Visual Illustrations

In a prompt for a revision exercise, our class was encouraged to do the following:

Read through your work and identify places where you are either already using an illustration, have the impulse to use an illustration, or where you’d like to challenge yourself to use an illustration. For each, ask yourself: “Why do I need [this/an] image? How [does it/could it] aid the reader’s understanding? [Does it/would it] supplement rather than duplicate what is already in the text?” Write a brief reflection in which you discuss what images you’ve decided to use (or not) and why.

Despite the fact that this prompt is geared towards projects involving the written word, I found this exercise useful for my video project. Every page of script is meant to become an illustration, so instead I worked with single shots, specific scenes, and asked how they helped the narrative function of my work. I also paid attention to how the sequences were addressing my investigation into the the marketing of secondary education, the function of a liberal arts education, and what it means to be one of the “Leaders and Best” at the University of Michigan within those framings.

For example, my video includes a parody of the typical college recruitment video. I use the same powerful, beautiful images that are meant to evoke an emotional response from prospective students and their influential parents:

LawQuad

Instead of the usual “Top Ten Law School”, my video will feature an over the top exaggeration about Michigan: “The most Frisbee Friendly Campus in the United States.” This is based on the Kuleshov effect, but instead of a preceding image changing the meaning of the following image, it will be a preceding narration.

Another image from the script I really like is my news anchor sitting in a library study space. He starts by acting as if he is doing some real nose to the ground, investigative work: “as you can see, there are a sea of students behind me” before giving up the charade: “No, actually, we thought we were getting a studio, but with so many students doing projects last minute, we couldn’t book it.” This gives context to the image and comments on the project as a whole. Plus, there is something funny about my news anchor trying to look professional in what is clearly a college setting.

ugli

After talking through the script with various people, several commented that the script was slow to start. Since I featured one news anchor introducing my subject and then throwing it to another reporter for the specifics, it felt like I was wasting illustration space on these static subjects when I could make it just one reporter doing the whole report. This, after all, reflects my experience trying to create this. The two news anchor were fused into one, with new space for illustrations.

I think this activity really helped to refocus my project, as a way to look at how individual components affect a synthesis.

Project Revision: Who Are You Writing To

It might seem a little late to do a redefining mini assignment, but an assignment that requires us to look at audience helps make sure the project has stayed true the people it is supposed to address. For this particular drafting exercise, we were asked to think of four people who we would be addressing. We were then asked to consider: how welcome would this person be in the conversation, how much would they understand, and would they buy into your work?

The first person we had to think of was a topic expert in our field, or someone I would like to impress. I chose Jordan Klepper, a correspondent for The Daily Show and the Best Fucking News Team. He would definitely understand the project, as he and others for the Daily Show make their living via satirical looks at problems in American society.  I think the major selling point for him would be the humor, so revision would involve punching up jokes. Here is an example of a piece on sexual assault Klepper worked on.

The Daily Show

The second was close peers in the Minors. I would choose my blog group, just because they have such an extensive background with my project. I have explained what I want to do, how I want to execute the videos, and the topics I want to cover. As college students, they will recognize the problems I address.

For a peer outside the minor, I would choose my housemates. They are pretty harsh judges of comedy, and I know that if I am able to make them laugh, I will be able to reach even the most stoic of audiences.

The fourth person would be someone who is not an expert in my field. I chose the Dean of LSA, Andrew Martin. This would be the most interesting reaction of the 3, because the video is meant for administrators as well. I would be interested in finding out if he knows of student complaints or can identify with the conversation I am trying to start.

 

 

Draft Development: Expanding Definitions

As we draw nearer to the end of the semester, and simultaneously graduation, the deadlines pile up as the weather (hopefully) gets warmer. This is crunch time for our Capstone projects, and it can be easy to lose sight of your vision amongst the the ever increasing stimuli being thrown at us as life accelerates our way.

All of that introduction was to say that we were given an assignment to reinforce our current drafts, under a tab titled “Draft Development.” Since I have been having a difficult time with the scope of my project (a comedic video series about the problems with a liberal arts education and the University of Michigan in general), I chose the mini assignment titled “Expanding definitions.”

This prompt challenged us to take a key term from our project and write 500 words that elaborated on the specific concepts we wanted to address. I started with my base words: “liberal arts education.” I wanted to look at how I was defining it, how others used it, and what were the holes in it that I was trying to address.

The American Association of Colleges and Universities defines it as such: Liberal Arts Education is an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. It provides students with broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g. science, culture, and society) as well as in-depth study in a specific area of interest. A liberal education helps students develop a sense of social responsibility, as well as strong and transferable intellectual and practical skills such as communication, analytical and problem-solving skills, and a demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings.

I want to address how this functions in a capitalist society, and how students pay the colleges money for an education, but additionally, to be prepared for the workforce, and the ways a liberal arts education might fail in the latter.

And while I find merit in all of those things, I want to discuss the implications of how this definition has been applied at the University of Michigan. For example, a main problem I have with LSA degree requirements is the language requirement. I was required to take 4 classes of a foreign language, perhaps giving me a broader knowledge of the wider world, but I could have used this for more production classes in my Screen Arts class, which benefits me more for a future position in the entertainment industry than a foreign language could.

