As an interactive and transmedia writer with a screenwriting background I find myself exploring novel writing methods more and more as I search for ways to deliver effective transmedia narratives.
One such method that fits into the transmedia storyteller’s toolbox is ‘digression’.
Digression means a departure from the subject, course or idea at hand; it is an exploration of a different or unrelated concern. Digression was used in the novels of Laurence Sterne, Charles Dickens, Herman Melville and later by Henry Miller and J. D. Salinger – borrowing from the greats is never a bad idea.
To me digression reflects the natural way we navigate web pages – we jump from one subject or idea to another that may or may not be related to our original enquiry. Therefore our transmedia narratives should consider this audience behaviour at the concept stage of a transmedia project and onwards.
Keep It Organic
Using digression as a technique in a transmedia context gives us a way of being able to create story events that originate from the storyworld. This means that the digression away from the main story will be an organic part of it as it originates from within the same storyworld as the main story. The digression will therefore ‘feel’ right to the audience as they know where it is coming from and trust its source, even though it will deliberately distract them and take them away from the main story.
Screenwriters will say this is wrong and needs cutting and when I’m writing a screenplay I would probably agree, BUT we’re not writing a linear experience. We have the luxury of more than 90 to 120 pages of script to tell our story or stories. We should give our audience the chance to explore the storyworld we have created as it will give them a fuller story experience.
Bellyfeel’s native transmedia thriller ‘The Alexander Wilson Project’ (2009-10) deployed digression as a way of exploring the storyworld of fictional town Sheerport. One example was ‘Tandi’s Tail’, a small story within a bigger story. It started with a surreal sequence of video clips showing woolly finger-puppets and was totally leftfield to the main story. Later it is revealed that the creator of these bizarre and somewhat disturbing video clips is a minor character from the main story. The audience has already seen him interact with the three main characters.
This particular character-based digression adds colour and context to the Sheerport storyworld and to this minor character’s life and the audience’s experience of him.
One final point about digression in transmedia storytelling; a viewer can follow a digression if they wish but they do not have to. They may choose to ignore it in order to stick with the main story. They can always go back to explore the digression later. Its content will add to their overall main story experience as they will see characters and events in a different light.
To wander from the grip of the narrative line is not always a bad thing.
Imagine you are a storyliner on ‘Coronation Street’ and you have to deliver fresh and exciting storylines on a regular basis – how about using DIGRESSION as a tool to lead characters down interesting new paths to see what happens. Applied creatively and I guarantee it will produce intriguing new story content as possibilities are opened up.
Looking back at traditional storytelling methods and techniques is how we will develop our own transmedia tools just as screenwriters and playwrights have done in the past. Looking back is a great step forward.