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Cheryl Reif headshotI'm a fantasy writer, daydreamer, and science geek loving life in sunny Boulder, Colorado.

I write this blog to help writers become more productive, more creative, and more skilled at their craft. This blog will also help you discover new ways to tell stories in the constantly changing landscape of new media. Join me Mondays & the occasional Thursday for updates. Explore new publishing paradigms with me—and learn how the old "rules" no longer apply!

It's time to rewrite the rules that hold us back. Don't you agree?

5 Weird Ways to Delight Your Readers with Interactivity

want to engage readers_When you hear the word “interactivity,” what pops into your mind? Probably ebooks with linked content or apps with built-in games and personalization features. Your mind probably turns to digital solutions and transmedia storytelling–which are great, but might not be your cup of tea.

But did you know that you can make your writing interactive without adding digital bells and whistles? This post takes a look at five weird and wonderful ways that you can bring interactivity to your writing. Enjoy!

Technique #1: Repetition, Rhyme, and Rhythm

brown bearAs any parent of small children knows, little kids love to listen to the same story over and over and over. Many picture book authors use elements such as rhyme and repetition to connect with their young audience. Little kids love the opportunity to recognize patterns and join in on the “chorus”.

Bill Martin‘s classic children’s book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, provides a great example. The question “Brown bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?” is repeated throughout the story, with modifications for each new animal and each new color. The repetition encourages young readers to join in for each question and answer.

2. Provide an Activity

ActivityAuthors can encourage readers to interact with the story by including activities that complement the text. That’s what Steve (the Dirtmeister) Tomecek does with several  “Try This!” sidebars in his new title Dirtmeister’s Nitty Gritty Planet Earth. The simple experiments demonstrate key concepts in the book. They’re also lots of fun, like the “Layers of Time” experiment–in which readers create a science experiment they can eat!

Author/illustrator Roxie Munro invites younger readers to help delivery vehicles find their way through eleven intricately drawn mazes in her picture book Market Maze. Each illustrated spread also includes hidden objects for readers to find.

3. Talk Directly to the Reader

PigeonBustMo Willems’ classic Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus begins with the bus driver speaking directly to readers.

“Hi! I’m the bus driver. Listen, I’ve got to leave for a little while, so can you watch things for me until I get back? Thanks. Oh, and remember: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!”.

In the next spread, the pigeon arrives on the scene… and proceeds to try to talk the reader into letting him (of course!) drive the bus.

What better way to delight young readers than to invite them to tell a story character “no!”

B. J. Novak similarly invites reader participation in his hilarious read-aloud, The Book with No Pictures. It begins:

BookWithNoPictures_3D-300x423“You might think a book with no pictures seems boring and serious. Except . . . here’s how books work. Everything written on the page has to be said by the person reading it aloud. Even if the words say . . .

“BLORK. Or BLUURF.

“Even if the words are a preposterous song about eating ants for breakfast, or just a list of astonishingly goofy sounds like BLAGGITY BLAGGITY and GLIBBITY GLOBBITY.”

As the text becomes more and more ridiculous, the author encourages the child–who’s presumably listening to the story–to make sure the adult reader is actually saying all those crazy words!

4. Provide a Puzzle.

WildDiscoveriesFrontCoverKids love to figure things out for themselves, so you can practically guarantee reader engagement by giving them a puzzle to solve. That’s what Heather L. Montgomery does when writing about the wildly striped psychedelic frogfish in her book Wild Discoveries: Wacky New Animals.

Just like you are the only person with your FINGERPRINT pattern, each frogfish has its own set of stripes. If the fish to the left committed a crime… Could you pick it out of this lineup?”

She doesn’t underestimate her readers, either. This is no easy puzzle to solve!

5. Ask Questions.

101questionsAlice Jablonsky’s 101 Questions About Desert Life is written as a list of questions and answers. Its format encourages the reader to page through and find her own question rather than reading the book from start to finish—especially because many of the questions sound like they arose directly from a school classroom!

