The Transmedia Narrative: Storytelling for the Digital Age

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If you read "transmedia narrative" in the post's title and had no idea what it meant, you're not alone. I didn't either until I talked to Elizabeth Hagale, a storyteller and filmmaker who used transmedia narrative to create her latest project, Son of Somerset Files.

Son of Somerset Files is a transmedia narrative told across YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram. Chloe Henderson is a passionate young woman working a dead-end job in Mississippi. One day, she receives a briefcase from her estranged grandfather, a man she never really knew and has been dead for over a year. Chloe investigates the briefcase and finds a treasure trove of UFO research, mostly old photographs. Using this evidence and the advice of a fellow enthusiast, Chloe pieces together who her grandfather was and what his research was all about, despite the tension this investigation creates in her family. She records her findings in her vlog on YouTube and through updates on Twitter and Tumblr. Terry, the fellow enthusiast and amateur ufologist, eventually becomes more involved in her project. But soon, strange occurrences seemingly leap out of the photographs and into Chloe's life. Urged on by Terry despite her faltering resolve, Chloe pursues the mysteries contained in the Son

 Elizabeth Hagale, creator of transmedia narrative, Son of Somerset Files. 

Elizabeth Hagale, creator of transmedia narrative, Son of Somerset Files. 

Mandy Shunnarah: Tell us what a transmedia narrative is and what types of stories lend themselves to the format.

Elizabeth Hagale: It's basically this very new media form of storytelling utilizing different media forms. So, in my case, I'm using YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Facebook to tell my story. I studied transmedia storytelling for my senior project at Birmingham-Southern College, specifically look at The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. So I felt like I had a pretty good handle on the subject! Plus, it's a very "now" sort of narrative form.

A transmedia format lends itself very well to stories with multiple threads and multiple perspectives. While I'm limiting the number of voices in the story to two, given that this is my first transmedia project, both Chloe and Terry are able to have their own voice. At least to a certain extent. Terry is not very into this whole "social media" thing. Chloe, on the other hand, has her hand in quite a few platforms, namely YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, and now Storify. Transmedia allows different storylines, however short, to be told on different platforms. I'm able to assign certain content to certain platforms, playing to the strengths of that medium. And since I'm using social media as a part of the narrative, I can make the story real time! Which is a strength and weakness, of course.

 A photo of Chloe's grandfather. 

A photo of Chloe's grandfather. 

MS: What are some of the challenges of telling a story in real time?

EH: It can be pretty tricky. You've got to always be on your toes! But this allows some flexibility, since you can react to the audience within the story, be it on Twitter, Tumblr, etc.

MS: SoSF is on social media platforms in which people can interact with the show. Chloe even asks people watching the show to contribute to her investigation. Do you have plans for the audience's interactions to shape the show in some ways? 

EH: I would definitely love the audience's interactions to shape the show! One viewer in particular has been great in interacting with Chloe, so I've used this to further expand on Chloe's character and enable her to divulge details. 

 One of the photographs in Chloe's grandfather's papers. 

One of the photographs in Chloe's grandfather's papers. 

MS: What's your editorial calendar like for a transmedia narrative? How do you decide what platforms to post on and when?

EH: My editorial calendar is structured around the episodes. Since there's usually a new one every Monday, I work towards that, making sure to cover all the necessary material during the days prior. I have the plot worked out for the entire series, so I have a skeleton to work off of when it comes to posting content.

 Chloe and Terry. This picture pretty accurately describes their personalities. 

Chloe and Terry. This picture pretty accurately describes their personalities. 

MS: What inspired you to write this storyline? Did you have an interest in UFOs before this project? 

EH: Zack Tatom [a friend from college] and I had talked about doing something involving UFOs, like The X-Files, but I eventually took that subject matter and mashed it with transmedia, which I'd already studied.

MS: What platforms have you found generate the most audience engagement?

EH: I find youtube to be the biggest part of the show, but a lot of interaction has been happening on Twitter.

Check out Son of Somerset Files on YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram (@sonofsomerset). There you can interact with Chloe and get involved in the show! 

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