What is Meta-story?

Meta-story, storytelling on a larger canvas

What is a Meta-story?

A Meta-story is a single, seamless and expanding narrative that treats all the different media formats as one connected storytelling canvas within which each media brings its unique strengths to bear in bringing part of the Meta-story to the audience.  .

o It is the modern result of the evolution of the storyteller’s craft performed across the venues now available to us.

o Typically, these different formats share about 70% of the larger story but have unique needs for the narrative content for their remaining 30% (specifics to come in future postings)

o This gives the audience real reasons to experience the story in all its forms, through many iterations, dramatically multiplying the creative and commercial results and extending the lifetime of the franchise (often generationally).

o As a creative, what could be more satisfying and challenging at the same time? You will find over the course of this blog, that Meta-story development isn’t a creative straight jacket dreamed up by overreaching strategic thought. It’s much more Akin to what Keith Haring and Andy Warhol did for the world of Painting and print by showing how much larger the reach of the creative voice could be just by seeing that the canvas wasn’t limited by what has been true in the past. 

o Meta-story employs a blending of the competencies for writing, art, play, strategy and much more. As this blog progresses, I will be speaking to the role of these talents and competencies and how they interact.

There is a lot to learn in order to develop Meta-stories well but it is knowledge and skills that empower us to truly have an immersive impact on our audience.

Audience first

o To begin talking about Meta-story, I am purposely opening by focusing on the audience first rather than waxing “acronymble” to dive into debating the merits and needs of the exploding list of content formats. This is because Meta-story creation and development is, like all true evolutions, the cutting edge advancement of an existing art…story telling. You have to have a powerful, well crafted story to tell, that is meaningful to your audience, before you can start telling it in any form or format.

o One continuous story - Properly created and delivered Meta-stories aren’t seen as distinct expressions by their audience. Let me share an example:

• Pokemon life - My sons were of the right age when Pokemon first came to market to be the target audience. They would wake up in their Pokemon sheets, slide into their Pokemon slippers, shuffle downstairs to eat Pokemon cereal from their Pokemon bowls, Put their Pokemon cards into their Pokemon backpacks, get home from school to watch the Pokemon TV show and then Play the Pokemon video game. When asked “what did you do today?” they would simply answer “I played Pokemon!” 

This illustrates the truth that once your audience finds empowerment and meaning in your franchise’s story/fantasy, they want to wrap themselves in that story and live that meaning in as many ways as they can. This is what translates into commercial success.  It's not the number of formats you manage to launch but the "meaningfulness" of each format that gives value to the audience and involves them in that format.

This goes much farther than just putting your story out in as many formats as possible.  Each of the formats touches your audiences life in a different way yet when looked at through the eyes of the audience, it is all driven by the same interest in the property and the same underlying empowerment (when it's crafted properly).

Now for an older, more sophisticated audience, you would probably get more of an individual listing of the activities but emotionally and narratively, it would still be a motivational continuum for them. Though on it’s surface this might seem like crass commercialism, it isn’t! 

Portable empowerment = Lifestyle brand- If you have done the hard creative work of crafting a truly worthy Meta-story, your audience has found something I call “portable empowerment”ⓒ in your story and they now want to inspire themselves with it and use it actively in other places in their lives. When it really works well, your audience wants to know more about this story that has empowered them and they want to experience more of the story and remind themselves constantly of how it makes them feel about themselves.

 This hunt for ways to bring it into their lives then extends into several primary categories of the Meta-story: The narrative or storytelling formats, the experiential formats, and the inspirational or “badge” formats and the social formats (more on these under "Meta-story commercial impact ). 

All of these become active forms of audience participation through the portable empowerment. Crafting true portable empowerment is what turns your franchise into a “lifestyle brand.” It’s not carpet-bombing marketing tactics or massive advertising spends to “move” the audience to buy into your franchise. You can’t push an audience into hollow buying more then once.

 You have to fulfill a contract that is as old as the human tribe itself. Makers had to make something of lasting value for the tribe members to get freely given value in exchange. That lasting value is usable, portable meaning. This truth is more active now because of social sharing then it has been since we lived in small groups and villages.  

Story, the new “safebox” for meaning - We live in a time when all the old unassailable bastions of meaning are all falling frighteningly fast. Trust in government is at an all time low. Scandal after scandal is rocking the various churches. Reasons for going to war don’t seem to come from a moral high ground any more and even our law enforcement seems right down in the fallible world with the rest of us. It should come as no surprise then that the tribe, the audience, is willing to make such a wholesale commitment to meaning and empowerment that they find in fantasies and stories. Within those fantasy worlds, those notions and beliefs are safe! Luke Skywalker isn’t going to have an expose’ done on him any time soon!

• As proof points consider this: There are several fascinating treatises and books written on the powerful real world effect of fantasy stories. Corporate presidents who grew up on Star Wars but still whisper “may the force be with you” as they enter a board room. They need to believe they are capable of much more than they thought possible and Star Wars’ portable empowerment has given that to them over and over. It’s no wonder that Star Wars is arguably the largest and most successful Meta-story to date. Technology has been inspired by belief in “boldly going where no man has gone before!” Cell phones my friends. In short, what this all means is that truth, meaning and empowerment in an exquisitely crafted story can quite literally change the world.

I have a saying that I repeat often to my clients:

“It’s not what you sell your audience that makes your franchise a success. It’s the invisible empowerment that they take away for free!” Kevin Mowrer