It always feels like this: after a good stretch of feeling at sea and nothing making sense, there’s a pivotal stretch of time, maybe a few hours, during which you begin to work, and you’ve given up feeling bad about things because let’s be honest there’s a deadline looking and folks asking questions and you have nothing left to lose.
And it happens. Things fall into place. Things begin to make sense, they have a sensible extrapolation, a kind of logic about them. And you feel like you’ve got your feet on the sand again, even if you’re still shoulder-deep in water.
Three things happened to make this so.
- I went back to Bakhtin, dug around, read up on the context of his life and the political and social circumstances of his time; I took a good, solid look at polyphony again as a structure, as a theory, as a lens, as a platform from which to build.
- I had a great conversation with my industry advisor who had such a simple, elegant clean suggestion for what I was trying to do that it blows my mind I didn’t sort that out myself. That kind of “why didn’t I think of that” idea is a mark of … of something hyperbolically insightful and aware. (I’ve been writing. The word engines are needing a bit of oil today.)
- I had a great conversation with my primary academic advisor about the nature of practice. This is important because a primary tool in rendering new knowledge and information from the kind of research I do is something called reflective practice, which, to be completely honest with you, I still don’t completely understand. If I’m lucky, I actually have a pretty good intuitive understanding and I’m just fretting needlessly, but letting myself believe that can lead me into dangerous complacency and what’s my life without loads of anxiety?
So let’s start with number 1. The above revelations themselves couldn’t have happened without a conversation I had with my secondary academic advisor, in which we talked about how the key to transmedia stories isn’t the platforms (this is something I’ve been feeling for a while, but didn’t have the guts to follow through on); it’s actually character.
I’ve taken to calling the different avenues used in transmedia narrative (and I have to say, I’m almost sick to freakin’ death of the word transmedia) vectors, not platforms. I borrow from biology, in the sense that a biological disease vector is a way in which a disease infects a victim. Every time I think of this, I think of “language is a virus,” which is originally from William Burroughs’ The Ticket That Exploded but which I learned about from Laurie Anderson’s single which I first heard on Home of the Brave.
Very early on, I’d toyed with the concept of having one vector per character, in the sense that in a polyphonic work, each character occupies and enacts a particular ideological stance that mayor may not have anything to do with the author. It’s the connections, and push and pull, between and among characters as they live through their given circumstances that creates story. When I enacted Step 1 (revisiting Bakhtin), I began imagining this as a bicycle wheel, or Ferris wheel.
These structures only maintain their shape, their integrity, if tension exists. Without tension — if one of those spokes snaps — then the wheel is far more likely to bend out of shape on the next big rock.
And then I started thinking about negative space. I mean, with a photo like the one above, it’s hard to not give it a bit of thought. And I realized that what people tend to focus on when talking about transmedia are the spokes, or cables. Not the axle, or the rim, and certainly not the space between. But a wheel will never function with only spokes.
With that observation, I re-examined my absolute thin-soup mess of a story. My primary problem was that I had too few characters. One refugee, a handful of crew, and the idea was to follow the refugee through her travels. This is not a bad way to write a story, and there are plenty out there that are fantastic, but this is not what I set out to do — it’s outside the scope of my research. So I had to think about characters. Which, when I write it out on a screen, seems seemingly self-obvious.
I’ll tell you what happened with that in Part 2.