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Resources for Educational Storytelling

In my quest to equip an army of educational storytellers, I have come across some other revolutionaries and sources or great help. I wanted to share a few of my favorites.

 

 

What’s In a Title?

We all know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but we all do. Just as important as the cover is the title. This is something thriller writers seem to have a real knack for, so here is an article from thriller author Nicole Wilson about the elements of a great fiction title.


 

In the process of writing my first serious novel, I ran into a bit of a snag: I didn’t know what to call it! I had the plot down, the characters drawn out, even a possible series developing from it, but I couldn’t figure out what to title the darn thing.

To me, titles are important. The old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” just doesn’t work for me. There are too many good books out there to read that I have to have some way to filter them. So a good title and cover design are really important. Besides, titles are generally the first thing a reader will see of a book, so it should help snatch a reader in.

Because I had this issue, I decided to do some research. And you know what I found? I was right! Titles are ever important. That being said, let me share a few of the tips I discovered:

  1. Identify the genre of your book and research books similar to yours. If you write thrillers, search Amazon.com or Goodreads.com for best-selling thriller titles. If you write literary fiction, do the same. Look for trends in those titles, and apply it to your book’s title.

  2. Use the theme or motif of your novel. If a certain piece of dialogue or story creeps up constantly throughout your book, consider that. Or if you have a theme that runs underneath the novel, use it as the title or at least as a base word to develop a title from.

Read the rest…


 

Nicole Wilson spends her days planning for disasters and her nights writing about them. She lives in a small apartment with her husband and two cats, all who contribute to her writing endeavors. Nicole has written many books and short stories and is at work on more. Three of the short stories have been published online, which you can find on her website at www.nicolewilsonauthor.com

The Citizens’ Police Academy – My Experience

First hand research is a must. Nicole Wilson, a thriller author, recently went through the Citizens’ Police Academy and learned what it takes to be a police officer — and got a ton of great writing research. Here, she shares here boon.


For the last nine weeks, I have had the opportunity to be a part of a program with the Houston Police Department called the Citizens’ Police Academy. It has been an incredible experience, both from a personal and a writer’s standpoint. I’ve been exposed to new people and situations, seen buildings normally locked down to civilians, and ridden along with police officers. It has given me a new respect for the officers and what they do.

Introduction

For those that don’t know, the Citizens’ Police Academy is a ten week program that teaches civilians about different divisions within a police department. The goal of the academy is to educate the public on the inner workings of the department, so they can act as a public representative within their communities. Police these days get lots of bad press, and it’s easy to forget that, most of the time, only the bad get media attention. More often than not, the outstanding things they do aren’t publicized. This program gives civilians an inside look at what they do and why they do it.

One day a week for three hours, they give lectures, hands-on demonstrations, and field trips to the various units. Each week is a different topic, and for every topic, they bring in experts to talk to us, show us what they do, and, in some cases, teach us how to do it, too. Basically, we get to learn all of the things the cadets do in the academy, but without the homework, sweat, and tears (and the badge and gun– we don’t get those either). This program is not limited only to HPD; several students in my class have done this program around the country.

Curriculum

Week 1 – Orientation/Tactics

Orientation was just what it sounds like: introductions all around. But then they took us out in the police cruisers and had trainers drive us through the precision course (the driving course with all the orange cones around). Talk about an adrenaline rush! We hit 50 MPH a couple of times on a very short track. Then, they showed us intermediate weapons: OC spray (mace), batons, and tasers. They even let me shoot a taser! At a paper target, of course.

Fun fact I learned this week: Chevy Caprices are favored by some officers as their car because it’s lighter, more maneuverable, and has better handling than the Crown Vics.

Read the rest…


 

Nicole Wilson spends her days planning for disasters and her nights writing about them. She lives in a small apartment with her husband and two cats, all who contribute to her writing endeavors. Nicole has written many books and short stories and is at work on more. Three of the short stories have been published online, which you can find on her website at www.nicolewilsonauthor.com


 

Personalized Learning With Richard Culatta

In this TED talk, Richard Culatta speaks about innovative learning and personalized education. It’s truly inspirational and gives some great, practical tips.

Richard Culatta is an internationally recognized leader in educational innovation with experience in k-12, higher education, and workplace learning environments. Culatta is known for his thoughtful approach to bringing new ideas and collaborations to the education ecosystem. Culatta is currently serving as Senior Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Education and as the Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.

Interview with Matt MacInnis, CEO of Inkling

Inkling is a forward-thinking company that produces a set of tools that businesses use to build, manage, and distribute digital content. They are on the forefront of what content, stories, and books may become. I am always interested in how stories can become more mixed-media and interactive. They seem to be on the right track.

