Reading S. across Media: Transmedia Storyworlds, Multimodal Fiction, and Real Readers
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Reading S. across Media:
Transmedia Storyworlds, Multimodal Fiction, and Real Readers
ABSTRACT

Using J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst's S. (2013) as its case study, this article explores multimodal fiction and transmedia storyworlds. Conceptualizations of transmedia storytelling have sought to emphasize not only the creation and distribution of narrative worlds across media but also the imaginative construction of these worlds by recipients. Nevertheless, this latter characteristic has been somewhat neglected in terms of empirical research. This article seeks to redress that neglect in relation to printed multimodal fiction, by using real reader data to gain insight into how readers engage with such transmedia, transfictional storyworlds. The analysis at the heart of the article progresses outwards from an exploration of the central multimodal text, S., to consider its wider transmedia network and the narrative experience it offers readers. Ultimately, the article makes two original contributions to the study of transmedia narratives and the multimodal novel. Firstly, it considers how various media texts within a transmedia network (with a multimodal printed novel at its center) together create a transfictional storyworld; secondly, it explores how real readers experience such storyworlds.

KEYWORDS

convergence, multimodal fiction, real readers, storyworlds, transfictionality, transmedia

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IN Convergence Culture, Jenkins explicates what he called "an age of media transition" (11), in which the rise of new technologies resulted not in the obsolescence of older more analog forms but, rather, convergence: that is, "the flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries, and the migratory behavior of media audiences who will go almost anywhere in search of the kinds of entertainment experiences they want" (2). For Jenkins, convergence signaled "another paradigm shift" (5), a transmedia turn in popular culture and media entertainment. Resultantly, academic disciplines across the humanities, led by narratology and media and cultural studies, have sought to account for such networked structures. In the introduction to Narrative across Media, for instance, Ryan emphasizes the importance of "how the intrinsic properties of the medium shape the form of the narrative and affect the narrative experience" (1). Ten years later, in what the editors Ryan and Thon refer to as the "sequel" volume Storyworlds across Media, the scope of investigation is expanded to include transmediality: that is, how narrative devices are deployed and worlds are constructed across media environments.

This notion of transmediality was developed by Jenkins and by Klastrup and Tosca:1

Transmedia storytelling is the art of world making. To fully experience any fictional world, consumers must assume the role of hunters and gatherers, chasing down bits of the story across media channels, comparing notes with each other via online discussion groups, and collaborating to ensure that everyone who invests time and effort will come away with a richer entertainment experience.

What characterises a transmedial world is that audience and designers share a mental image of the "worldness" (a number of distinguishing features of its universe).

These conceptualizations underscore two important aspects of transmedia storytelling: on the one hand, the creation and distribution of narrative worlds across media; on the other, the imaginative construction of these worlds by recipients. The latter characteristic has been somewhat neglected in terms of empirical research into transmedia storytelling.2 This article seeks to redress that neglect in relation to printed multimodal fiction. In terms of (trans)mediality, printed multimodal novels are most often considered in contrast and correspondence to electronic and digital fiction (see Hayles Electronic Literature; How We Think).3 In contradistinction to such previous scholarship, this article not only explores the relationship of multimodal literature to other media forms. It also considers what Ryan has called the transmedia, transfictional "expansion" of the storyworld—"the natural growth of the same world" ("Transfictionality across Media" 389)—and how readers engage with such expanded storyworlds.4

This article begins by introducing its case study text, S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. Published in 2013, critical studies of S. have already emerged. These consider its relationship to analog and digital media (Wocke), its intermedia and transmedia [End Page 322] networks (Tanderup), and its use of handwriting (Ghosal). The next section of this article...


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