Tag: mixed-media (Page 2 of 3)

(Five-ish) Steps to a Creative, Mixed Media, Interactive Story

I talk a lot about different ideas for mixed-media, interactive stories, but how do we actually create something. What are the steps? What does the  process look like? Is this really something I can do?

Yes. Let me show you.

From step one.

1. Inspiration

The most common question at any book signing is “where do you get your ideas?” That is a subject for about a thousand books on its own, and to begin this walk through of telling mixed-media, interactive stories, it may be a bit beyond our scope. We will start with one of the most time-honored launching pads: the writing prompt.

I have a copy of The Amazing Story Generator which I have used to concoct the following three scenes.

  • Penniless after a failed business venture, an old lady with twenty cats solves a ten-year-old murder
  • After a monthlong fast, a North Korean scientist forgets to mail an important letter
  • While on a second honeymoon, a small town mayor is initiated into a secret cult

And from here, we construct a story.

2. Story

I chose those three, bizarrely disconnected plot lines on purpose. My stories always begin with scenes, characters, or emotional moments. Interesting bits of news or questions that I connect to personally. Then, I ask question to connect these bits into a functioning story. The above prompts are not really connected at all, but we can create connections and birth a beautiful story.

Story Fundamentals

Let’s begin by understanding what a story is and has, at least for our purposes. At its most basic level, a hero’s life is at balance in their world, ordinary as it is for them. Something happens to knock that balance out of whack and sends that hero on some sort of quest to set the world to rights again. Along the way, lots of things try to stop the hero, and a few things (like mentors) will be the hero’s aid. Even more important, our hero grows. They begin with a want (to set the world right again), a wound (something bad that keeps them from growing), and a need (to be get past the wound). The story takes the hero through the growth. They are not the same at the end, and neither is the world, but this new world is in balance, at least for the hero.

Yes, that’s all from my treatment on the Hero’s Journey, and (to me) the simplest structure to create powerful stories. I’m using it here as a sort-of-formula. Normally, I’m not that rigid, but this is a blog post, after all.

Questions to Construct Stories

Now that we know what we’re aiming for, how can we connect those above prompts? Well, in a virtually infinite number of ways. Here is how my questioning path led to a story outline.

  • Is the important letter connected to the murder? Yes, the letter was an last minute cancellation of a contract assassination.
  • Why was the scientist wanting to assassinate someone in the first place? Obviously because they were rivals in some secret government research.  He changed his mind when, after his fast, he believed his god spoke to him in a vision. Now, I’m changing my prompt from “forgets to mail” to “fails to mail”.
  • So, what stops the scientist from mailing the letter? The secret cult also wants the rival dead, so they dispose of the scientist and let the hit man take care of the rival.
  • Why does the secret cult care? They are an old order that believes they must protect the world from abomination of medicine. Both scientists were working on advanced genetics.
  • The secret cult uses mind control serum to indoctrinate their members.
  • That means that the small town-mayor is going to be the villian of our story. He is recruited by the cult to dispatch of the cat lady, because the cat-lady is stumbling upon the truth.
  • What is the cat-lady’s wound and growth? She is scared of being independent and has been relying on others to get her through. She learns that she can take care of herself — and others. The wound, her son passed away from an infection years ago. She couldn’t save him. She isn’t capable. Not great, but it’ll work.

And I can keep going. Suffice it to say, that works out enough plot for this post.

The Treatment

Now that I have the connections, lets fashion it into a short description of the story for our purposes. Remember the story fundamentals. Our hero will be the cat lady and our villain will be the secret cult that is manipulating the small-town mayor.

Beth spends her days at home, dreaming of ways to become independent. Of ways to stop needing to rely on others. Of taking care of herself as she once had. But, she is too afraid. What if she can’t? What if others rely on her? What if she lets them down? Her latest hopes were dashed when a business venture — that she invested everything she had into — fell through. Not just fell through: the CEO of the company died suddenly and the headquarters were destroyed, taking all of the research with it and bankrupting the entire process. The genetics lab was promising to enhance vision, reflexes, and memory. Now, it’s all gone.

