We are very pleased to bring you our latest guest blogger, Eric von Rothkirch, blogmaster for the must-read blog Quantum Storytelling. We love Eric’s approach to craft and his willingness to explore the unboxed aspects of the publishing business.
Eric was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. He grew up on a diet of 80s action movies and video games. In his teens he played in rock bands, considering a career in the music business before the lure of video games was too great to pass up. Eric began building game levels for popular action games, which in 2000 got the attention of Electronic Arts. He did a brief tour of the industry before landing at 3D Realms in late 2001 to work on Duke Nukem Forever, and has been there ever since. Eric now aspires towards the creation of media franchises as he completes the first entry in a sci-fi novel series.
This is the first of a two-part series. Part Two will go live next week. Enjoy!
What do George Lucas and J.K. Rowling have in common? Tolkien and Stan Lee? They create more than just novels, films, and comic books. The true products they create are not just printed pages and celluloid strips run through projectors at movie theaters. Each one of them has created a successful media franchise, or several media franchises.
It is important not to limit your perspective about what you are trying to create to the mere medium you are creating it for. As a novelist you are not creating a book, filled with paper pages that have ink on them. You are creating a media franchise. Many of the successful media franchise creators I’ve mentioned didn’t necessarily set out to create a franchise. Lucas set out to tell a classic story with Star Wars, using the principles of mythology created by Joseph Campbell. But his approach is largely responsible for the success of Star Wars. And each and every one of the people listed above has approached their work in a way that led to a successful media franchise.
You are not just a writer or an author. You are the creator of a media franchise. Whether it is a successful one, intentionally, or unintentionally, is up to you.
That’s the good news.
But what is a media franchise? It seems like a fuzzy concept at first appearance — a term thrown about by marketing people who are trying to understand successes in the publishing world and entertainment industry. You are most likely not a foot soldier in some corporation’s marketing department. As the creator of a media franchise you have more power to shape the final product than any marketer would have. You can, if you so choose, do a lot of the marketing work before the product even hits shelves. In fact the most successful marketing is often built into the product itself.
The hooks within the Harry Potter franchise were not something tacked on by a marketing department after Rowling had already written the book. That would have never given the Harry Potter series the kind of legendary appeal it has found with audiences. Only Rowling herself could create such a novel, memorable, and endearing boy wizard that managed to hook people.
Likewise, only you as the creator are responsible for making your media franchise a success. If your characters, world, and plot do not contain sticky ideas then no marketing department will ever be able to help you.
With that said, what are some of the common features of successful media franchises?
A successful media franchise needs:
- Memorable and interesting character names
- Episode Titles that convey something about the story or ‘episode’ being told
- A central hook and resonating themes for each character
- Central hooks, features, and themes of the unique world behind the story you are telling
- Adaptive Memes – Concepts that work across all mediums: Novels, films, and video games
This may seem like a tall order to fill, and indeed it is very challenging. Even creators who set out to make something with these elements in mind sometimes fail. This is not a sure-win formula that guarantees success. It is merely an ingredient list that increases your probability of having a hit. Think of it like giving you better dice rolls. If a successful media franchise is represented by a five or a six on a six-sided die, then accounting for these features gives you a greater probability at rolling a five or a six. It gives the ideas more stickiness and interest to your potential audience. And you still get to create whatever it is you want, with all its artistic flair.
In that sense these elements are not a prescription. Use them as a rough guidelines or a checklist.
Next week, Eric explores the elements critical to creating a successful media franchise. You won’t want to miss it.