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Scriptwriting for Participatory Narratives – Rodrigo Mesonero visits Medea

When I was a child (not so long ago) I loved watching my favorite cartoons. Some nights I would even dream that I was in them, just hanging around or trying to solve a mystery. As the philosopher Jaques Lacan would define it, it was the mirror where I recognized my heroes, my friends, and myself. Now, digital technology has become the mirror where we reflect and interact.

This is a guest post by PhD student Rodrigo Mesenero who will work at Medea June and July.

As a teacher of audiovisual communication at the Spanish university UEM, I am developing my PhD on scriptwriting for participatory narratives. My academic dedication together with my professional background, mostly as a scriptwriter but also as director and producer, drives me towards being passionate with new ways of storytelling in relation to an active audience.  I have recently coordinated a transmedia project at UEM including over ten different courses to create a web series, live and online events. The series will be released in June 2012 on Europea TV, the UEM online television.

Participatory narratives take advantage of the possibility to make real what used to be fiction. But, what is a participatory narrative? How can a writer relate to his audience and still have “control” over his or her creation? This is what I will explore at my time in at Medea, Malmö University.

I got in contact with Medea through the transmedia project Granny’s Dancing on the Table. In March, I attended a workshop where the Granny’s project team dived into the process of participatory creation, manifested in what is called The Granniverse, a story universe that spreads from fiction to the real world and vice versa. Participation is a core factor for the project.

The audience is expressing. They are saying they want to participate, they want to play and experience the story firsthand. Can the audience also build or help in the process of creating the narrative storyworld universe? Can they decide the elements of the storyworld universe? How much action can we “demand” from the audience, and for how long?

The Granniverse is just one example of what seems to be a growing practice in the audiovisual world: audience participation. Producers and distributors talk and write about how to face and make profit of this 21st century storytelling; they talk about how to interact with the audience. However, not so many people talk about how a scriptwriter should approach participatory storytelling. When writing a traditional narrative, I firmly believe that characters drive the story and not the other way around. The same happens in participatory multiplatform narratives where characters and stories have to drive and select the supports (movies, comics, live exhibitions, webseries, etc). Technology has to help the stories to spread and not constrain them.

The writer’s point of view
Following the research of authors like Henry JenkinsMax Giovagnoli and Peter von Stackelberg, I am approaching my analysis from the writer’s point of view. Is it possible to have a participatory storytelling movie? How much work needs to be done before even writing a synopsis of a story? Does the writer have to leave his cave of loneliness and creativity to contact a co-operating world?

On top of all of this you find the producers, executives and distributors working in the media; some say participatory storytelling is the present and the future, others say participatory storytelling cannot be sustainable over time, that it only is a fad. And there are many others that don’t have a clue of what participatory storytelling is but claim everything they do is participatory storytelling. So, what is participatory storytelling? Does it even matter?

Many questions, many pieces, like participatory storytelling itself, spread in a changing world. All these are questions I will try to answer with the help of the researchers working at Medea, and all the professionals from the communication community. And the reason why I want to get the answers is not to complete my PhD. The truth is that I want to satisfy the kid I was and let him live the fantasies he has always dreamt of.

Image credit: Flickr User Steve Rhodes CC:BY-NC-ND

Read more
Granny’s Dancing on the Table
Designing for Collaborative Crossmedia Creation