End of Semester Reflection

Within this class, I learned very well by having to produce smaller content more often throughout the week. It kept me up to date on coursework because I would have reminders to go and do a daily create or go and look up a digital story to look at. I learned very well on my own as well, excelling in the finding and engaging with media that wasn’t necessarily given within the course. For the most part, I’ve always had classes that hand feed you everything and, while I do learn there, an independent kind of guided learning really works well for me. I definitely want to keep trying to integrate that sort of learning into my other classes, as well as taking many little pieces at a time. Being a part of the larger community helped a lot actually, it left a lot of digital footprints that I could follow if I was confused or needed inspiration. I could Google something about storytelling and add ds106 and there would be a lot of results. Being a part of something larger like that is very nice.

This is one of my first graduate classes, so I cannot really speak well to how it differed from my other graduate courses. I really enjoyed how we took a core subject and evolved our class around it, we had our focus, which differed from person to person, but we all were learning similar things about storytelling. And whatever we weren’t learning together, we were sharing through our blogs and dialogues within our own little community. I loved doing the gallery walk, because it allowed me to show off some of my favorite pieces that I had read and enjoyed. I think that this class is one of the most engaging that I have had in a long time and that is a core piece of it.

As an educator, I love being able to practically take things that I have learned within my classes and immediately try them out. After we read about remixes and the like, I went and incorporated that into a mini lesson. I love the idea of daily create, it’s a lot like creative bellwork and it was fun, I would love to expand on ideas such as that within my own classes. I’ve always appreciated the power of storytelling and I still believe it is a strong medium within a classroom. My idea of instructor is a bit different now within this class, instructor was more meant to be a guiding light to our own learning and independent studies within our classroom community, less so just feeding us information. I thoroughly enjoyed this class and look forward to the future.

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Digital Story Critique: Walks of Life

Continuing my story suggestions from social media, a friend of mine sent me a very strange two minute long video. There are a couple in the series of Showtime short stories, and as far as I found, they are all quite odd. This one, titled Walks of Life, shows an abridged version of evolution as told through hands and fingers.

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When I read the description, I thought it would be shadow puppets or the like, instead what I witnessed was two minutes of strange body horror in the shape of a short story. The story has no lines to it, just a playful soundtrack and a constantly walking and evolving subject created almost entirely from fingers. It goes through being a very single celled animal, to evolving tiny legs, then larger ones that allowed it go to on land, to dinosaurs and eventually to man. The subject of the story reminded me a lot of something kind of cheesy and a little terrifying that I would find in a goosebumps novel.

For the critique, I chose Sense of Audience, Originality, and Media.

Sense of Audience. Showtime is for the most part, a paid service that shows premium content such as large box office movies or self produced shows that draw rather large audiences. If I was going to their site to watch something like Mission Impossible or Casino Royale, I would be a little put off by these shorts. They are short, definitely, but strange and such a different direction than many other Showtime properties. The Showtime Shorts often lead many of their movie showings, and I can tell from looking at the list of them, that they’re all this strange and weird. Maybe it was Showtime’s goal to be quirky and strange, but it doesn’t work for me.

Originality. I can say that the odd body horror of watching evolution through a series of animated thumbs is certainly original and not what I expected to be seeing when I checked my inbox. I have seen a lot of evolution through artistic interpretations, but the thumbs is a new one.

Media. I chose this because some props should be given to the short through its animation. The seamless transitions and artistic approaches to depicting dinosaurs and humans was inspired. You can definitely tell what animal they are portraying and it looks pretty good doing it.

Overall, I definitely think someone at Showtime had a very strange artistic need that they needed to be filled, and they certainly got it.

Scholarship Review: Character Interview

The Write Practice website is filled with a plethora of helpful articles and interesting exercises for writers. As I am in the middle of National Novel Writing Month, I found one particular article very useful early on. Joe Bunting wrote an article titled “35 Questions to Ask Your Characters From Marcel Proust”.  Marcel Proust was a famous French Writer that was asked these questions by a friend when he was young. His responses were sold for over 100,000 euros in 2003.

