Aug 312015
 

Last week, I was watching sessions from Geek Speaks’ Cyberpunk: Past and Future event back in May while working on my Saturday Scenes project and suffered a total collision of work and rant. In the closing remarks, Bruce Sterling covered the struggles of sharing what characters see on their personal devices with the audience watching. A couple of nights later, I watched the opening minutes of CSI: Cyber (until I learned what I was watching), where transparent street maps kept appearing next to where a character was holding a phone. On our television screen, it was difficult to make out what the maps were showing.

I’m a fan of both Pretty Little Liars (PLL) and BBC’s Sherlock, where characters’ messages are shown to the audience so they don’t have to be read. (Admit it, PLL would have been annoying if every single text message had been read out loud.) PLL often had the camera zoom in on the screen so we could read the message for ourselves…which became awkward and taxing after a bit because longer messages often weren’t in camera long enough to be read while shorter messages hung around too long. Sherlock gets it a bit better, showing the message as a caption in relation to the character reading or sending the message.

I’ve watched all of this with great interest because I’m currently working on a serial story where the main character has just started hanging out in an area where text chats are common. I know I’ve written stories in the past where characters text or email each other, but for some reason figuring out how to separate the text chats from the main character’s thoughts has been this huge deal. In the end, there is no distinction between the chat and her thoughts beyond tags and beats, simply because I couldn’t decide what would be clear without becoming really annoying.

What’s sad is that we as a culture have been texting for nearly a decade (not counting early adopters). Representing characters’ electronic messages should be as second nature to writers in various media as writing dialogue and thoughts. But there’s no real consensus on how to share this information. So, we’re all left to experiment with this mode of communication in our storytelling.

Aug 282015
 

The online class I’m taking gave an assignment last week based on a common innovation exercise: The Five Whys? This exercises is well known as the one Toyota uses to incite innovation among its employees. Someone brings in an idea or prototype, and other people ask, “Why?” five times. The idea is that each “Why” is really asking the person in the hot seat to further clarify or respond to what they just said, and that by the time you hit that fifth “Why” you’ve really drilled down to an idea worth working on.

It’s been rather successful for Toyota, but I noted in my reflection that it was somewhat ineffective in our class setting. We were given the assignment detailing the process, and then given a week to find a partner and do the exercise. Despite finding a partner and completing the activity relatively quickly, both my partner and I admitted that we’d self-interviewed ourselves already. We’re both the sort who do that. In effect, we ended up doing the assignment twice and not the way it was intended. (That said, I did come up with an extension for my object that I hadn’t thought about before while self-interviewing, but I’m used to doing that with my own work.)

This week’s podcast explained how to do the assignment…the day after it was due. Apparently, I wasn’t the only student concerned about how the assignment shot itself in the foot, and the professors kindly informed all of us who are like me that we’d done the assignment wrong. (The instructors have proven open to conversation on this.) Again, we’re overthinkers. It’s our nature. With the assignment sitting right in front of us, how could we not?

I’ve been sitting here since listening to the podcast trying to think about how they could have conducted this assignment to get the actual reaction they wanted. In a classroom, it would have been simple. We wouldn’t have been given the assignment until after we paired up. In a distributed classroom situation like a MOOC, they could have asked us to pair up and then contact them for the assignment. But we’re working in teams and everything goes into the team documents. Once the first pair completed and posted the assignment, the other pairs would know what the assignment was and it would trigger any overthinking tendencies in them.

But Toyota employees grounded in realspace know that The Five Whys is a common practice, and it’s one that still benefits the company. So, maybe they’ve figured out a way to not self-interview themselves.

Or maybe they haven’t. I’m not sure there is a right answer here.

Jul 102015
 

Since I’m sharing things about my own studies and work, I thought I might share some of my favorite resources for learning about voiceover. I’ve done voiceover work for a few years now in a few different genres, and so my collection of preferred learning resources has changed accordingly. These five are the ones I’m currently hooked on. The list may be completely different a month from now.

