What’s the difference between Documentary and Drama when you’re developing a Transmedia Storyworld?

I am often asked this question, so here’s a breakdown of the core Storyworld concept for both factual and fictional scenarios. Plus a look at what is the same and what is different.

Transmedia Storyworld: Fact and Fiction

Rewind to the Start

You know a Storyworld is a modern technique for expanding the world of story beyond the usual limits of traditional media formats?

So Storyworld’s are key in developing cohesive interactive transmedia experiences.

In the simplest way – a Storyworld is an expansion of your linear media programme, film or book – to a fuller and rounder world of stories. The reason Storyworld’s work incredibly well in this day and age is that they help create lots more content and entry points for the audience.

This in turn opens up new business opportunities in distribution and platform exploitation.

TIP: It will always help for you to keep the premise of your Storyworld a simple one. Here’s a documentary example: “Personal memories of growing up in post-war Liverpool.” People’s Stories.

Storyworld Development

There are many aspects to a Storyworld. Ideally, you should document and develop your ideas into a Storyworld Bible, in which you can detail the main linear story (if there is one) plus other key traits.

The following list needs to be well covered for both factual and fictional Storyworld’s.

  • Locations
  • Society
  • Science/Technology
  • Society
  • Themes/Myths
  • Timeline
  • Characters

Obviously, for fiction you have to author this material and for factual you must only document what is there.

So in general, Storyworld’s for fact and fiction require the same kind of content.

Self-Imposed Limits

A technique you should use (for both drama and documentary) is “limitation”. This is an important Storyworld Development Technique that imposes a boundary on the world of your story.

Without this boundary, the process of Storyworld Development will be too chaotic and infinite to be useful.

With the boundary in place, you will focus only on the important aspects and concentrate your efforts on bringing them to life.

TIP: You may find it useful especially for drama based Storyworld content to work first on a location for your story to exist in and expand the Transmedia content out within the borders of that place. For example this Storyworld from an award winning interactive future noir film: “A northern European city where the action for a cop in the modern device crime unit takes place only at night.” Crimeface.

Vive La Difference

So what is different between drama and documentary Storyworlds?

In the majority of cases the only difference is between the genres of fact and fiction – the real and the made up.

And in general, within modern media there is a blurring of the lines between fact and fiction. Access to technology only increases this blur.

So it’s less black and white – more dark grey and light grey.

You can see that interactive Documentaries generally use less platforms than interactive drama. For example:

  • People’s Stories – Web and mobile
  • NFB web documentaries – Flash (and sometimes TV)
  • Prison Valley – Flash and TV

Perhaps it’s because in the defining of a documentary “truth” within the newish scenario of multiplatform delivery there is a certain level of focus required.

Whereas interactive Drama is often much more expansive, matching the imagination of author and audience:

  • The Alexander Wilson Project – Web, games, merchandise, live event, fan content
  • Why So Serious – Film, ARG, cake(!), web, mobile, live event, fan content
  • Heroes – TV, web, comic, web, toys, ARG

TIP: Fictional Transmedia doesn’t have to be real but the fictional Storyworld needs its own reality.

A Future of Truth and Lies

Things are moving fast so I fully expect whatever notions I write today to be changing tomorrow.

I believe the real fascination of Transmedia and interactive storytelling is the way that audiences engage and contribute. The way they interpret and make the story in their minds (as they have always done) is updated today and energised by new technology. And who doesn’t like their story to have surprises and new twists?

Allowing the audience to make up part of the story and then publish for all to share is a new thing and is tremendously rewarding for creators and audience alike.

Do you remember the World Without Oil ARG? That was unusual: a fictional ARG drama based on real issues that mattered to people.

And on People’s Stories, we created a documentary scenario where the public could add their own real experiences to those of an exceptionally talented film maker. And it did make more than the sum of its parts.


Please add your thoughts and any example projects from factual and fictional Transmedia into the comments below!


About the author

I run Bellyfeel which gives me the opportunity to develop innovations in media, education and entertainment, plus exploring the future of storytelling. More here...

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