IS TALKING CONSIDERED WRITING?

The radio has been around for quite a while. Podcasts are newer, but they share a lot of characteristics. I’m here today to evaluate this genre called podcasting and give you some key information on how to make your very own radio show successful. You won’t be able to charm your audience with your great looks, so pay close attention if you want to keep the listeners coming back for more.

The first thing you have to know when creating a podcast is pretty obvious. What are you going to talk about? Are you going to conduct interviews like Terry Gross on Fresh Air? Are you going to make it like The View and have multiple hosts having conversations? Or will it be like the new hit podcast series, Serial, where the show takes on a narrative and acts more like an audio recording? The genres within podcasts are endless. Let’s take a closer look at what each of these genres do well and where they each fall short.

Fresh  Air, a form of interview podcasts, is something I’ve fallen asleep to in the car for as long as I can remember. My parents worship Terry Gross and the ground she walks on. She is the master of her genre, and I want to tell you why. She fears no political stance, she backs down from no debate. She speaks into her microphone and examines some of the most influential and known people, as well as lesser known but still influential people. Terry Gross takes no BS and gives no BS. She conducts interviews. People listen to these interviews. They are pre-recorded and she doesn’t solely talk to those interviewed but also plays clips of other past interviews and scenes from movies. She brings the interviews alive even though it’s only voiced through earbuds or an aux cord.

A negative I see to NPR’s hit Fresh Air would be its audience reach. Clearly, it isn’t captivating a lot of children in the backseat of a car, but aside from that her interviews are highly educational and informative but are not getting the kind of reach they should. Because NPR is a (liberal) radio station there are a lot of people who don’t know and don’t care to tune in. These are the people the interviews would benefit most. Then again, not every genre can hit every kind of audience, so perhaps NPR is okay with their high volume of nerdy, curious adults who savor every minute. The big takeaway from Terry Gross? PICK AN AUDIENCE, AND MAKE THEM HAPPY.

Next up, let’s talk about story-speaking. That’s what I’m calling the narrative podcast. It’s when a podcast is like a TV series, except there’s nothing to watch, you just have to listen. If you’re thinking this sounds like a book on tape, you’re right. Except these are crafted specifically for being told through a podcast. This is a crowd favorite for commuters mostly because of one series that is taking the Interstate by storm. It’s called Serial. It’s really more of investigative journalism, but the suspenseful plot of it makes it quite a captivating story. Think of Law and Order SVU and how you get to solve the crime right alongside Mariska Hargitay and Ice T. The podcast would be nothing without its cliffhangers. The big takeaway from narrative podcasting? LEAVE YOUR FOLLOWERS WANTING MORE AND MORE AND MORE. They should have questions developing the whole time, and when you say goodbye they should be angry. They should be fuming! They should be commenting furiously asking for answers. Play an episode of Serial you’ll get what I am saying.

               

            Obviously, there is balance in these two major takeaways. For example, Fresh Air interviews span such a wide array of topics, that there are no doubt episodes that attract a new set of people, or that the usual listeners choose to skip. Interviews are wide-ranging. At the same time, not everything can be a cliffhanger about a murder, so not every podcast can actually leave the readers furiously typing questions. As in just about everything in life, balance is best.  I am going to borrow cliff-hanger in my podcasts in the sense of leaving my listeners with a single question. They won’t be calling me to find out, but they’ll have just enough reason to tune in the next week. Maybe a better word than cliff-hanger is seduction.

Multi-modality is tricky when it comes to a podcast. The people can only hear but this audio mode has a lot of intricacies within it. Sound effects, word patterns, and external clips are all ways to make this more multi-modal within the mode. Podcasts can have theme songs, music breaks, closing “credits” and more. No need to be boring, the ears are your oyster!

I am pretty excited about the idea of podcasting. We’ll see as I keep developing ideas if it is what I want to pursue. One thing’s for sure though, all those Terry Gross car naps definitely just paid off.

Cheers!

Maddie

A How-To Guide: Chat Fiction

Chat fiction is a relatively new genre of story-telling that operates via the medium of a text message inbox. Often displayed through online videos or through apps like Hooked or Yarn, we read through a text message conversation between two (sometimes more) individuals.