By positioning the ideals of a liberal arts education, which are essentially universally good, against the cost of college and its function as a minor leagues for the workforce, I can examine the ways a liberal arts education and the college setting is either beneficial or detrimental (economically, even physically or emotionally) to a person’s ability to progress into the job market and adulthood.

“Dixie Zen” Article Discussion

This article by Sam Anderson is an exercise in vivid descriptions. His opening line is evocative: “People often compare the summer heat of Louisiana to being locked in a sauna for three months.” With just a few words, Anderson has set a tone for the rest of the work.

I think this piece is important for people wanting to write personal narratives or long-form stories. There has to be such an absolute commitment to the subject, to find stories and moments that will capture a reader.

Additionally, this work is a piece of differentiation. What makes tubing in Louisiana a quasi-religious experience that simply cannot be replicated by the rest of the country is deftly explored by Anderson: “In Oregon or Nebraska, tubing is just an incidentally wet version of a stroll in the woods, the spiritual equivalent of a hundred other outdoor leisure activities. In the South, it represents one of the only possible escapes from a greenhouse climate threatening to replace human life with ferns. Southerners are forced to tube.”

With these points in mind, here are some discussion starters and questions.

  1. Find your favorite line of description in the work. Why does it speak to you?
  2. Were there any moments were you thought a detail was extraneous? Were there moments where the detail at first seemed unnecessary, but you appreciated as you read further?
  3. When were you first hooked on the story? Did it not hook you? Why or why not?
  4. Do you have an activity that inspires the same feeling in you that tubing does it Anderson? Take a moment to write it down.

ePortfolios and Audience

One weakness of my writing is that I almost never consider audience while working. I usually have a prompt, my thesis, and that always seems to be good enough for me. The exercise we worked on in class where I was forced to address audience gave me a lot to think about. First off, it made me conceptualize the ePortfolio as a project that I will share with a wide variety of people, and then asked me to categorize the audiences based on differing expectations.

For example, I want this portfolio to be something that I can show potential employers in the entertainment industry. This site will demonstrate how I can write, produce and edit videos, and organize parts into a cohesive synthesis. I put this audience as my number one priority, because as I enter the workforce, I need to show I can make creative content.

After that, my audiences were of the academic variety. The outside evaluator and my professor are obviously very important audiences, as they determine my grade in the course. When asked to address their expectations, I turned to the rubric from the Minor in Writing. The odds are, if I impress them with “exceeds expectations” in a majority of the criteria groups, the portfolio will translate well to my main audience (the entertainment industry execs).

This exercise also made me unsure of how I want the page layout to be. I compared and contrasted the three portfolios that we worked through in class, and discussed the elements I liked and disliked from each. This helped me develop the idea of look and feel for my portfolio, which I want to be something like “corporate edgy.” It needs to be bright and challenging, but it can’t go so far as to be something that would be offensive or disrupting to my potential employers.

Evolution Reflection

One of the most unique things about the Minor in Writing is the focus on reflection, which hit me as we were working on an in class exercise. I have had a wide variety of writing classes, written in a larger number of genres and styles (from screenwriting to sports writing to academic papers), and I can’t recall a moment where a professor or editor asked me to reflect on my process and evolution. It was almost shocking to realize, because every other vocation requires evaluation of evolution. A mechanic has to learn each part of the car to be able to fully service the vehicle, and he has to build on the things he has previously learned in the profession. So often, in all of my writing classes (besides the minor), the process of evolution and where we have been as a writer is ignored.

So when we were asked to reflect on our writing’s greatest strength, what we hope to learn about ourselves through the project and what other questions had come up, it took me a minute to start writing. However, I think the strength of my writing lies in drawing out details that most people wouldn’t include. For my project, which involves a critique of the University of Michigan, it is going to be important to find the small things about the college experiences. What I hope to discover via my project is a talent for editing and shooting videos. I know I can write scripts, this project is going to test my ability to have my work translate onto the screen.

The third inquiry ties into the second question, at least for me. The main question I had was what type of genre I want to write in, or what creative field I will go into. I’ve been successful with sports writing and screen writing, and academic papers as well. However, I have no idea what I’m best at, so I’m hoping this project can tease that out.

What I Wish I Had Written Exercise

“All is Lost: In the Series Finale of Y2K, We Bear Witness to the Slow, Miserable Death of Basketball”

by Jon Bois, SB Nation.

This article is one of my favorite pieces of writing of all time, and the story of how it was created is incredibly interesting and unique to the 21st century. Bois often interacts with fans on Twitter, and one day he posted a poll asking how people thought professional basketball would end (end of civilization, game evolves beyond basketball, the owners disband the league, etc.) After receiving a bunch of answers, Bois ultimately decided a lack of talent would destroy the league. So using the popular videogame NBA 2k, he created draft class of players who were terrible at basketball. Then he simulated the game for years, with terrible talent entering the league year after year, and wrote about the hilarious results.

