Muddled Multimedia Narratives: Where and How Can We Access the Story?

Welcome back everyone! Sorry it took so long to get this next entry to you. I’d gotten really into working on Ravens & Roses during the original day this entry was supposed to be done and didn’t want to derail myself. Then life threw me a family health emergency curveball during the follow-up date, so I’ve been handling that instead of writing. Things are finally calming down and everything is fine, so here we are with the next installment of my “Spoiled By Supplements” blog series. Enjoy!

Click HERE for the Audio Edition!

Image by myrfa AG Ku on Pixabay

I think that, once a story gets big enough, it’s inevitable that it will start to creep across mediums. Some of that may be due to creative curiosity, to see what kind of take on the story will come out of the medium. Some of it may be from commercial pressure to reach a wider audience or different niches within a potential audience. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with that. A feature length film has different creative restraints from a novel, which is different from a comic book, and so on. It can be interesting to see how the medium shapes or highlights different aspects of a story or further explores the world within that story. It also makes marketing sense to try to reach as many people as possible, and everyone has different mediums they prefer their stories to be in, so why not satisfy everyone?

The problem is that sometimes it can become too sprawling, too widespread, and too muddled for anyone to follow the story properly, or even access it. This can be a real problem for new or more casual fans.

Image from starwarstimeline.net

The sprawling Expanded Universe of Star Wars is one example of this. Not only do fans have to contend with distinguishing the old EU from the new canon, but they also have to keep track of its myriad tie-ins. (Anything created before April 25, 2014 is now retconned and rebranded as “Legends.”) I found a list of canon Star Wars media and was… well, “overwhelmed” would have been an understatement. There’s just… so much.

Maybe this is more of an issue for me because I’m very much a completionist, and I like to experience stories in chronological order. To be fair, many of those things are probably supplemental in nature, little extra tidbits or explorations of secondary or tertiary characters. These are things that may enrich the experience, but are not necessary to enjoy or understand it. But honestly… you never know.

Something that people complain about with The Force Awakens is how Rey seems to know how to do way too many things. “How does she know how to fly the Millennium Falcon?” they ask. Well, if you read a prequel novella collection called Star Wars: Before the Awakening, you’d know that Rey learned how to fly using a refurbished flight simulator. Suddenly the big complaint about Rey being a Mary Sue doesn’t seem to hold quite as much water. There is an explanation, but unless you happen to read that story, you’d never know. It’s a little discouraging to know that, chances are, unless you have a lot of time and money, you will inevitably miss things. I certainly don’t have enough money to afford every possible subscription or streaming service that offers access to the Star Wars EU, nor can I go out and buy every single book or comic. Local libraries are a great resource, but they also can’t afford to buy “All of the Things,” especially if there isn’t a high demand for those materials. Without obsessive dedication, you probably won’t be able to watch every episode, read every comic, or borrow every novel. Especially when it’s a fictional universe that is constantly being added to.

Image by Leah BMTL on We<3It

But sometimes there are things that I think are very important to a story that aren’t well-advertised. And when you do go looking for them, the risk of spoilers is high. Case in point: Doctor Who and its many “specials.” Some of them are supplemental, like Time Crash featuring an encounter between the 5th and the 10th Doctors. It was cute and sweet, but if you missed it, that was okay. Some I think are pretty important to bring closure to a character or to set up the beginnings of another, which was done with the 8th Doctor in The Night of the Doctor. This one was pretty important as a lead-in to the 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor, and if I hadn’t been told about it beforehand, I would have missed it. Others I think are bloody essential to the story like the Children in Need Special (also known as Born Again) which chronicles the first moments of Rose’s interaction with the newly regenerated 10th Doctor. I was fortunate to have some Doctor Who veterans give me a list of media to watch and in what order. Without that, I might have missed all of these that I mentioned. Then of course you add in the comics, the novels, the Big Finish radio plays… And unlike Star Wars, as far as we know there is no canon vs. non-canon, so everything in Doctor Who happened because… wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff.

Perhaps this isn’t a huge problem or a deal-breaker for other fans, but knowing where and how to access a story is, I think, very important. None of this is to say that fictional universes shouldn’t have stories across different media platforms. I’m just saying that when we create stories that do this, I think it’s important to let fans know what is essential, what is supplemental, and in what order they are best read or viewed to get the most out of the experience. Maybe these types of stories and universes could have something akin to the play-through guides for video games. Not every fan may need or even want it, but at least it’s there. It can be frustrating to jump back and forth across mediums trying to chase down story lines, only to find that you missed something important because you were tracking down something that was fun but nonessential.

Sometimes having this much content can be invigorating because you won’t ever run out of stories. But at the same time, it can be really overwhelming to organize and figure out where to even begin… Which is an issue we will further address in the next installment of this blog series.

 

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