Transmedia storytelling and construction of fictional worlds: aliados series as case study
Transmedia storytelling and construction of fictional worlds: aliados series as case study
Correspondencias & análisis, no. 9, 2019
Universidad de San Martín de Porres
Received: 07 May 2019
Accepted: 30 May 2019
Published: 24 June 2019
Abstract: This paper explores the contributions of transmedia storytelling in the construction of fictional worlds, in an attempt to detect the narrative elements that strengthen the bond of the audience with the fictional world. The study shows that based on the solid construction of the poetics of a story, transmedia storytelling can enrich the engagement with a large audience. To prove this, we analyze the narrative elements and the transmedia strategies of the series Aliados, produced by Cris Morena Group and broadcasted in Latin America and countries in Europe. Keyword: Transmedia storytelling, Fictional worlds, Screenwriting, Fiction, TV series, Aliados.
Keywords: Transmedia storytelling, Fictional worlds, Screenwriting, Fiction, TV series, Aliados.
Resumen: Esta investigación explora las contribuciones de las narrativas transmedia en la construcción de mundos ficcionales, con el objetivo de detectar los elementos narrativos que fortalecen la vinculación de la audiencia con el mundo ficcional. Los resultados muestran que, basados en una sólida construcción de la historia, la narrativa transmedia puede enriquecer la vinculación con una amplia audiencia. Para probar esto, en la investigación se analiza los elementos narrativos y las estrategias transmedia de la serie Aliados, producida por el Grupo Cris Morena (Argentina) y distribuida en Latinoamérica y Europa.
Palabras clave: Narrativa transmedia, Mundos ficcionales, Guión, Ficción, Series de televisión, Aliados.
Screenwriters have the task of creating fictional worlds capable of engaging the public to live experiences that generate a deep emotional bond. In this scenario, transmedia storytelling invites screenwriters to create narratives capable of engaging audiences across stories that are extended and expanded throughout disparate media and platforms.
What narrative elements strengthen the bond of the audience with the fictional world in a transmedia story? This question is answered throughout this paper with the help of Argentinean TV series Aliados (2013-2014) as case study. The series was created and produced by Cris Morena Group and broadcasted by Telefe in Argentina and Fox in the rest of Latin America.
Aliados was presented as a successful transmedia experience that has sparked a popular phenomenon around the world. From the analysis of the series and the products created to feed the audience experience (via two mobile applications, a print magazine, a photo album, a live musical, website, CDs, DVDs with special versions, social media accounts, and more), we seek to detect which narrative elements stand to strengthen the bond of the audience with the fictional world.
2. Theoretical framework
Transmedia storytelling is one of the most attractive objects of research in the era of convergence. Indeed, academic interest strengthened with the article “Transmedia storytelling” by Henry Jenkins in 2003 (Scolari, Jiménez & Guerrero, 2012; Formoso, Martínez & Sanjuán-Pérez, 2016). As Jenkins (2003) writes: “We have entered an era of media convergence that makes the flow of content across multiple media channels almost inevitable”. Or, in Scolari’s words: “Now narratives and media are converging, and we can no longer analyze them in isolation from each other” (Scolari, 2013a, p. 47). So, it becomes necessary to approximate screenwriting to transmedia storytelling, because in the current media ecology the stories told follow transmedia strategies.
Moreover, the audience is changing the way it consumes stories. Specifically, “the combination of social networks, second screens and TV has given rise to a new relationship between viewers and their televisions, and the traditional roles in the communication Wparadigm have been altered irrevocably. Social television has spawned the social audience” (Quintas-Froufe & González-Neira, 2014, p. 83).
The present research departs from the narratological perspective and will focus on the contributions of transmedia storytelling in the creation of fictional worlds. Generally, stories must be understood as transmedia products, which implies a narrative universe enriched across multiple media. “Almost any beloved fictional world exists in multiple forms, from multiple adaptations implemented across time to the inordinate amount of fan-produced works and now marketing campaigns that expand a fictional world” (Dena, 2009, p. 322). The transmedia phenomenon is not an incidental result of the creation of fictional worlds, but reflects the condition of the narrative itself in an era in which users “consume” and “prosume” content on an integrated multimodal and multimedia level. To think fictional worlds today, screenwriters must know transmedia storytelling.
