Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Weaving Social Narratives Beyond the Page

By Kate Hackett, @hackettkate

Part of the How They Do It Series

We've got something a little different with today's guest, but mixing mediums is becoming more and more popular for artists of all types--even writers. Kate Hackett, creator/star of the YouTube hit Classic Alice takes to the podium to share a few of the interesting ways she's been creating (and promoting) her webseries.

Kate has been acting since she was four years old, all the way back in Maryland. She grew up doing musicals (she sings!) and other straight plays, but made the transition to film when she attended Boston University for college. Kate has worked on many independent films and commercials and has produced, starred in, and written her own content. She believes strongly in writing and creating her own material, so there's always something new just around the corner! She lives in Los Angeles with some idiot cats and so many books that she stores Harry Potter on her kitchen shelves. 

Classic Alice is currently running an IndieGoGo to fund their next batch of episodes; to learn more and to contribute, please visit igg.me/at/SaveAlice — any donation helps, large or small, and sharing is also amazing!  

Take it away Kate...

I can think of no higher compliment as an author than to hear my audience say that they wish they could live in my world; that they want to meet my characters, explore with them, and continue playing in the universe my story created. Happily enough, we can do this.

When I wrote my webseries, Classic Alice, I knew that I wanted to extend the world beyond the primary material (videos). That’s where transmedia came to the rescue! Transmedia is just the word coined to indicate that a primary story is told via many different mediums. We’re not restricted to just one media outlet anymore — and that’s great for us.

Classic Alice is an interactive webseries told over many different media sources, but the videos themselves (our primary media) are enough to tell the story without requiring the “extras.” That said, the extras have to be just as vibrant and fun as the main series in order to successfully weave our audience across multiple platforms. When you develop a transmedia storyline, you’re essentially telling several stories that all eventually weave into the main story.

As a screenwriter, my main avenue is the videos; as an author, your main medium will be your book. Everything else runs similarly; if you have a character who writes, let them write. If you have a character who sings, they might publish sheet music they compose or like.

For example, on Classic Alice, our characters all tweet. Twitter is a great, clear-cut way to engage the audience and to support a story. They interact not only with themselves (to plan out a plot point that comes to pass in a video) but also with fans, which makes our characters feel more real; I’ll discuss that a little more below.

If you aren’t quite sure where to start, consider where your characters would live. Our lead character is a writer, so she also uses Tumblr to post pieces she wrote. A supporting character is a musician, so she has a ‘radio show’ (we air it as a podcast on SoundCloud). Another character wrote for the student paper, so we created that (and a school website!) The list goes on; whatever makes your character a well-rounded person, there is a way to pull in that transmedia element to your story.

The leading example of transmedia supporting the story on our show is what I call “The Macbeth Arc”. In Classic Alice, Alice lives her life according to classic literature and one of the books she chooses is Macbeth. In it, she takes the role of Macduff while an antagonist character “plays” (somewhat unwittingly) Macbeth.

In the book, Macbeth becomes king and kills Macduff’s family. In our show, “Macbeth” becomes the editor of the student paper and runs for student council president, then proceeds to run a smear campaign against Alice’s best friends. We used not only the videos to tell this story, but we also published the smear campaign articles in our campus paper (which we run on Tumblr), on the paper’s Twitter, and across the fake-university website we created. You can see that arc and all the media we used here  (book 4, Macbeth).

But why bother with this at all? It sounds like a great deal of work. Sure. It can be. You definitely need a great team of help (I certainly do! Big shout out to Dana Shaw, our transmedia producer)… That said, it can also be an effective marketing tool in addition to a clever way to weave narratives together. Young Adult readers grew up with YouTube stars, vlogging, Tweeting, and other “direct address” tactics. They are used to being courted, engaged, and part of the lives of the people they admire. They love having a fully fleshed, immersive world; who wouldn’t? It appeals to our sense of pretend-play and that’s half the reason we read at all!

By creating and giving your audience a more inclusive playground, you foster relationships not just between yourself and the reader, but also your characters and the reader; they trust and love your characters, which in turn can make product recommendations or other marketing techniques that much easier.

Think of it much like the way you engage via social media to help market yourself, your books, and things you love: you require a social media outreach program. Having characters join you helps round out your reach!

About Classic Alice

When college student Alice receives a bad grade on an essay, she partners with her friend Andrew to film a documentary about living her life according to classic literature.


  1. Thanks so much for having me!

  2. I'd never heard of Classic Alice before. Thanks for introducing me to something new. :)

  3. This is WILD! I've never heard of any of this. GOod thing my story takes place 60 years ago. I'm not sure I could handle all of this…but then again, maybe there will have to at least be a video somewhere in my book's future. To be honest, I don't think I can think about that right now!

    1. It's actually SUPER fun -- I'd encourage you to give it a whirl (even if it's just drafting the idea).