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Cheryl Reif

Cheryl lives and writes with her inspirational family, two energetic dogs, and a small mammal menagerie, all of which are fairly tame. She writes about cool science stuff for children and adults, daydreams about stories and characters 87% of the time, and tries not to plot novels while driving. You can also find Cheryl on Twitter @CherylRWrites, Pinterest., and Google. Come say hi!

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Transmedia Storytelling Blog Series

Transmedia StorytellingThis May and June, we’re taking a look at this “new” buzzword in the writing industry, transmedia storytelling–what it is, how it works, and how you can use  transmedia storytelling techniques to reach more readers and provide readers with a deeper, richer story experience. Posts will share plenty of examples, as well as ideas for ways to incorporate a bit of transmedia storytelling into your next writing project. As each post goes live, I’ll share the link here to help you navigate the entire series.

Please check out the articles in this blog series, share your thoughts, and join the conversation on how writers can leverage “transmedia” techniques to broaden our audiences and give our readers an unforgettable story experience!

Contents: Transmedia Storytelling Blog Series

Ergonomic Tools to Prevent Writing-Related Pain

Based on the number of you who Tweeted, linked, and emailed me about my last post, I can tell that writing-related pain is a common complaint! Although you should always consult your doctor with concerns about writing-related pain (notice the standard disclaimer gobbledegook–I’m not a doc, so please don’t take this as medical advice, etc!), I thought I’d share some of the tools that I’ve found helpful. Please add your suggestions in the comments and I’ll add them to the list!

 

 

ergonomic-tools

Cheryl-Tested Ergonomic Tools

A few of my favorites include:

  • Microsoft’s ergonomic mouse and split keyboard—truth is, the ergonomic mouse isn’t fantabulous. If I was still having active hand and wrist pain, it might not do the trick for me; but it’s far superior to a normal mouse, and, when purchased with the split keyboard, the price is right. The keyboard is my favorite split keyboard EVER, with a bit of a slant and a padded wrist rest that make it far more comfortable than its competitors. (Plus it looks cool, all shiny and curvy…but that’s another tale!)
  • Lifeform chair—pricey, but oh so much nicer than any others I’ve tried. In the right parts of the country, these show up on Craigslist occasionally for half price.
  • Wacom Bamboo tablet—recommended by my illustrator friend Anna-Maria, this tablet is not just for artists. It’s great for any work that requires cutting and pasting, dragging and dropping, and other movements that would otherwise require extended mousework, and it allows you to customize the functionality of buttons and taps. Although the model I purchased is no longer available, any tablet-style input for your computer will allow you to switch up your hand position and muscles used, helping to avoid repetitive use pain and injury. Wacom now offers the Bamboo Pad, specifically designed for computer navigation, as well as an array of pricier models (the Intuos Pen Tablet looks closest to the Bamboo Tablet I use) designed for artists, illustrators, graphic artists, and more.
  • Logitech comfort lapdesk—if you work on your laptop on the sofa (like I do), this lap desk provides great support plus insulation from the computer’s heat. It doesn’t raise the computer screen quite high enough for proper neck alignment, but if it did, you couldn’t reach the keyboard. I think this is the best solution!
  • Rock “N” Stop Footrest—although you wouldn’t think it, adding a footrest is a surprisingly easy way to ease many cases of back pain. I like this one because it rocks, perfectly suiting my ADD-ish need to fidget without being too obvious.
  • My hand therapist swears by the Evoluent vertical mouse, but it left me indifferent at best. Ultimately, the solution to my hand and wrist woes proved to be a combination of dictation software and switching up between a computer mouse and the Wacom Bamboo tablet.
  • Dragon Dictation is astonishingly good at voice recognition and, with a little training, will let you compose hands-free. I find it most useful when I’m transcribing text previously written longhand–I haven’t yet learned to enter the state of creative flow while dictating–but it’s saved me hours of typing. You do have to do a good job proofing, of course, since it’s likely to use the wrong homonym (“you’re” in place of “yore” just doesn’t work). If you go this route, spring for the pricier Dragon Professional, which is far more powerful than the “Home” version.

