Beating the Avoidance Trap

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What’s your avoidance strategy?

Last week I wrote about my tendency to stay “busy” in order to avoid writing (and other potentially uncomfortable tasks!) Staying busy certainly isn’t the only writing avoidance strategy out there. It’s probably not even the most common. Others that come to mind include:

  • Chasing after shiny new ideas
  • Reworking the same page ad infinitum
  • Facebook, Twitter, and other social media
  • Web surfing

…and there are many more!

If you’re a writer who’s not writing, why not? Tweet-Button

Do you have reasons or excuses?

Beating Avoidance

So how do you tackle avoidance in your writing life? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but here are some starting ideas.

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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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Symbols for Writers: the Snake

About the Symbols for Writers Series: I’ve found that symbols and imagery can trigger valuable insights into writing, life, problem-solving, finding joy, and more. This series was born because I wanted a collection of symbolic images coupled with text and questions intended to kick-start the creative process, help identify a creative block, or aid expression of complex concepts in condensed packages–and I thought you might enjoy such a collection, too! If you’d like to know more about how the Symbols for Writers series came to be, check out the first post in the series.

How to Use

This week’s image is meant to inspire thoughts about success and what it means in your personal universe. You can also use the image as a creative prompt, or as a reminder of some key idea you want to remember in the coming week. Have fun!

The Snake…

 snake

SOMETHING THAT IS: UNPREDICTABLE 

OUT OF CONTROL

UNKNOWN

FEARED

HIDDEN & THREATENING

* * *

SNAKES CAN ALSO SYMBOLIZE TRANSFORMATION

SHEDDING THE OLD, AS A SNAKE SHEDS ITS SKIN

What thoughts and emotions does this image bring to mind?

Take a good look at the image above, then close your eyes and take a few slow, deep breaths. Let your thoughts wander through the meanings this symbol can carry.

  • Is your gut reaction to the snake image positive or negative?
  • If positive, what transformation might the snake image bring to mind?
    • Is there a change happening–or a change that needs to happen–in your life?
    • Can the snake help you think about a transformation one of your characters is undergoing?
  • If your reaction is negative, what feels unpredictable or out of control in your writing life?
    • Consider how these ideas might apply to your characters: does one of them face something beyond their control?
    • Do they face a betrayal? A danger that might strike without warning, like a snake’s sudden attack?

Take 5 minutes and journal about the snake symbol and the thoughts or images it sparks. 

How could this image relate to something in your writing life? Please share in the comments!

The Myth of Simple

I read recently that the brain tends to see everything as far more simple than it actually is.* It was remarkably refreshing to read that this is a problem common to humanity, since it’s one I struggle with all the time.

Take writing, for instance. I get an idea for a new book project, and as soon as I start brainstorming, ideas for characters, plot elements, and cool world concepts come flying fast and furious. I might even write a skeleton outline of the story structure in those magical first days when I know that the story is THE BEST IDEA I’VE EVER HAD and that WRITING IT WILL BE SIMPLE.

sabrinas stash

Simple? Ha. Once I actually put pen to page (or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be) I have to face reality: The characters and scenes I thought I’d envisioned so clearly are no more substantial than mist. It’s one thing to have the idea, but quite another thing to bring that idea to life on the page.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this, too. It’s easy to forget, somehow, that the beautiful language, witty dialogue, and sparkling characters we want to create are the result of a hundred rewrites. This is the reason that Anne Lamont instructed writers to “write shitty first drafts” in her classic guide for writers, Bird by Bird. There’s always a gap between that first story vision and the first words you write. This is also the reason we practice things like freewriting and participate in challenges like NaNoWriMo, which help us learn to silence that inner critic long enough to get something—anything—down on the page. Once those first words are written, it always seems to be easier to see how they can be improved.

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