Heather Montgomery also invites readers to think like a scientist by sharing unanswered questions with them. For example, when she introduces the giant stick insect known as Chan’s Megastick, she asks readers,

Are these facts true for Chan’s megastick? Since ONLY THREE have been found so far, we’ll have to wait to find out!”

Interactivity Encourages Readers to Engage
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You can use interactive elements to help illustrate a tricky concept; to spark questions and discussion; or simply invite kids to play in your story world. Whatever type of interactivity you bring to your writing, though, it can help you get–and keep!–your readers’ attention.

So what are you waiting for? Give it a try!

5 Best Resources for Fabulous iPhone Photos & Videos

Best CameraI own a digital SLR camera–and, although it pains me to admit this, I rarely use it anymore.

That’s because my iPhone is smaller, almost always charged (and easy to recharge on the go), and almost always with me. Its size means it’s much easier to haul my iPhone with me hiking or backpacking than a full-size camera. On top of that, I can stow it easily in a pocket for quick access; the digital SLR usually takes me at least a few extra seconds to get out and ready to shoot photos, longer if I’ve stowed it in my camera bag.

Those extra seconds often mean the difference between getting that great shot and missing it.

Since my iPhone is almost always with me and powered up, I take far more pictures with it than I would with the full-size camera–and for a non-professional photographer like me, quantity is usually the key to getting a few great shots!

Of course, it’s not always easy getting great photos and videos with an iPhone. I’ve put together this list of the best links and resources to help you take better shots with your smart phone. It may not be a digital SLR, but it may still be the best camera for you.

The best camera is the one you have with you!

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The iPhone Photography School

The iPhone Photography School offers lots of great posts and tutorials on how to take effective photos with your iPhone. Some of my favorite posts for writers (and others who *aren’t* professional photographers) include:

FiLMiC Pro Website

filmic_logoOne of my go-to iPhone apps for shooting video is FiLMiC Pro. This little app offers a ton more flexibility than the native iPhone video function, including options to shoot stop-motion or slow-motion footage. This app isn’t free, but at $7.99, it won’t break the bank, either.

Best of all, you’ll find a TON of great–and free!–tutorials on the FiLMiC Pro website. It’s a great resource for learning everything from basic composition principles to how to harness the full functionality of the FiLMiC Pro app.

Canva

If you’re familiar with Canva, it’s probably as a (free) tool for creating graphics for social media, flyers, book covers, and so on. It provides an intuitive interface for non-graphic designers to create professional-looking graphics.

Canva’s real strength, though, is their focus on teaching non-experts the basic principles of graphic design. Here are a few posts to check out that will help you think about color choices, composition, and what to do with those photos back at your computer:

Canva also offers tutorials that teach both design principles and how to use their software:

Lynda.com

Learn PhotographyThis subscription website offers tutorials in a wide range of software and apps. Although they aren’t cheap ($24.99/month for month-to-month billing or $19.99/month for yearly billing), they consistently offer the best online instruction I’ve found for business and design software. You can check out these courses during a 10-day free trial:

(If you do decide to sign up with Lynda.com, you can help support my learning habit by doing so through my Lynda.com affiliate link:

Get 10 days of free unlimited access to lynda.com.)

Olloclip Mobile Phone Photo Lenses

I’ve tried several different iPhone lenses to try to improve my cell phone photography. The 4-IN-1 olloclip lens system for iPhone 5/5S (fisheye, wide-angle, and 2 macro lenses) is far and away the best. The fisheye and wide-angle lenses are just fun, but the macro lenses let me take close-up shots of insects, flowers, wood grain–anything that I think might interest my readers. These shots would be impossible without using some sort of macro lens.)

I’ve also tried out the olloclip telephoto lens for iPhone. It only gives you 2x magnification, which might not be worth it for most writers.  I’m happy with it, because it let me get several shots of the speedy lizards that hang out in Zion National Park that may possibly be high enough resolution to use in my current work-in-progress. I’m sure real wildlife photographers are having heart attacks at my words :), but it’s a great “intro” telephoto lens for the amateur iPhone photographer.