1. Voice Acting Mastery – Veteran voice actor Crispin Freeman started this podcast as a resource for those wanting to learn about voice acting. He covers not only tips, but also his own journey as a voice actor, things he is learning, and interviews with other veteran voice actors to give different perspectives on the industry.

2. Bill DeWees on YouTube – In what he calls “DeWees Directives”, Bill DeWees shares great tips with the charm and ease of someone who has been teaching forever. The tips are simple, and presented to encourage viewers to try them out to see how they work.

3. Audio Drama Production Podcast – I don’t have any burning desire to create my own audio drama, but I have always found it useful to know how all parts of a system work so I can better understand and execute my role in it. ADPP, based out of Scotland, has given me just that. Audio Drama veterans Robert Cudmore and Matthew McLean share tips and anecdotes from the trenches, and periodically interview other audio drama producers, again to provide different perspectives on the field.

4. VO Buzz Weekly – Once locked up in their own app, Chuck Duran and Stacy J. Aswad now have a YouTube channel (that is filling up with all of the back episodes) where they interview veterans of all different aspects of the voiceover world. The interviews are fun and informative, and well worth catching up on. (I still have to figure out exactly where I stopped on the site and start watching the ones I’ve missed.)

5. The Readaloud Archive – Author and puppeteer Mary Robinette Kowal created this archive of blog posts a few years ago where she shares her training and experience as a performer and narrator to provide tips and tricks for reading written work aloud. (I still have some of them bookmarked because I’m working on those skills.)

I’ve found all of these invaluable, and hopefully you will, too.

Jul 032015
 

Want a scary thought? I started Chasing Normal in October 2014. As of right now, I’ve written roughly two dozen Scenes. This isn’t the first time I’ve created and maintained a serial project, but it’s probably the first one I’ve managed under strongly adverse conditions. As happens when you work on something under any type of duress, I’ve learned a lot about managing a serial project, so I thought I would share some of the more important things I’ve learned.

The first tip concerns story structure. If you write, regardless of your format, you already know that good writing has a structure, usually governed by the form, medium, and length, and that all of those stoires have some sort of rhythm to them. A serial story takes a little bit more thought, because you’re breaking up your story into consistently sized arcs, allowing you to develop a posting rhythm that will keep readers (or viewers) happy. But it’s not just enough to break up the story. Each of these episodes (be they chapters, scenes, individual short stories linked to other parts, etc.) have to have within them a beginning, a middle, an end, and a hook to the next part. If you use a question-response structure to bridge chapters in your novel (or similar long work), you’re familiar with this mini-structure already. It’s the same thing. These episodes must also have their own rise and fall that has to make sense within the rise and fall of the larger story. Again, if you’re a novelist or a long-form writer by practice, this isn’t a new concept.

The second tip is keep a story bible that tracks both your world and your story. I’ve been writing Chasing Normal as a hybrid outline/pantser story. I can’t tell you where the story is going. I don’t know the ending. I do know where the next two arcs (what I call each cluster of six scenes) are generally headed. As you’re reading this, I’m probably outlining the six scenes that will comprise Arc 6. Writing a specific story by the seat of your pants is a confusing, but flexible, experience. It’s worse when you’re pulled away from the story for over a month by unforeseen circumstances. And that is when a well-maintained story bible becomes a lifesaver. I keep my story outline at the front of my story bible, updating it as I plan out each arc and adding in information when plans change. I then update the settings and character sheets as I edit each scene to make sure I’ll have it when I need it later. When I came back after that accidental hiatus, I was able to review the story outline, the plans for upcoming arcs and scenes, and continue the story with minimal disruption. (I also keep track of hooks I’ve dropped in earlier scenes so that I’ll remember to pick them up later when an opening presents itself.)

