Tie-In Writers and the Mono-Medium Logic Problem

On October 3, 2007 by Christy

One of the reasons for the paradigmatic change to cross-media world-creation is the emergence of transliterate creators. These creators are not just fans of a range of artforms, are not only versed in a range of artforms, they are versed (or developing a literacy) in the combining of a range of artforms & media platforms. They use them in concert. Parallel to this phenomenon is the experience of fans/audiences/readers/players, who have for many years been chasing their favourite storyworld across a range of platforms: reading the book, feature film, television show and digital game. The productions have been created by different, though licensed, creators.

One of the problems has been that each of these adaptations and extensions has been seen by the creators as isolated, as paratextual to the original work. The primary work (which can be a contemporary adaptation of an old literary piece), is the center of the creative universe…and all other mediums are satellites and inconsequential. This is a mono-medium-logic…that is gradually giving way to a different paradigm of creations across media. This mono-medium logic is not the experience of fans. Indeed, as I have spoken about many times in my industry presentations: People Perceive Worlds, Not Books (or Films etc). Here is a slide from my presentation to the Australian Publishing Industry:

perceive worlds

The point I’ve been championing is that tie-ins are not always perceived as exterior to the storyworld. As I argued in my paper for How the Internet is Holding the Center of Conjured Universes (AOIR 06), there are definitely levels of authority placed on different works…but this is shifting. What this means for creators is that licensed works need to be creatively controlled in some way. The Wachowski Brothers did it with The Matrix: they enlisted comic and anime creators to expand their universe. Peter Greenaway did it with The Tulse Luper Suitcases: he went out to companies and schools, shared his vision, and encouraged them to produce own creative responses. In such situations, tie-in creations and their creators are elevated to acknowledged and equal contributors to a storyworld.

I was thrilled to find the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers (IAMTW), but then disappointed to find this post of their blog I Am a Tie-In Writer:

An author I know was recently taken to task by a disgruntled fan because a character in a tie-in novel mentioned visiting the Grand Canyon when, in a recent episode, the same character said he’d never been there. My author friend was surprised that a fan would care about such an insignificant detail. I agree with my friend…especially if you are writing book based on an on-going TV series. It’s virtually impossible for the books and the series to not contradict each other over little details. Publishing can’t keep up with production…in the time it takes for my finished MONK manuscript to reach the stands, an entire new season of MONK has been written and shot. I have no control over the content of the episodes that are conceived, written and produced after I have written my book. Which is why I added the following disclaimer to my Monk books:

“While I try to stay true to the continuity of the TV series, it’s not always possible, given the long lead time between when my books are written and when they are published. During that period, new episodes may air that contradict details or situations referred to in my books. If you come across any such continuity mismatches, your understanding is appreciated.”

Bottom line, it’s fiction. We are sharing characters in two very different mediums. The fans have to understand that these are characters in a fictional world…and relax. [Lee Goldberg, Canon Fodder, April 22, 2007]

Firstly, I wish to address the issue of the TV writing process. Goldberg is right when he says that the TV writing process as it stands cannot support continuity. Continuity will only occur with a massive restructing of the creation process. Mark Deuze has observed this in his book on the current state of media industries:

What I’ve found my research is, that under the banner of Integrated Marketing/Brand Communications and the shift towards full-service agencies a lot of work within holding firms has been overhauled, reorganized, and disrupted. To some, this meant increasing centralized control and monitoring of work, less attention to unique interests of the cultivation of specialized talent in favor of unified management strategies.

A way to manage the different interested parties has been put forward by Jesse Alexander, Executive Producer of Alias, Lost and Heroes at the 2nd Annual Hollywood and Games Summit, as transcribed at Wonderland:

Each group needs a transmedia czar or something, to connect the people behind the properties to the people creating the [new] content. You have to get the creators involved in that. I’m optimistic that that is happening at NBC.. They really regulate how the people who sell the IP out do that stuff..

What is also needed is creators who will be producing points-of-entry in other media and artforms to be brought in at the beginning. Note this comment by Julia London, who wrote a tie-in for the soapie Guiding Light (which Sam Ford has written about at the Convergence Consortium blog):

Even though the plot and characters were handed to me on a silver platter, it wasn’t easy to do, and in some ways, was harder than a lot of things I have written. Now that it is all said and done, I am glad to know that I have the chops to do something really different like a tie-in book…but I think I can safely say I much prefer creating my own worlds and characters. [source]

If creators were brought in at the beginning and felt as they were co-creators/co-initiators of a storyworld then perhaps the experience would be more fulfilling to them? Beyond this inclusive method of creation, there is a paradigmatic shift that also needs to take place. Note the (to me) frightening comment in Goldberg’s post:

Bottom line, it’s fiction. We are sharing characters in two very different mediums. The fans have to understand that these are characters in a fictional world…and relax. 

If tie-in writers think that the expansion across mediums means the work should be assessed and experienced differently then we have problems. It is perhaps another reason why transliterate creators are taking care of all of the points-of-entry in different mediums themselves. The mono-medium logic of tie-in writers is best evidenced in their logo:

IAMTW

I’m not saying that all writers have to become transliterate…just the ones that work in the business of creating cross-media worlds. Here is my counter pic, from my publishers presention. It does not include all the possible mediums, but it nevertheless includes books AND, AND..

Transliteracy

In 2003 Henry Jenkins commented in his Technology Review article Why The Matrix Matters:

Most film critics frankly haven’t been willing to make the effort to “get“ this franchise because they are stuck within a mono-media rather than a trans-media paradigm–and thus, the second two films walk away with a row of Gentleman’s Bs. They can see something new is going on here but they really don’t know what to make of it.

The problem of a mono-media logic is STILL a problem with criticism, and as we’ve seen here, also with creators. 

Despite this rant, check out the yummy articles on tie-in writing on the IAMTW site.