Normally Beth would just wallow in her misery. But she’s through wallowing. She does some more digging and finds that there have been lots of similar incidents from around the world. Then she remembers the story her father told her. Of when he was a boy and his father (a North Korean Scientist) was murdered. She still has the last letter her grandfather meant to send. It’s never been opened. Now is the time.

The letter describes a secret cult that will stop at nothing to “preserve the human race from medicine.” Fascinated, Beth digs some more. The cult, every watching for those who may know its secrets, discovers her and recruits a small-town mayor who is sympathetic to their cause and on a second honeymoon nearby. They drug him and brainwash him to go after Beth.

A lot of stuff happens in the middle. You know: mystery, intrigue, blah, blah, blah.

In the end, Beth and the Mayor (who we will call Roger) must rely on each other to defeat and expose the cult. Beth’s growth is complete when (in the final climax) she surrenders any control and relies totally on Roger. That doesn’t make her weak, or helpless, or a loser. And, she realizes that she is capable.

Of course, they save the world.

Wow, what a weird story, right? In any case, its enough to start splitting it into mixed-media and interactive bits.

3-4. Mixed-Media, Interactive Awesomeness

Our mantra is “don’t do anything for novelty sake.” That said, what parts of this story would best be told in which mediums? Well, you could definitely have a journal from the North Korean scientist with all his clues and suspicions. Images, sketches, very visual. For that matter, a few audio recordings would be great two.

Beth’s story would best be done in narrative prose so we can get inside her mind and really grow with her. Ditto with Roger’s storyline, but maybe a touch less.

What about the person Roger is on a second-honeymoon with? If Roger is sneaking away to get at Beth, that would make Roger’s wife pretty suspicious. Let’s give her a smartphone and have her do her own investigation, snapping pictures and taking videos to tell that part of the story. That isn’t just a gimmick. Images in that way produce great suspense as the audience must decide what in the image is important and what is not. The author can do amazing things with misdirection

As far as interactivity goes, I like the idea of making the journal interactive. Let’s give the audience the ability to explore the journal and piece the mystery together herself.

That leaves us with a novel that alternates between photographs, novel prose, and printed journal entries alongside an interactive journal. And, for the fun of it, a hidden track where one of Beth’s cats narrate the story through a feline POV.

5. Collaboration and Awesomeness

That’s a lot. More than I could do myself, admittedly. I would start, as I have, with a fleshed out draft all in text. In it, I would break the scenes into photos, prose, or journal and describe what the photos show and the journal says. Once I have my story more-less perfect, I can approach others to help flesh it out. Working together, we are stronger.

I will talk more about my format experiments in a later post.

For now, I hope you were able to follow this and see that, even from bizarre beginnings, a mixed-media, interactive story is possible. Think what you could do with an actually good idea.

Comments, please. What’s your process?

Books for Visual Artists

The folks over at BlenderGuru have compiled a great list of books that every (visual) artist should read. Its a wonderful list, so check it out. I have picked the four that I feel are the most important to build a foundation in visual storytelling. The descriptions are quoted from the original.

  • Digital Lighting and Rendering ““ The CG industry”™s go-to book on creating appealing art. It tackles one of the hardest concepts to understand: Lighting. I”™ve been the proud owner of this book for over 5 years and refer to it several times a year.
  • Universal Principles of Design ““ A must have book for any artist or designer. Extremely useful for creating images that are actually based on sound design principles, as opposed to guesswork.
  • The Non-Designer”™s Design Book ““ Explains the fundamental principles of graphic design and typography. Whether you”™re designing a website, business card or flyer. This book explains how to make it look visually captivating ““ in plain easy.
  • Picture Perfect Practice ““ A fantastic book on composition, that although is written for photographers, applies equally to cg art.

Read the rest.

Goodnight Lad: Augmented Reality Children’s Book by Bradley Grimm

Goodnight Lad: Augmented Reality Children’s Book by Bradley Grimm.

I’m always talking about how the sky is the limit when it comes to interactive, mixed-media books. Well, Bradley Grimm has pushed that limit even further. This kid’s picture book includes an app that, when the phone is pointed at the book, brings the story to life in 3D animation. Awesome concept. I’m a little jealous to be honest.