Another cool thing Bois did via Twitter is get name for these terrible players. He asked people to submit poems about the end of basketball, and the fans with the best works got to have their name represented by a player. Additionally, these poems are sprinkled throughout the piece. Bois has a variety of multimedia to engage the readers, includings gifs and embedded YouTube videos that he took of the games’ simulations.

This piece has a great use of narrative and sets a ticking time bomb at the beginning of the article: eventually of all the people that actually play the game today (LeBron James, Kobe Bryant) will retire and the league will be left with talentless players. Bois has a unique voice and fun ideas with how to use video games to imagine possibilities in real life.

For my own project, I hope to incorporate some of that same multimedia that Bois uses. I think that having a variety of links and images to guide, steer and reinforce what is being read is very useful for getting a message across.

Project Pitch Reflection

 

To prepare for my project pitch, I read through the brainstorming mini-assignment I had worked on the previous week. It had all the beginnings of my ideas, and a somewhat hazy idea of a final project emerged at the end. I thought this would be sufficient for my pitch, to get the idea out of my head and into the others, essentially throwing things at the wall to see what sticks.

I think this worked out for the most part, as I got a wide variety of advice from my classmates. Some of it what about the scope of the project: I heard from several people that a 3 to 5 minute video would be the most engaging for their attention. Another suggestion was to have a mini-series of videos, each with a specific conversation to be had with the idea of college. I think this is a good idea, with several videos, I have a wider scope and will be able to feel like I am still doing a good amount of work for my project.

Another helpful suggestion was to think about the audience: several people wanted to know who I would target, and I think each video could potentially address all of my audiences: graduating high schoolers and college students. I was happy with the response to tone: as most thought the idea of a dry parody would be funny, and that it would be able to provoke some questions as well.

I am confident in writing the formal proposal, the only question that remains is what specific topics do I want to address. I know my project will be very malleable and that subjects will be added and cut throughout the process, but I am a little worried about starting off the list and what ideas I want to begin with.

Beyond that, I’m just excited to start shooting the videos and editing the clips into something somewhat like a finished product.

Writing Communities

In addition to reading, it’s vital for a writer to have a community around them: people to bounce ideas off of, edit work, and for inspiration. I have previously found myself involved in many writing communities, mainly from the sports blogs I wrote for.

However, when asked to do a free write in class about the circles I was involved in, I found myself a little lacking. Having stopped writing for those blogs, the first grouping that came to my mind was academic. My free write exploring these communities is below.

The first community I am involved in, which takes up the overwhelmingly majority of my time is the academic one. Here I write essay after essay of textual analysis, subject research, all while being drilled on the importance of a thesis. This community requires I write for grades, so I stay tethered to the guidelines set by my professors. This writing is less creative, less personal, but it is informative, and if done correctly, also proves that you were paying attention.

The other community is not really a community, but my former roommates who interned with me last summer. One a sportswriter and the other a screenwriter, two areas that are usually my main fortes. Within this community, we exchange work rapid fire: the screenwriter and I pass back and forth scrips, marking them up, giving them the second pair eyes treatment. With the sportswriter, I share less of my own work and more of other’s people. We send articles to each other, superfluous caption of “this is great writing” unneeded. We help each other discover the spirit of great writing in hope that we can capture that feeling in our own work.

With that community, my style of communication is more venacular, riddled with bad jokes and sarcasm, and is unfortunately not in line with what my professors want turned in. However, both of these communities are helpful: one for polish, and one for creativity.

10 Magazines Every Writer Should Read

Prefacing this by saying I don’t think every writer needs to read these 10 magazines, I think Shelby Deering came up with a solid list of content to check out. She wrote the article on a site called “Contently” so you have to hope you could trust her judgement. For our class, we had to choose three sites that we thought would most captivate our interest, and from there, we had to choose an article from one of the sites to share with our class.

The first website I chose was Fast Company. Normally, I wouldn’t read a site about business and workplace changes, but that changed after I interned for Turner Sports this summer. That company prided itself on being forward thinking, so I want to be in tune to the way the workplace I’m about to enter has changed. While there’s a number of advice articles that seem marginally credible, it had a few cool features. I was particularly drawn to the tabs Design, Create, and Exist tabs; with the newest trends in each area.

The second was Oxford American. Sites like these with articles dedicated to certain cultures and traditions are always incredibly engaging because of the writer’s deep connection with the area, or the opposite: their unfamiliarity with new territory. These personal narratives are usually the some of the best works of creative non-fiction, and for someone who has mainly known the Midwest, the explorations of the South are an interesting change of scenery.

This was the site I chose my article from. It is titled “Dixie Zen” and the link is as follows: http://www.oxfordamerican.org/magazine/item/201-dixie-zen (Links to an external site.) This article describes tubing on a Southern river, a necessity for locals that has become ingrained in culture. It is a slow, languishing piece that goes over ever detail you can feel or describe while floating down a stream.

The final site was The New Yorker, which is instantly more recognizable than the other sites. I chose this site based on two articles I had previously read for classes, Susan Orlean’s “Orchid Fever” and another work on the capture of El Chapo. This site is one of the best examples of long form articles and creative non-fiction, and definitely falls under something every writer should read.