Note that I’ve linked to the iPhone 5/5S lenses (yes, I’m still an iPhone 5 holdout!) If you have an iPhone 6, you’ll want the olloclip telephoto lens for iPhone 6/6 Plus and the olloclip 4-in-1 Lens for iPhone 6 & 6 Plus.

(Disclosure: the olloclip links are Amazon affiliate links, which means purchasing through them will help support a young person’s college fund<grin>).

Kelly Purkey

If you’re counting, you might notice that this is #6 in the list. That’s because I have only a single link to recommend on designer Kelly Purkey’s website. Purkey’s tutorial on photo editing is so fabulous, though, that I had to add it to this list. In the linked post, she explains exactly how she edits photos on her phone using only 2 apps, VSCOcam and Snapseed…neither of which I’ve used. I guess I’ve got some homework!

Have I inspired you to try some smart phone photography on your next outing? If so, you’ll want to check out this month’s free download: 3 Super Simple Tricks to Make Your Writing Portable. It’s only available to newsletter subscribers, so sign up now! You’ll get immediate access to subscriber-only resources as well as monthly updates.

Sign up now!

Five Practical Ways Writers Can Take Readers “Behind the Scenes”

Using Your Camera to Tell Your Book’s Story

Last week’s post highlighted ways your camera can help you become a better writer. Did you know that your camera–and the photos and videos you create with it–can also help you market your books ?

It’s not just that a well-placed photo can add visual interest to your web site, newsletter, or presentation, either (although adding visual interest is a definite bonus!) The right photos can help you tell the story of how a book came to be.

Readers_Want_the_Story

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Why do you want to tell your book’s story? Internet marketing guru Terry Dean puts it perfectly:

OVERWHELM has become a constant in almost every market today. Your customers may say they want content, but they’re actually overwhelmed by all the voices, all the choices, and all the content that is already out there.

What they really want…is someone who they can plug into to guide them.

They want guidance and direction. And that requires not just more content, but also
persuasion.

And storytelling has been and always will be a major element in persuasion.”– Terry Dean, 7 Unique Ways to Create Money Making Emails…Even If You’re Not a Writer

You want to tell the story of your book because it will help readers understand why you wrote it. Telling your book’s story gives you a chance to show readers why you’re passionate about a topic. It also gives you a chance to connect with readers on a more personal level, as you show the steps that went into creating your book.

Think Ahead: What Story Do You Want to Tell?

When you’re ready to market your book, what story do you want to share with potential readers? What story will help them get excited about your book? What will make them curious to learn more? By thinking about these questions while you’re still working on the book, you can make sure you take the right shots during your writing journey. It won’t add much time now, but will save a lot of time later!

Not sure what kind of info will interest your audience? Read on! This infographic shows 5 ways that the photos you take now, long before you’re ready to sell your book, can help you tell an engaging story down the road, when you’re ready to go to market.

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Your turn: What story do YOU want to tell about your current work-in-progress? Why? Do you want to help kids understand more about the scientific method? Do you want adult readers to gain a better understanding of a particular place or culture? Or maybe you simply want to spark curiosity and excitement! I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.

 

Super Easy Ways Your Camera Can Make You a Better Writer

Continuing the theme of writing away from our desks, I wanted to bring up a tool you might not associate with writing: your camera. I don’t mean some super-expensive, high-tech device, like the Lytro ILLUM lightfield camera  (drool…); I mean the camera already built into your smart phone–the one that’s probably within arm’s reach at this very moment.

Writing someplace new- (1)

 

Using your camera is a no-brainer if you write nonfiction, especially if you want to break into a market like Highlights for Children, which prefers authors to provide photos. But even if you don’t plan to sell any of your images–even if you’re writing fiction–your camera is an awesome tool. You can use photos to help

  • Create detailed, believable settings for fiction writing
  • Document information for a nonfiction project
  • Collect visual inspiration for art and poetry
  • Inspire characters by capturing details about real people–expressions, fashions, hair styles, tattoos, body language
  • Spark ideas about place, weather, terrain, or architecture

Photos can help you recall the inspiration
sparked by writing in a new location.

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Read on to learn how your camera can help you up your writing game!

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