Everyone, lets get in on the ground floor and help him out!

Goodnight Lad: Augmented Reality Children’s Book by Bradley Grimm

(Seven) Principles of Transmedia Storytelling (from Henry Jenkins)

Henry Jenkins is one of the leading researchers studying transmedia, fanfiction, and media consumption. In graduate school, I read lots of his books and he is quoted in my thesis. Here, he details seven core principles to telling mixed-media, interactive stories (transmedia in his words). This article is pretty technical and long, but really great. I’ve pulled out the seven with a quote, just to wet your appetite.

Read the rest.

  1. Spreadability vs. Drillability – “the capacity of the public to engage actively in the circulation of media content through social networks and in the process expand its economic value and cultural worth”
  2. Continuity vs. Multiplicity – Is the story linear from point a to b or is it fragmented?
  3. Immersion vs. Extractability – “These two concepts refer to the perceived relationship between the transmedia fiction and our everyday experiences.”
  4. Worldbuilding – The internal consistency of the characters, plot, and setting
  5. Seriality – Lots of smaller stories combined together to form a larger narrative.
  6. Subjectivity – The story outside the story, such as fanfiction, twitter wars, and cosplay.
  7. Performance – The reader performs the story in life.

From the Article:

I first introduced my concept of transmedia storytelling in my Technology Review column in 2003 and elaborated upon it through the “Searching for the Oragami Unicorn: The Matrix and Transmedia Storytelling” chapter in Convergence Culture. For me, the origami unicorn has remained emblematic of the core principles shaping my understanding of transmedia storytelling, a kind of patron saint for what has emerged as increasing passionate and motivated community of artists, storytellers, brands, game designers, and critics/scholars, for whom transmedia has emerged as a driving cause in their creative and intellectual lives. We all have somewhat different definitions of transmedia storytelling and indeed, we don”™t even agree on the same term ““ with Frank Rose talking about “Deep Media” and Christy Dena talking about “Cross-media.”

As Frank has put it, same elephant, different blind men. We are all groping to grasp a significant shift in the underlying logic of commercial entertainment, one which has both commercial and aesthetic potentials we are still trying to understand, one which has to do with the interplay between different media systems and delivery platforms (and of course different media audiences and modes of engagement.)

I will devote more time to applying some of these principles and reviewing the core concepts in later posts.

Read the entire article.

Storytelling With WordPress

In trolling the vast interwebs for research, I found several great resources to create storytelling websites using the popular (and free) web-software, WordPress. For those that don’t know, WordPress is a mini-content-management system that runs about 20% of all the websites in the internet. It’s totally free, made by community volunteers, open source (so you can modify it), and very easy to use. Usually, it makes websites, but the links below give tips on transforming that website into an interactive story. Enjoy!

WordPress Storytelling – A great introduction with examples of how people are using WordPress to tell stories.

Storytelling in WordPress – Another showcase of WordPress stories.

Immersive Storytelling – The next step, how to get started.

A DIY Guide to WordPress Storytelling – Another step by step guide. Very readable. Great people over at WPMU.

The Aesop Story Engine – A great tool to get you started. Does a lot of the technical stuff for you. Easy to use.

Building Stories Using a Multimedia Storyteller – Another tool that gives you more control, but is a little more tech-y.


Fellow Revolutionaries

Storytelling is every-changing, and it is awesome! A shift in the way we share stories is happening all around. Tales are becoming more mixed-media, more interactive. They move between text and images and sounds. We get to be the characters and influence the plot. Stories are becoming more than passive things we enjoy.

There is a revolution, a revolution this blog is dedicated to.

But, I am not the only one sparking the flame. Here are some other artists and storytellers who are pushing the envelope in mixed-media, interactive stories.

Brian Selznick

I personally owe this guy a lot. His most recent books, The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck are both told in pictures and text. That is the story alternates between pictures and novel chapters. It was eye-opening to me. My current project, Allyson Darke, took the same approach, though for a decidedly older audience.

