Go Ahead and Jump: Transmedia Storytelling

A Leaf, in flight

A Leaf, in flight (Image by Kevin Hodgson)

By Kevin Hodgson

If you have been following Digital Writing Month the past few weeks, you may have noticed a progression of themes. We began our first week exploring the concept of writing itself, and of what it means to be a digital writer. We then moved into the use of images as literacy moments, of meaning buried within pixels. Last week, we explored sounds and silence. This coming week, we shift into transmedia for this last full week of November.

It’s OK to scratch your head right now and wonder: Transmedia? What are they talking about now?

Wikipedia describes transmedia this way:

… the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats including, but not limited to, games, books, events, cinema and television.”  

Or, if you don’t trust Wikipedia, you might turn to the ever-insightful Henry Jenkins:

Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.

Or, perhaps this TED talk by Elaine Raybourne will help:

In simple terms, I like to think of transmedia as storytelling with few if any boundaries, and as we continue to explore digital writing this month and beyond, this idea of taking a story for a walk across platforms seems to be right in tune with the possibilities of writing in a digital age.  We should probably clarify: Transmedia storytelling does not require technology. An opera troupe in Los Angeles, for example, is doing an interesting performance called Hopscotch by moving scenes of the opera into the fabric of the real city, coordinating scenes across the urban landscape, with the audience following the dancers.

Closer to home, our impromptu Storyjumpers Project at Digital Writing Month has been a lesson in transmedia collaboration, as more than 25 writers from all parts of the world are passing a story from blog to blog as November rolls on. What strikes me is how much media is being used by the bloggers. We are hearing sounds, watching associated videos, viewing images … all in the name of the story that is always in the midst of transition, even as participants write and pass it along to the next person. That transmedia project has enriched the collaborative nature of this month’s digital writing experiences.

Storyjumpers Map

A collaboration across time and space for DigiWriMo

Unfortunately, in some ways, book publishing companies are at the forefront of much of the transmedia story experiences (as are now many other businesses) we encounter in the wider world. I say “unfortunately” because the books that I see being marketed at my own children and my sixth grade students as transmedia (they don’t often call them that but that is what they are) begin with a book in text that links to a publisher’s website with a game experience of some sort, all in the hope of selling more books and products.

I guess this strategy of “hook the kids” must work because I do see more and more of these book series being offered. In my opinion, the writer for young adult readers that I have seen pull this off with any level of real success is the talented Patrick Carmen, whose Skeleton Creek series, with video links, are creepy and mysterious and go deep when the media elements are connected to the reading experience.

I don’t blame the publishers for co-opting transmedia. Their job is to sell books, and make profits. For them, transmedia is a way to capture eyeballs and open pocketbooks. But my role as a teacher, and as a writer, is very different from that. As a teacher, my passion is bring my young writers into the world of writing, now and into the future, and I think one of my jobs is to get them composing their own interactive, digital texts. As an educator who writes, and one who writes digitally in order to explore the way composition is changing with technology (or not, as is sometimes the case), I also task myself with trying out different kinds of writing to push myself, and to consider possibilities for my students, and transmedia writing is no different.

No different, but certainly more complicated. I’ll give you that.

It’s one thing to write a blog post, with links and maybe even added embedded media on a page. That takes time and thought, but it is not overly complicated. Consider, though, the planning you have to do in order to move a story off the blog, into another medium, such as a podcast, and then into yet another medium, such as a game, and then maybe even into another … and another …

At each juncture, you have to juggle more than the story itself. You have to consider the affordances of the shifting platforms. What works as a video won’t work as a piece of writing. What works as an image might not work as an audio project. You have to weigh the pros and cons of the experience, and wonder, does it help or hinder the story? Always, it is important to remember that the story is at the heart of the matter, not the technology. If your story doesn’t hold together, no amount of transmedia hopscotching here and there and everywhere will save the reader/viewer from the dreaded state of boredom or confusion.

A weak story will remain so, no matter the platform. A good story has the potential to transcend the technology in interesting ways.

There may yet be a day when our technology applications and websites and devices work in seamless concert with each other — where writing a story across platforms is not hindered by the differences of technology, but complemented by the common pathways. It may be easy to write this way. We’re not there yet, are we? Maybe, we’re not even close. So it takes careful planning and writing when attempting transmedia composition.