Where is She?

Where is She? is one of the most well-known chat fiction pieces circulating the web and features. The story starts with the sound of a mysterious crying baby and follows the text conversation between a teen girl, Tiffany, and her mother. It exhibits many features quite typical to most chat fiction pieces.

  1. It tells stories via text messages (sometimes employing other modes like pictures)
  2. The action is fast-paced and draws you in quickly
  3. Like a short story, you get very little context going into the story. You are often dropped right in the middle of the action and context is built along the way, revealed through the text messages
  4. High levels of suspense – one of the greatest draws of chat fiction is their ability to tell thrillers in short bites, and these short bites say enough to pique your interest but not enough to tell you everything. I think of each message as having a slight hook that leads to the next message, leaving readers with questions
  5. The spatial separation characters – unlike most stories in which character interactions have to occur in the same space, chat fiction pretty much demands that the characters be in different settings. Otherwise, why would you be texting? However, there is one setting (the scary one) that will dominate the narrative.
  6. Protagonists are often teens in a relatable setting (like at home). This is probably highly related to the target audience of chat fiction – young adults of today.

Chat fiction is a genre that rose to popularity around 2014 with the launch of the app Hooked, which is a platform that hosts these chat fiction pieces. Many chat fiction pieces are targeted at young adults and meant to be quick, easy reads. Chat fiction is highly popular among the youth because of how relatable the medium is! Think about it, most young people don’t like to call anymore and texting is such a dominant means of communication. The chat fiction genre also fascinatingly intimate and personal – it’s like overhearing a conversation between strangers, but you can follow them through the action. Chat fiction is predominantly focused on quick, thrill-inducing storytelling.

However, chat fiction is also genre which has a lot of restraints to take into consideration.

Life of the Party:

This is Life of the Party. It is a piece that actually features multiple conversations, making for an interesting intertextual-ish storytelling. We follow a conversation between a college girl and her boyfriend, and his conversation with a friend. Here is one of the longer-form pieces of chat fiction, spread over a few episodes (compiled in this video). (If you’re a fast reader, watch at 2x speed). At 22:09, we see the authenticity of the genre being compromised with narration! This is extremely unrealistic if we have been reading texts alone all the way till now. Moreover, in a later part of the chat fiction, there is a “scene-like” moment where the characters are basically face-to-face. The genre has been made irrelevant by its own setting, and to continue telling the story via text would make it so contrived.

Thus, here are two major limitations I found with chat fiction (not necessarily bad! Just challenges to consider which can shape content choices)

  1. No Narration
  2. The need for texting must never be compromised. Compromise could happen through a few ways, e.g. the characters meeting face to face, the protagonist in danger being in an unrealistic situation to text etc.

However, there is still quite a lot of variation from piece to piece. Some stories start with a relatively calm setting:

All in Your Head:

All in Your Head follows the conversation between a teenage girl who is alone at home and her boyfriend. She’s just watched a horror film and is afraid, and the conversation follows her panicked texts to her boyfriend about strange happenings in the house.

I thought this one would be interesting inspiration for my own piece, to see how I could put my chat fiction piece related to mental health in a more ordinary setting first.

Variation also exists in the way pieces end. Many end with cliffhangers, such as All in Your Head, while Where is She? ends with an interesting resolution. Some stories take on a more “action style” resolution like Life of the Party, but it is difficult to manage such resolutions without “breaking the medium” as I like to call it.

I am personally not fond of many pieces in this genre, as I feel some of the constraints of the genre lend the storytelling towards dependence on tropes and poorly structured storytelling. In fact, I struggled with this in my own experiment (which felt like a chem lab explosion). However, I do respect some writers’ abilities to say just enough to get you in, and leave you curious to find out more. It is a genre based in the art of brevity, and I want to emulate the short-but-provocative texts they use. I also aim to stick very much within the constraints of the genre, I don’t want to “break the medium” as I feel it has a jarring effect that undermines the authenticity and relatability of chat fiction.