They also should understand their work in terms of world-creation and develop rich environments, which could 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” (Jenkins, 2003).
The study employs three key concepts: “fictional world”, “possible world” and “transmedial world”. They refer to the art of creating through narrative elements other realities with particular rules. However, each concept emphasizes different levels of creation. A “fictional world”, used by e.g., Dena (2009), Scolari (2014) and Jenkins (2006), depends directly on the narrative content. Many stories can be told in a unique fictional world, but there is always a proto-world that explains the settings and characters that act in it.
A “possible world” refers to the total poetic possibilities of the story. In this case, the stories that can be told are based on the principles of verisimilitude and necessity proposed in Aristotle’s Poetics (García-Noblejas, 2004). Under these concepts, the audience “configures a possible development of the events or a possible state of things [...] foretells hypothesis about world’s structure” (Eco, 1993, p. 160).
The third key concept, “transmedial world”, relates to a world that is an “abstract content system (…) from which a repertoire of fictional stories and characters can be actualized or derived across a variety of media forms” (Klastrup & Tosca, 2014). Transmedial worlds consist of a “textual network” (Scolari, 2014, p. 2403). “A transmedial world is more than a specific story, although its properties are usually communicated through storytelling [...] Transmedia storytelling therefore can be seen as a social narrative practice while transmedial worlds are a social text-based interpretative construction situated at a cognitive level” (Scolari, 2014, p. 2384). The transmedial world implies all the stories that happened or are told in the fictional world, so this concept includes user-generated content, where the audience (fandom) creates several complementary stories that can fill the narrative gaps of the principal, or official story. In this sense, “the concept of transmedia world is proposed as the logical evolution of the idea of narrative world” (Scolari, Jiménez & Guerrero, 2012, p. 138), because any transmedia storytelling experience supposes the creation of a transmedial world.
Transmedia storytelling has, according with Guerrero-Pico & Scolari (2016), key elements to define it, one of those is the expansion of the narrative, that it can be managed by the producers or writers (top-down), and also managed by the users (bottom-up), where they create content and share it in social media platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, wikis or fan fiction files. That is what we best known as user-generated content. Both varieties can be used as strategies of expansion, though the bottom-up complements the top-down transmedia narrative as it helps to expand its transmedia world.
For this study, we will use possible world as an abstract concept for the creation of the poetic elements (plot, character, spectacle, argument, theme and music) and the possibilities of dramatic creation. We will use fictional world when we refer to the creation of one narrative, and transmedial world when we want to express the world created in relation to different narrations and media. Thus, fictional world refers to story, while transmedial world emphasizes discourse. “While the story - or ›histoire‹ - concentrates on what happens, the ›discours‹ focuses on the way of telling the story. Which narrator figures does the text present? From which perspective is it told? In which order are the events of the story presented? Which description modes are used? When speaking about transmedial phenomena, the ›discours‹ level implies more than one media device” (Zimmermann, 2015, p. 24).
The transmedia phenomenon is not new. Respective terminology was introduced in 2003 by Jenkins and since then the potential of transmedia storytelling has multiplied with new technologies (Robledo, Atarama-Rojas & Palomino, 2017). Today, transmedia storytelling in entertainment and fiction is fundamental. Jenkins (2006) emphasized that “a transmedia story unfolds across multiple media platforms, with each new text making a distinctive and valuable contribution to the whole” (pp. 95-96), and this contribution represents an augmentation of the fictional world created by the writers.
A transmedia experience improves the construction of fictional worlds. As Jenkins (2006) notes, “reading across the media sustains a depth of experience that motivates more consumption. Redundancy burns up fan interest and causes franchises to fail. Offering new levels of insight and experience refreshes the franchise and sustains consumer loyalty” (p. 96).
