Tag: storytelling (Page 1 of 5)

MMI Revolution: A Personalized Children’s Book

This. Is. Incredible.

I advocate, fight for, and bleed the mixed-media, interactive revolution, but I seem to always think of this as a digital-only field. It’s not. By definition, MMI is all kinds of media, and this digital-only thinking hinders the very revolution we are trying to spark.

One of my favorite MMI projects is The Incredible Intergalactic Journey Home, a “magical, personalized storybook.” The user (a parent) inputs some basic information about the child, and orders a personalized picture book about a trip through the universe. Each trip is personalized, including finding the child’s name in a constellation of stars.

This really is worth checking out — for the revolutionaries, and especially for anyone who has children in their lives. https://www.lostmy.name/en-US

Choose Your Own Adventure Stories

We all remember those “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories where you had to flip around the book every time the character was faced with a decision. I know they’ve fallen out of favor recently, but I think they are right for a reboot. With digital technology and apps, there are a million ways to bring this fun to modern readers.

ChooseYourOwnStory.com is one contender. This charming site allows users to create “story games” and readers to enjoy and review them. While the design is somewhat lacking and the functionality limited, there are plenty of stories to choose from.

And, it goes to show what can be done with MMI, if only we let our dreams take flight.

 

Ten Elements of Educational Storytelling

This post is part of a series that explores the Basics of Educational Storytelling. Largely taken from my master’s thesis, The Value and Principles of Educational Storytelling (which can be read here), this I will lay the foundation for an educational storytelling model regardless of setting and medium. We look at the basic elements of storytelling, five guiding principles and educational stories, and practical tips.

Check out the rest of the series.

This is it. We have taken a long journey through educational stories and barely scratched the surface. In the best tradition of “memory episodes” from T.V. shows we love, I wanted to walk down memory lane. Here is the entire series boiled down into ten-ish bite sized bits 🙂

1. Why Educational Stories?

Stories are part of humanity, and have been ever since, and probably before, humankind took to speech. John Niles even went as far as to call humankind Homo Narrans, storytelling man. Cultures have developed myths, legends, and works of fiction core to identity, history, and moral behavior, and the transmission of knowledge. This is not a past society phenomenon. Narrative still shapes our daily lives, be it intentional or unintentional. It seems that stories can be a great deal more than fun.

Fables are specifically useful in character education and the passing along of traditions, mores, and cultural ethics. Stories are not just effective in teaching social-oriented principles (like fables). Process-oriented principles like math, the scientific method, problem solving, and even computer programming can all benefit from storytelling.

2. A Good Story, Well told

At its heart, and educational story must be a good story. We can all relate to some cheesy special (though I bet you learned some good stuff). But, its simple: the better the story, the more attached we get, and the more powerful the opportunity to learn.

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Interactivity and Educational Storytelling

This post is part of a series that explores the Basics of Educational Storytelling. Largely taken from my master”™s thesis, The Value and Principles of Educational Storytelling (which can be read here), this I will lay the foundation for an educational storytelling model regardless of setting and medium. We look at the basic elements of storytelling, five guiding principles and educational stories, and practical tips.

Check out the rest of the series.

We are nearing the end of our Basics of Educational Stories series. In total, we have looked at the basic elements of story, the value of educational storytelling, the Hero’s Journey and how it can be used in educational stories, and the first four of five principles: Hero Audience Bonding, Emotion and Learning, Presentation, and Learning Profiles.

Now we dive into the fifth principle: Interactivity.

In many ways, interactivity is a capstone of the other principles. When a story is interactive, it gives a more genuine bonding experience and increases emotional involvement, makes a much stronger presentation, and complements a variety of learning profiles. If interactivity is the capstone, it can also be called the bedrock. When a story is interactive in some way (even if just encouraging the audience to picture themselves in the protagonists place), it encourages the other principles by design. Interactivity holds it all together and shoots steroids into an educational story.

By designing stories that are interactive and allow the student the chance to participate, the repetition of processes can be made more interesting. Younger students, especially, have a great ability to learn as they interact. The hero may ask the audience for help, the storyteller may include exercises into the story, and the story will most
definitely include the hero working through the processes in order to reinforce the learning.

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Virtual Reality Storytelling and the Future

One of my favorite books is the steampunk adventure Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld set during an alternate-history First World War. The world is lush and well thought out and the characters are incredibly real. Not to mention he is a word-smith extraordinaire.

So, imagine my excitement when I found a virtual reality lab building his world.

This is part of the Creators Project and is being carried out by a group of USC students and professors. They are experimenting with creating landscapes for stories to emerge from. The idea being, if you create a story space and let people interact inside it, unique stories will emerge. This is a similar concept to fan studies, but on a new level.