Chat fiction is something new and challenging to me. It sits at the intersection of thriller, horror and microfiction, employing lots of multimodal communication as well. (How do they text? Are there repeat texts? How do you break up repeat texs?) There are lots of opportunities to make interesting choices and we’ll see how my chem lab explosion turns out.

 

1: The Journey Begins

Both for me and Amir, the main character of my novella/novel: Dying Man’s Wish.

 

The Orontes, or “The Green River.” This is a scene-to-be in Dying Man’s Wish. I took this picture of the Asi (Orontes) River near the Beqqa Valley, in Lebanon. (Excuse the poor quality of this image; this is just a screenshot of the actual image).

 

The coming-of-age plot centers around the son of a grave robber, Amir, as he begins to gain perspective on life and death in an ancient Middle Eastern society. The setting will bring to life some of the monuments and stories native to the Middle East. In this way, I aspire to both comment on and alter history through a creative lens, the way I imagine my ancestors interacted with the monuments, or lived the stories we now tell. It’s almost like re-writing history, the way I imagine it, to create a piece of historical fiction.

The plot is narrated by Death, an opinionated, all-knowing entity whose form is left up to the imagination of the reader. Ironically, Death offers comedic relief at times, and bits of experiential wisdom at others. Mostly, though, Death is the primary raconteur of the story.

Other elements I want to incorporate into the novel/novella include social and political commentary on issues that still impact the Middle East today. In this way, I hope to discuss modern issues that are really just continuations of ancient issues, such as women’s rights and political corruption. Doing this grants me a way to discreetly, but not innocuously, “show the world its own shame,” in the words of Oscar Wilde.

But I also want to show the world its own beauty. In part, that is where the image above, along with others, come in. I will incorporate a series of images I have taken in my travels abroad to serve as various settings. More on this later 😉

Thank you for reading!

This Class Sucks!

Just kidding. 

But really.  Just between you and me?  I’m in quite the pickle!

  • Scenario one:  I opt for the microbiome website.
  • Scenario two:  I opt for the I Realized I Was Old When… website.
  • Scenario three:  I do both and somehow survive through the process.

While Scenario One is the most obvious and practical, it’s also the least accessible.  It’s hard to describe the problem this site would address because of all the jargon and science that needs to be prefaced.  On one hand, building this site would literally make my job easier for as long as I study bioinformatics at the University of Michigan.  On the other hand, it’s kind of boring.  Not to me, but I assume to other people.  The microbiome is cool, yeah, but is it cool enough to engage people at the showcase?  Yes, it’s shallow to care mainly about how this will be received at a one-time event, but that’s partly what drives my creativity; the connection that follows.

While Scenario Two is the most accessible and creative, it’s also not practical after this class.  While everyone in class seems to really enjoy the idea, to the point of wanting first dibs on merch, this website would only help me in a practical sense if I jump ship and switch to writing as my career choice, or at least incorporate it somehow into research.

This is possible, of course. There are dozens of opinion articles published in major journals every month, but I doubt they’d be open to how feisty I get.

Yes, I truly love both project ideas.  One focuses on the science side of my life while the other focuses on creative writing.  Yes, I could incorporate creative writing into the microbiome; I could synthesize the two, but it’d still be muted by the boring topic of microbiota.

My entire life I’ve contemplated this question:  scientist or writer?  At this very moment, I’m applying for a Ph.D. in bioinformatics while at the same time feeling the tug towards writing.  Feeling the tug I’ve felt my entire life towards just writing.  Of course this class has manifested itself perfectly into the very question I’ve hoped to avoid!

This is why I’ve clung to the idea of the oh, so beautiful Scenario Three.  It allows me to exist in the in-between. I can satisfy my scientific urges by creating the microbiome website, while simultaneously being the daring, creative type I always find an excuse to be.  I tried this, you have to give me that.  I enthusiastically wrote my five-page proposal for the Microbiome website, fully fleshing out each bullet point.  But once I turned my attention to the second website, I realized something:  I’m exhausted.   If I’m this exhausted just drafting up a second proposal, imagine the exhaustion after building two whole projectsI have to face the truth that each day I spend engaging with both ideas, I lose a day where I could have truly focused on one.  

But is that such a bad thing?

