Tag: storytelling (Page 2 of 5)

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

Hero’s Journey: A Review

This post is part of a series exploring the Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell studied hundreds of world-wide myths, finding patterns to virtually any story. This basic framework gives the stories we tell a universal, timeless appeal and resonate deeply with our audiences. This series is not about a “five steps to perfect stories” method, nor does it claim a best way to tell stories.  Today, we review what we’ve talked about so far.

Check out the rest of the series and a compare different versions of the Hero’s Journey

Just like a good story, this series has reached its “midpoint,” that is twisting point where the second half is almost a different story than the first. Up until now, this Hero’s Journey series has focused on the mechanics of the journey. What are the stages? Who are the characters? What is the world? Basically, what makes up the Hero’s Journey?

We are about to jump into the how, and I’m pretty excited about it. We are going to work together through a story from beginning to end and see exactly what it takes (and how simple it is) to create a journey. Finally, we’ll talk about some practical tips (18 in all) to make the journey interesting, memorable, and personal.

But Before We Go There

Let’s review what we’ve seen so far. The most basic

At its most basic, a story has three elements: Character, Plot, and Setting. A person (not necessarily human) doing stuff in a place and time. That’s all the hero’s journey is, one way to describe that person doing that stuff in that place and time. What makes the Journey special is its seeming universiality (why can’t that be a word?)

The Hero”™s Journey is one way to weave characters, plot, and setting. It is not the only way. It may not be the best way. The magic of the Hero’s Journey arises from its primality; its universal basicness. Joseph Campbell spent his lifetime investigating myths from all around the world, distilling patterns he found from all civilizations into some common principles. Carl Jung, a prominant psychologist, built upon this these patterns by likening this journey to facets found deep in the human psyche and cultural memories.  This isn”™t some kooky metaphysical idea, it”™s basic psychology. – Series Home

To break down the journey into a sentence: “A hero is at home in the ordinary world until something happens to unbalance her reality, leaving the hero to enter the special world on a quest to set the world in balance again which can only happen by confronting the Shadow.”

Though I originally posted them in a different order, lets go through that definition of a story in a hero’s journey way.


Characters allow storytellers to explore how different people react to different situations. Even deeper than all that, though: Characters are what the audience identify with. – Major Archetypes

There are to kinds of players in a typical Hero’s Journey: Major Archetypes and Minor Archetypes. Major archetypes are those that are necessary for the journey to work. You need a hero, a mentor, a shadow, and a herald of some kind. The Hero is the main character who actually goes on the quest to set the world in balance again. Along the way, the hero grows. They have some flaw they overcome. This growth is paramount to any good story.

The Mentor is a character (or circumstance, interestingly enough) that guide the hero part of the way. Maybe they’ve been down the road before or posses some knowledge or gift the hero will need. The Shadow actively tries to stop the hero from succeeding. This shadow can be an external enemy (Darth Vader) or an internal foe (self-doubt). The Herald calls the hero off on the adventure. Many times the herald may be the mentor, or not even a character as such.

Minor Archetypes fill out your cast. They have a relationship with the hero, even if (in the story) they have to connection. These characters reflect the hero by bringing out a specific facet of the hero’s character, counterpoint the hero by showing what the hero “could be” if circumstances were different, and aid the hero, most especially in growth. Minor Archetypes lists several common character types, and there are limitless more.

Mixing and matching these basic functions into more specific characters can be a blast. Han Solo in Star Wars, for instance, is an ally, a mercenary, a ranger, and a redeemed. The more creative you get, the further from cliche you will find yourself.


