabulary" as the various media one uses to tell resonant stories. Since most readers of this blog are authors, I reckon we're fluent in the vocabulary of text-based storytelling. But how many of us have more than a pedestrian consumer's knowledge of other media such as video, audio, photography, or graphic design? How many of us use those media in our stories?

Based on anecdotal and professional experience, I believe in my marrow that now is the time for talespinners to get savvy with several storytelling media. Within years, I expect we'll see an explosive rise of enhanced ebooks, app-based fiction and transmedia narratives that will leverage technologies and trends that have already become mainstream.

Fret not, hand-wringing wordherding purists: These multimedia, aka "transmedia" -- or as I sometimes call them, "mergemedia" -- stories will never replace a printed book or text-only ebook. But publishers will soon get into the enhanced narrative business in a big way, and will keenly quest for stories that organically incorporate disparate media into cohesive, resonant narratives.

And who better than you to deliver that very thing? You'll be a hot tamale, on the front lines of a business trend that'll reinvent the way audiences experience stories.

Few authors are prepared for this dramatic storytelling shift. I'm blessed to say I'm one of them. I recently co-wrote a novel that included tangible artifacts that came with the book -- real-life, convincing items such as IDs, business cards, family photos and more. These artifacts had clues hidden within them. When readers combined clues in the novel's text with clues in the artifacts, they could experience more of the story in other media: audio phone messages, fake character blogs, websites of locales mentioned in the book, and more. They learned aspects of the story my novel's hero never discovered -- including a beyond-the-book twist ending.

I've dabbled in video storytelling. I've written screenplays for an animated web series. I was Head Writer for an immersive transmedia online narrative that promoted a Discovery Channel show. I've recorded my own audio fiction, been a voice actor for more than a dozen other audio fiction projects, incorporated photography and graphic design into my stories ... and even crafted book promotions that invited my fans to become "patients" in my fictional insane asylum.

Am I exceptionally gifted in all of these media? Of course not. But I'm clever, creative and curious enough to know it's in the best interest of my career to bust beyond any self-inflicted Perception Prison and just be a "writer" or "novelist." I'm a multifaceted Storyteller. If I can't stellarly execute a particular multimedia storytelling element, I'll ask around until I find someone who can help realize it for me. That's what the Internet is for.

I understand, as you should, that different media convey different narrative information and evoke different emotional reactions. We, as storytellers, should absolutely leverage that to our advantage. Consider this:

  • A smartly-crafted paragraph about an elderly woman's house burning down
  • A photograph of her porcelain doll collection by the window, ablaze
  • Video of those doll's faces shattering from the intense heat
  • An audio recording of the woman wailing at her loss, with the roar of the inferno and sirens in the background

Now consider these related -- yet unique and equally emotionally resonant -- elements presented together in a cohesive, organically-constructed narrative, experienced on a hand-held device. An iPad. An iPhone. The next generation Kindle. A laptop. Doesn't matter.

What matters is this isn't a gimmick. This is, very likely, the future of storytelling.

By dipping your toes into media other than text -- be it writing for the screen or comic book, envisioning cool opportunities to take your story "beyond words" and into a medium that appeals to an entirely different sense (and evoke unique emotional reactions), or developing and deploying story-enhancing online destinations (such as a fictional company's website) -- you're expanding and improving your media vocabulary. This will expand and improve your storytelling skills, and will differentiate you from the thousands of other writers who merely put one word in front of the other.

Differentiation is good for business. As I wrote this post, I received an email from an independent game developer who wanted to hire me for some voice acting work. That opportunity never would've occurred had I not expanded my media vocabulary to include audio storytelling years ago. (I said yes to the offer. That's paid work, homes.)

Same goes for my transmedia novel work and the Discovery Channel gig. I created narratives using several media, became well-known for them, and was hired to participate in those projects. I can't guarantee that you’ll experience similar opportunities, but your chances are hella better when you get experimental and go beyond your creative comfort zone.

How do you start down this path? I won't waste precious words, or your time, with a technical how-to. We're nowhere near ready for that. Instead, let me offer some thoughts on how to get your creative mind into the philosophy fueling my perspective. You’ve spent years crafting tales with words. You need to think beyond words.

Noodle on your work in progress, and then ask yourself questions such as:

  • Are there ways to incorporate narrative portals to, say, a website where more narrative information can be delivered in an unconventional way? (Such as a character's video blog.)
  • Can you leverage real-life everyday objects and conventional behavior in new and interesting ways? (Such as including a phone number in your story --which is actually a free Google Voice number you've registered -- for people to call and hear a message from the antagonist.)
  • Are there familiar items that can enhance your narrative by adding an element of "real world" credibility to your story? (Such as fake classified blueprints, viewable at a password-protected website -- a site mentioned in your story.)
  • Can you deliver a kind of real world interaction between your audience and characters? (Such as a blog written by your character, who responds to fans who comment on her posts.)