During the Gateway, my first assignment grew from 8 pages to 24.  I enjoyed throwing myself into that class.  My semester is light enough that I could theoretically entertain the idea of doing both, but should I?  Hey, even this blog post is already four times the minimum length required.  Is that a sign I have what it takes to tackle both?  

Honestly?  I have no idea.

I need to get this under control.

Hopefully by next time.

Until then.

 

**BONUS CONTENT**

P.S. if you read all of this, here is a gift:  some inevitable Netflix recommendations!

  1. Maniac A new Netflix original limited series starring Jonah Hill and Emma Stone.  It’s a truly gripping sci-fi story about two people with little left to live for.  Enter Neberdine Pharmaceutical & Biotech.  They have a three step drug process (named A, B, C) which promises to lead you through your deepest, darkest traumas, have you confront them, and come out, well, normal. Jonah and Emma don’t care.  Jonah needs money and Emma Stone needs more of the “A” drug, which she is addicted to.  Little do you know, they have their own inner demons that find their way to the surface.  They enter the company’s trio A-B-C drug trial and their story is told through an anthology of different genres and characters all while they sleep, all played by them.  It is unlike anything released this year.  (One season available for streaming, roughly 1 hour.)
  2. The Good Place.  At first, The Good Place, is a happy-go-lucky comedy where Kirsten Bell plays a woman who just went to heaven.  Unfortunately, she isn’t supposed to be there.  The software which decides who goes to the Good Place or The Bad Place messed up.  Kirsten Bell, who was a terrible person on Earth, finds herself accidentally in Heaven.  The one thing is, they (i.e. the Architects who built Heaven) don’t know they made a mistake.  The other thing?  The Good Place isn’t what it seems… the entire show is flipped on its head at the season one finale. (Two seasons available for streaming now, 30 minutes.)
  3. High Maintenance. (This one’s on HBO, but who cares?)  This is an anthology series about a weed dealer meeting the entire spectrum of humanity in New York, nearly every archetype of person.  While at first the show might feel shallow and episodic, though still hilarious, the show has a way of revealing surprising connections about characters, when at first, they seem to just be a filler character for the episode.  It has a way of showing you information about the dealer’s past, his family and love life without telling you they’re doing so.  It’s incredibly frustrating, because they explain nothing.  But the added mystery, makes the show that much more addicting.   As a bonus, each episode has these incredible slo-mo shots that they play during the credits.  It is a show like no other.  (Two seasons available for streaming; 30 minutes.)

(Don’t worry, I won’t do this again, I’m exhausted.)

Short story “how to” guide

Short stories are a fascinating genre. It is amazing how authors of short stories are able to provide the audience with a vast amount of detail and plot line in such a short number of pages. You might be wondering, how are they able to do this? Well, this blog post will give you some insight into how short story authors work their magic!

To help write my own short story, I analyzed three short stories to use as models. Here is a what I learned from them:

“Amaryllis” by Carrie Vaughn is a dystopian short story told from the first-person point of view—like my short story. This was an important model to use because I learned the correct way that dialogue should be included in short stories. Not all short stories are written this way, but  Vaughn mainly uses dialogue as the diction in her short story. It is important to note though that the dialogue is not in block quotes, but rather precise lines back and forth between characters. This is a key aspect of short stories because since they are short, the dialogue must be short, yet meaningful. There are also no long paragraphs for this same reason. These stylistic aspects in this short story served as a good model for my short story.

“Billennium” by J.G. Ballard is another example of a dystopian short story. This short story was helpful for me to create my own dystopian short story because it gave me a model as to how to structure my story. In “Billennium,” it was important for the author to give a thorough introduction so that the reader understood the context of society. Without this context, the plot would mean nothing. The reader needed to know what type of world the author was writing about, since dystopian worlds are foreign to the readers.

“Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut is a dystopian short story with an outstanding introduction. Like my short story, Vonnegut had to describe a dystopian world in which no one reading the story is familiar. Vonnegut does an incredible job of describing this world in an effective, yet precise way. He sets up his world in only a short three paragraphs. I tried to used Vonnegut’s short and effective writing style when creating my introduction and describing the society I am writing about.