But when it works? Wow. The experience is incredibly engaging, in ways that can’t quite be replicated off the screen. Composing a transmedia piece is at the heart of writing in a digital age, with all of its limitations and all of its potential. And the only way to understand it is to experience it. So, what do you say?

Are you ready to begin?

(Pssst. That was an invitation.)

Working Out Loud: Listening To What We Write

By Sarah Honeychurch

A close up photo of a Soundcraft Series Five 56 channel mixer at Vineyard Columbus

flickr photo by fensterbme shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

As we go about our day to day lives, we are surrounded by sound. Often we take this for granted, and although we hear the sounds, we forget to listen to them.  And, likewise, when we publish our digital writings all too often we limit these writings to typed words and digital images – we forget to add the power of sound. When an author speaks her words out loud it adds a whole extra layer of meaning to her message; when a musician puts his words to music he gives them a new interpretation; when we select a melody to accompany our moving images we elevate them to a different level.  We are creatures who talk, who listen, who sing, as well as creatures who think and write – and it is important to remember that during our digital explorations.

What We Have In Store This Week

This week, for Digital Writing Month, we are focussing on the ways in which we can use sounds in order to enhance or translate our written words and digital images.

We hope you keep your ears open. Listen to the way that voices help to tell a story. Think about the ways that sounds and tunes can be used to change the ambience of your words. Which sounds form the backdrop to your everyday life – which ones do you love and which to you dislike?  Which ones are so familiar to you that you barely notice them, and which would you miss if you could never hear them again? As I type this the Jayhawks are playing in the background and I can hear my cats crunching on their evening meal – sounds that mean Saturday evening to me. Which sounds define you and what you do?

Our Guides On This Audio Adventure

Our guest contributors this week, and the source for each post’s Daily Inspiration, include:

  • Ron Leunissen, who explains how his passion for creating digital media was inspired by DS106.
  • Simon Ensor, who talks about messing around with sound.
  • Wendy Taleo, who talks about how sounds can bring two dimensional writing to life.
  • Chris Friend, who reminds us of the importance of the pause and silence when we write.

And you. You are also guest contributors. We invite you to open your mouths and ears this week and get excited by the power of sound.  Get inspired to share your creations with the Digital Writing Month community. Collaborate with others if that’s something you like to do.

International Working Out Loud Week

By a strange coincidence, as we move into thinking about audio during Digital Writing Month, we discovered that November 16th – 23rd is also International Working Out Loud Week (#WolWeek). I’m not exactly sure what this is – I think it’s actually about sharing work with a community at an early stage and getting feedback about it, but what a lovely bit of serendipity it is that we have found out about it.

Visual Literacy: The Way We See The World

By Kevin Hodgson

Peephole - Jackie's eye

flickr photo Peephole shared by CVC_2K under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

I’ve been more acutely aware of the world of the hearing impaired this school year, as I have a sixth grade student with significant hearing loss. This student wears high-tech hearing aids and I wear a microphone clipped to my shirt during class. We pass another larger, portable microphone around the room as other students engage in conversations or answer questions. I’ve noticed that I need to be more attuned to my own teaching style this year: to slow down, to make sure everything is accessible as much as possible, to ensure he is actively engaged.

In helping me situate myself with understanding about the world of hearing impairment, I have been thinking about two particular books that I have read that use visual literacy in creative and effective ways and which have helped me to consider my current teaching practice with a hearing impaired student. To be sure, the idea of considering the visual in order to understand audio seems counter-intuitive, but both of these writers/illustrators do just that: they tap into one medium to explain another medium.

Images Help Us Understand

First, there is Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck. Now, if you don’t know much about Selznick’s style of writing novels in recent years, you need to realize that he is a master storyteller and a master illustrator, using detailed pencil line drawings. But Selznick views the world of illustration as more than just an add-on or companion to his writing. The pictures don’t complement the story. They are the story. In fact, in a short documentary I show my students, Selznick explains how he considering his sequences of illustrations (which sometimes run 15 to 20 pages or more with no text at all) to be “miniature silent movies” in the format of a book.

Selznick’s images are integral to his stories — and while this is very effective in his other books, such as The Invention of Hugo Cabret — in Wonderstruck, the illustrations do something magical all on their own: they tell the tale of a deaf girl through the use of only illustrations and no text at all. We are transported as readers into her audio-less world through Selznick’s artwork. If you want the full effect, go into a quiet room where you won’t be bothered for an hour or two, and read Wonderstruck. The balance between the text story (which tells of one character) and the visual story (which tells of another character), and how those stories come together like a tapestry, is proof of the magic of storytelling.