In this interview with Matt MacInnis, CEO of Inkling, he discusses the future of books. Read the original.


Introduction

Almost every day I wonder why the book hasn’t been reinvented. New technologies have helped us make the publishing process and marketplace faster and more efficient, but the notion of the book itself hasn’t really changed. Why? Shouldn’t the book adapt to our already time-compressed lives? What will books mean to children who are growing up with iPhones and tablets, constant interruptions from the network? Ask any preteen and they’ll tell you that they find what they need on YouTube. So will they read? If so, what? I don’t think the answers are within the book-publishing industry. A business model that starts with exploiting writers doesn’t leave room for innovation. And Amazon is no different from the calcified establishment it pretends to upend. Enter Matt MacInnis, the Canada-born chief executive officer of San Francisco book-publishing platform Inkling. Matt is one of my favorite debaters: He is articulate and possesses an acerbic wit. More importantly, he isn’t afraid to speak his mind. He also likes to talk, as you will see. A few months ago we met for coffee and ended up talking for hours about books, publishing, native advertising, content, startups and life. I left out the startup stuff and instead have focused on publishing and how books are (and aren’t) changing with the times. I enjoyed this conversation and hope you will too.

Om Malik: How would you describe yourself and what your company does?

Matt MacInnis: I think the word “book” is the tricky word. We are a publishing platform, and sometimes the thing that people create with Inkling Habitat and Inkling is a book, and sometimes it”™s not. Sometimes it”™s much more flexible in new categories like learning platforms, where people take assessment and get re-mediated using Inkling content. I don”™t think we call that a book, but I don”™t know what we do call it. That”™s the problem of the people who are creating those things using our technology.

OM: We always look at the formats of the past and try to apply them to new mediums. For example, we put the old radio show format on television and taught that it was “”

MM: That was Tv.


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.

Types of Fantasy Stories

Earlier this week, I posted about Brandon Sanderson’s Three Laws of Magic. Continuing on that theme, I wanted to explore the different kinds of fantasy stories. First, let me be clear: I am not a fan of lists or concepts that claim to boil everything down to 12 easy steps. Those things may have a certain place in life, but I feel that reducing the complexities of the world to an even number people can count to using hands and feet is more a marketing scheme than anything else.

Okay, not that my little sermon is out of the way. While this isn’t a post about a limited number of ways to write a story, it is a helpful way to be intentional in the stories we tell. Knowing what you are trying to say is half the battle, the other half being to say it.

I found when crafting plots for my novels, that I needed to understand my own boundaries in order to be consistent. Not to say that I pinned myself in. Quite the opposite. Once I learned how my worlds worked, I was about to make them work with my characters, scenes, and awesome ideas. For me, the most important step was to see what kind of story I was writing.

This was especially important while rewritng a novel call Mississippi Secrets. The story seemed to fall flat to me, more mimicking other things I had read than being anything truly original. Once I took a step back and tried to see where it would sit on shelves, I noticed that it was a blend of several different things. That was great! But, I could not have gotten there until I knew what else existed.

Here is the list I have cultivated over the years. Different types of fantasy stories.


Worlds Upon Worlds

This list describes different worlds for each type of fantasy story. A world is the entire context for the story including history, geography, culture,  and the like.

  • “This world” does not necessarily mean Earth. What it means is the same basic context as the reader (which is Earth, I assume).
  • “Other world” is a totally separate planet or existence that is not connected to our reality at all.
  • A third “alternate world” would be some sort of alternate reality. That is, “what if” stories (what if the South had won the Civil War?).
  • Lastly, “past world” would be anything before the current context of the reader.

Also, building on Brandon Sanderson:

  • Hard Magic – Magic/technology has well defined rules that the audience understands.
  • Soft Magic – Magic/technology has unclear or vague rules, or none at all. This allows for a greater sense of wonder to be attained for the reader

Fantasy, unbound

High Fantasy, Other world

High fantasy describes magic that is deeply integrated into the fabric of the world and affects virtually every aspect of it. Other world means that it is a world totally out of the context of the reader, though there must some some kind of parallel for the reader to understand what is happening.

Most often, in Sanderson’s terms, these stories would tend towards Hard Magic.

The best example of high fantasy, other world is The Lord of the Rings.

Low Fantasy, This World

Low fantasy implies that magical things may happen, but they are not so widespread that the entire culture has been altered by them. This world means that it happens in a context that the reader thoroughly understands and (more less) lives in. These stories include the child who can pull magical tricks on their nanny, or the nanny who uses magic to teach the children (Mary Poppins). In most cases, this is very Soft Magic.