When You’re in Pain

When you’re in active pain, though, chances are that none of the above tools will make you feel better. In the meantime, ice can help reduce pain and inflammation for some types of injuries. This article on SaveYourself.ca – Sensible Advice for Aches, Pains, and Injuries provides a great overview of when and how to use ice to treat pain. It also explains how to create an “ice cup”–a must-have tool if you’re icing. I’ve also found that creams containing Arnica, a natural antiinflammatory compound, are helpful. Penetrex, which has a nice smell, is my personal favorite.

Do you have any ergonomic tools or home remedies to recommend? Please share in the comments–I’ll add them to the list above!

Hurting Hands, Neck, or Shoulders? Ten Tips for Pain-Free Writing

It’s the best feeling: being in the flow, seeing the scene unfold in my mind as my hands hurry to record the vision. Words pour onto the page until…

WHAM

Pain jerks me out of the zone with all the subtlety of a midnight fire alarm. Hand cramps—wrist ache—stiff shoulders—cricked neck…do any of these sound familiar?

I used to think that writing was all about my brain coming up with ideas, sculpting words into prose. Lately, I’ve had to admit that my brain can’t do its creating thing very well without my body’s cooperation. And when my body hurts, it refuses to cooperate!

Fortunately, there are some easy adjustments you can make that will decrease the physical strain of writing—so you can get back to creating.

Ergonomics-Graphic2Ergonomic Tips for Pain-Free Writing

1. Pay attention to your body.

If your body starts sending out pain signals when you write, don’t ignore them. Trust me: pain is a warning sign that something isn’t working. If you ignore those signs, they’ll probably worsen until you do pay attention. Ask yourself: Is there a single activity that makes your hands, wrists, forearms, shoulders, etc., hurt? What position are you in when it hurts? Can you adjust at all? Keep reading to find areas where you might be able to improve your body position. Continue reading…

Why Transmedia Storytelling Engages Readers: Reason #3

Lately, I’ve been a transmedia storytelling evangelist here on the blog. Which is kind of funny, come to think of it, since I’m not selling transmedia anything. There are quite a few companies and consultants out there who will help you create a transmedia campaign… which does sound mighty fun, but it’s not what I’m doing right now :).

It’s just that the more I learn about transmedia storytelling, the more I’m excited by its possibilities! And human nature is to share the things that excite us with others, right? Right.

Over the past weeks, I’ve told you how transmedia storytelling…

  • Tells stories in new ways—because you can reveal information through multiple “pipelines”
  • Reaches young readers through the media where they’re spending the most time
  • Creates “easy-to-share” content, tapping into the social aspect of how today’s youth interact online

Student Online

Today I want to look at one more reason that transmedia storytelling is relevant to today’s young people:

  • Transmedia entertainment’s interactive and immersive nature capitalizes on today’s growing participatory culture (check out this interview to learn more about participatory culture; or this one). Transmedia storytelling invites your audience into the story. It encourages readers to make the story their own.

If that sounds a little confusing, don’t worry. It confused me at first, too. I mean, what does that even mean:

MAKE THE STORY THEIR OWN?

It turns out scholars—from anthropologists to sociologists to media professors—are publishing geeky articles and technical books about all of this. An entire team at the New Media Literacies project is studying how our culture’s relationship to media is shifting. The Digital Youth Project spent 3 years and more than 3 million dollars to learn what kids are doing online, why, and how.

So it’s no wonder if the topic is a bit confusing for those of us just starting to think about transmedia storytelling.

Don’t worry, though. Much of the power of transmedia storytelling boils down to this idea of participatory culture. That is,

Kids and teens today don’t just want to watch/read/listen to a story. They want to become part of it…and transmedia storytelling encourages participation.

Participatory Culture

“Audiences, empowered by…new technologies, occupying a space at the intersection between old and new media, are demanding the right to participate within the culture.” –Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture, 2006

Audience participation isn’t a new idea. The best stories, transmedia or otherwise, invite readers to respond in some way, right?

Readers of Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy books spend long afternoons pretending to be princesses-in-training. Frozen fans choreograph elaborate dances to the movie’s soundtrack and transform into Princess Elsa, belting out the words to “Let it Go!”