At this point, we need to introduce transmedia extensions. In the transmedia system, we have a principal text and extensions that expand the story to other touchpoints with the audience. This concept differs from intertextuality, which according to Scolari (2013b), is a connection of different parts that are related with each other; extensions, however, not only relate directly to the central story, but also expand the universe in which it develops. For example, an extension could be an extra video on YouTube or a webisode on the official website. Key to extensions is that they generate a connection with the audience. In this sense, “the extension may add a greater sense of realism to the fiction as a whole” (Jenkins, 2007), because it can join the real world of the audience. Thus, a fictional world approaches the real world of each fan.
Through extensions, the audience can interact with the fictional world, getting immersed in the story and filling in the gaps actively (playing, using apps and social networks, and generating content). As result the audience can feel a stronger narrative pleasure. “Narrative pleasure can be generally described in terms of immersion in a fictional world [...] Narrative immersion is an engagement of the imagination in the construction and contemplation of a story world that relies on purely mental activity” (Ryan, 2009, pp. 53-54). Therefore, transmedia storytelling can be used as a strategy that can increase the engagement with the fan community.
Fans can build a stronger connection with the fictional world of the story if extensions offer new levels of development of the story and interesting extra information. “In the ideal form of transmedia storytelling, each medium does what it does best - so that a story might be introduced in a film, expanded through television, novels, and comics, and its world might be explored and experienced through gameplay. Each franchise entry needs to be selfcontained enough to enable autonomous consumption” (Jenkins, 2003). And a central idea is that screenwriters could explore more creative possibilities if they knew the potentials of the story and each media to connect emotionally with the fan.
Emotional connection depends on many factors; one being the kind of narrative. A genre that best facilitates transmedia storytelling strategies is series. “Fiction series are an attractive genre for these phenomena [transmedia storytelling], because the serial structure allows designing transmedia strategies that disseminate the content through other media, at different time points to the issuance of the chapter” (Tur-Viñes & Rodríguez, 2014, p. 116). Starting with the fiction series, screenwriters can expand the fictional world to other media, exploring the specific nature of each media. Because “transmedia storytelling represents 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” (Jenkins, 2007).
Critical in transmedia storytelling is the experience that is not generated only by the story, but is closely linked to the process of interactivity that is generated from how, where, and when the story is consumed, and even how audience action feeds. In this sense, we can say that well- built transmedia stories should perform an exercise in communication strategy in which the timing and environment (platforms) conjugate.
When screenwriters create the story considering transmedia storytelling, they have to develop a fictional world that can expand different characters and plots. “Most often, transmedia stories are based not on individual characters or specific plots but rather complex fictional worlds which can sustain multiple interrelated characters and their stories. This process of world-building encourages an encyclopedic impulse in both readers and writers. We [the readers] are drawn to master what can be known about a world which always expands beyond our grasp” (Jenkins, 2007). So, transmedia storytelling enriches the narrative ability to create emotions in public. In Ryan’s (2009, p. 56) words: “Narrative has a unique power to generate emotions directed toward others. Aristotle paid tribute to this ability when he described the effect of tragedy as purification (catharsis)”. “This is a very different pleasure than we associate with the closure found in most classically constructed narratives, where we expect to leave the theatre knowing everything that is required to make sense of a particular story” (Jenkins, 2007). The prosumer needs to feel that she or he can know more and still unexplored areas of the story exist to which they can relate.
This desire to know more about the fictional worlds and the wish of filling in narrative gaps encourages user-generated content, a whole dimension of transmedia storytelling. Scolari, following Jenkins, explains that “transmedia storytelling integrates two dimensions: a) the construction of an official narrative that gets dispersed across multiple media and platforms (the canon), and b) the active participation of users in this expansive process (the fandom)” (Scolari, 2014, p. 2384). Transmedia storytelling takes the user involvement to a new level, because they not only watch the stories, but participate interactively and intervene, i.e., create new content that expands the universe of the main story (usergenerated content) (Atarama-Rojas, Castañeda-Purizaga & Frías-Oliva, 2017). In fact, “due to new technological options, interactivity and user participation are parts of many modern transmedial projects” (Zimmermann, 2015, p. 32).
