Geoffrey Long is a Media analyst/scholar/author/narrative designer exploring the future of entertainment at Microsoft. This extract on negative capability and migratory cues is based on his impressive thesis on transmedia.
“The term negative capability was first used in a letter from the poet John Keats in 1817. In it, he writes : that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason …”.
“When applied to storytelling, negative capability is the art of building strategic gaps into a narrative to evoke a delicious sens of “uncertainty, mystery, or doubt” in the audience. This empowers audiences to fill in the gaps in their own imaginations while leaving them curious to find out more. In Convergence Culture, Jenkins quotes media scholar Mary Beth Haralovich and mathematician Michale W. Trosset: narrative pleasure stems from the desire to know what will happen next, to have that gap opened and closed, again and again, until the resolution of the story.”
“As Janet Murray writes in Hamlet on the Holodeck: When we enter a fictional world, we do not merely “suspend” a critical faculty; we also exercise a creative faculty. We do not suspend disbelief so much as we actively create belief. Because of our desire to experience immersion, we focus our attention on the enveloping world and use our intelligence to reinforce rather than question the reality of the experience.”
“As audiences consume multiple components of a large narrative franchise, they construct vast databases of information in their minds to connect each new piece with what they have experienced earlier.”
“Barthe advocated divorcing the author from the text and leaving the meaning of the text to determined by the readers, he places writerly texts (those texts that rely heavily upon the audiences to provide any semblance of meaning) far above readerly texts (afford very little room for individual interpretation) in his hierarchy of value. Rather than promoting one at the expense of the other, I view stories as communications between a transmitting party and a receiving party.”
“The trick of course is to use these writerly approaches as a lure to bring audiences back when those gaps are filled in, and then provide a tale good enough – and riddled without enough new gaps – to keep them coming back for more. Perhaps the most famous example is in Star Wars : how did Anakin Skywalker become Darth Vader? What was the Old Republic? … All of these unanswered questions are opportunities for new stories to be told.
“What Ruppel calls migratory cues are “ signal towards another medium – the means through which various narrative paths are marked by an author and located by a user through activation patterns”. Negative capability clears a space in the narrative for those cues to be planted. The letter in the Matrix franchise are a sample of a migratory cue, used as a hint for viewers to look for more information on the letter in The Animatrix and Enter the Matrix.
A storyteller looking to craft a potential transmedia narrative should carefully craft the world in which that story exists, and then make passing references to elements in that world during the course of the narrative to simultaneously spark audience imaginations through negative capability and provide potential openings for future migratory cues.