So what’s new about inviting audience participation?

Two things.

First, today’s culture is shifting away from passive entertainment to participatory culture. That is, people want to respond to stories, participate in it in some way—whether that means voting via text message or trying to solve the crime along with a favorite TV show character or creating media-inspired art.

Second, with the rise of computers, the internet, and social media, it’s easier than ever for fans to respond to their favorite stories in some way—and easier than ever to share their responses with the rest of the world.

Take Minecraft…

This computer game is more like an online version of playing with Legos than the average shoot/slash/explore game. If you do a YouTube search, you’ll discover about 49 million—yep, MILLION—videos where kids and teens and kids-at-heart share Minecraft-inspired creations. They show off the amazing buildings and machinery they’ve built in the game; they write Minecraft-inspired songs; they create complex animations for fellow fans to enjoy.

Recently, my two teenage boys (my study subjects of choice) roped me into watching a particularly hilarious Minecraft music video …

THE WITCH ENCOUNTER, by slamacow

This video led to another…

and another, until we’d whiled away a couple of hours watching and laughing and talking Minecraft. And I don’t even play Minecraft!

The same passion that drives hundreds of thousands to post YouTube tributes to Minecraft has also sparked a growing collection of fan fiction, fan art, fan music, and fan videos for favorite books, TV shows, and movies.

  • My Little Pony has its own subculture of musicians and artists creating pony-themed novels, stories,  videos, and more. (And I’m talking about Big Kids loving this series, not just little girls. Ever heard of Bronies?)
  • The Harry Potter books have their own wikis, a kid-managed and written online newspaper (The Daily Prophet, of course), and fan sites.

Fan-created content isn’t limited to the bestsellers, either. On FanFiction.net, you’ll find more than 500 different categories of fan fiction in the fan-written books section alone, where each category is the book that serves as inspiration for the stories. What are the top twelve inspirations for writers of fan fic novels, you ask? Currently:

  1. Harry Potter (29,193)
  2. Twilight (11,842)
  3. Percy Jackson and the Olympians (6,557)
  4. Hunger Games (2,681)
  5. Lord of the Rings (2,265)
  6. Maximum Ride (1,937)
  7. Warriors (945)
  8. Mortal Instruments (863)
  9. Kane Chronicles (787)
  10. Chronicles of Narnia (748)
  11. Inheritance Cycle (586)
  12. Artemis Fowl (512)

Did you realize how much fan-created content is out there? I mean, I knew that my kids and their friends spend hours reading fan fiction…but I wasn’t prepared for the sheer volume of fan-created written and visual art that exists on the web!

Transmedia storytelling: I think it’s worth exploring because the way audiences consume and respond to stories is changing. Radically changing. And although all these changes can be a bit overwhelming, they’re also exciting–don’t you think? Please share your thoughts, ideas, inspirations, doubts, worries, or WHATEVER in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.

:) Cheryl

To all the great dads out there: Happy Father’s Day!

Happy Father's Day!

Why Transmedia Storytelling Engages Readers: Reason #2

Transmedia storytelling—telling a single overarching story through use of multiple different media platforms—is an extremely effective way to engage readers. It’s an especially effective way to reach kids and teenagers.

Last week, we talked about one reason for its effectiveness: that is, transmedia storytelling meets young readers online, which is where they are spending more and more of their time.

“The average young American now spends practically every waking minute–except for the time in school–using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device…And because so many [young people] are multitasking — say, surfing the Internet while listening to music — they pack on average nearly 11 hours of media content into that seven and a half hours.”
T Lewin, “If Your Kids Are Awake, They’re Probably Online

However, transmedia storytelling isn’t just a matter of putting the right content in the right places. Magazine ads and television commercials have been doing this for decades. The effectiveness of transmedia storytelling lies in how it reaches young readers, as well as where it reaches them.

That “how” is the second reason transmedia storytelling is such an effective way to engage young readers: it taps into the social component of how today’s teens and preteens interact online.

Transmedia Storytelling Taps into the Social Component

Despite the increasing amounts of time spent online, today’s young people may be the most socially connected generation ever. They don’t simply watch a video or read a story or scan a web page: they’re looking for ways to share the experience with friends and followers. When their entertainment has an online component, sharing becomes that much easier.