The last tip I want to share is quite possibly the most important. If you screw up the first two, you can fix them. If you screw up this one, it’s a mess. And this is the easiest one to screw up. Ready? It’s simple: Keep your production on track and on schedule. Production calendars are not just for professional creators. They are your best friend when you’re creating a long project. A well-developed and managed production schedule can keep you going when everything else has fallen down around your head. (I know. It’s saved me twice so far.) It keeps you going. It keeps you working. It keeps you publishing. Even when you would rather just sit and stare out your window at the terribly cruel, unfair world.

That said, life does happen and production calendars derail. About three months before I finished producing the Dead Bunny videos (about six months before they finished releasing to YouTube), my life completely disintegrated around me. I had to make a number of major life changes very quickly, including moving halfway across the country…and most of Dead Bunny’s subscribers never had any clue there was anything going on. Toward the beginning of Chasing Normal, and then again earlier this year, my household went through two major crises. And it impacted the story. At first, I thought about just dropping the story all together. And then I revamped my production schedule to try to keep things sort of working while things were going on. And now the story is back on its original release schedule. The key when life deals you these obstacles is to give yourself permission to freak out for a moment, and then take a deep breath and figure out how you’re going to pull things together and keep going, even if you can’t figure out how to pull yourself together.

There you go. Three (really, four) tips for surviving a serial project, at least according to my experience. Hopefully, they’ll help you get started and stay motivated, because serial projects are a lot of fun to work on.

Jun 302015
 

So often in stories and games, there’s a question of, “Why does it always have to be a prince or princess who goes off? Shouldn’t they stay home and avoid getting killed off or sit around and look pretty or something royal?” It’s like storytellers believe that the only people capable of sweeping missions and great quests are those with a crown on their head. While there may be something to that (I think of the reforming Disney princess culture as I say that), there’s a much simpler, more likely explanation: A young royal would have access to the funds, supplies, and connections necessary to undertake a long journey. It’s possible that someone from a lower class could use their skills to pull off a quest with minimal stress on resources, but it’s often easier to have a nice cushion to shove off from.

That’s a little hard to hear while we’re in a period of what has been generously called “incompetence porn”, but it’s true. The chances that a group of complete strangers can band together and work as if they’ve known each other for years is highly unlikely. Believing the privileged class brain who can’t figure out how recover a hidden file can break into a secure database strains even the most liberal suspension of disbelief. The idea that a character who has zero experience with anything similar to the one skill set needed to solve a major plot problem can suddenly acquire a near-master understanding of that skill out of nowhere is beyond ludicrous. No matter how much we want to believe an ordinary character can become something else just by writing it, it’s just not going to happen.

And it makes sense when you think about it. If you have a malfunctioning computer, you’re not going to take it to your friend who is an outstanding chef. You’re going to find someone experienced in fixing computers. Stories are the same way. They don’t happen to a character who has little reason for being there. The story we want to follow is the one following a character who has the resources to be there, be it money, staff, skills, tools, connections, whatever.

This point was kind of driven home for me recently. I’m currently working on a story with a small set of characters, and creating the third character gave me a fit because I wasn’t thinking about the simple rule that all of the characters had to have a legitimate reason for being in the story. When I stopped trying to create a character in isolation and started asking where the gaps were in the team, the character created himself.  Yes, character creation can be that simple when you match the character to the story.

The next time you’re stuck trying to build your story around a character, ask yourself one simple question: Does this character belong here?

Jun 262015
 

As part of encouraging you to develop and work on your own learning paths, I thought I would share some of my current favorite learning resources. I’ve been writing since I was a little girl, so it’s been hard for me to find writing resources that aren’t covering topics I’ve learned before. The five resources listed below are ones I have learned from and continue to learn from.

1. Writing Excuses – SF/F authors Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Dan Wells and webcartoonist Howard Tayler spend fifteen to twenty minutes a week discussing a topic important to the craft and business of writing, including outside experts to really shine light on topics the panel feels they can’t adequately cover between them. This year, the podcast is devoted to a master class format, turning their normal writing prompts into homework assignments intended to help you develop a story from idea to finished.

