A quotation from a 2003 article by Henry Jenkins entitled Transmedia Storytelling:
Many of our best authors, from William Faulkner to J.R.R. Tolkien,I haven't yet read further into the subject, but it seems to me that world-creation (or something like it) takes other forms too, that we might not recognise as marketable, or, in fact, as relating to the same world. In fact, I would want to break down the notion of world-creation as such in terms of character and setting, to ask whether creators who bash away at consistent themes in different ways can sometimes be creating a recognisably related view of a set of topics that fans can view across both settings. For instance, for me, David Milch's John from Cincinnati works on similar themes to Deadwood. Addiction, forgiveness of the self and others, transcendence through the organising power of symbols... etc (and the same ensemble of faces keep showing up in different roles). A parallel dimension, if you will.
understood their art in terms of world-creation and developed rich
environments which could, indeed, support a variety of different
characters. For most of human history, it would be taken for granted
that a great story would take many different forms, enshrined in stain
glass windows or tapestries, told through printed words or sung by bards
and poets, or enacted by traveling performers.
Miracles happen in JFC, but don't they happen in Deadwood too? Jane finds a little happiness and Hearst leaves without destroying everything. (And as many possibilities are denied amidst appalling agonies of irony: Hostetler's death, for one.) We don't recognise them as miracles at the time, because the story is told in a different way, and we get to allow ourselves a bit more of a feeling of knowing how it came about, of glimpsing (through the language, largely) what we think of as the forces that bring such events to pass. Whereas in JFC they just surf in from somewhere outside the plot. (Or they seem to, perhaps because John's language itself is impenetrable to such a degree.)
I don't know whether one could seriously hold this comparison up to the light, but it points up that we also hold valuable creators (like Milch) who make powerful stories that on one level deny the extension of the world that spin offs, franchises and sequels allow. Yet on another level their stories and their human consistency interweave them in topics that are of such wide interest as to enmesh them as parables of real life. (I don't mean, by the way, that Buffy and Tolkein don't do that.) And, anyway, there's a spinoff book from Deadwood for example. But this takes the form of almost philosophical disquisitions by Milch and his players on the nature of the story and its characters, inviting us to extend its meaning by extending our interpretation deeper into it, rather than simply extending the region the plot covers. To 'mine' it, if you will. What would it have meant if the Deadwood films had come about? Would it have meant that Deadwood became a transmedia story? Or just that the story itself got finished?
Of course, telling a story over more than one medium does make it transmedia, purely in terms of its media support. But perhaps there's a different distinction to be made -- one that we might have to call something else -- that is less about spreading the story over different media, as much as it is about the narrative's fragmentation and appearance from different angles. For example, if Deadwood had been completed as a pair of films or as a mobile phone novel, it would doubtless share consistency with the story told in the HBO series. But if I propose, for example, that Milch's oeuvre examines many of the same themes from different 'dimensions' (a clumsy word for what I mean, sorry), then there's a coming together of something from different approaches involved (even if they happen to be based in the same medium). This opens up my idea of what this world-creating actually comes from. Need it imply a map? Or, if I watch the same ensemble do a series of plays, might I not, as a viewer, be able to construct relationships between the possibly disparate narratives? I'll read on, of course, but I'm as aware as I can be that a whole lot of successful TV hangs together at the moment because their stories are solidly built, and this, surprisingly, makes them more accessible to the real world. Mad Men and The Wire seem to modulate themselves towards different aspects of their subjects (The century of the self and the intermeshing of society, politics, education and the media, respectively). They don't seem to me to be designed around opening up franchises:but they do open up connections to their sources.
Perhaps it's just this: a well-told story always invites us to explore further, because of its self-consistency. It need not be intentionally porous, because our imaginations work best on something we can believe in. If multi-platform storytelling is for anything other than novelty's sake, it will need to engage with the distinctive voices of its forms. I think that to identify the mere presence of different media with the dimensionality that a truly multivocal or multi-storied approach would take, would be a mistake. But I don't need to labour my muddled point any further. There is, after all, an ancient chant of computer operators that goes 'garbage in, garbage out'. This is as true of stories as anything else.