Million Ways to Die game

Take the “Trail to Old Stump” game my boys played last week. They didn’t simply play solo: the game became a social experience. They told friends, recapped funny moments, replayed the game to show off their skill, and explained its connection to the Oregon Trail game they’d played in elementary school. They played head-to-head to see who could finish with the most surviving sheep (and party members!). One game started a cascade of social interactions, even though it was a simple flash animation, not an immersive transmedia storytelling experience.

Transmedia storytelling can provide your readers with several types of opportunities for social interactions and connections, each of which increases the story’s appeal.

Shared Experience

At its simplest level, transmedia storytelling provides an opportunity for shared experience—the same way as any good story, movie, or game. If you tell a good story, readers will want to tell their friends—discuss plot twists, speculate about what’s going to happen next, claim fave characters, etc.

For example, check out the 17th Shard, the official Brandon Sanderson Fansite, where users discuss everything from book news to typos to how a particular character survived a high storm in Words of Radiance.

 

17th-Shard

The 17th Shard also includes fan art, The Splintercast podcast, the Around the Cosmere blog, an interview database, and The Coppermind, a wiki for the magic, characters, world, and other details found in Sanderson’s books.

17th-Shard-gallery

Brandon Sanderson’s expansive fantasy world building, and the fact that all his books seem to be set in the same “cosmere,” make his works a perfect fit for this type of fan response—but this type of social interaction isn’t limited to lengthy adult sci-fi and fantasy. For instance, the More Than Magic Mirrors website is a wiki of “fantasy authors, themes, and books” created by a young adult librarian. It compiles information about authors, books, characters, and more for a wide range of children’s and young books—including Laurie Stolarz’s paranormal romance, Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Hilari Bell’s sci-fi and fantasy, and more.

MoreThanMagicMirros

Working Together

Sanderson’s novels present numerous puzzles for readers to figure out and piece together—another way transmedia storytelling can encourage social interactions. Give your readers a puzzle to solve, and they’ll brag when they discover the answer…or recruit help when they can’t. Both give your readers something to talk about, which translates into a deeper connection with the story and the story world.

Take this discussion on Reddit, where readers go WAY over my head as they explain how the map shape in The Stormlight Archives is derived from a slice of a mathematical function called the “Julia set.”

Julia-Set

 

Scholastic Publishing uses puzzles and riddles to pull readers deeper into the universe of the 39 Clues book series. Readers don’t necessarily collaborate to find the 39 clues, but they do work alongside one another via moderated message boards. The message boards provide lots of trivia that can be helpful in the hunt, as well as additional world content, Q&A opportunities, and opportunities to interact with the series’ authors.

39-Clues

 

Ways to Add Social Connections to YOUR Fiction

You don’t need to launch a full-fledged transmedia storytelling campaign to create a “social component” to your story universe. In fact, you don’t have to create that social component at all—forums, wikis, and other fan-created sites may spring up spontaneously once you reach a critical mass of fans.

But if you don’t yet have a critical mass of fans—well, don’t you think it makes sense to try to give readers opportunities to make those social connections?

I’ve been brainstorming different ways that writers can engage readers using transmedia storytelling techniques, preferably without breaking their metaphorical time banks! Here are a few of those ideas, with links to a few examples:

  • Have one of your characters Tweet occasional updates—or better yet, clues to help answer story questions or solve story puzzles
  • Create an Instagram or Tumblr feed for a fictional character, school, or business
  • Add “Easter Eggs” to your storytelling—clues, puzzles, or hints that readers can follow to a reward. That reward doesn’t have to be a traditional prize: bragging rights, or simply knowing something that most people haven’t discovered, is often reward enough.
  • Reward readers who respond to your story—feature fan fiction, fan art, fan music, etc, on your website (Anyone know of any authors who do this? It seems like a no-brainer, and yet I haven’t been able to find any examples!)

Do you have other ideas for using transmedia storytelling techniques to make your writing “more social”, or simply easier for young readers to share and discuss online? I’d love to hear them–please share thoughts, ideas, questions, and inspiration in the comments!

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