It’s a fairly random selection of questions to ask your character for a development exercise and it’s really quite helpful. Sometimes questions don’t exactly apply if you’re writing up some high fantasy piece, or maybe some won’t work out with scifi characters, but it’s fun to do nonetheless and most of the answers are very important to understanding your character. The questions are:

 

  • What is your idea of perfect happiness?
  • What is your greatest fear?
  • What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
  • What is the trait you most deplore in others?
  • Which living person do you most admire?
  • What is your greatest extravagance?
  • What is your current state of mind?
  • What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
  • On what occasion do you lie?
  • What do you most dislike about your appearance?
  • Which living person do you most despise?
  • What is the quality you most like in a man?
  • What is the quality you most like in a woman?
  • Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
  • What or who is the greatest love of your life?
  • When and where were you happiest?
  • Which talent would you most like to have?
  • If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
  • What do you consider your greatest achievement?
  • If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
  • Where would you most like to live?
  • What is your most treasured possession?
  • What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
  • What is your favorite occupation?
  • What is your most marked characteristic?
  • What do you most value in your friends?
  • Who are your favorite writers?
  • Who is your hero of fiction?
  • Which historical figure do you most identify with?
  • Who are your heroes in real life?
  • What are your favorite names?
  • What is it that you most dislike?
  • What is your greatest regret?
  • How would you like to die?
  • What is your motto?

The list of questions here is such a valuable resource because any sort of lists like this, asking you about your characters or prompting you to think more deeply about them, helps your characters to be more believable to readers. If they feel like real people with real motivations, then your reader’s will have emotion towards them. It’s also an interesting set piece to ask yourself. A lot of these questions you wouldn’t think about when you’re first coming up with the idea of characters. Such as how they would want to die, or what they value most in friends.

Character development is such an important step in writing and storytelling, that a lot of people don’t delve too deeply in, and it’s a shame. Some of the most memorable characters in fiction you would be able to assume the answer to a lot of the questions above, because the authors knew them enough to help the audience see them as well.

 

The Seven Steps of Digital Storytelling

Joe Lambert’s “The Seven Steps of Digital Storytelling” helps to describe a meaningful process that your story should go through, and also asks a lot of prompting questions that help develop stories as well. The first two steps asked to look at what kind of emotions and insights you were planning to provide within the story, the next three were about finding a moment to center the story around, and how it would be presented. The last steps are completing the story and what you are doing with it.

It’s nice to read something so cohesive about what steps you should take before starting the story and where you should be looking to help you create the best story that you can. In my notes on the chapter, I mostly wrote down all of the prompting questions. The examples were nice, but those are what always help me the most.

I focused a lot on self reflection when he mentioned it. Self reflection is how you get stories to evolve as you write and rewrite them. You write down a few sentences, then come back to those a bit later and you suddenly have a better understanding of what you were trying to do. Having the time to deliberate exactly what you want to create. Often when I am stuck on a section in writing, instead of just hopping over it and doing something else, I’ll take a break and let my mind process it a bit more. I’ll go and make a snack, or take a shower, and just think about it more. Reflecting is one of the best tools a writer has.

Reflection is what drives most of the steps in the process actually. Reflecting on what emotions were driving you, reflecting on what moment you want to pinpoint, how you see and hear the story, how the audience will hear and see the story.

I’m also extremely interested in the writing circles that he  mentioned, they sound like fantastic ways to get immediate and unique feedback on work. Especially when you are all writing and coming up with a product, it makes you especially aware of the time and energy that it has taken to create the story that you’re hearing. Any space where creativity is the center can be a really fantastic experience and always is helpful in some capacity. Maybe you get inspired to work on something, maybe they give you better ideas for your own story, or maybe you just come to an appreciation of other people’s work.

I’m certainly going to be reading through the chapter again as I near the final project of my class. The prompting questions were fantastic and I really like having step by step instructions on how to succeed. It’s also nice to see it written out and there in front of me, instead of trying to come up with a process by myself. I’m very interested in a couple of the other sections of that book too, he keeps mentioning other chapters and a little light in my head goes off. I’ll probably look more into some of his work. It’s been nothing but helpful so far!

Digital Story Critique: Three Photographs

After reading through a few of my classmates story choices from last week, I was reminded of a social media post that I believed would be a great example of photography stories. A young woman by the username CommanderSheena on tumblr posted a set of three photographs that told a story for an assignment in one of her classes.