Second, I recently picked up El Deafo, a graphic autobiographical novel by CeCe Bell, which tells of her own hearing impairment as a child, and uses humor and compassion to show how difficult it can be to be different from other children. I was touched by the insights of young CeCe as she navigated both the world of the hearing impaired and the world of the hearing, and how often misunderstandings left her feeling isolated and alone in the world. The story is superb.

What I noticed most, however, is how Bell effectively utilizes the elements of graphic storytelling to bring the reader into the world of the deaf. In the story, young CeCe starts out with normal hearing, but childhood meningitis causes her to lose much of her hearing. How does she let the reader know that young CeCe is losing her hearing? By softly and slowly removing words from text bubbles … by using the visual of lost and fading speech to show the reader that CeCe’s world is in the midst of a profound shift.

As the book progresses, and CeCe uses a hearing device similar to what my student uses with me, the visual storytelling of speech bubbles gives us an indicate of what it must be like to “hear” when you are hearing impaired — the garbled speech, the reading of lips, the fluctuations of volume, the way that something simple like watching television is an act of concentration most of us never consider. Bell’s story and the use of the visual has given me a much broader comprehension of my own student’s world, and given me more ideas on how to make sure we connect and communicate and learn together.

What We Have In Store This Week

This week, for Digital Writing Month, we are focusing on the conceptual understandings of visual literacies, and digging into the ways in which technology and digital composition utilizes visual media for stories and information and more.

We hope you keep your eyes open. Pay attention to the ways photographs help tell a story. What do you notice when you click the button on your camera or phone, and capture a moment in time? Are you “composing” your shots with angles, and filters, and more?

We want you to be attuned to the way graphics tell the story of data and numbers, and to remind all of us to be wary of ways in which the visual might deliberately, or not-deliberately, inaccurately portray the data. How can we trust our own eyes in the world of graphs and maps and more? And we want you to think about storytelling shifts in a visual age, and how image partners with text, and maybe pushes stories to another level of thinking.

Our Guides On This Visual Adventure

Our guest writers this week, and the source for each post’s Daily Inspiration, include:

  • Kim Douillard, whose weekly call for images and photographs across teaching networks has inspired many of us to think visually about the world around us;
  • Michelle Pacansky-Brock, whose historical photos tell stories of personal and connected experiences;
  • Troy Hicks, whose look at how infographics shape our world of data will allow you to view information as readers and writers of the web;
  • Mahmoud Shaltout, who took a request for a piece of writing and used the experience for a graphic story;
  • And Nick Sousanis, whose work with graphic storytelling and comic literacies has us viewing the world deeper and more complexly connected than ever before, and whose “dissertation as graphic story” pushes the edges of what writing could look like in the world of Academia.

And you. You remain our guest writers each week, too. We invite you to open your eyes to possibilities this week and seek out the “visual” and share your own insights with Digital Writing Month companions.

How do you see the world? Open your eyes, and your lens, and join in. Get inspired.


Let’s Launch #DigiWriMo – Your Month, Your Goals

Welcome to Digital Writing Month 2015, which we hope will be an adventure in digital writing. We hope you enjoy the month, a week, a post, an activity, or even just a tweet. Set your own path and allow your goals to emerge as you find daily inspiration from other participants and our guest contributors.

Photo: Deep Creek Autumn Path by Nicolas Raymond under CC-BY 2.0 license https://m.flickr.com/#/photos/82955120@N05/15899694705/sizes/l/

Photo: Deep Creek Autumn Path by Nicolas Raymond under CC-BY 2.0 license

It’s November 1st! (ok, so the day began earlier in Australia and China; still hasn’t begun in America or Brazil but we’re getting there! Which is why our introductions won’t be synchronous.)

Here are a couple of pathways into #DigiWriMo – pick whatever captures your imagination.

Slowchat about #DigiWriMo
Use the #DigiWriMo hashtag to tweet about your hopes for the month, or the challenges you face in your writing, or any interesting thoughts or questions you have about #DigiWriMo – and/or respond to others’ tweets. Easiest way to follow the tweets is to have a column for #DigiWriMo on Tweetdeck or Hootsuite (worth a try if you’re new to these). If you’re not on Twitter, you could post your thoughts on the roster Google Doc.