Here are some quick tips to know when writing short stories:

  1. Short stories have all the meat that longer stories have, but less pages to include it on. This means that short stories must be precise and impactful. Since words cannot be wasted, each word matters to move the plot forward.
  2. Short stories can only focus on one plot line. There is not enough time to develop more than one plot line because in doing so, each would not be fully developed and make a poor short story.
  3. Character development in short stories can be tricky. Authors do not have space solely for describing a character. Instead, the author must use the plot to not only move the story forward, but to also work on character development as well.
  4. Just like full length stories, short stories have a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning introduction must be brief, yet also set the scene for the story because the plot in the middle comes right after this brief introduction. The middle, which is the plot, is the story the author is telling. The ending serves as the conclusion, which can either simply be the ending of the story, or in my case, also reiterate the main point the author is trying to get across.
  5. Short stories can include dialogue, but it must be brief since the whole story cannot be made up of dialogue. Only what is important to enhancing the plot should be included.
  6. The rhetoric that makes up short stories will differ for each short story. This is because short stories can have any audience, topic, and meaning the author wants it to have.

 

Pushing Past the Traditional Timeline

Timelines have a relatively negative connotation compared to other, more multimodal forms of genres. They usually simply present information to the audience with informational purposes and a broad audience in mind, boring the students tasked with memorizing and analyzing them. But timelines are misunderstood. There is a story of humans being told behind all of those dates and events that every human can relate to. Having such a powerful idea at its core, means timelines deserve a more exciting, purposeful structure.

As I went about crafting my own timeline of the history of misinformation and fake news I constantly reflected to see if a story was being told. While the issue of fake news has gained more attention in light of recent events these past few years, I wanted to present larger themes about misinformation that have been constants over the course of centuries, showing how foundational this issue really is. As I went about studying the methods other timelines use to present information, comparing effective and boring timelines, my outlook on what a timeline could be changed. Here’s what I gathered:

  • Explain the meaning more than the events: Where a timeline has the opportunity to push past what is expected of it and become something offering a larger message is in the analysis of the events it has put in chronological order. A brief explanation of what occurred on the date is necessary to give educated and uneducated readers an even playing field, but the majority of the text on the page should be about offering insights into what these dates mean, and how they connect. Fleshing out larger themes of humanity is how we can make timelines relevant to the challenges we face today. When there is little to no analysis of the dates listed the timeline loses a major opportunity, instead becoming a backdrop for other more specific sources. Two of the articles I examined, both of which I would consider timelines, offered completely different academic experiences because of differing levels of analysis. “The Long and Brutal History of Fake News” didn’t have the traditional appearance of a timeline, instead taking article form, but delivered an incredible recount by jumping through the centuries, stopping to connect past and future dates. This allowed the author to make an argument about the sequence of events instead of just sharing what has happened with the reader. “American History Timeline” acts as a more traditional timeline, covering events over the past millennium. What the reader wants to walk away from it with is constrained by the page and their prior knowledge.

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/12/fake-news-history-long-violent-214535

http://www.datesandevents.org/events-timelines/14-american-history-timeline.htm

  • Separate the dates and events from any analysis: It’s worth noting that sometimes the reader is not looking for a sizable analysis of the dates or events given and instead opens up a timeline to just find a specific date. Consequently, a visually appealing and viewer-friendly timeline makes the dates/events the backbone of the text. The reader’s eyes should bounce from date to date, only diving into the subsequent analysis accompanying each date if they care to. In this way “American History timeline” outperforms “The Long and Brutal History of Fake News” as the latter makes it difficult for the reader to find the events/dates being highlighted. This also makes transitions easier to follow as when dates are separated by literal space on the page and not hiding within paragraphs, the reader can follow the story and make those crucial connections.

