Multimedia fiction is typically very visual and tends to be very short. Some authors see an opportunity with this format of storytelling to attract the attention of mainstream teens.
The terms “multimedia fiction” and “multimedia storytelling” have been thrown around a lot within my writing groups. As more people are starting to explore this new trend, here’s a quick explanation addressing the two most common questions I get on this topic:
1. What is multimedia storytelling?
2. How can I (as an author) take advantage of this growing trend?
Having worked with several authors and written a number of multimedia fiction pieces myself, here’s what I’ve learned.
What is multimedia storytelling?
Multimedia fiction is a form of storytelling that involves other media along with words to tell a story. Still images are the most popular media used, but videos, audio, and animation can also be integrated into multimedia fiction. A novel that has a few pages of illustrations is not multimedia fiction. A picture book or graphic novel, however, would qualify.
Why is multimedia fiction suddenly being talked about now? Graphic novels and picture books have been around for decades. The answer? Technology, mobile phones, and a new generation of readers.
New behavior around reading has led to major trends in the last decade. Look no further than the rise of audiobooks, made more prevalent and accessible by the smartphone. Just about every major published title includes an audiobook, and some content is being published exclusively for audiobook release.
Generation Z, the generation born between the mid-90s and early 2000s, is the first generation to be born into a world with smartphones. This is a generation that voraciously consumes content on Snapchat and Instagram. With so many exciting and engaging types of videos, movies, shows, status updates, and apps competing for attention, reading books has stiff competition. That’s where multimedia fiction comes in.
Multimedia fiction is typically very visual and tends to be very short, perfect for this new generation. Many multimedia fiction pieces feel like the Snapchat story format, leveraging background images and even GIFs or video to attract the younger demographic. Commaful, the largest site for multimedia fiction, reports that over half its user base comes from Generation Z.
Some authors see an opportunity to try this new format of storytelling and attract the attention of mainstream teens.
How can authors take advantage of this movement?
As of this writing, most of the multimedia fiction creators are amateurs. A few well-known authors, like Cornelia Funke, who creates multimedia fiction as an extension of her Reckless series, have hopped on the trend, but there is a great opportunity for well-crafted multimedia stories to stand out.
If you don’t already have a large audience, multimedia fiction can provide an opportunity to experiment. For newly published YA authors and authors who haven’t built a large following, multimedia fiction is a great way to attract a potentially influential audience. Some “stars” have already emerged on platforms like Commaful, Instagram, Snapchat, Wattpad, and others.
Creating good multimedia stories
If you’re going to write multimedia stories, you need a way to stand out. After studying various multimedia pieces over the last several months, I’ve noticed a few patterns and strategies.
Keep the story short and engaging
A common mistake authors make when creating these stories is making them too long. This audience could be watching videos or browsing feeds, so you’ve got to make your point quickly. Every page, sentence, and word should be designed to get people to continue reading. Generate curiosity through mystery, conflict, or questions. Dive into dialogue and your storyline without context or worldbuilding. Carefully consider every sentence you write, drive the story forward, and keep readers curious. This is not a medium for verbose people.
Use multimedia in unique ways
In the best multimedia stories, the visuals provide important context to the story itself. This context can be in the form of sharing emotions or can be as explicit as sharing events or reactions directly in the visuals. I’ve seen examples where creators draw pictures or take photos to use in their stories. Some embed clues in the images, making a truly interactive experience for readers.
Test story ideas or extended stories for your current novels
If you have a host of interesting stories and book ideas that you eventually want to write, consider turning them into short, fun multimedia stories. Sometimes, the crazier the story idea, the better it is received. Perhaps these stories can cultivate a new audience that can lead to more fans and book sales.
The poet Rupi Kaur has done a great job testing and sharing poetry through her Instagram account. Given the account’s aesthetics and style, her posts are a form of multimedia storytelling as well. She has done a remarkable job capturing the attention of millions of younger readers with her poetry.
Other authors write short vignettes featuring characters from their existing stories. This serves as great book promotion and also engages existing fans. It’s a fast and fun way to get young people engaged with existing books and characters.
Authors can take that even one step further. Fanfiction is very popular within multimedia storytelling, given its visual nature. Sites like Commaful have entire sections dedicated to fanfiction. By encouraging fanfiction or even providing visuals for multimedia storytellers to use in their fanfiction, writers can get their fans to promote their universe and characters on their behalf.
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