There is a wide variety of user-generated content, which expands the diegetic universe of the series and generates a positive response from users who often share and display content generated by fans, rather than the official content of the series. This gives us some perspective about the potential of considering the user as a strategic partner in the production of fiction; giving space within official channels can promote user participation in today's media ecology. In this sense, Jenkins explains that user-generated content is but one fundamental element of transmedia storytelling (Jenkins, 2006), and Fernández (2014) recalls the growing role of the user as a principal agent in the definition of the narrative universe in the transmedia era.
Likewise, “these external fan practices may be participatory but they are clearly located in an extradiegetic orbit of the narrative world. This means that these fan activities have little effect on the narrative” (Ganzert, 2015, p. 40). We support the claim that user-generated content expands the fictional world, but these practices could only be considered as a transmedia storytelling strategy when producers encourage fans to generate more content. So, the narrative gaps “allowed some viewers to evolve from their assumed passiveness in the general audience to instead become part of the fast-growing fan base” (Ganzert, 2015, p. 34). Narrative gaps, thus, can increase the audience’s desire to know more. Subsequently, the audience can start filling in narrative blanks. “These nanotexts bridge the gaps (ellipsis) in the sequence of events of the TV show” (Scolari, 2013a, p. 58).
Transmedia narrative “also includes texts that make a narrative compression, for example video recaps, photo-recaps, clips, vids shipping, mobisodes, trailers” (Scolari et al., 2012, p. 86). “If we consider that many recaps are produced by users, and in some cases they open new doors to the fictional world or introduce new textual components that expand our interpretation of the story, then they should be included in our analysis of transmedia storytelling” (Scolari, 2013a, p. 62).
3. Materials and methods
Approaching the goal of the investigation we take as a case study the series Aliados from Argentina. Aliados broadcasted in 18 countries, including Israel and parts of Europe. The first season comprised 23 episodes for television and 126 webisodes, while season two comprised 17 episodes and 88 webisodes. Webisodes and the episodes followed the same narrative, but there are differences in the length and the time each one was broadcasted. Thus, the webisodes (between 6 and 10 minutes) were always broadcasted before the episode (between 45 and 55 minutes). Each episode gathered five or six webisodes. Exclusive content featured in webisodes as music development, and in episodes as resolution of the plot.
The series covers social problems such as promiscuity, unwanted pregnancies, bullying, suicide, anorexia, juvenile delinquency, child labor, alcoholism and domestic violence. It explores a fictional world in which humans need the help of light beings (angel-like). The plot establishes that in the last decades, the human race has advanced greatly and rapidly in science and technology, which is why people have distanced themselves from each other to the point of forgetting who they are and why they exist. Because of this oblivion, in late 2012 the human race began a 105-day countdown that will either lead to destruction or revival. The Earth’s future depends on six youngsters: Noah, Azul, Maia, Manuel, Franco and Valentín. With the help of The Female Energy Creator, they will be assisted by seven light beings: Ian, Venecia, Inti, Ámbar, Luz, Devi and Gopal. They come from different parts of the universe with the goal of becoming the “Allies” [Aliados in Spanish] of these humans and help them in the mission of saving the “human project”.
The series used many strategies of media convergence in distributing elements of its fictional world through multiple media and platforms. Aliados has been presented as a successful transmedia experience which caused a fan phenomenon throughout Latin America. The first episode broadcasted achieved general rating average of 16.3 points in Argentina, which placed it as the third most-watched TV show of the day. In the rest of Latin America, Fox reached first place for pay TV channels with Aliados (Marie, 2013). Also, one of the soundtrack CDs reached Gold status two weeks after launch and four months later achieved platinum status in Argentina (Sony Music, 2013). The official YouTube channel attracted over 46 million views.
The following products are analyzed to answer the research questions:
A printed magazine.
Two books with the story of Aliados (by Leandro Calderone).
A photo album.
Three CDs with music (“Aliados”, “Aliados Extended Version”, “Acoustic Aliados”).
A DVD with special versions of the songs.
Two mobile applications (“Aliados interactive” and “Aliados missions”).
A radio program called Radio Aliada.
The official website.
Official YouTube channel with webisodes, chapters, music videos and episodes of Aliados Network.