 

  • Make it multimodal: A large complaint of timelines, especially from young students, is that they are boring and hard to read. Adding images and videos can enhance the timeline experience. It not only adds color and structure to a bland, simple design, but it offers a visual for the story being told. The audience, who may have a difficult time picturing what a certain historical figure looked like or what a location looked like hundreds of years ago now has an image to build their imagined story off of. The interactive “United States History” timeline from World Digital Library exemplifies the power of adding images. The site gives users the ability to move back and forth between events, moving out of the traditional line format. In this way the user is moving through time, following patterns, mentally picturing history unfold.

https://www.wdl.org/en/sets/us-history/timeline/#2

All of these realizations about how to make an effective, unique timeline come back to the idea that a timeline is a story. Luckily we love hearing stories s0 there is no reason why a timeline should fail at gaining and maintaining the attention of a reader. Timeline creators just need to push past the traditional expectation of a long, straight line with a sequence of dates branching off to be successful. Timelines need to be dynamic because we utilize them for dynamic reasons. We open them up to tell the story of how we got here, find connections across centuries, and gather conclusions about ourselves. Since there is literally a history of everything, there can be a timeline for everything. It’s up to the creators of these timelines to continue to challenge the status quo on what a timeline should look like and tell a story which connects the larger recurring themes, moving forward and backward through time. In this way, as I found with the history of misinformation, it’s a circle more than a line.

 

    VS. Image result for bad timeline VS. 

source: https://venngage.com/blog/timeline-template/

source: https://www.fastcompany.com/1673264/an-epic-timeline-of-breaking-bads-wardrobe-colors

source: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/flint-michigan-water-crisis-timeline-how-all-started

Experiment 1 field guide — realistic fiction vignettes

My first experiment is a short, personal reflection on electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), narrated by an unnamed young person. In trying to assign a specific genre to my piece, I immediately think of Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, a collection of realistic fiction vignettes. I believe my piece falls into a similar category, and also has a coming-of-age focus.

Each vignette in The House on Mango Street is around a few short paragraphs long. The writing is realistic fiction, but Cisneros uses figurative language and illustrative descriptions so that her vignettes are more poetic than they are plot-driven, concrete prose. Her language is beautiful, and the tone of The House on Mango Street is reflective and slightly sad. I admire Cisneros’ writing because she demonstrates one of the major affordances of short, realistic fiction – the ability to incorporate poetic and figurative language. My goal in Experiment 1 was to accomplish a similar tone using the “fog” metaphor (borrowed from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”). Like Cisneros, I tried to choose language and descriptions that produce a thoughtful, reflective tone.

I also think it’s appropriate to examine One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, since my original goal was to write something inspired by Ken Kesey’s novel using modern descriptions of ECT. I modeled my piece after a specific passage (page 102-103 of this PDF) where Chief, the main character, describes the “fog” – a metaphor for his isolation, complacency and trauma/electroshock-induced mental haziness. One thing I appreciate about Kesey’s writing is the way his descriptions reveal something about Chief’s past. For instance, Chief compares the fog to an attack he experienced during the war, reminding readers that Chief is still traumatized by his military experiences. Since my piece is much shorter and my character is unnamed, I don’t know if I can do this type of character development, but I do think it makes Kesey’s writing very effective.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is similar to Cisneros’ writing in its tone, genre and emphasis on figurative language, but it has much longer chapters and is more plot-driven. In that sense, I think the style of my piece aligns more with The House On Mango Street. Also, Kesey’s rhetorical goals are slightly different than those of Cisneros. In my opinion, Mango Street is more geared towards people who appreciate poetic language and beautifully written literature. Kesey’s writing is also wonderful, but I believe he wrote the book with the intention of making a statement about mental health care. Since I want my piece to communicate information about modern-day ECT, I suppose my rhetorical goal (and perhaps intended audience) is more similar to Kesey’s.

Lastly, in analyzing the genre of my first experiment, I want to look at Secret Stream, a short story by Hector Tobar. The realistic fiction piece focuses on a young man and young woman, who meet up and map out some of the hidden waterways under Los Angeles. The two strangers have a strong connection, but the tone of the story is sad, suggestive of the fact that the two will eventually lose touch. I like the way Tobar isolates their relationship – details about their upbringings and personal lives are limited, making the short story all about the emotional connection. I tried to achieve the same effect in my piece, limiting background information about my character so that the focus is on their emotional experience. I think the haziness of this style of writing also leaves space for the author to use poetic language and incorporate some figurative descriptions, both of which Tobar employs and which I tried to use as well.

