Tag Archives: genre

Nine Worlds: Feedback Loops & Transmedia Storytelling


Two academic talks: “The Afterlife of the Dalek Emperor – Spinoff material, canon and intertextuality in Doctor Who” by Fiona Moore and Alan Stevens, and “Roleplaying games: transmedia studies and producer/consumer relationships” by Allen Stroud.

Okay, so this blog post won’t actually be about that, exactly. Whilst I am a Doctor Who fan, it’s in a fairly casual way. I don’t know the original series or the wider verse, and Moore and Stevens clearly care way more about this stuff than I do. So mostly this blog post will be about Allen Stroud’s paper, with the occasional Moore/Stevens comment thrown in where relevant.

Consumption & Creation

At its simplest, transmedia storytelling is the use of multiple media channels to tell a story, be they books, TV, film, radio, audiobooks, comics, graffiti, semaphore or smoke signals from distant mountain tops. Different media requires the story to be told in different ways (it’s hard to get the complexities of internal dialogue into smoke signals, for example) so the nature of the story alters depending on the channel in use. 

The consumer’s (the term ‘reader’ isn’t always applicable here for obvious reasons) experience of the story is still usually linear. You mostly consume a story via different formats consecutively, rather than trying to take in multiple channels at once. But transmedia storytelling means that the narrative itself isn’t necessarily linear. It’s fragmented, with lots of different perspectives and potentially lots of different starting points:

multi linear transmedia

Reproduced by kind permission of Allen Stroud

  • Multi-linear transmedia narrative means that the entry point can be anywhere and the story should still work.
  • Fragmented narrative means that the consumer must collect all the pieces of the story in order for it to make sense.
  • Layered narrative means each piece of chapter will stand alone as a single story but the more the consumer experiences, the more information they have around the story and therefore the greater their understanding.

The consumer therefore starts to make choices (knowingly or not) about what content or chapter is consumed in what order via which medium. With layered narratives, they have to put in ‘more than non-trivial effort’ in order to engage with the story, such as codes, seeking out more chapters on other channels, and so on. This is called ergodic literature.

This is also the point at which the consumer can start to contribute, which can lead to issues of content ownership (and this is where my notes from Moore/Stevens become relevant). Does fan-made content contribute to the creation of a wider story universe, and a dialogue between consumer and creator? Or does it represent a risk to IP rights? In the Doctor Who universe, the writers apparently need to keep a strict provenance of ideas and steer very clear of incorporating known fan ideas in order to avoid IP challenges. This obviously impacts their options on where they can take the story (as described in TV Topes’ article on Ascended Fanon, which gives multiple examples of this actually happening).

Working in Expanded ‘Verses

When you have multiple people contributing to the same story you end up with an expanded universe, or intertextuality – dialogues between different media within a single wider setting. This in turn leads to an external body of knowledge, or referential code, which builds up the distinctive features of that setting and allows consumers to fill in assumptions without always explaining them.

Take Bram Stoker’s Dracula as an example origin text. Modern vampire stories have to acknowledge stakes, garlic and so on because consumers already have that body of knowledge around the expected setting.

In a way, this gives power back to the consumer – the popular definition of the setting becomes more powerful and important than the reality or the origin text. At the very least, the expectation has to be acknowledged before it can be subverted.


Legally, expanded ‘verses can be problematic. In a collaborative franchise project who actually owns the IP? Do individual writers own individual plotlines and characters? If so, how do you ensure continuity? In the Doctor Who ‘verse, where this used to be the case, the wider story ended up with unresolvable contradictions. So should the franchise own everything? Is that fair on the individuals who are actually creating the story?

Macro to Mega

There’s a couple of handful terms for thinking about this stuff, and framing it:

  • Mythopoeia is “the weave within the story narrative primarily designed to project depth.” So, hinting at a wider universe which this singular story doesn’t have time to go into. Lies of Locke Lamora is a good example of this.
  • Megatext is “a shared subconscious catalogue of familiar themes in a genre.” We’re back to Bram Stoker and garlic, stakes, etc. with this. Where the theme of the setting is something widely known by the audience and written in by multiple non-collaborative authors who collectively build up a knowledge base.
  • Macrotext is “the guide for a specific fictional world, the frame work through which a large project of multiple outputs can be devised.” The worlds of Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, and so on. Any specified universe which ends up being used collaboratively and which therefore requires some consistent record.

Stroud made the point that macrotexts can be ‘mutable’. There will always be corners of the universe that haven’t previously been detailed and which can therefore be added to. This in effect keeps such fictional worlds alive and evolving. The trick is to avoid contradiction with established facts, as that’s how you break a devoted reader’s immersion. Which is where databases like Wookieepedia come in.