2. Write About Dragons – A couple of years ago, BYU gave its professors permission to start recording their classes and making them available online. Fantasy (and now science fiction) author Brandon Sanderson worked with a film student to produce not one, but two semesters of his lectures, and they’re pretty much just as fabulous as you would expect if you’re at all familiar with Sanderson’s work. Watch them. Take notes. Re-watch them. Take more notes. Just don’t forget to write your story.

3. Dan Wells on Story Structure – Dan Wells presented a workshop on the seven-point storytelling structure he uses when he constructs his stories. It’s a great method, one that’s been tested repeatedly, and it’s fairly easy to work with.

4. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers -This is a great resource when you have to edit your own work. My copy is well-worn, marked up, and bookmarked, and I still refer back to it when I need to.

5. The last is advice attributed to Stephen King, but is really necessary for all writers. Read. Every day. Various genres, age bands, materials. Read novels. Read short stories. Read scripts. Read fan fiction. Read traditionally published and self-published material. Just read.

It’s funny, but working on these resource-based Friday Fives has caused me to clean up a lot of my subscriptions on social media and my feed reader. It’s mostly been accounts that are no longer active, but it was quite the spring cleaning.

Jun 242015
 

Sometimes, you want to share your work online, but you don’t necessarily want the entire world to see it. Maybe you’re worried about giving up your right of first publication, or you talked about something you didn’t want to announce widely yet or about someone you don’t want to hear it. Just as there are many valid reasons you’d want to share something on the internet, there are many valid reasons why you would want to control who sees what you share.

Some platforms offer a Members Only setting, so that only registered members of the site can see each other’s posts. Some platforms offer a setting that makes it relatively easy to control who sees what you share. (Keep in mind that in all of these cases, they don’t control what that person does after that. All three of these can be shared by someone with the appropriate information. Also, this is not a valid way to share copyrighted material that isn’t yours to share. Practice common sense.)

So, who is offering this setting, and how do you use it?

  • On YouTube: When you upload a video, select Unlisted from the drop down. You can also change a video’s privacy level on the video’s Edit page. The video will show up in your Video Manager and your channel page when you’re logged in, but it won’t show up for your subscribers or on your channel’s public page. To share the video, send the link to the person/people you want to share that video with.
  • On SoundCloud: When you upload a track, select Private as the privacy level. Once the file is uploaded, it will offer you a link to share. If you want to share the track after that, go the track’s page and click Share. The secret link will appear.
  • On deviantArt: Upload your content to Sta.sh. On the Sta.sh page, the link to share will be right below the deviation. On the deviation’s stash page, the link is in the upper right corner. (If you’re unfamiliar with Sta.sh and Sta.sh Writer, they are great spaces for working on drafts and for keeping track of deviations you’re planning to release.)

Now that we know where we can do and how to do it, let’s talk about why someone would want to use this nifty feature. I noted above two common reasons creators are leery of posting their work online: Some industries are still trying to wrap their mind around digital content, and will ignore work already posted online because it’s not exclusive. (It’s good to keep up on your industry if for no other reason than to find out where the industry currently stands on posting to the internet.) Some creators haven’t developed their thick skin yet, and are scared of people hating their work (or even worse, people liking their work. Fear of success is a real thing that benefits no one. Get over it and get out there. Feel free to remind me I said this. *wink*)

Being able to control who sees your content has some other great uses. It can often be an easy way to share content with people you trust and want to get feedback from. (Email attachments are still stuck in 2010.) It can be an easy way to share content with friends, family, or groups. Having this private-yet-shareable content also gives you something to offer subscribers and supporters as a perk or reward. Some YouTube channels have used these Unlisted videos to help boost their subscriptions. (Again, there is that concern subscribers will share the link with friends and family, but there are also stories of channels that gained new subscribers who saw that perk content and subscribed to see what else the channel had to offer.