Overall, the genre of realistic fiction vignettes is broad, leaving the author with a lot of creative freedom. One major affordance of the genre is that the author can incorporate poetic language, as Cisneros and Tobar do, making the short piece of writing more like a free-form poem. Realistic fiction also allows for figurative language and symbolism, something Kesey does well. The genre can also be used to communicate a message or call to action, as in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – since I’m writing my experiment with a purpose, I hope to achieve that as well. After looking at the three model pieces, I realize my piece is less plot-driven than other short realistic fiction, but that’s one of the affordances of such a broad genre.

  

It’s Not Painted Yet–Episode 1 reflection

Today I recorded episode 1 of my podcast with Hanna. I also named it It’s Not Painted Yet! It was whimsical and wandering and even though I haven’t listened to it yet I have a good feeling about it. One thing I’m noticing is that the boundaries between episode topics is loosening compared to my plan on the proposal. It’s become a living conversation that develops and meanders and rebels against structure. It also ended up being a little longer than expected (~26 min instead of ~20). It might shrink a bit in editing, but I might just keep every episode a little over 20 minutes. I’m planning to snag some music off of soundcloud soon to get the intro and the outro figured out. Hopefully what we recorded is actually good and cohesive so we won’t have to rerecord too much (we did take a few breaks because the air in the recording booth was VERY thin and stale). Anyway, I’m looking forward to recording episode 2 next Sunday!

The Create-Your-Own-Journey Website Genre – Inside the Mind of a Website Designer

Since senior year of high school with creating an online women’s clothing business’ website, I have always found websites to be an enjoyable medium that conveys a plethora of information. Unlike a book or newspaper, a full-fledged website can contain unlimited information that is bound only by the mouse scrolling of the reader. Every single mode fluidly translates into a website, from the visual mode of animated .gif imagery, spatial mode of the placement of elements in certain places, and so on.

It was not until recently with my decision to create an interactive website did I realise the difficulty in the genre of create-your-own-journey websites. Unlike any regular website, these interactive websites must somehow combine the user’s uncorrelated input into a coagulated result. Further, it is crucial to ensure that the reader really understands the end-game result and that the reader feels his/her choices were valuable in deciding the fate of the result. This is where perspective-taking and empathising with the reader’s experience comes into play.

There are many complications associated with creating an interactive website, some technical and some more centralised on the reader interpreting the content. After analysing several examples of text, there are some positive and negative trends in how these interactive, create-your-own-journey websites operate.

  • Acknolwedge that the reader is a user. The reader is an active of a reader as he/she will ever be. The reader is trying to grapple with the content on the page through interacting with it. By using the mouse cursor and pressing on elements on the page, the reader is making decisions. Consequently, the writer must think beyond simply ‘how is the reader interpreting this information,’ but also ‘what is the reader’s experience navigating through this website?’. This is where the design of the website, particularly the spatial mode, is enormously vital for the reader to understand the meaning of your text.
  • So, hand the power to the reader. Unlike your typical BuzzFeed ‘What Dessert Are You?’ interactive website, often these create-your-own-journey websites have a reason behind their existence. To avoid sounding like you are simply educating or arguing a point across to the reader, you have to make the experience enjoyable. Simply put, an effective way to do this is by granting the user full autonomy, which is something we, as writers, are not used to doing. The reader is writing his/her own story, not the writer. You simply facilitate the reader’s imagination to inspire a narrative. Once the reader creates his/her own narrative, the reader will take ownership of that work and feel responsible for the result, allowing the reader to better empathise with the website’s purpose.
  • Then reward the reader for taking the reins. After an arduous journey traveling through the website, the reader must feel satisfied. To be satisfied does not necessarily mean a happy ending, but simply a sense of closure and that the reader’s decisions mattered. Make sure that the reader’s choices accurately match with the result that he/she received at the end. This also means that all results should be equally satisfying for the reader to experience; the choices that the reader selects should not impact his/her satisfaction, but only the characteristics of the result.

