It’s day two of Slice of Life. I won’t be sharing my slicing here every day, since I am mostly going to try to use Twitter and Soundcloud as my main platforms, at least at the start. But here is what I wrote this morning, reflecting on how we used Dr. Seuss in class yesterday.
I had the good fortune to be asked by blogger Kirby Larsen to “sit” for an interview about my work around teaching video game design in the classroom. Kirby runs a regular feature at her blog in which she features teachers, so I was honored that I was asked. I didn’t realize that I was going to travel down memory lane to my childhood for the first part, but that was fun, and it got me remembering my own sixth grade teacher, Mr. Dudak, again.
As I wrap up my exploration of interactive fiction, I remembered a presentation I did a few years ago about using mentor texts for digital writing. One element of that was how I helped my students write Make Your Own Adventure stories with a wiki. So, I edited down that presentation, added a few videos, and want to share it out here. I’m thinking there could be a lot of more I could add to it, but maybe I will do that at some later time.
I am loving that so many visitors here at my blog are leaving comments and suggestions as I explore interactive fiction. Yesterday, Sally suggested I check out Infinite Canvas, an app for the iPad that is built around the concept of an expandable story map, which Scott McCloud has touted as one of the more interesting and creative elements of comics. I did spend some time yesterday, with Infinite Canvas, and I liked it, although I think there is a bit of a steep climb for beginners.
The app reminded me of something I had once thought of in relation to Prezi. I love the canvas element of Prezi, where you can see the whole presentation from above and build it out. But I always wanted to be able to vary the paths of users of a presentation. Unfortunately, there is only one path in Prezi (as far as I can tell). Infinite Canvas addresses that by allowing a creator to set up multiple paths for exploration of images, audio, video and text. Think of it like a massive blank wall, and you are putting post-its up there, and then creating opportunities for connecting those post-its together in a myriad of ways. That’s the idea here.
The interactive part is that you could create a project with multiple paths, and let the viewer/reader/player make decisions that brings you along various paths of a story. You could even created “squares” in which slightly different elements of the same scene reconnect back with each other, sort of like alternative realities. Infinite Canvas allows you to import images and record audio narration right in the app, as well as text layers. Once I got the hang of the app, I was fine. But even with the tutorial (which is nicely done), it took me a while to get my head around what I was doing. There are a lot of tools built into the app, and it wasn’t always intuitive on where to go to do what I wanted to do. (Which might be an issue if you were to use this app with students. Or not. They might just dive in and figure it out easily enough).
And I have not yet figured out the best way to share a story from Infinite Canvas to a general audience (such as you). The app is free and you can create basic 12-frame stories (and download stories from its library), there is an upgrade of $2.99 per story to expand the tools and how to share it (with Dropbox, it seems). With the free version, you can share it to yourself via iTunes. But I think the files are in a certain format that is not universal, so I am not sure how you share it out unless the reader has the app. I need to check this out more.
Ultimately, Infinite Canvas does an interesting job of showing a different way to create a story, and it connects nicely to my inquiry around interactive fiction and technology. I appreciate that Sally suggested it.
Peace (along the canvas),
PS — here are the developers, talking about the app.
Tomorrow, I will be beginning what seems to be my sixth year participating in the Slice of Life Challenge with my friends, Ruth and Stacey, at Two Writing Teachers. I was going to go into the history of why I participate in the Slice of Life (which is a generalized idea of looking at some moment of your day through a reflective lens and then sharing that writing out) when I remembered that I had done a podcast about that every point three years ago.
This year, I aim to do something a little different, moving beyond just blog posts (which work great). I am going to attempt to use Twitter and Google-Plus and other various forms of media to do my slicing this year, making a shift as a writer across various platforms. In the past, I have often added video and audio from time to time. But I am wondering how my views of the world will change.
And I invite you to join us, too. Information about Slice of Life (both the individual writing challenge — which is to try to write a slice every day in March — and the new classroom challenge — getting students involved) is available at Two Writing Teachers. But really, it’s easy. You write at your own writing space (blog, etc.). Each day, you leave the link to your post at Two Writing Teachers. (There are even prizes). And we hope you follow a few links to other folks writing, and add comments. (This year, there is even a Slice of Life support team.) It’s as much as about the writing as it is about the sense of being part of a larger community of teacher/writers. If you are on Twitter, use the hashtag #slice2013 to share out your pieces, too. (I am going to try to storify the tweets.)
So, I know March has not yet started but here is my first pre-Slice of Life tweet. I am starting off with a six-word-memoir format on Twitter.