Archetypes are powerful characters because most anyone can identify with most any archetype at some point in their life. Archetypes are broad types that we all encountered in life, and (whether we like to admit it or not) have portrayed at some point. Each of us has been a Mentor. We”™ve all felt like the Hero going the road alone. We”™ve even been the Shadow trying to hinder another, though we never think of ourselves as evil. Even with minor archetypes, this is true. I”™ve been a trickster, a shape shifter, an ally and (yes) the wicked-step-mother. – Major Archetypes


Having all the greatest characters mean nothing if they don’t do stuff. The plot is the most defined part of the Hero’s Journey, and there have been a million books and articles discussing it. The point of this series is not to make that a million and one, but to simplify it a little. Let’s break the Journey down into five steps:

The Hero and the Ordinary World, Broken

In the ordinary world, all is well”¦or at least all is ordinary for our hero. This first phase of the story introduces our hero and his world, and gives our audience something to connect with the main character. Then it happens. Something causes the world to be thrown into chaos. This may be literal (plague, war, the ring of power is found) as in many epics. Or, it may be much more personal (the hero meets the girl of his dreams, a parent falls ill or dies, or the next-door neighbors begin the secret club). Whatever the event, intentional or not, the hero must step out into the special world. – Plot I

The Hero and the Quest

Now that the hero is on the road towards a goal, they meet Allies, Shadows, Tricksters, or whatever your heart desires. Just make your Hero work to get where they”™re going, and never let them get anything easily. The basic principles are 1.) Characters crave stability (or what they perceive is stability), and 2.) They will do the least amount of work possible to acheive it.

Really, the quest is wide open. Have fun. For those who want more structure, check out Writer”™s Journey and Joseph Campbell”™s original Hero”™s Journey.

The Hero and the Passion

At some point (usually around the middle of the story), the Quest becomes more than a Quest to the hero. It becomes a passion, a drive, an obsession. This is no longer, “lets save the princess so she”™ll reward us.” Now it”™s, “we have to ““ and will ““ save the princess no matter the cost.” This is the point of no return for the Hero.

Often, this turning point has something to do with the Shadow. It may also be the point the Hero starts to realize the unconscious need and becomes less focused on the conscious  want. This scene has to be powerful, because from here to the next part (which is the climax) things have to get dire for the Hero — as dire as you can make them. This passion is what will carry them through.

The Hero and the Moment

It all comes down to this. This is the climax. This is the Moment the Hero faces her worst fear, the most powerful adversary, the greatest challenge. This is almost always faced alone. This should also be the moment of change in the Hero”™s character arc. Lastly, many of the most powerful stories involve a resurrection of some kind.

The Hero and the Repercussions

Believe it or not, the character does not have to get what they want ““ but they do have to get they need, that is their growth.  Whether it is a happy, sad, or bitter-sweet ending, the Hero is no longer the same. And, they have made their way into another ordinary world. This will not be the same ordinary world they began in (though it may be similar). It will, however, be ordinary to the Hero. Things are settled now. – Plot III


Our characters are doing stuff, but where? The setting is just as important as the characters and plot.

In this deeply-powerful, hero-centric way of storytelling everything is connected to the main character. The plot is determined by their choices, the secondary characters are archetypes that fill psychological functions, the hero’s growth is the bones of the tale. Setting is also connected to the hero in the same way that minor archetypes are; by reflecting, counterpointing, challenging or aiding, and adding believability to the protagonist. – The Hero’s Three Worlds

The importance of a well-constructed, internally consistent world cannot be overstated. And, this isn’t just important for fantasy. Wherever you ground your story, the world is a part of it and must be completely fleshed out.

In the case of the Hero’s Journey, it can be said that there are three worlds. The ordinary world is where the hero starts out. It is in balance, she knows her place in the world, everything is ordinary (at least to her). The special world is the world of the quest. While it doesn’t have to be fantastic, it does have to be different. The remade world is the world after the climax. In balance again, but not quite the same.

All Done

Phew…that was a longer post than I like to write, but I wanted to lay out the entire journey in a snapshot because we are about to put it to the test to create three different stories running in parallel: a fantasy, a romantic comedy, and an intimate drama. Just to prove it works. Stick around!

(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

Emotion, Learning, 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.

