Storyworld Wrap up from the Writer’s Perspective, Transmedia and Disney’s weenie

Transmedia is the buzzword here in San Francisco at Storyworld. It means telling stories across multiple platforms.

As I’ve already discussed on this blog, the problem today is not distribution as it was in the days of print. The first speaker, Jordan Wiesman, said content discoverability is key. With infinite distribution, your content can easily get submerged. For eBooks, placement is key. I liked the slide with Yogi Berra: “No one goes there any more; it’s too crowded.”

He also mentioned the next bottleneck: software engineering. I’m not quite sure I followed that, but what I see is there needs to be a bridge between the creative people and the technical people. Sort of like there are entertainment lawyers: who understand both the art and the business side.   On the second day someone said that we also need to remember software engineers are creative people also, so they can bring a lot of to the table.  When I asked, someone explained they’re the bottleneck because you can only go so far in transmedia as the technology allows, so I get that.  Enchanced eBooks are only going to be as good as the engineers can design what you can do on a tablet.

Lenny Brown of THQ discussed how releasing a Syfy movie didn’t lead to a game release success and I appreciated his honesty. This goes to my concept that while transmedia is intriguing, often one media doesn’t support another. This is why I’m not a big fan of video trailers for books.

There was discussion of the three-screen audience: someone looking at different things on phone, computer and TV. That gave me a headache. Are we going to destroy storytelling by throwing too much at the consumer at the same time? How much can the brain process simultaneously? But it was pointed out that 40% of tablet owners actually have their tablets on while watching TV.  And twitter posts on a show surge during commercial breaks.

A big focus was on how the interactive audience was now part of the process. I think that percentage will grow as a generation used to interactive machines gets older.

I especially liked the Rabbit Hole and Geoffrey Long of Microsoft talking about it for expanding your ideas and story into transmedia. I had to laugh when Flint Dille on the same panel said the biggest rabbit hole was Area 51. Oh yeah. And I’ve got the series. And then there’s my Atlantis series, which preceded Lost but had numerous exact scenes.

I was surrounded by a lot of techie people, and I’m just a writer.  Also, from my time in the Green Berets, while we used a lot of high tech stuff, it always came down to boots on the ground.  Of course it always helped to have a laser designator that could bring on hell in the form of a B-52 strike.

The second day started with a talk from Disney exec Orrin Shively.  He gave the ten rules from Disney:

1      know your audience

2      wear your guest’s shoes

3      organize the flow of people and ideas

4      create a weenie, which is an old term—have something that is a visual magnet (ie the castle in the center of the theme park)—the center; the architecture of reassurance

5      communicate with visual literacy

6      avoid overload

7      tell one story at a time—immerse people in the story

8      avoid contradiction

9      for every ounce of treatment provide a ton of fun

10  keep it up

If I ever build my Area 51 theme park, I’ll keep all that in mind.  Actually, a lot of it applies across media.

Then Jeff Gomez gave a very motivating talk.  Another guy from New York City, I could relate to growing up there, although I’m Bronx and he appears to be Queens.

His first point:  your concept has to be fun.  This goes to the fact we’re in the entertainment business.  Entertainment= emotion, business= numbers.  It’s all about the passion.  Delving further into that, he said storytelling grew out of shaman explaining the things that made us afraid.  I like that concept—I built my entire Who Dares Wins concept around dealing with fear.  I often tell people that their best writing often centers around the thing that we fear the most.  Go into that dark cave.  There are monsters in there, but there is also treasure.

He said the best messages are born of pain.  There are things in life that I call no do-overs.  That change you forever.  I experienced that almost five years ago and still haven’t completely recovered, but it was part of the core of writing Duty, Honor, Country a Novel of West Point and the Civil War.

Jeff Gomez said that a big problem he sees, particularly in publishing, is that the author isn’t involved in the development of the other media.  I totally agree with that.  A book comes from a single idea the author has.  It gets translated into story.  The problem is someone taking the story into another medium, might not actually know the original idea.  Thus the classic:  the book was better than the movie; or the video game.

Perhaps another way this could be approached is to bring all the talented creative people together to discuss the idea and how it gets translated differently by the modes of the various platforms into slightly different stories?  Sort of the way we brought very talented people with various expertise:  weapons, demo, commo, medical, intelligence, tactical, on an A-Team to make the most effective team in the world?  We had a creative process there which we used to plan for and conduct missions that I think would apply very well here and I use in my Who Dares Wins consulting.

One of the reasons I came early to Storyworld when I’m presenting today at EBEE, is to listen to gamers.  I figure my background with my time in Special Operations and my expertise at story-telling as a bestselling author would lend to bringing two aspects needed to develop some of these games like Call of Duty, Gears of War, etc.  Because it’s about more than the shooting.  One concept is the Special Forces A-Team, one of which I commanded.  I talked to a couple of people from Microsoft and will follow up on that.

Overall, a lot of moments of enlightenment (my Write It Forward people know about that) that I have to mull over and make some decisions on.

Later today I’ll be speaking on stage with Mike Shatzkin about eBooks at EBEE.  I’m really looking forward to hearing all the industry experts take on things as there is always so much to learn.

About Bob Mayer

Bob Mayer is a NY Times Bestselling author, graduate of West Point, former Green Beret (including commanding an A-Team) and the feeder of two Yellow Labs, most famously Cool Gus. He's had over 60 books published including the #1 series Area 51, Atlantis and The Green Berets. Born in the Bronx, having traveled the world (usually not tourist spots), he now lives peacefully with his wife, and said labs, at Write on the River, TN.

Posted on November 2, 2011, in Write It forward and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Shall I say, we are never too old to learn? Yep, I said it :) Thanks for this.

  2. First off, thank you for the concise synopsis of Storyworld for those of us who couldn’t attend. I think transmedia is an intriguing concept, but I do not think all stories will translate across multiple platforms. I think the story is most important, followed by media platform selection.

    Second. If there was an Area 51 Theme Park… I’d go. Just sayin’.

  3. Bob –

    Great summary. regarding the statement that “Enchanced eBooks are only going to be as good as the engineers can design what you can do on a tablet.” That is a true statement, but I don’t think it reflects the biggest bottleneck. Tablets can do loads and loads of things right now that content creators can’t take advantage of because they don’t have the technical skills and the “user-friendly” ways to leverage those things don’t exist, are expensive, or are inadequate. We see this to some extent with something like an Ipad App. The potential exists for me to turn my book into a real multimedia experience via an app. As a software engineer myself (though not in the area of tablet software), I know that in theory, someone could design software that would allow a writer with relatively little technical knowledge create a really unique and cool app. To date, though, the user-friendly app creation stuff doesn’t cut it. Probably it’s because designers can make more money by charging for their expertise on an app by app basis than by writing the user-friendly app creation stuff.

    Anyway, this extends to any transmedia thing you can do with your writing. Which is why your further comments about the need for bringing talented people together makes a lot of sense. Just like you need an editor, a proof-reader, and a cover designer for a “regular” book, you need someone technical on the team if you want to truly leverage transmedia. They can help with the laser designator that makes the B-52 strike of your words a hell of a lot more effective.

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