Besides be a revolutionary in that sense, he is a great illustrator. The level of detail and charm in is works is astounding. Check him out!

Read More

Understanding Composition

Let’s focus on the mixed-media part of mixed-media, interactive stories. As we walk down this road, we look at all the different ways a story can be mixed-media: music, images, photography, collage, and the like. Invariably, these stories will include some visual component.

If we are going to include visual storytelling, its important to do it right. Now I can’t draw a straight line to save my life, but that doesn’t stop me from collaborating with those who do. It helps to speak the language; to understand the ground rules.

The folks over at blenderguru.com have created a fantastic tutorial video on the basic rules of composition.

What You”™ll Learn

  • Why a lack of composition knowledge can undermine your efforts
  • The 3 stages of a well composed image
  • The most common mistake artists make
  • Simple rules to create more engaging artwork

Be sure to check out the original, especially the comments section. They can be very enlightening 🙂


Cross media Storytelling

While rambling around the interwebs, I came across this fantastic slideshare. A conversation about stories that are mixed-media and interactive. This one’s a little more theoretical, but it lays a good foundation for defining mixed-media, interactive stories and begins to touch on how to tell these stories.

Check out cross media storytelling

Mixed Media Literature

Mixed media (or multimodal) storytelling is not my own creative idea, not am I the only revolutionary. This is a post from an author utilizing multiple forms of media in order to tell a story as it deserves to be told. Enjoy.

Originally from The Nathan Holic Collection:

Simply put, “mixed-media literature” refers to any piece of writing that utilizes additional mediums.

Generally, this means that the traditional text will be joined by some new visual element, whether that be an additional document (letters, schedules, scripts) or changes in the design of the page or in the text (additional columns of text, font changes) or a piece of artwork (clip-art, comic panel, photograph). This isn”™t a brand-new concept. Heck, magazines and newspapers have been employing a variety of mediums ever since their inception. But most forms of literature have stuck mainly to “traditional text”: most novels, memoirs, and essays generally rely upon the text alone to convey the message. And even when additional images or design elements come into play, it happens in non-intrusive ways (chapter breaks, or appendices). With the rise of mixed-media communication in our daily lives, however, and with the Millennial Generation growing so accustomed to constant mixed-media communication (from web sites with embedded images, to iPhone apps, to Powerpoint presentations, there are very few occasions when we ever see text standing alone anymore), I am interested in the ways that these mediums will manifest themselves in “traditional literature.” Where will we see web sites incorporated into novels, and facebook status updates incorporated into memoirs, and text messages incorporated into poetry? I ask “where” and not “when,” because quite simply, it is happening all around us”¦with greater and greater frequency.

On this page, I want to track some of the more prominent and successful examples of “mixed-media literature” to surface in the last few years. And to make my argument a bit more clear, I break apart the idea of mixed-media literature into three different categories. Really, every author determines to what extent he/she will actually break free of a single medium, so it”™s a sliding scale and the author decides when to start and when to stop. But here are the three different ways we can view this type of literature: (1) narrative voice, (2) hybrid narratives, (3) graphic literature.

Read the Rest.

More Transformational Storytelling Revolutionaries

My research centers around transformational storytelling, multimodal, interactive storytelling, and (to a large degree), differentiated instruction . I advocate using new technology as one means of telling these life-altering stories. It all basically comes down to

How can we tell engaging stories that teach, heal, and transform lives?

That’s a pretty simple, pretty powerful concept. A while back, I posted several other revolutionaries. Here are some more:


The Stanford Storytelling Project

The Stanford Storytelling Project is an arts program at Stanford University that explores how we live in and through stories and how we can use them to change our lives. Our mission is to promote the transformative nature of traditional and modern oral storytelling, from Lakota tales to Radiolab, and empower students to create and perform their own stories. The project sponsors courses, workshops, live events, and grants. 

This is one of my favorite research organizations, and they have a lot going on. While they focus primarily n the tranformative nature of oral storytelling, a lot of the principles can be related to written, visual, and whatever else. They produce a lot of episodes, podcasts, and material. Not to mention that it is Stanford University, so the professors publish on these topics as well.

Read More

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