As we walk through our Five Guiding Principles of Educational Storytelling we stroll past Hero Audience BondingWe have already discussed how creating characters that are Identifiable, Empathetic, Believable, and Complex will help the audience learn vicariously. Up ahead, we can see the final principles concerning learning style, craft, and interactivity. Today we tackle the second principle and discover the role emotion plays in educational stories.

Dr. Eric Jensen is a leader in the field of Brain Based Learning which seeks to use research to create environments and techniques that are conducive to teaching and learning. It makes sense, right? The brain is an incredibly complex organism that processes information consciously and subconsciously at incredible speeds. The system is so complex that any number of factors alter how well we learn. For instance, we all know that repetition is important in learning, but the reason it is so important is because, as you repeat, the brain literally, physically reinforces the pathways that store that knowledge, keeping the information more readily available longer.

One of the central ideas in brain-based learning research is that external factors alter the brains ability to process and store information. Things like temperature, stress, social positioning, and glucose levels have huge impacts on the learning process. One of the most important variables is emotion.

That shouldn’t come as any surprise. Why do you think you can remember the joke your grandfather told you twenty years ago but not what you had for breakfast yesterday? The emotion attached to the joke information created a stronger impression and a more lasting bond than the fleeting, unemotional breakfast.

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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

(Seven) Interactive Story Ideas Aided by Technology

I talk a lot about mixed-media stories, writing, and story craft. But this blog is about more than just multimodal stories. Interactive stories are part of the revolution.  There are a lot of different ideas about interactivity, though. So, for my blog, I say interactive stories are stories that adapt to the will of the reader. There are diverging roads, bonus features, and extra tidbits for the reader to explore, making no two reading experiences the same. None of this is for novelty. None is “just because it’s cool.” Every aspect is crafted to be what is best for the story; what the story deserves. One of my favorite posts from Around the Web is Inkle’s 10 Types of Interactive Stories which shows some different ways of adding interactivity to your stories.

But what do these look like? What are some concrete ways to make a story interactive? How can technology help us? Well I’ve put together a list of some brainstorm ideas for interactive stories. These are not story ideas about characters, but method ideas about adding interactivity.

Each of these would need to utilize technology in some way, which would make it difficult for many writers. That is going to change. Keep an eye out on this blog or my research blog for a new endeavor called Phoenix Labs. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

So, without further jibber-jabber. Here are some starting points to get creative juices flowing.

1. Giant Madlib

What about a story that knows your reader? Not your target audience, but your specific reader. Before the story started, the reader input several details about their life: favorite color, vacation, fears, etc. And the story, like the world’s best madlib, put these details in the right spot, making each experience different. Unique to the reader.

2. Bonus Features

Blue-ray discs have them, why not books? Deleted chapters, character interviews, behind the scenes commentary. You get the idea.

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(Five) Guiding Principles 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.

Educational storytelling means a lot of things to a lot of different people. It can be expressed through classroom instruction, student writing, moral teaching, and singing songs around a campfire. These may seem like far-flung and unrelated activities. It becomes even more muddled when we talk about educational storytelling for different purposes: Identity/Social Oriented teaching (like morality tales), and Process Oriented Teaching (like math and science). How can any of these things be reconciled? It feels like there are too many things going on to find common ground.

Well, all of the above can be boiled down into to some commonalities. This is not an end-all list, but a place to start.

In my research, educational storytelling in all its forms can be built upon five basic principles: Hero Audience Bonding, Emotion and Learning, Presentation and Craft, Presentation and Learning Profile, and Interactivity. We will touch on each one here, and dedicate a post to each in the future.

1. Hero Audience Bonding

We create a hero the audience can learn through, vicariously. Once a character is made identifiable, the audience is able to “see through their eyes” and experience the world as they would through empathy and emotion. As the hero progresses through the story, learning and problem solving, the audience will learn the same lessons — given they have bonded with the main character.

2. Emotion and Learning

There is a reason you remember the joke your grandfather told you at six years old, but you cant remember what you had for breakfast. Emotion makes things memorable. This isn’t just an axiom, its biological science. There are specific, easy things you can do in any type of story to entice the brain to store the information away.

Read More

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