Keep you eye on this project. I will continue to bring you updates.

(Five) Elements of a Good Title

Let’s be honest, when you pick up a book the first or second thing you experience is the title, and nine times out of ten, that is as far as you get. Along with the cover art, a title really is the most important aspect of a book-to-be-sold. This applies to authors in traditional publishing, indie publishing, or any form of hybrid. Even if you are a superstar at Random House, you will have to compete with every other book and do an insane amount of promotion if you want your story to get the limelight it deserves.

So, why do we think so little about the title? We should be intentional, right?

Well, I have done a little research, talked to some authors, and dissected a number of titles to see if I could find some common keys to successful title for novels. Here are my (very unscientific) findings.

1. Keep It Short

Shorter titles are easier to remember. Unless the book is a marketed in a very specific way to reflect classic titles (like those with multiple subtitles), keep it to a few words at most. People have a lot to remember and they are bombarded with media. The only way they will remember is if the title is memorable.

2. Rhythm Matters

Think of a title as a short song or micro-poem. These are things that stick with us, that line of a song that we can’t get out of our head. Why? Alliteration. Rhythm. Soft and hard sounds working in concert. When the Crickets Cry mixes soft “w” sounds with the double “c” sounds. When a title is lyrical, it will stick with us.

3. Juxtaposition

Think of a title as an opening line when asking someone out. You have exactly one chance to convince them to keep talking to you. People love intrigue. People want puzzles to figure out. If a title creates a question in their mind, they are likely to (at least) read the cover to see what the question even is. Use juxtaposition for this, setting two thing against each other that don’t normally seem connected. Also, consider words that evoke images. I love Daughter of Smoke and Bone as a title. How can you not see an image with those words and wonder, “what’s that all about?”

4. Must be Relevant to the Book

Moving into more “business” concerns, the title must represent the book. People know what they like and are always on the lookout for something that piques their interest. So, if you book is a murder mystery, the title should represent that to attract those readers. A title “Summertime With Daises” doesn’t conjure images of back-alley investigations, does it. The title is the very first contract with your reader. They want to know what the story is, and that you can deliver on your promises.

Also, consider your brand. You may not write hundreds of books, but even one book constitutes a brand. How does the title represent your future works? Can you create a hook that ties them together?

5. Think of Promotion and Search Engines

I wish this wasn’t the case, but its important. You will have to compete for a spot in the myriad of noise bombarding us every day. Think of your novel as a search term. I even go as far as to look up Google Adwords Search Terms to see which terms are most searched for. If you can piggy-back on some of these coveted terms the better. Do a quick search for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) tips. You’d be amazed how many apply to novel titles, as well.

And that’s all I have for now. As I come across more, I will share the love 🙂

Be sure to comment below.

Educational Storytelling: Presentation, Craft, and Learning Profile

This post is part of a series that explores the Basics of Educational Storytelling. Largely taken from my master”™s thesis, The Value and Principles of Educational Storytelling (which can be read here), this I will lay the foundation for an educational storytelling model regardless of setting and medium. We look at the basic elements of storytelling, five guiding principles and educational stories, and practical tips.

Check out the rest of the series.

I’m going to attack two guiding principles of educational storytelling in this post, since they are so related.

Craft

It is not enough, simply to tell a story with a good message. Even if all the steps are perfectly executed in a captivating tale where the lesson is wonderfully presented, students do not learn by listening. Students learn by doing. It is important, after the story has concluded, to include segments of practical discussion. Not theoretical analysis of the literature, but truly pragmatic discussion of the lesson. Students must be encouraged to
act on the lessons learned and explore the topic with greater depth.

Learning Profile

A Note on Learning Styles

All people do not learn in the same fashion. This is something that has been known to mankind since the beginning of time. However, in recent years, some more scientific study has been completed that has helped educators understand how different students process information. Theories of multiple intelligences abound. Robert Sternberg broke intelligence into three separate categories: academic, creative, and practical (Berger, 2006).

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Virtual Reality Cinema: Interviews With Mad Scientists

Virtual reality is coming of age, and it’s really great stuff. Everyone seems to see the benefit in gaming, computers, and research simulation, but a small group see VR revolutionizing the film industry. Imagine being able to immerse yourself in a movie. Not a computer-animated film, but a photo-captured story.

These innovators at the Sundance Festival are talking about just that, and asking some big questions:

  • What does the future of film look like?
  • How much agency does the audience want?
  • How can filmakers adapt their craft in an immersive world?
  • And a lot more.

The video is almost an hour long, but even the first 10 minutes is worth a look.


 

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.

(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?

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