What Authors Need To Know About Multimedia Storytelling

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, I wanted to share a quick explanation outlining the two most common questions I get on this topic:

1: What is multimedia fiction/storytelling?

2: How can authors take advantage of this growing trend?

Having worked with a number of authors and written a number of multimedia fiction pieces myself, I’m excited to share my learnings and help some authors.

What is multimedia fiction and storytelling?

Multimedia fiction is a form of storytelling that involves multimedia along with words to tell a story. Images are the most popular multimedia used, but the multimedia can be videos, audio, animations, and more. A novel that has a page of visuals 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 without this kind of buzz. The answer? Technology, mobile phones, and a new generation of readers.

Generation Z, the generation born between mid-1990s to early 2000s, is the first generation to be born into a world with smartphones. This is a generation with lower attention spans and enjoys “content” on Snapchat and Instagram. With so many exciting and engaging types of videos, movies, shows, status updates, and apps competing for attention, reading and writing have 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. When I first came across multimedia fiction, it actually reminded me of the Snapchat format and it seems to be working for engaging this younger generation. Commaful, the largest site for multimedia fiction, has stated that over half of their user base falls under Generation Z.

And thus the buzz around multimedia fiction. Authors are seeing an opportunity to try a new format of storytelling and stay in the conversation with the larger mainstream teens.

How can authors take advantage of this movement?

As of this writing, most of the multimedia fiction creators are amateur creators. I saw a few well-known writers, like Cornelia Funke (highly recommend checking out her stories there as they are highly impressive), on there, but most writers are more still learning, providing a great opportunity for well-practiced writers.

As for most movements, participating early and becoming a thought leader in the movement can pay big dividends down the line. Writers can reap the most benefits by standing out with unique and quality stories before more mainstream authors flood the movement and make it harder for the rest of us to stand out.

I’m a big believer that the smaller your audience, the more you should experiment. For newly published YA authors and authors who haven’t build a large following, I think multimedia fiction is a great way to potentially build an influential audience. Some “stars” have already emerged from writers sharing work on Commaful.

Making Good Multimedia Stories

If you’re going to write multimedia stories, you need a way to stand out. I’ve seen a few tricks over the last few months and can share some of the secrets I discovered.

Keep it short and engaging

The most common mistake authors make when writing these stories is making it too long and not engaging. Remember: your audience could be watching videos or browsing feeds instead. If you don’t get them in, they’re gone. Every page, every word, every sentence should be designed to get people to continue reading. The best way to do this is to generate curiosity early. The curiosity can be in the form of a mystery, conflict, or question. I like to generate curiosity by diving into the story line without context or world building. By diving into dialogue and action, it creates a natural curiosity about what’s going on and why certain things happen. The world gets built through the plot. Consider every sentence you write and figure out if it drives the plot forward and keeps people curious. This is not a medium for people who are too verbose.

Use multimedia in unique ways

The best stories tend to be designed in a manner where 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 people draw pictures and take photos to use in their stories. Another embedded hidden clues in the images, making a truly interactive experience for readers.

Test story ideas or added extended stories for your current novels

I’ve seen this work really well for a number of authors. If you’re like me, you have a ton of interesting story and book ideas that you eventually want to write. I often turn them into short, fun multimedia stories. I throw on some images that fit and get it out into the world. I’ve found that the crazier the story idea, the better it does.

Other authors, like Funke’s Reckless stories I shared above, write short stories 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 your existing books.

My Predictions

As with any trend, nobody knows if this will be the next big thing or if it will fizzle out in a few years. Whether or not it is a fad or a movement for the future doesn’t matter. Authors can still take advantage of the benefits.

I’ve leveraged a number of trends to grow my audience in the past. I’ve been able to gain readers from every trend I’ve invested in, even if the trend eventually fizzled out. The sites and trends that have lasted the test of time have, at times, been career changing.

For what it’s worth, I do think multimedia fiction is a trend that will last. Seeing how long I’ve seen teens spend reading multimedia fiction and how quickly the movement has been growing, people seem to genuinely like the format and momentum keeps building.

I’m excited to see what other authors and writers make!

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