Next week: transformative works and the colonisation of historical space, which has more stuff on macro text and shared universe creation.

Nine Worlds: Barriers to Women in SFF Publishing


Science fiction, fantasy and horror writing seem to still be very much a boys club. Men are consistently reviewed more often in genre-related publications while also dominating ‘best of’ and ‘most anticipated’ lists. Is this because there are fewer women writers? Are publishers publishing fewer women? What about the marketing? We know there are brilliant female genre writers out there, so why aren’t more people reading their books, talking about their work, and including them in lists of favourite writers?

Megan Leigh, Charlotte Bond, Lucy Hounsom, Gillian Redfearn, Lydia Gittens, Alasdair Stuart

downloadRegular readers of this blog have already met Charlotte Bond, one of the hosts of podcast Breaking the Glass Slipper, thanks to her recent guest post. Well, I was lucky enough to get into a very select audience of a live recording of BtGS‘s tenth episode at Nine Worlds. True to the general theme of equality, both of the Con and the podcast, this episode looked at why there is an imbalance of gender in published SFF authors and how this might be addressed.

I’m not going to write up the session for the simple reason that you can listen to it yourself by clicking here. And if you listen really carefully, at 1:09:00 you can even hear me ask a question!

Next week: telling stories in an expanded setting.

The Power of the Audience: What Happened at Comic Con


I’m going to break out of writing mode this week, and into fangirl mode. There is a (tenuous) link. Bear with me.

I’m a Brit who doesn’t earn enough to justify attending Comic Con – something that saddens me, and one day maybe I’ll save up specially. But I do pay attention to the news, tweets, etc that come out of it because – as previously mentioned – I am something of a massive fangirl. And this year at Comic Con, something beautiful happened.

Jared Padalecki, star of TV show Supernatural, has been vocal about his fight with depression. He started a campaign earlier this year called Always Keep Fighting to help raise funds and awareness for people dealing with mental illness. I paid particular attention to this as I deal with mild depression myself. In May this year, Padalecki had to pull out of attending his scheduled convention appearances due to depression. He asked his fans for understanding and they gave it.

Then came Comic Con. During the Supernatural panel, a room full of over 7,000 people passed out Always Keep Fighting tea lights and raised them en masse to show their support. This is an incredible act of kindness and love by a huge number of strangers, brought together by a simple fantasy TV show. Just reading it made me feel emotional. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be there.

This is the kind of audience that makes telling stories more than just rewarding. They make telling stories an essential bedrock of community. They turn the stories into a community, and do beautiful things on the strength of them. That’s magical. That’s an audience I’m proud to be a part of, and a genre I’m proud to write in.



Genre Fiction vs Literary Fiction: A Professor’s View



Last night I went to a university open day (well, evening, I guess) to see about doing an MA in Creative Writing. Pretty much all my writing technique is self-taught out of craft books and making mistakes. When I started work on my current novel project, which has a more ambitious narrative set-up than I’m used to, I ran pretty hard into the limit of my skills. So I figured it was about time I got me some proper learnin’.

The professor I spoke to was quite helpful, in a not-helpful kind of way. He explained that the course was only for literary fiction, which he defined as ‘books that fulfil no expectations and which demand their readers are intellectually or emotionally involved in telling the story’. Now, I totally take the point about expectations. There are certain things – nebulous, optional things – which genre readers assume will be in a SF&F book. But the idea that genre readers aren’t required to put in to the storytelling process? I actually found that pretty patronising.

He went on to say that literary fiction is about people – not good guys and bad guys, but flawed and realistic people. It’s true that SF&F hasn’t always been great at complex characterisation but it’s something the genre has definitely improved at over the last decade. Locke Lamora, FitzChivalry Farseer, Kvothe, Tyrion Lannister – these are all seriously flawed, complex, interesting characters. When I pointed out that genre can be a way to look at difficult issues without emotion blinding people (religion being an excellent example), he looked surprised at the idea. That was pretty much the point when I decided his course wasn’t for me.

But there was one final point he made, before I left. Literary fiction is the stuff that everyone holds in high regard… and nobody reads. One of his most successful pupils has just published her second book, and it’s won an impressive array of awards. It’s also sold less than 20,000 copies.

Sometimes I feel like genre fiction is regarded as the Cinderella of the literary world. But at least we have readers. Intelligent, emotionally involved, hungry readers who will buy our books and care about our stories, and create fanfiction of their own as a result. Sod the snootiness of the literary elite – the genre audience is the one worth writing for.