I'm scratching the surface here -- only your personal knowledge of your story and creative curiosity can determine if what you're presently writing can benefit from these "beyond the page" experience-based narrative tools. But my point should be clear: these narrative opportunities exist, and can be downright cheap (or free) to execute.

We storytellers now stand at the convergence of several world-changing trends: cheap tools to help us create multimedia story elements … increasingly available (and affordable) Internet access for consumers … portable digital devices that can talk to the Web and play that multimedia … and an always-on 24/7 resource (the Web) that can put us in touch with creators who can assist us, should we not have the skills to execute our projects on our own.

There's never been a better time in history to be a storyteller -- and there will likely never be a better time for you to become a first mover in what will soon become a prosperous storytelling space. If you're reading the same writing on the wall that I am, you'll want to start expanding and improving your media vocabulary.

You don't need to be an expert. You just need to be creative, and ask for help if you can't execute on your own.

Don't let the future of storytelling pass you by. It's already here.

--J.C.

Follow-Up: Winter Is Coming.

If you were dazzled by my recent Game of Thrones scent-based transmedia experience -- and were curious to learn where that unusual rabbit hole might lead us -- you'll be interested to read this email I received today from HBO:

Dear JC,

Thank you so much for sharing the Game of Thrones scent experience with your audience. We wanted to let you know that fans can now take the next step in this unique sensory journey by visiting TheMaestersPath.com.

The Maester's Path is an interactive journey into the world of Game of Thrones, where players can vie to become "maesters," the healers, teachers and advisers of this world.  Maesters wear chains as a symbol of their learning, each link representing one discipline. Players at TheMaestersPath.com earn "links" in their chains by completing a series of online challenges. In fact, the clues to answering the first of those challenges were hidden within the scent recipes you received.

The experience begins at TheMaestersPath.com -- we hope you and your readers may find it interesting.

Thanks,

The HBO Marketing Team

I visited the site -- it's incredible -- and savvily conquered the first online challenge. You can too, by checking out the photos at my original post about the GoT box, and then heading over to TheMaestersPath.com. Your keen eyes and curiosity will be rewarded!

I wish HBO the best of luck with its GoT campaign and series!

--J.C.

Winter Is Coming. (A Transmedia Fiction Experience with J.C.)

This afternoon, a package from HBO arrived at my doorstep. Curious, I grabbed my vidcam and documented what quickly became not only an awesome "unboxing" video, but an amazing -- and remarkably unconventional -- narrative journey. Ride shotgun with me as you get an unfiltered, as-it-happens look at this amazing HBO package as I experience it ... and learn a little about the world of HBO's upcoming fantasy series Game Of Thrones (based on the terrific novel series by George R.R. Martin) along the way.

For viewers who want a closer look at the images seen briefly in the videos, check the gallery below for larger versions.

And do be careful out there. Winter is coming.

--J.C

Click the image thumbnails below to view detail shots of the HBO package. (Click your browser's "back" button to return to this page, and the gallery.)

#StillHere Gets Some Sass! (And Violet & Christiana Too...)

Here's an excerpt of a blog post made by my dear friend Jeff Sass -- a former co-worker and contributor of 2008's 7th Son: Obsidian -- at Dad-O-Matic. It's about the #StillHere experience:

"I found out about TheColony.Discovery.com from an unexpected package that I received, and I made the short video below to document my own experiences with this clever promotion.  If you are reading this, then you can assume I survived and am #STILLHERE.  Enjoy!"

Check out Jeff's brilliant video below ... and then read his post at Dad-O-Matic. He gives the #StillHere experience a big thumb's up, and also poses an intriguing question about kids and new forms of entertainment. Give him an appreciative shout in the comments at Dad-O-Matic!

Also, be sure to check out additional unboxing videos from two of my personal #geekcrushes: the stellarly-talented blogger/author Violet Blue and ever-awesome author Christiana Ellis (who was also an Obsidian contributor).

As someone who's received special packages like this in the past, I'm thrilled that they've all enjoyed their experiences so far.

#StillHere,

--J.C.

Podcast Audio Promo For #StillHere

If you're a podcaster looking to fill about 50 seconds of your show for a cool creative project, give this audio promo for #StillHere a spin. It promotes the transmedia prequel experience for Discovery Channel's The Colony, which can by found at TheColony.Discovery.com. I collaborated with dozens of brilliant creators and programmers at Campfire on this groundbreaking narrative as #StillHere's Lead Writer.

--J.C.

Denise Crosby Video Now Live At JoinTheColony.com

The only thing cooler than helping Campfire create a celebrity Public Service Announcement set in the fictional post-apocalyptic world of #StillHere is watching it after it's been assembled and published.

