The basic rules of storytelling
A story is characterized by the fact that the hero was sent on his journey at the beginning and in the end has undergone a transformation. A story is a big picture on this journey, and the plot consists of individual elements that make up the story. However, this only works if you follow the plot from start to the end.
It is the classic form of storytelling that is used successfully in all areas, including TV series. If a TV series is told in this way, the story is in the script alone.
Apart from that, of course, you need convincing characters that the viewer can identify with, that he likes, or that are at least interesting enough to follow them.
I have not told anything new up to this point. Everything is a known tool. But how many times have you experienced it yourself that you identify with a character beyond the actual story and want to know more about his story world, the world in which he lives in? Authentic characters with a soul can quickly become brands with unexpected potential. The author of the screenplay, the novel or simply the story often does not have to develop these things in addition. Usually, characterization and background stories have already been considered for the writing of the main story. However, this additional material has not made it into the main story for a variety of reasons, but it may still be useful for other media.
From storytelling to transmedia storytelling
So what if you take advantage of these things? Especially in TV series in which heroes experience new adventures in each episode, it is an opportunity to open the story for different approaches to the individual plot elements.
For my project "Frogs", which I would like to pitch to Amazon Studios, I chose this very approach. The story is open to other media at various points to provide the opportunity for the viewer to learn more about the story world and its characters.
The series plays partly in a frog village in the deep forest. I can well imagine that as a television viewer I would like to visit this frog village once. At least that's how it was for me as a child. I always wanted to visit the village of the Smurfs. Meanwhile, I have managed to find it thanks to Google (www.smurf.com). This virtual smurf village is a fantastic example of transmedia storytelling. So it does not have to be the big theme park, even though I'd like to visit Springfield because even projects with a manageable effort can bring a special transmedial experience.
It is also possible to transfer fictional elements into the real world, blurring the line between reality and fiction. For example in "Breaking Bad": www.savewalterwhite.com.
Also, I wanted to know more about the character Saul Goodman from "Breaking Bad" and became active myself. I then found out that a TV show called "Better Call Saul" was supposed to be produced. With this information, I was able to come over the series finale of "Breaking Bad" and at the same time, I could not wait longer for the start of the spin-off.
You can also go beyond that and move the boundaries between fiction and reality even further by letting the viewer interact with the protagonist. Possibilities are available, for example through social media, e-mail, SMS or even telephone calls. I have incorporated such an element in my forthcoming novel „Froschperspektive".
As you can see in these examples, the idea is anything but new. It is now even common practice to further tell the story, at least on the Internet. There you can then accommodate and use material that was prepared for the main story, but it did not get there. For example In-depth characterizations, backstory or even actions beyond the scenario known from the script. This allows interested viewers to find out more and identify more with the characters.
So it's not about clumsy advertising about how good the main product is, but about offering the viewer an added value to build a lasting emotional bond.
Transmedia storytelling can thus help to create a brand out of the characters. And that is exactly where the potential of this narrative form lies.
It also opens up opportunities for cooperation, so that, for example, the protagonists do not simply use certain products of a brand, but have a story, which creates an emotional bond between product and viewer. In addition, the characters themselves become a brand. It's about more than pillows and cups with the hero's face.
Transmedia storytelling in "Frogs"
For "Frogs" I have implemented this as follows. Each episode means for the hero Gerry a small or even big adventure with obstacles, pitfalls, friendships and bad guys, which he has to master alone or together with others. Each episode is self-contained, but all together make up a great adventure: the story. Each episode also has its own teaching or morality. Topics include environmental protection, superficiality, friendship, and family. In addition, there is a story-spanning message.
The individual adventures allow for opening the story to other media. With "Frogs" it is possible to enter the story later. Thus, the viewer can be guided through another medium into a single adventure that Gerry must pass without having to know the content from previous episodes.
I imagine that for "Frogs" the frog village is built as a virtual world on the web or mobile and gives the viewer the opportunity to visit his favorite characters. Transmedial storytelling can thus give viewers the opportunity to experience the story world in different ways or with different characters.
Transmedia storytelling as an interactive experience
But transmedia storytelling can do even more because as already indicated, it is not a one-way street from the main medium to the other media. So also in my example regarding "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul". As a viewer, I became active and specifically searched for additional content. So it's possible that viewers will not only come to other media through the main story but vice versa from the secondary media to elements of the main story.
Of course, the level of interaction with other media depends heavily on the audience. But even if the viewer is active, it remains up to the author to keep the story alive and not to be passive.
You also get direct feedback from the audience. It's possible that the audience delivers ideas that you have never thought of before and that can steer the story in a different direction. Such feedback can be valuable for further development, so you should not refrain from direct feedback. This is also in line with the democratic process that helps Amazon Studios decide whether to develop a story or not.
So you have to get involved with your audience, know exactly who the target group is and which technology is suitable for which target group. Crucial factors can be age, background or interests, and also how far the target group is willing to actively participate. But you should also be aware that the story can hit other viewers, outside of the actual target group, through various media. So you also have to ask yourself, how this unintended target group reacts to the respective medium.
The target group ultimately decides which technologies can be used to tell the story transmedial. You should also ask yourself how many platforms you are distributing the story to, or whether it's better to focus on a single secondary medium, how many pieces of information you reveal, or if you tell the story multiple times.
So I was careful with "Frogs“, as the potential audience is quite young and should not be forced to use other technologies to fully capture the story world. However, this does not contradict the incentive that this target group is also considering other technologies to experience "Frogs" transmedial.