Secret Society, This world

This is one of my favorite types of fantasy stories. Think Harry Potter. In these cases, we are squarely in this world, but find that there is another, secretly hidden world all around us for magical folk. These may be wizards, or demigods, or vampires, or whatever. In each instance, these secret societies run parallel to our own reality and ofter intersect at points in history. So, some member of the secret society may have been a famous historical figure. In almost all cases I have seen, the protagonist must (in some way) juggle living in both our world and the secret realm.

Mythology, This World

Similarly (often extending) the secret society is the idea that some mythological force (gods, demons, angels, etc) are still active all around us. While this could include so many of the “fairy tales are actually true and still going on around us” stories, I would tend to make a distinction between mythology and folklore. Many books have been written on this, but to make it simple: mythology explains the world (gods make storms), folklore colors the world (fairies are entertaining).

Folklore, This World

Because I made the above distinction, I felt obligated to include this. The above applies 🙂

Generic, Non-World

These are hard to pull off, but incredibly satisfying. When you are able to concoct a world that is enough like our context but lacking specifics that lead the reader to wonder “are they in our world or not?” Lemony Snicket did a great job with this. Often, these stories take place in “the city” or “the country” or some other vague location.

Paranormal or Spiritual, This World

In these cases, the “afterworld” or “spiritual realm” bleeds into our current context. Psychics, mediums, ghosts, and telepaths often fit here.

Crossover, Two Worlds

In Narnia the children cross from our world into another. This may be the most staple type of fantasy story, and often the easiest to write if you are first starting out. Why? Because you can have a main character who needs to have the rules of the new world explained — just like your reader will.

Mix and Match an Elixir

Like the greatest alchemists, the best stories will mix and match elements from these different types. I may do some follow up posts on this idea in the future.

For now, I challenge you to take a look at your current manuscript, favorite story, or best idea and see where it may fit. Then look at others of that same ilk. What are the rules? How did that writer pull it off? How can you do it differently?

Brandon Sanderson and Magic

In this week dedicated to fantasy writing and world-building, it is only right to start with a look at a master. Brandon Sanderson is one of the greatest world builders of our time, not only because his works are imaginative and well-executed, but because they are consistent, thought out, and deceptively simple. To achieve this, he has devised his Three Laws of Magic, which cover the ground rules for creating magical systems in fantasy works.

The following is shamelessly pulled from Wikipedia, which in this case, offers a fantastic summary. Read the rest on wikipedia.org or brandonsanderson.com


Sanderson’s First Law

“An author’s ability to solve conflict satisfactorily with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.”[25]

While originally created as a rule for magic systems in fantasy novels, Sanderson has specified that this law need not apply just to fantasy, but is also applicable to science fiction. This Law was originally defined in Sanderson’s online essay “Sanderson’s First Law”.[25] In the essay he qualifies the two extremes1 of design as being:

Hard Magic
Magic/technology has well defined rules that the audience understands. As a result, one can use this to solve conflict more easily as the capabilities are cleanly defined. Sanderson classifies this as “Hard Magic”. C.L. Wilson in her essay Worldbuilding 101 – Making Magic[26] advocated this method of creation, stating, “…create your rules, then follow them.”
Soft Magic
Magic/technology has unclear or vague rules, or none at all. This allows for a greater sense of wonder to be attained for the reader, but the ability to solve problems without resorting to deus ex machina decreases. Sanderson classifies this as “Soft Magic”. Lawrence Watt-Evans specifically advised “The trick is to be a benevolent and consistent deity, not one who pulls miracles out of a hat as needed”[27]

Sanderson’s Second Law

“Limitations > Powers”[25]

Or in other words, a character’s weaknesses are more interesting than his or her abilities. It was initially set down in Episode 14 of the podcast Writing Excuses.[28]2

John Brown, likewise looked to Sanderson’s work in his own essay involving magic systems, noting “What are the ramifications and conflicts of using it?”[29] Patricia Wrede likewise noted several issues on this topic ranging from magic suppressing other technologies, to how a magic might affect farming.[30][31]

In explaining the second law, Sanderson references the magic system of Superman, claiming that Superman’s powers are not what make him interesting, but his limits, specifically his vulnerability to kryptonite and the code of ethics he received from his parents.

Sanderson’s Third Law

“Expand what you already have before you add something new.”[32]

The Third Law implies that the writer should go deeper with worldbuilding before going wider.

Sanderson points out that magic does not take place in a vacuum, a good magic system should be interconnected with the world around it. It is related to the ecology, religion, economics, warfare, and politics of the world it inhabits. The job of the author is to think further than the reader about the ramifications of the magic system. If magic can turn mud into diamonds, that has an effect on the value of diamonds. Sanderson states that readers of genre fiction are interested not just in the magic system but how the world and characters will be different because of the magic.[33]


Quoted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brandon_Sanderson#Sanderson.27s_Laws

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!

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