Snow day arrived; Contemplating late June. #slice2013
This week, my friend Janet is host to our weekly writing prompt at our iAnthology writing space (where National Writing Project teachers hang out and write). She suggested we create fake acceptance speeches for awards. I decided to go the funny route, using Voki to accept an award for most blog posts in a single day (I do write a lot, I know).
Thanks, Janet, for the great prompt. And while I am not a big fan of Voki, it worked for what I wanted for this prompt.
I came across this simple writing sheet that I created two years ago when I did make-your-ending stories with my sixth graders. We actually used it twice: first, as a collaborative writing prompt, where one student began a story and then passed it along to someone else, who then branched it out and passed it, etc. Second, it became a graphic organizer for their own stories, which we later published on our wiki site. It’s nothing fancy, but it is a good starting point for this kind of branching story.
I also found this concept/site map that I had created for other teachers to explain how to teach Make Your Own Ending stories. The map is part of a website that I had created called Threaded Adventures. It’s still a valuable resource, for me.
It all starts with the choice of a vanilla or chocolate ice cream cone, and from there, Jason Shiga’s imaginative graphic novel/interactive story app called Meanwhile moves into visual high gear, allowing the reader/player to make choices in the story branches. Most of the branches lead to disaster. One will not and the ultimate goal is to find that branch that will lead to a happy ending. All of the branches have doses of humor and visual artwork that will engage you on a variety of levels. Shiga built the app (and the app is inspired by the graphic novel of the same name, which also floored me when I reviewed it for The Graphic Classroom) around the concept of the “infinite canvas” — a concept in comics that forces the reader and writer to “think big” by expanding the story beyond what can be seen and what can be experienced.
Meanwhile takes advantage of that idea (and even did so in a creative way with the book) by allows the reader/player to see various paths of the story. You literally zoom over parts of the story map as you connect with parts of the story based on the choices you make. More than once, I was thinking, what was that part of the story? as the window blew past some frames I had not yet viewed. Instead of keeping everything hidden and out of sight, you can see elements of the story map. In a lot of ways, this visual storytelling strategy is very different from the other interactive fiction stories and apps that I have been reading/playing in the past two weeks.
The story has to do with a boy, Jimmy, who stumbled into a factory of a professor, whose been creating devices that could be used to destroy the world, or not destroy the world. So, which will you choose? Your decisions are what lead you along various branches of the story in Meanwhile.
The downside is that Meanwhile is an app that costs $4.99. The upside is that Meanwhile will keep you busy for a long stretch and you will be amazed by the creativity on display. It’s an interactive fiction app that harnesses the power of graphic novels and comics in a make-your-own-adventure style of play.
This free app — Versu — is very different from The Dreamhold, the interactive fiction app I reviewed yesterday. In the stories in Versu (there are a few free ones and then you can purchase others in a library), the reader makes choices about the dialogue and actions of a character in the story, and those choices shift the narrative. The first story — An Introduction to Society — has a main character, Lucy, interacting with her grandmother as she prepares to meet other members of high society. It’s like an English novel of manners, with choices for behavior and actions.
The story unfolds mostly in dialogue and decisions, and as new characters enter the scene, they are depicted as icons down below. A click on their pictures reveals what each character is thinking at a given moment in the story. While the story is rather highbrow, the choices invite you (as Lucy) to be either very civil (and therefore, boring) or rebellious by having the main character act rude, say foolish things, or be provocative in the way she holds herself. (So, for example, as I had Lucy tell the visitors that her grandmother thinks one of them is a “clod,” I completed one of the story’s achievements: sowing discord. Yes!)
And at some points, the grandmother breaks out of her role in the story to become a narrator to how to play the game (which, to be frank, is slightly odd when it first happens because you think you are still reading the story and you realize the grandmother is talking to you.) While I did find the interface interesting, this is clearly a story that might interest an adult more than a student (and no doubt, it was not designed for teaching interactive fiction). However, it could work with high school students who are studying English literature.
Oddly enough, I felt less agency as a reader/player with the Versu story than I did with The Dreamhold (which I reviewed yesterday). It was more like a neat diversion piece of reading than a full immersive experience. Maybe this is because you have to choose from a menu of choices provided by the story. But the Versu app is worth checking out, particularly for the way that writers Emily Short and Richard Evans uses character motivations and thoughts as well as dialogue to pace the story forward. The emotional wrinkle to interactive fiction is pretty interesting, and something I have not yet come across in my adventures exploring this kind of story/game.
And I am intrigued by the mentions of players writing their own stories, although I don’t quite see that option yet. (Versu is pretty new, so maybe that kind of writing component will fold out later).