On Transmedia and Fan Fiction

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For transmedia novelists (and publishers) to retain creative control will require more than a repurposing of content. This might give a ‘taste’ of what transmedia can ‘do’, but for it to work on all levels it must be intrinsically built in and not bolted on.

Alison Norrington, Transmedia Requires New Breed of Writers, Publishers

Ever since I attended the DIY Days Conference back in April, I’ve become obsessed with the idea of “transmedia” and what it means for both publishers and authors. I’ve even slowly been making it a point of focus over at Digital Book World, where I’ve run some insightful articles by some smart people who are also exploring the idea from a publishing perspective.

While writing an article for the September issue of Writer’s Digest about what writers should be thinking about in the future, transmedia kept popping up in a variety of ways, but the most compelling was the simple fact that it potentially changes the way some writers will go about getting published, especially novelists. Those focused only on getting a book deal (and haggling over eBook royalty percentages) will continue to pursue agents and editors, living a transactional existence while cranking out their 1-2 books/year and struggling with the concept of “platform”.

Savvier writers, though, will realize the full potential of the worlds they’re creating, and look beyond traditional publishing contracts for partnerships that allow them to fully exploit their creations.

Genre fiction is the most obvious area where transmedia comes into play, with its tendency towards serial storytelling, archetypal characters and underlying world-building that offers numerous branches to explore in a variety of mediums beyond the traditional novel, including short stories and anthologies, graphic novels, movies and TV, video games, interactive apps and websites, merchandise, etc.

The Star Wars Expanded Universe is arguably the Holy Grail for any aspiring transmedia novelist, and while a lot of the opportunities either involve starting from a movie-centric approach or working with “official” partners, usually via licensing deals, one of my favorites is simply letting your fans play in your sandbox.

For all the talk about social media and building “platforms”, one of the most interesting (and sometimes controversial) angles for novelists is embracing “fan fiction.”  One good example I came across was Eric Flint and Baen Books’ The Grantville Gazette, an online publication and a series of anthologies that features short stories and non-fiction set in Flint’s 1632 universe, most of it written by fans.

Another is David Goodwillie’s Roorback.com, which features one of the lead characters from his novel American Subversive as a gossip blogger, with posts “anonymously written by a few Brooklyn bloggers.”

Personally, I’ve always wanted to write stories set in D&D’s Forgotten Realms setting, and would be all over a Grantville Gazette-type opportunity… if they had one! I’d imagine every RPG publisher has an avid group of fans whom, given the outlet, would happily contribute to expanding their worlds, especially if there was the possibility of some type of official recognition/publication.

Same goes for Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century setting, in which the excellent Boneshaker takes place. Imagine a quarterly magazine and/or annual anthology of short stories and non-fiction based in that setting? I’d be all over that as both a reader and wannabe contributor!

What examples of authors and/or publishers allowing others to contribute to their storyworlds do you know of?

And whose sandbox would you most love to play in yourself?

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11 thoughts on “On Transmedia and Fan Fiction

  1. Dear Guy,

    You have described exactly what I’m working on right now and hope to launch next September (if bugs don’t get in our way). Today, I’ve been discussing the project with an Italian e-publisher (Giuseppe Granieri). Our model will be free community online; paper publishing twice a year, mostly anthologies. And it will be, of course, Fan Fiction.
    Thanxs a lot for all the links and suggestions.
    .-= Julieta Lionetti´s last blog ..La poesía de la tra(d)ición =-.

  2. I write Fan Fiction all the time. I usually play in the “sandbox” of different anime/mangas; namely Bleach and Saiyuki Reload. I love using Fan Fiction to work on characterization and setting.

    1. I think fan fiction can be great as a writing exercise. Good fan fiction is more difficult than most people realize; just pick up the average Marvel or DC comic! #zing

    1. I understand the debate from a rights perspective, but as long as it’s either sanctioned or non-commercial, I think all writers should embrace and encourage it.

  3. I’ll be a little self-serving over here and link to an earlier fan-fiction thread at terribleminds, which generated some interesting discussion — hell, feel free to skip the post and jump right to the comments:


    Transmedia is, for me, very much about audience ownership. I think a lot of transmedia creators see it as the multi-faceted media approach, but I think the heart of it goes deeper in that it allows the audience investment. It lets *any* project have its geeks, and it embraces those geeks.

    Fan fiction is a great, great way to encourage audience investment.

    — c.

  4. The Halo universe is wide and expansive, and has a really good fanfiction community going for it.

    Bungie has shown that they are paying attention in a few ways to, such as including references to some of the better/popular fanfics in their universe.

    The group at halo.bungie.org (not to be confused with .net) is a good example.

  5. Very late to the game on this post…but here goes.

    I echo Chuck’s sentiment about transmedia having far more potential than just drumming up new business through a multi-platform content offering.

    Fans gravitate to the properties they love, and you generally don’t ignore the ones you love. Consumer-generated content (fiction, art, video, audio, mixups, mashups, etc.) is inevitable. It’s also a gesture of interest, an indication that the property so moved its audience that it provoked a response.

    In an age where obscurity is perhaps the biggest challenge for creatives, it follows that inviting audiences to contribute (to co-create value) is a great way to climb out of obscurity by recognizing that response and finding a way to turn the monologue of traditional entertainment into a conversation of participatory entertainment.

    Transmedia storytelling is a perfect vehicle to achieve that.

    I believe that identifying and acknowledging audience engagement (which takes the form for CGC) and elevating the best of it is a powerful counter-balance to many of the challenges facing the entertainment industry.

    We’re just starting to figure out the potential for all of this.

    At the risk of self-promotion, check out my company’s collaborative property, Runes of Gallidon (http://runesofgallidon.com). Creative Commons-licensed. Fantasy genre. Fiction. Art. RPG. Audio. Comics. Artists retain ownership over their submissions, and there is a revenue sharing component.

    We developed it just to show how far you can push the legal boundaries and still retain commercial control over an IP that is explicitly open for collaboration. Obviously, you can construct many other, less extreme frameworks that look and feel more like traditional entertainment properties.

    Die-hard RPGers should also check out Corey Reid’s Dino Pirates of Ninja Island (OGL with a Creative Commons layer): http://www.dino-pirates.com/.

    1. Scott: Thanks for the link to Runes of Gallidon. I’ve poked around the site a bit and it’s an intriguing concept, much more interesting than The Mongoliad. I’m going to have to explore it further, but it looks very similar to the kind of sandbox I mentioned here in my post.

      As noted elsewhere, I like your take on “Transmedia 2.0” as participatory entertainment. Keep in touch!

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