English 440: Transmedia Fiction
“Let’s face it: we have entered an era of media convergence that makes the flow of content across multiple media channels almost inevitable.”
Henry Jenkins, “Transmedia Storytelling,” MIT Technology Review 15 January 2003.
Critic Henry Jenkins describes transmedia storytelling as “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 its own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story” (“Transmedia 202: Further Reflections ,” Confessions of an Aca-Fan). While the films, comics, novels, toys, and games produced by media conglomerates emerge as prominent examples of transmedia narratives—think Star Wars, The Avengers, and Pokémon—fans have long extended popular story worlds with transmedia narratives of their own—think Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who, and Harry Potter fanfiction, websites, art, and videos.
English 440 explores the theory and practice of transmedia narrative. We will examine various definitions of “transmedia” and analyze how transmedia works tell stories. In addition to studying professionally produced transmedia works, students will read and produce fan texts. As we do so, we will investigate the relationship between industrial and grassroots creators. We will also consider the possibilities and limitations of participating in fan culture.
I assume that students taking the course are already immersed to some extent in one or more transmedia story worlds (don’t worry if you aren’t—you will be). Although I have selected foundational critical texts by Henry Jenkins, Christy Dena, Marsha Kinder, and Frank Rose, students will collectively choose creative works to analyze as a class.
Goals and Methodology
Students in the course work toward several goals:
- Developing a critical understanding of narrative strategies both within specific media as well as across media,
- Analyzing individual texts that contribute to a larger story world,
- Applying scholarly terminology and frameworks to the study of transmedia works,
- Identifying the cultural, economic, and industrial contexts informing transmedia storytelling,
- Explicating how audiences process and produce transmedia texts, and
- Developing as critical thinkers who can formulate substantive arguments and explore those arguments with evidence.
Course activities promote active learning, with most class sessions incorporating a mix of mini-lectures, discussion, and group work. The course design—which includes frequent non-graded and graded writing—reflects the importance of writing as a means of learning. My role is to provide the tools and resources you will need to advance your own thinking. I will pose questions, design activities to help you think through these questions, and respond to your ideas. Your role is to do the hard work—the close reading, discussion, and writing. You will analyze texts, present your interpretations via class discussion and written assignments, and critically respond to others’ readings.