In terms of clever content use specifically on YouTube, channels have used these Unlisted videos to share bonus content like blooper reels, behind the scenes videos, and side videos that might be of interest to the channel’s subscribers. Some very enterprising channels have used the Unlisted video to create branched stories. The first video is Public, and the remaining videos are accessible only through links provided throughout the story. The storytelling possibilities are endless.

What does this mean for the users of one of these sites? Well, it means you can play around and develop your own uses for this setting. You could build your portfolio from this hidden content, targeting or updating your portfolio by simply updating the links to the hidden content. If you create instructional content, you can use hidden content to scaffold your lessons. Make the first lesson in the sequence public, and then post the remaining videos as Unlisted and provide the link to the next lesson at the end of the current video.

I know this has been a little long, but the hidden content capabilities really open the doors to creating interesting experiences online. I’m only just starting to explore it, and I’d love to hear how you end up using it.

Jun 232015
 

Chances are, it’s been a while since you were in school. And even if it hasn’t, it’s probably been a while since you had the chance to design your own learning project, simply because it’s not something encouraged in traditional schools. But I hope if you’re reading this, you’re working on a project that’s challenged your current skills and you’re trying to figure out how to best learn what you need to know.

Fortunately, gathering your own learning resources is a pretty easy skill to pick up, mostly because it’s something you’ve probably been doing without even realizing it.

Start by thinking about what you prefer to do. Do you prefer to read, to watch, or to listen? If you can answer that question, then you can get started. If you prefer to read, find books, websites, and blogs related to the skill you want to learn. If watching is more your speed, YouTube and Vimeo have a lot to offer. But there are also some real gems among reality and documentary-style shows, so keep an open mind as you’re considering your options. For those who prefer to listen, you can augment YouTube, Vimeo, and television with podcasts and audiobooks. You can even find blogs and websites and have your computer’s text-to-speech tool to read it to you.

Once you have your pool of resources, don’t be afraid to change things out as you go. Maybe a podcast wasn’t what you expected, so replace it with something else. Maybe you’ve learned all you can from a blog. Find another resource to take its place. Don’t feel overly committed to your resources – They’re there to help you learn what you need to know. When you’ve outgrown them, let them go.

One more thing: While you’re working on growing and using your resources, keep an eye on that tickler file you’ve been building. It’s amazing what you already have and can use while you’re focused on a certain project or skill.

All right, that’s it for now. If you have’t already, start building your learning resource library, and then start using it.

Jun 192015
 

There’s a tip given to transmedia/crossmedia producers: Start your story in the Profile, and then flesh out different parts of it on different platforms. It’s a good approach to transmedia/crossmedia projects, but it can also help you build an interesting social landscape. For the purposes of this conversation, I’m using the term “social landscape” to refer to blogging, social media, and any social spaces dedicated to posting creative media.

After several months of neglecting everything, I’ve been slowly working on my own social landscape over the last couple of months, trying to shake things up in some ways and smooth them out in others. Because I’ve been at this for a while, I have a lot of spaces and a lot of content online. Trying to process everything has been quite an experience, and an adventurous walk down memory lane. It’s also caused me to question how I ended up managing so many social media and creative repository accounts, but strangely didn’t inspire me to close any of them. Instead, I’m now working on rebuilding each space with a purpose in mind.

If you aren’t a social media manager (working or aspiring) and you don’t want to spend your life on social media (although I honestly don’t spend much time on social media when I’m not cleaning up a space), then I have a few tips on how to build your own social landscape without it becoming a cluttered mess.