Figure 1. A happy ending is not always the best ending, especially if you are trying to convince the reader of an argument. An ‘a-ha!’ moment can make the end-game of a create-your-own-journey website very fulfilling, especially if the reader leaves the website learning something they didn’t know before. Think in the lens of the last minutes of a film, which viewers often use to rate the film’s quality: you don’t spoil the end of the film’s plot but show how everything that has happened throughout the film has built up to that moment. Source: http://jug-lviv.blogspot.com/2013/01/fridays-fun_1938.html

More generally speaking, there are also plenty of trends in the broader genre of a website, which are dissected below.

  • A website designer is fluent in all modes. Or at least they should be. A true website designer should be able to utilise all modes throughout the entire website. The code on the website grants full freedom for the writer to convey information how he/she pleases. Linguistic mode can easily be communicated like any text through words and phrases, visual mode can be seen by uploading and inserting image or video files, spatial mode can be structured with the website’s formatting and placement of HTML elements, aural mode can be heard with uploading a sound file or even implementing a music file that plays when entering the landing page, and gestural mode can be presented through visuals of people’s gestures. The writer can choose to use only specific modes on certain pages and then interlace all these pages together as a single, cohesive website.
  • The audience of a website can be specific, but it is always published globally. The potential generalisation of the audience to anyone in the world should always be on the mind of a website designer: it defines the threshold between public and private information to display on the website. However, this also means that you must understand many readers could be visiting the website without an actual interest in the website’s topic initially. For instance, readers must intentionally go to the library or store to obtain a book after considering beforehand what they were looking for. In contrast, ‘website surfing’ could mean that many website visitors appeared out of curiosity, with no incentive to stay. This means the ‘hook’ that attracts the reader on a website is significantly more important than in a book or other genres, as many visitors have no reason to continue browsing the website if they are not initially interested.
  • There is no limit to how much information you can communicate. As stated in the beginning of this post, the only restriction on the amount of information you can convey is barred only by the reader’s mouse scrolling. There is no real limitation on information. If you don’t want the reader to scroll, you can always redirect them to another website page as well. Unfortunately, having no limitation on how much information you can convey means that many website designers incorrectly overload the reader with far too much information. This is dangerous as it works against the writer. Not only does it ruin the reader’s experience, but also makes it difficult for the reader to parse the important concepts in a text to remember. The freedom of information is thus both a blessing and a curse.

Figure 2. A reader can only handle so much information. Even if you could speak for hours on the topic, the reader may have only opened up your website assuming it would be enough to entertain them for a 5-minute coffee break, not a 90-minute lecture. When the size of the scrolling bar is shorter than the width of your thumb, you know need to start cutting the amount of content on your page. Source: https://gifer.com/en/3b8

The new genre of the interactive website, and more specifically the create-your-own-journey website is a phenomenal avenue for writers to convey their text. Although website design is somewhat more complex than more traditional mediums of text, it is important for writers to keep up with new technology to engage all forms of readers. And, there is no better time to create a website than now—the number of free website builders that exist allow for full creativity in an easy-to-use platform. With these tips about the interactive website genre, why not try making your own right now?

So What Now?

Since my meeting with T, I’ve been considering completely revamping my project. Originally, my pitch to pursue making a poetry book was more of a “filler” in my mind; although I would’ve considered doing it, there were other ideas I was considering more seriously. After T’s encouragement though, I began thinking about what it would be like to actually write a short poetry book, and now I can’t get it out of my mind. Although I still like the commercial idea I was originally going off of, someone made a point in our small group discussion today that this may be one of the last times in my life where I’m given the opportunity to pursue this long-ignored dream. T also brought me book today, Premonitions, which is a poetry book by Elizabeth Schmuhl; this really inspired me and got me thinking about what it would be like to write my own poetry book. My biggest issue, however, is that I’m not sure which type of poetry I would want to pursue. On one hand, I’m considering working off of my small collection of poems, “1997,” which I submitted to the Hopwood Writing Contest sophomore year, but there isn’t really a focus to these poems, so I’m not sure what the purpose or audience would be. Additionally, I’ve considered writing a poetry book about my relationship with my mom, but I’m not sure I would be ready to share that kind of private work. Basically, I’m really stuck right now and confused as to which idea I should pursue, so if anyone has any suggestions — mainly whether I should stick with my old idea or go with a new one — I’d love your feedback.