Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Finding Focus

Presentation Zen posted recently about emptiness and space and the way they can emphasise a focal point. It's an interesting read, and there are obvious parallels to building a story online.

When you teach story, there are many ways to approach it. You can talk about structure and story arcs, character needs and wants. You can give students a catalogue of tools they'll need to build an engaging story ... however ... one way in which you can teach the 'art' of writing, is by exploring juxtaposition with them. This is particularly true in digital narratives, where the way in which you arrange your text and images, video and audio together can have a profound impact on your audience.

When you strip away the peripheral, and focus on what is important, your story becomes stronger. Not only that, but you give your audience credit for having an imagination of their own. When you try to fill in all the blanks for them, when there's no mystery, your audience becomes bored.

When you leave space for their imaginings, your story becomes stronger because your audience is investing something of themselves in the narrative. It becomes their story too.

Less is more. I like it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Is that a narrative in your pocket

There are a dizzying array of apps available for the iPhone, and I've recently been looking at those that allow you to build narrative or create images for digital stories.

Typedrawing: It is essentially, a way of creating concrete poetry on your phone. You determine the text, and then create a picture with that text using your finger to 'paint' on screen. It's simple and creative storytelling in a digital form at its best. Take a look at a selection of images submitted by Typedrawing enthusiasts.

Toy Camera: The Toy Camera app, was inspired by a cheap Japanese camera produced in the 60's. Cheap plastic bodies and even cheaper plastic lenses were used in production. Often the cameras were given away during promotions. The cheap construction however, often resulted in some quite abstract effects. The cameras became sought after items, and were used by professional photographers to obtain award winning images

With the Toy Camera app, you get a random effect with each photo inspired by the original camera, often with surprising results. There is something of a narrative in using this application. Use Toy Camera, and you'll often end up seeing your subject in an entirely unexpected way. A succession of pictures may well tell a story you hadn't intended. The random aspect of this app is it's most significant advantage, many users swear by it.

Take a look at what @eglantinescake did with hers recently.

iMotion: This app allows you make stop motion movies on your iPhone. This is such a simple concept, but produces powerful results. Recently updated, you'll find this app is addictive and great fun. You can produce short, 20 frame movies, or go for something much longer. The controls are simple and intuitive.

Cool FX: A versatile image editing application, with numerous filters and options. While there are dozens of image editing apps, some free (like the Photoshop app), most don't have the range of tools that Cool FX offers. There are a few notable effects missing like tiltcam, but plenty to keep you fully occupied if image manipulation is your thing.

Hitchcock: This app is a little on the pricey side, at just over $20 AUD ... but it's an amazing storyboarding tool. Take a photo, insert direction and cutout images in position, crop and shape and produce a fast storyboard with shots from your actual location. Some small film buffs swear by it.

Animoto: If you haven't had the pleasure of being introduced to this app, you're in for a treat. Take a succession of images, choose your musical accompaniment, and Animoto will stitch together a professional video with smooth transitions that move in time to the music you've chosen. Oh, and it's free!

This list could be endless ... there are so many apps out there, and this is just a small selection of those that caught my eye. If you've seen an app worth considering, do share it via a note in the comments.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A story

My Dad died this week, and so he is all that has been on my mind.

I've been thinking about his stories, and there are so many. And thinking about mine. It's a strange time, surreal. Every moment feels profound and empty, and everyone speaks to you in clich├ęs.

If I was watching the movie of my life, it would be a sombre part, with appropriate music, or would it? Sure I've felt sad, but there are no rulebooks for these periods in our lives, and I've felt joy more than anything else. It's caught me a little by surprise.

Joy at his determination and strength. Joy that he made a good life, and at the end of it was surrounded by so many people that love him. A good measure of a life well lived I think.

So I wanted to tell you a story, because in our culture sharing stories is what keeps us alive, even after we die. It does more than tell us what to be wary of, or what to seek out. Stories remind us why we live, and good ones remind us what to live for.

When I was in my teens, Dad would take us kayaking on the Goulburn river in winter. It's a river in Victoria Australia, fed from melting snow in the hills. The water is cold, freezing, but in winter the water is high on the bank, and it makes for great paddling.

On this particular day I'd been paddling all day with Dad, and a dozen other club members. We were exhausted, cold and wet as it had been raining a little through the day. When we reached the last bend, Dad was amongst a number of other boats to reach the side first. I hung back, and waited, wanting space and a rest.

I'm not sure what it was that made me overturn. The water was moving, but not rough at all. It was deep however, and when I went in, it was shockingly cold. My legs had been wedged into the sides of a short, low volume, one man kayak and they cramped up the instant they touched the water. My hands were so stiff and store from the days paddling I couldn't make a fist. And I started to drown, just like that. Ten feet from the bank.

I managed somehow to reach the surface, and I remember taking a breath, and seeing Dad's face. It wasn't panicked, he was running when I saw him, and the look in his eyes stayed with me, I've never forgotten it. There was nothing stopping him. I suppose you could call it determination, but it wouldn't do it justice.

He dived in and reached me, and in a tangle of arms and legs we made it to the shore. Even in my early teens I was taller than Dad, and I think I almost drowned HIM on the way back to the bank a few times!

We were finally both sitting exhausted, wet through, freezing on the bank. I remember looking up at him, about to ask about going home or something, and being struck by this incredible sense of pride, and a realisation that he was kind of a hero to me at that moment.

Now if I told you we had this perfect father son relationship after that I'd be lying. I still had the rest of my teens to get through, and he wasn't getting out of it that easily!

Still, that moment, it's amazing to me. Memories like that, are precious and powerful for kids in their teens. When you can look at your Dad like that, know he's your hero, you can overcome anything. It helped me cope with some of the uncertainty of my adolescence, it helped me grow up.

And when I had children of my own, and remembered that look on his face as I floundered in the water ... well I never really understood the determination in his eyes on that day until then.