Story Concepts & Development for Novels, Comics, Games, Film and TV

Transmedia Storytelling

I have worked in a variety of fields during my career. Comics, webcomics, film, games (I admit, I have written TV show bibles, but have not actually done any professional TV writing). If you’re working at all in the entertainment industry today, you should have come across the term “transmedia” or “multiplatform storytelling”. In general, it means taking a property or franchise into multiple platforms, or media. If you see a film become a game, or a comic become a film, these are considered transmedia properties.

Some definitions you’ll find will tell that you that transmedia storytelling is a “single story across multiple platforms”. That is only partially true, in my personal (professional) experience.

The studios and production companies that are coming to me for story or IP (intellectual property) development within the game/comic/film industry aren’t looking for a simple adaptation. They want unique or ancillary content to be developed for EACH of the industries it’s published in. Fresh material for avid to experience that doesn’t just tell the same story over and over again.

Original content brings new readers/audiences within each industry, which, for a studio or production company, means more money.

Now, you might think that writing a comic is not much different than writing a film. But that is far from the truth. Each industry has its own conventions of storytelling, and what works well in one category doesn’t always work when a writer is asked to translate that story into another medium.

While this particular topic can probably fill an entire book, I will do my best to give you a brief overview of the differences between the media I have experience with.

COMICS
Comics or comic books are a printed media, though we are seeing more and more digital distribution nowadays. As for storytelling, comic books emphasize a juxtaposition (or correlation) of images and dialogue. What someone might call the “limitations” of comic books is also what makes the medium unique.

Comics are a visual medium. The writer must tell the story solely with still pictures and words. The “voice” of the story happens only in the reader’s head. A good writer will exploit this unique storytelling device. For example, a character might be on the phone with the “bad guy” of the story. The reader can see the dialogue from the villain, but has no markers (except perhaps a verbal “tic”) by which to determine who the bad guy is. We can observe an entire exchange and not know who is on the other end of that phone. That is really not possible in film or TV.

A typical comic story tends to be in/around 22 pages (with a couple extra pages for credits and/or advertising). The number of panels per page varies with the publisher and the storyteller, but I average 6 panels per page (yeah, artist kind of hate me for that).

Graphic novels are published in increments of 16 pages (16, 32, 48) and would include copyright and introductory pages, and possibly chapter breaks, if it is a compilation of a larger work.

WEBCOMICS (OR COMIC STRIPS)
Webcomics (or comic strips) tends to be the shortest of the storytelling forms – and while it follows many of the same conventions as comic books – comic strips have an emphasis on a “punchline”. Some strips are printed (as in the Sunday funnies) and some are digital (like Alien Confidential published here). Some webcomics are self-contained stories and some are episodic, though even episodic stories must have a compelling enough hook to keep the reader coming back for more.

The hardest aspect of writing comics strips is that the set up the story conflict must happen within the first image, and, in general, there is less “page real estate” for the development of deeper themes.

Average length of a webcomic or comic strip is 1-10 panels.

FILMS
Film is also a visual medium, but in this case, the pictures are moving. The audience experiences the story both with their eyes and their ears, which provide storytelling benefits and limitations of their own. You can’t necessarily get away with the “anonymous caller” as in the comic book example above, and (sometimes melodramatic) dialogue that works in comic books or webcomics sounds horribly contrived when spoken aloud in a film.

Acceptable screenplays length is between 80 and 140 pages.

GAMES
Storytelling in games is probably the most limiting, because it is largely a collaborative process. The needs of the story are usually not the first priority. Aspects like game mechanics and the restrictions of the game engine will dictate how much story can really be conveyed. And while some games can afford more visual effects like cutscenes, many cannot, and so the writer must largely rely on dialogue to express theme, character, and action.

Game scripts have no notable length. Different genres of games (RPG, MMO, casual, puzzle, racing, and others) will have dialogue requirements.

Transmedia storytelling has great possibilities for both budding and veteran writers. It provides opportunities to collaborate on incredible material, and to expand the universes of innovative worlds, both old and new.

And the emphasis on new content gives participating writers a playground on which to explore.

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