The official social media accounts (Facebook and Twitter).
Episodes of Aliados.
Spin-off: Web series Aislados.
Through these devices, the audience was encouraged to seek out sources of knowledge about the series. With the analysis of the different points of transmedia expansion, we seek to detect the narrative elements that strengthen the bond of the audience with the fictional world.
Considering the characteristics of the object of study and its novelty in the Latin American market, this investigation aims to have an exploratory nature to detect the narrative elements that strengthen the bond between the audience and the possible world created. In this sense, we analyze all the touchpoints by posing three exploratory research sub-questions:
About the process of expansion and compression1 of transmedia storytelling: Was the diegetic universe expanded via different media and platforms, exploring new corners of the possible world, or did it present compression processes in which aspects of the diegetic universe were deleted?
About user-generated content and their connection to the diegetic universe: Was usergenerated content integrated into the transmedia strategy of this series to contribute to the expansion of the story, or did it relate to it without reaching a syncretic interaction that was a part of the diegetic universe expansion?
About the independence acquired by the characters in different narratives: Did the characters take a condition of independence from the series2, so they could interact with users outside their diegetic universe? Did the characters participate in social networks trespassing the narrative laws of the diegetic universe designed?
After the first approach, a data-analysis was applied to all the material to determine the narrative elements that strengthen the bond of the audience with the fictional world. The analysis sheet served mainly to organize and prioritize the information that was gathered through the exploratory questions. Then the data-analysis is presented.
The methods not only study each story of the different media, but also the relation between stories and all media and platforms. We apply these methods because “an analysis must therefore consist not only of an accurate closer look on the ›discours‹ of the individual texts but also of an examination of the interdependency of the texts as a whole. This certainly belongs to the ›discours‹ of a transmedially told text” (Zimmermann, 2015, p. 24). Thus, our approach is based on qualitative, not quantitative, indicators.
4. Research findings
The main medium (source) was the narrative content of the story that spread through the episodes and webisodes (as they contain almost all the material that would later be gathered in an episode). The original story, the characters and plots, raised in this environment, and from here other products can expand or compress the narrative. Thus, episodes and webisodes configure the main narrative world of Aliados, because the protoworld is the story of the series, and this story is told in episodes and webisodes.
Most material not pertaining to either episodes or webisodes expands the diegetic universe of Aliados. Among all products, the musical aspect stands out, because the main characters play, sing, and perform choreographed dances in the main medium, and this is taken by extension to generate unity and connections between the transmedial worlds. Indeed, the most-viewed video on the official Aliados channel is the music video of the song “Refundación” (3 662 047 views until June 2018). This item does not strictly correspond to the narrative structure, but engages the audience most profoundly with the music and with the whole world of Aliados For example, in the comments section, fans express their joy over the video and ask for new content related to the Aliados phenomenon. Each song developed a story about the life of a character and her or his subplot. For example, the song “Yo soy Venecia”, which reveals more information about the Venecia character’s objectives.
Also, the two Aliados books expand the universe as they develop in more detail the characters’ internal conflicts. This touchpoint explores deeply the theme of the story. On the other hand, the printed magazine, the photo album and the two mobile applications emphasize the characters as narrative elements easily recognizable in the world of Aliados.
The transmedia extensions of Aliados, even when they expand the limits of the diegetic universe, use compression strategies. For example, we see characters being eliminated in the musical, like Ian who did not appear in the show. Although the musical explores a new subplot about the search of the book of wisdom of Aliados, it relinquishes elements of the main narrative such as secondary characters or subplots. This implies that the distinction between expansion and compression is blurry, as the universe can be expanded using compression tools, and be compressed appealing to extension tools. For example, the musical presented in Buenos Aires expands the fictional world because it tells stories with new subplots, but in turn, summarizes other aspects of the main story with simple quotes or directly eliminates characters of the main story. Ultimately, all actual transmedia contents extend the possible world, and the concept of compression is a way to expand the fictional world.
