Does Structure Change with Changing Platforms?
Naomi Beaty is a script reader/consultant based in Los Angeles. One of the original Cats, Naomi worked in development at Maverick Films and contributed her wisdom and insights during the writing of STC! books 2 & 3. Naomi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Gladwellian terms, I am a late adopter. I don’t use Spotify or even Twitter. I still prefer to read books in book form, rather than on a Kindle or an iPad. I kept my last phone, an old Blackberry, for six years and only acquired my first smartphone as a gift.
And yet, even I can’t deny that entertainment is changing. It seems like every time I check the trades I see another project that alters the shape of the entertainment landscape:
* Last fall, the Sundance Institute announced six transmedia projects were accepted into its first-ever New Frontier Lab.
* Just last week, Carnivale creator Daniel Knauf was in the trades with his new transmedia project Haunted, a story about paranormal investigators. Described in an article on the PBS website: “The storytelling format features multimedia elements such as research documentation and investigators’ blogs. Shot with multiple cameras, the project’s navigational timeline allows viewers to manipulate how they view the story.”
* All over the news lately, Fourth Wall Studios and Dirty Work, the first project for their very own “Rides” platform. It’s an episodic dark comedy about a Los Angeles crime scene clean-up crew and it uses phonecalls, texts, emails, and multiple browser windows to build a more immersive story world. (Check it out, it’s already live at www.dirtywork.com)
* And most recently, the announcement of Skip Brittenham’s graphic novel and the associated multi-media aspect, which has a planned tablet app and an augmented reality app that involves interactive 3D tech.
To me this is all crazy, futuristic, where’s-my-hovercar kind of stuff. But it does make for an exciting time for writers. The stories you create are no longer limited to one screen.
One drawback of movies and TV has always been how hard it is to show what’s going on inside a character’s head. Well, guess what? Now there’s an app for that. Okay, not exactly. But with the available technology, you could conceivably write a script in which the audience could choose to hear a character’s inner monologue while they’re watching the show.
Having more control over just how story details are received also allows you to direct on the page more than ever. Need to make sure your audience sees information that your character doesn’t? Send it to them via text. Want to let the audience play detective along with your character? Email those files, and let the audience find their own clues. The possibilities are virtually endless.
Yet even though platforms may change, what remains at the heart of entertainment — whether it’s on multiple little devices or one big screen — is how well your story engages an audience. And how do you make sure that an audience is drawn in? Well, STC! fans know that the foundation of it all is structure.
Structure makes sure that the context for the story is supplied, that scenes and conflicts escalate toward a climax, that your characters have to work really hard for their happy ending (if you choose to give it to them at all), and that, in the end, there’s resolution. Structure is what enables stories to be told across these varied and ever-changing platforms. Ultimately, structure is what ensures that entertainment does what we want it to do: entertain.
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