  1. Pick a handful of spaces that suit your style and your needs. In this day and age, you probably already have a number of social media accounts. And you probably joined each one because your friends wanted to check it out, so you joined them. Maybe you’re more active on one or two. Maybe you’ve forgotten you ever set up an account. (If you’re a Google user, you may not realize that you automatically have a Google+ account.)For now, focus on the ones you’re actually active on. These are the spaces that appeal to you because you have a community, you feel comfortable posting, and it allows you to share what you want to share. Just keep doing what made it a comfortable, friendly space for you. If you’re looking for a new space, then try to find a space that suits your needs in terms of community, comfort, and usability. You’ll be more likely to keep using those spaces.
  2. For each platform you decide you want to post to and engage with, figure out the strengths and features, and then figure out how to use them to your advantage. As an example, one of my favorite platforms to hang out on is YouTube. Even though I have limited video production skills, I use the Watch Later and Playlists features to organize and keep up with my learning plans. I used to have a similar relationship with Pinterest, but I recently had to rethink my relationship with that site.
  3. Many blogging, social media, and creative repository platforms are being designed to interact with each other, allowing you to do something on one platform and have it push out to other platforms automatically. This is great for you time-wise, but it can lead to having all of your sites saying the exact same thing. If that’s what you’re going for, then you’re good. But if you interact with different groups of people on different sites, you might not want to show each group the same posts. Before you start connecting accounts and pushing content out across all of them, think about who really needs to see what, and build your connections thoughtfully.
  4. If you feel like you’re drowning trying to keep up with everything or find yourself neglecting a space you used to visit and post to all the time, that’s a good sign that the space is no longer fulfilling your needs. In fact, feeling like you’re drowning often leads to avoiding spaces where you feel like you’re drowning. When you realize this is happening, find a way to gracefully remove yourself from the platform. This isn’t the space for dramatic exits. Since you’ve already left mentally, just let your account fade away quietly.

There you go. Four tips to help you build a manageable social landscape. Try them out. See how they work for you.

Jun 172015
 

I think it’s fair to say most of us use a decent number of social media platforms. But how many of us have really sat to figure out what we can do with that platform to get us where we want to be? I used to be teased for treating my computer and my digital spaces as something other than a toaster or a television. It’s a valid description. I tend to figure out what I can do with something and then try to use as much of it as I can. That’s what the developer intended, right?

Because we’re all on it more than we really should be, and because we can use this platform in a variety of ways, I thought I’d start with YouTube.

So…what is YouTube? YouTube is essentially a content management system dedicated solely to video posts. As a regular user, you can upload your own video content as long as your videos are under fifteen minutes long. Partners can upload longer videos and schedule when their videos are released. All users can host and archive live events, built on the Google Hangouts platform.

YouTube is also the second most active search engine; it’s amazing what you can find on there. Even better, you can bookmark them to a Watch Later playlist so you can watch them when you have time. You can tailor your viewing experience on YouTube by following other YouTubers or just a selection of their playlists, allowing you to really focus on what’s important or entertaining to you.

But you don’t have to settle for just watching. You can find like minded people or people who want to learn the skills you have by producing and uploading videos that show off your knowledge, skills, interests, and opinions. You can build playlists around topics you’re interested in, pulling in videos you and others have produced. Then, you arrange the videos in that playlist and annotate them, really creating a curated experience for viewers. Playlists have their own privacy level, allowing you to control who sees them. (I find playlists rather helpful when I’m developing my learning resources for a skill I’m working on.)

YouTube also offers specialized services for certain industries. Teachers who create a channel of educational videos can apply to YouTube EDU, enabling their videos to be more easily found by other teachers and those looking to learn something. YouTube has also recently piloted a programs for musicians to help them connect better with their fans. While some larger acts are trying it out, many of the artists finding success with the program are indies.

YouTube is a comprehensive education and entertainment platform. It’s a great way to find and connect with people with similar (or even contrasting) interests and opinions. For those interested is getting involved with film production, animation, acting, or anything that lends itself to a video format, producing YouTube videos is a great way to get your feet wet. figure things out, and connect with other creators in the process. YouTube also offers a free Creators Academy, a pretty solid program for helping producers move from total newbie to seasoned creator. We’ve all seen the opportunities that can come with producing and managing great videos and programming, even if all you’re doing is curating playlists.

So stop watching videos for a bit and play with the site. Figure what you want to do, be it create your own videos or pull together playlists of other people’s videos on a certain topic, and then do it. And then do it again. Become an active user.

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