Of course, it's exponentially cooler when that celebrity is actress Denise Crosby, perhaps best-known for her role as Lt. Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation. (TNG geeks like me also know her as "Sela.") This is one of the coolest things I've ever worked on. Check it. Tweet and FB it. Embed it at your blog.

[VIDEO HAS BEEN REMOVED]

This PSA -- and more than 300 other updates, comments, newscasts, blog posts, breaking news stories, photos and videos -- await you at TheColony.Discovery.com. It's an online prequel experience simulation for Discovery Channel's show The Colony. The Colony's second season debuts on July 27.

Mainline this free content at TheColony.Discovery.com. Sign in via Facebook Connect to behold how the incurable virus Denise describes -- the Nuclear Flu -- might affect you, and those closes to you: your family and friends. (A Facebook login isn't required, but boy, does it make it so much cooler...)

#StillHere,

--J.C.

#StillHere, A Fiction Experience For Discovery Channel’s “The Colony,” Is Online

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My latest fiction project -- a groundbreaking online narrative that gives you and your friends ringside seats to the end of the world -- is now live. I've worked with dozens of talented creators and developers on this story for months now, and hope you'll find it as fun and resonant as we do.

We've nicknamed this story #StillHere. It's a transmedia experience designed to introduce you the devastated world of the Discovery Channel's TV program The Colony. It's an interesting place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live here: this world has been wrecked by an ultra-contagious virus called "Nuclear Flu." The second season of The Colony debuts in the U.S. on Tuesday, July 27.

The Colony show features seven non-actor volunteers participating in an immersive social experiment, exploring what life might be like after this biological catastrophe. They're tasked with surviving without creature comforts, facing physical and emotional challenges -- including danger from rival survivors. I've seen The Colony's first season, and thought it was pretty amazing.

My involvement with The Colony and Discovery begins and ends with #StillHere, an exclusive online prequel experience that simulates how this pandemic could spread and affect those closest to you. Using the familiar setting of your favorite social network, you'll bear witness to the unhinging of the world, told from many unique perspectives: those of your family and friends.

Literally, your family and friends. Your Facebook-connected buddies are already posting at the site, riding shotgun toward the apocalypse. Your loved ones are writing status updates about hope and coping in this damaged world ... sharing newscast videos about the virus ... commenting on blog posts, photo galleries, home-made videos, breaking news stories and more. They're scraping by, desperately trying to outrun the Nuclear Flu, and need you to join them.

Which you should do. Right now. At TheColony.Discovery.com.

More than 300 updates and comments -- and dozens of videos, photos, articles and more -- await you, all set in an America ravaged by this unstoppable virus. As part of a creative team that included artists, filmmakers, animators and programmers, I acted as Lead Writer, playing a large role in creating the world of #StillHere. But this narrative machine had many moving parts, and the people who envisioned and executed this project are as numerous as they are talented.

I'll soon tell you more about #StillHere, the experience of crafting its content, and the astoundingly brilliant folks at Campfire, the company that conceived this project and invited me to collaborate with them.

In the meantime, give the #StillHere simulation a spin. Visit TheColony.Discovery.com, log in using Facebook Connect, and behold a unique narrative experience customized solely for you. If you enjoy it, share its content on Twitter and Facebook with your friends and family. Spread the word.

Oh. One thing. Don't bother getting a preventative flu shot or buying a surgical face mask before embarking on your #StillHere experience. Nuclear Flu is already in the air, right now. You've probably already contracted it.

Your friends certainly have. As you'll soon discover, not all of them will make it.

TheColony.Discovery.com. Have fun.

#StillHere,

--J.C.

Sword of Blood "Grand Design of Nine" PDF

No Personal Effects story is complete without a transmedia experience. Behold, Sword of Blood's -- a PDF featuring the "Grand Design of Nine" quilt designs described in the novella! (Note: Do NOT view this PDF if you haven't listened to Episode 6 of the story, lest you be spoiled.)

SYNOPSIS: This 24-page PDF file reveals real photos of the "Grand Design of Nine" quilt blocks described in Personal Effects: Sword of Blood. This transmedia experience allows you to see the quilt blocks as hero Zach Taylor did, and view the encoded "buttonhole" text -- as well as the hidden designs mentioned in the novella.

This PDF release marks the conclusion of Personal Effects: Sword of Blood. Hutch hopes you enjoyed the story, and will check out its follow-up, the groundbreaking transmedia novel, Personal Effects: Dark Art!

"A Large Predator..." - A Transmedia Promotion Experience

Today, I received yet another mysterious package in the mail ... and it might be the coolest one yet. Check out the video for all the details, and be sure to visit FrenziedWaters.com to follow up on the mystery.

This is a must-see, folks. It's so awesome.

--J.C.