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This was just such a simple story that really gave us a lot of information, and to me, a lot of laughs. The contemplative nature of the first photo leads us to believe that this is a very serious photoset, the second photo shows off the various ways of disposal, and then the punchline is the third photo where it is shown that she’s carrying a comical dead body.

For the Critique, I choose Sense of Audience, Originality, and Materials.

Sense of Audience. This photoset I found on tumblr, a social media site mostly directed towards a younger audience and many of the posts on there are silly and funny. It’s a blogging site that you can post anything on, and these types of post explode. It has over 650,000 notes on it and I know I’ve seen it cross my path multiple times. It has the comedy that just takes the attention of young adults and it knows it.

Originality. I think that the comedic originality of the photoset is what really tells the great story. It has comedic timing, two characters, and truly does tell us a story.

Materials. I love short things such as this that are clearly created in some sort of high school or university. It shows creativity with the limited resources and it didn’t need any high production value to get across it’s silly product.

Overall, I just love this set and I really forgot how much photographs can tell a story and just how powerful they can be, whether dramatic or comedic.

Scholarship Review: Narrative Planning, Balancing Plot and Character

Mark Riedl and R. Young wrote up a piece in the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research about the automated creation of narrative and how the difficulties of believably in plot and character made its creation hard to achieve. Many times, the automated process would be able to string out sequences of events, but the motivations behind them and the sequences themselves made no sense. I looked at all of the sections labeled 2, which covered the basis of narrative planning and character believability.

Narrative was broken down into two layers: Fabula, the sequence that the story occurs, and the sjuzet, the order that the story is told to the readers. The fabula is where all of the character development, the story progression, and any plot points were created. The sjuzet would be worried about later. Artificial creation of narrative required many points to be worked with, including what defines believability for the audience.

Story comprehension requires that the audience understand the causes of the events and the intentions of the characters. For this, you have to have logical progression of the plot and a certain believability of characters.

The character needs a goal, any sort of motivation or intention that drives a character forward. They also need a physical appearance, some way to tell how they dress, look, and move. Stories aren’t believable, the willing suspension of disbelief will be broken, if characters have no individual desires.

In order to create meaningful characters, they must have variable goals that drive them to participate within the story. There is a relative difference between author goals and character goals. As an author, the plot is your goal, having many situations occur between the beginning of the story and the end of it. Character goals can be different because not all of the characters may desire that outcome, or they could be created and resolved throughout the story, or they may have side goals that do not necessarily align with the plot goals. All of these types of goals help to create someone who is relatable and likeable, or in the case of villainous characters, someone who draws emotion from the audience. Little quirks and character traits, details about them, also make characters feel real to the audience and make them believable.

The article talked a lot about how generated plot has a ways to go to become realistic, but identifying the human like traits of characters was a step forward in the process.

Digital Story Critique: Borrowed Time

This week I took a look at another social media short story that got a lot of popularity on Facebook and Twitter. Coming from a couple of Pixar animators, Borrowed Time gained a lot of support and praise from critiques around the world. Their official website has only a teaser trailer, so I linked back to a youtube video instead. I originally watched it on an official Vimeo channel, but it has since been taken down.

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The story is best experienced through the short, but it follows a ragged sheriff as he returns to the site of an accident that happened in his childhood. As he walks through the wreckage, now weathered and tattered, memories of that day come back to him, memories of the accident that killed the previous sheriff. As he relives that day, he has to come to terms with himself and find the strength to progress.

For the critique, I am looking at Writing, Originality, and Pacing.

Writing. The story in this is written beautifully. There are just a few spoken lines and they have such an impact because of their infrequency. They are very deliberate and tell us a lot about the characters and their relationship with each other.

Originality. Simply because the creators were Pixar artists, I was comparing this to a Pixar short. This is by far darker, grittier, and makes you feel a lot of emotions that Pixar shorts cannot simply by their nature of being consumed by children. This has a dark undertone, a real situation that isn’t just covered up and hidden, but dealt with on screen as the characters interact.

Pacing. The pacing here really impresses me. It starts off introducing us to the main character as an older gentleman, and as he moves forward, we are introduced to small portions of the story of the accident, until he comes to the conclusion, where we see him have to deal with his mistakes and come with the strength to overcome.