The spin-off Aislados represents an expansive practice. This series presents a kidnapping that happened after the diegetic time of the main text (time-based transmedia strategy). Additionally, the story plays out in an abandoned house, so we can consider it as the result of a space-based transmedia strategy, too. This miniseries came at the request of the audience (they tweeted about it until Cris Morena announced gave in), so we can say it is an example of fan/audience-based transmedia strategy.
The user-generated content found about Aliados was diverse, there was music videos, extended trailers, made up trailers, recaps, videos telling the love story of two characters, unofficial social media, covers of the songs, memes, fan fictions, fan theories (speculations trying to explain something, or trying to explain what could happen next). The main media or platforms used to spread this content was social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and also some blogs for the fan fictions.
Likewise, the user-generated content has not direct relationship with the official content, i.e., it doesn’t have intervention in the main narrative or straight connection that affects the main story, however, it does help to expand the story told in the main source. The most watched user-generated videos are music videos, suggesting that the music was a key source to spawn user-generated content.
Much of the user-generated content refers to the trajectory of the producer of the series, Cris Morena. The contents recalled her previous projects and linked the possible world of Aliados to a possible wider world, which in turn would be the fiction produced by Cris Morena Group, whose TV productions are popular in Latin America and parts of Europe (Pis & García, 2014).
The expansive media maintained relative independence with respect to the main narrative. For example, in Radio Aliada, some characters appeared like real persons, i.e., they appeared like actors, but keeping within the theme of the main narrative. Although the same theme is present in all the touchpoints, the narrative conflict the characters must overcome varies with the media. In this sense, the characters gained some autonomy from the base story, yet failed to perform autonomously as an element of interaction with the audience on social media and did not talk and respond to comments.
From the above, it can be concluded that Aliados reinforces the experience of its audience by applying transmedia strategies.
The results show that the biggest emotional bond with the audience grows from the music: CDs, videos, musical performances and tours. Fans recognize the characters and experience an extension, not just an adaptation, of the main story by attending musicals and tours. On social media fans talked about the new subplot, new versions of the songs, and the performance of characters in the musical. The music carried emotional content because it represented the theme and the internal conflicts of the characters; the narrative content linked to the music expanded the possibilities of fans to enjoy each song more.
Two media were essential in the construction of the transmedia fictional world: the official YouTube channel and the official website. Both platforms allowed users to watch the webisodes, chapters and musical videos repeatedly and at the same time share this content on social media.
The social networks, however, only repeated the content, without adding special interaction with fans, although the series had an official social media presence on Twitter and Facebook. Thus, social media management did not realize the full potential of these media to compel the fans.
User-generated content is key in this case, because it helps to expand the fictional world, even though it is not part of the narrative strategies of the Cris Morena Group.
More importantly, from an induction process with the experience of Aliados, the distinction between compressive and expansive content can be called into question, because even contents void of basic elements of the main narrative expand the possible world beyond initial borders of the original narrative. Otherwise, we would not be dealing with a real transmedia phenomenon, where each media contributes and enriches the narrative.
Aliados shows that transmedia storytelling can contribute to enrich a fictional world, because with elements like plot, characters, theme and music of the possible world spreading through other media and platforms and redirect the story, the audience can increase engagement with the fictional world. In this case, characters and music had a strong presence in the episodes and webisodes, so from these elements the other touchpoints increased the engagement with the audience. In conclusion, the key for transmedia storytelling for a fictional world is the storytelling itself. In Aliados, the creation and development of the characters and the linking of music to conflicts of the characters were key for the construction of the fictional world. Character creation as much as the positioning of music are strategies of screenwriting.
Latin American artists are just beginning to explore the possibilities of transmedia productions. “We need a new model for co-creation rather than adaptation-of content that crosses media” (Jenkins, 2003). Given this unexplored terrain, academic research can promote a critical and analytical view of these processes to design guidelines that can help consolidate transmedia strategies in accordance with the requirements of our reality, and so contribute to train future transmedia creators.
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Para citar este artículo: Atarama-Rojas, T. (2019). Narrativas transmedia y la construcción de mundos ficcionales: La serie Aliados como caso de estudio. Correspondencias & Análisis, (9), 37-50. https://doi.org/10.24265/cian.2019.n9.02