Unofficial CV Introductions #altcv
We kinda cheated – we posted this activity prompt a couple of days ago (to introduce yourself using what you value about yourself rather than what is traditionally counted on CVs, and to use whatever media you prefer). We posted it early so you could take time to think about and prepare this throughout the first week (add yours to the hackpad and see others’ – it’s editable). Tag your post #altcv and tweet it. If you’re not on Twitter, post a link in the comments here, on Googe plus or Facebook, or add a link beside your name on the roster.

Collaborative Story
This idea was suggested by participant @Brunowinck on Twitter. It is built on the model of the Exquisite Corpse, where one person writes part of a story and passes it along to the next person. This version will use individual blogs to move the story around the world. There is already a Google Doc where people have signed up to write this story collaboratively. This could take 2 days or all month – it’s up to you!

And if you’re not ready to participate yet, feel free to watch and appreciate what others are doing. Comments, faves and retweets can go a long way to support other writers.

What else is happening this week?
We have guest posts by Sherri Spelic, Yin Wah Kreher, Rusul AlRubail, Keith Hamon and Kate Bowles coming your way for daily inspiration about digital writing, audience, identity, collaboration and more. These will come out the morning of the author’s timezone, you’ll find posts from Austria, Singapore, Canada, USA and Australia, respectively. We also look forward to contributions by YOU. Whether you’re inspired by one of our guest contributors, one of our activities, or something else entirely – we hope you’ll share.

We are also merging with the #DigPed Twitter chat on Friday November 6 at noon ET to discuss digital writing. The chat announcement will be out on Hybrid Pedagogy sometime during the week.

(Photo: Deep Creek Autumn Path by Nicolas Raymond under CC-BY 2.0 license)


This year (2016) the Young Writers’ Project have grabbed the reins and suggested some weekly topics for Digital Writing Month. Head over to their web pages to check out their ideas.

Later in the month there will be some pop up make cycles facilitated by some of the #CLMooc crew. Follow the hashtag or watch the CLMooc blog for more details.

Update: See the coming soon announcement.







flickr photo by stewart2710 shared under a Creative Commons (PD) license

Your Story, Your Terms: Unofficial CV activity

We are used to measuring what we can count in terms of learning, but how do we celebrate the things that matter?

Flickr photo Experimentation by Taro Taylor under CC-BY 2.0

Flickr photo Experimentation by Taro Taylor under CC-BY 2.0 license

We are often asked to tell our stories according to someone else’s standards of what counts, but we are not necessarily asked about what matters to us, what we value, even if it can’t be measured. We are even usually asked to express ourselves in some semi-standardized format, like a Curriculum Vitae (CV) or résumé.

What if we could write a CV that was based not on degrees and position and peer-reviewed publications, but on what we think is most important about who we are and what we are genuinely most proud to have accomplished? We know it’s not the first time some of you see an activity of introducing yourself differently – so this might be easier for some than others, but we hope all of you will enjoy doing this.

Here are some examples of things we would include and formats we used to represent ourselves – looking forward to yours!

We are inspired by the thinking of many people who emphasize “all the stuff that matters but does not count”. Lee Skallerup Bessette writes about how service and social media activity and activism are underrated or ignored in academia. Dave Cormier held a week about counting in #rhizo15. Rebecca Hogue challenged the traditional bio. The #clmooc team encouraged participants to do untroductions.

So let’s think of less formal and more formative markers of achievement and personal growth.

Some suggestions:

  • Making a (long term?) friend through a MOOC/ peer review process
  • Being noticed/recognized by somebody REALLY IMPORTANT or someone you deeply respected
  • Doing or writing something that inspires others to remix it (see Tania Sheko’s radio play)
  • Finding an unrelated shared interest (knitting, ukulele)

Some things are slightly more countable, but not usually counted for grades/promotion/tenure (see Bonnie Stewart’s research on influence via Twitter and her post about everybody being a social media guru)

Here are some unofficial CVs:

Tweet yours out to #digiwrimo and #altcv or post it on your blog (or Soundcloud for audio, Youtube for video – wherever you like).  We’ll work on aggregating these here. Don’t have a blog? Create an open Google Doc and share it with us in the comments here or via Twitter.

Editor’s edit: we started curating your #AltCV contributions here – add yours!

(Photo: Experimentation by Taro Taylor licensed under CC-BY 2.0)