Saturday, April 27, 2019

Experimenting with the Platform

Mayan Codices
It seems to me that every story is meta in regards to the platform the author uses to tell the story. The platform will influence how readers interact with it. And you disregard this at your own peril.

Are you telling stories around a campfire or using a blog or a video or a game or telling a story in a bunch of bound paper? In each case, you will need to research how readers interact with the platform you've chosen.

Digital stories aren't just paper stories cut and pasted into a blog or recited in front of a camera. I guess they could be. We could call an e-book a digital story but think of all the opportunities we're missing when we do that?

I tried my first (and maybe only) Twitter poem. Writing your first story or poem on any platform will teach you how that platform works. For instance, blog stories need lots of spacing and content chunking to make reading them palatable. Large blocks of text look too intimidating to online readers. Brains process online content differently than offline content and you may need to compensate for the tendency for skimming.

You will also learn by making mistakes. Twitter poems come with many challenges as well and I feel my poem was worth doing just to discover the pitfalls. There were problems setting up multiple accounts due to recent political events. Posting also presented a challenge as I was creating conversations between all of my accounts. How to do this with one browser? I tried opening various browsers, going incognito in browser tabs, and opening and closing accounts after each comment.

I also needed to learn about posting order on Twitter for both main posts and comment post seen from various accounts (all which required testing) and to consider how Twitter was created to be consumed (most recent content on top, lesser on the bottom) and how readers are actually reading Twitter (from top to bottom, not starting with the first Tweet) and how I might misuse Twitter to display a vertical poem (by posting it backwards). All the idiosyncrasies had to be tested and planned for.

These learning curves probably existed for the earliest manuscript and book makers as well. They probably wondered how people would interact with a physical storytelling device? Would they know how to turn the pages? How would they learn to read? Think of that almost insurmountable challenge! Wide-spread literacy!

Challenges create layers of difficulty and timing to execute (even in traditional publishing).

I've always wanted to do a project in a codex format, like the picture above. All the same challenges and problems apply. Will readers know how to read it, centuries after this format was a popular form of story telling? Will readers of the future know how to read our blogs?

It's all fascinating. So, what should we experiment with next?


Works Cited

McCray, Mary. "For Whom the Bells Troll." https://twitter.com/BellsTroll. Accessed 27 April 2019.

"How Chunking Helps Content Processing." Nielsen Norman Group,
https://www.nngroup.com/articles/chunking/. Accessed 27 April 2019.

"Digital Texts and Reading Strategies." Association of College and Research Libraries,
https://acrl.ala.org/IS/wp-content/uploads/Tips-and-Trends-Sp18.pdf. Accessed 27 April 2019.

Friday, April 12, 2019

For Whom the Bells Troll


First sad note

I finished the poem over a week ago and I noticed Twitter has already deleted some of the posts from my TrollGuy character, even though the insults were just nonsensical. Luckily I archived it in full already. But what a bummer.

The Jist of It

This is a collage poem about media history, trolling culture and pundit's soft-alarm-isms. Trolling is mostly between the authors William Blake, Wordsworth, T.S. Eliot and Hart Crane, an idea seeded in my head from Dorian Block's first class piece: https://dorianblockportfolio.wixsite.com/blog/blog/gothic-microblogging-for-digital-storytelling/ and the tweets he quoted from https://twitter.com/oscarwilde. The Oscar Wilde tweets blew my mind!

Ways to Read It

1. Interactively on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BellsTroll

Pros: You can play all the fun videos, animated gifs, click on the links and discover the hidden comment threads.

Cons: You might miss the hidden comment threads and all that multimedia in your haste to read it. Clues for hidden conversations are under these symbols at the bottom of each tweet:

Sometimes there are many more comments than one. Also, click anything that says “more replies.”


2. The archived, static version on my website: https://www.marymccray.com/bell-trolls.html

Pros: You won't miss any of the comment threads or profiles. And you'll see the comments Twitter has removed already.

Cons: You will miss all the fun videos and links. Boo!


3. The most comprehensive way would be to read the static poem (https://www.marymccray.com/bell-trolls.html) and then try to find the interactions in the live version (https://twitter.com/BellsTroll).

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Project Planning a Twitter Poem



About five weeks ago I stared thinking about the new things I've been learning in this class and deciding on how I would use Twitter to do some kind of online poem. I really liked Witch Court Reporter and wanted to do something similar but not automated or ongoing. There was just something about Twitter that seemed poem like to me, probably the vertical length and straight left edge. Modernist and contemporary poems also include a lot of parataxis and non sequitur and Twitter does this so naturally.

So I'm recreating my creative process here.

The Originating Idea

I had the vague idea that I wanted to do something commenting on vague, alarmist language in political discourse, how flat the components of this language are and how it drains the power of the words being so over used, which is all very scary because the intent of this language is to be ringing alarm bells. 

I also knew I wanted somehow to look back to see how we got here with alarmist language and why it isn't working effectively, which led me to think about Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death which blew my mind when I read it two years ago. The book went all the way back to the telegraph and early photography up through 1980s television news (and you can see all its predictions playing out now in internet culture).

The Inputs

My early research took the form of a mind map. I wish I had the original piece of paper because it looked like tracks or lists of the following:
  • Internet history
  • Early Internet memes
  • Early media history (telegraphs, photos)
  • Internet trolls (which came from the research above). This was a handy element to the eventual poem because it added the element of conflict. 
  • This element of trolling led me to research another layer, past poets who might conceivably have trolled each other had they the resource of an internet. I had been reading and watching some movies about T.S. Eliot and Hart Crane and also reading an essay by Howard Nemerov pitting William Blake and William Wordsworth against each other so those were the four poets I chose and I had to locate indicative poems and read those for possible argumentative quotes. While I was doing that I located some really juicy stuff that could be read to predict our modern narcissistic social media tendencies. Research score! 
It's a good place to note that most of this stuff I was investigating anyway and it just all coalesced into this collage of a poem, the tone of which ended up being heavily influenced the gloom and doom of T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," even though I've never liked that poem at all so you could say I'm being ghostly trolled by T.S. Eliot in this poem.

Building the Layers

My research didn't stop there. Layers were added as I researched online (like associating hoodies with the vague language statements). Adding images to statements changes their tone. I had to be cognizant of that.

I also knew the Twitter platform required that the poem be visual so I researched possible posts in the following areas:
  • videos
  • images
  • links
  • quotes to retweet
  • comment digressions
I also started thinking about how these various memes and media could be read figuratively in the poem. Some work as filler; some are more meaningful.

Ordering the Poem

Then I took all that mishmash and typed it up. I ordered the poem to spread out all the elements and tried to build some tension toward the end. One of the early memes I discovered in research was the Bitterroot National Fire photograph (an early popular photo on the internet) and that got me on the track of the gradually more alarmist fire-related posts at the end of the poem.

With all the material spread out, I could see I would need 19 days to pull it off. It took me almost a full day to set up all the accounts and test the platform. Not fun.

Scheduling Deployment

After the problems setting up the whole Twitter poem universe, I tried to give myself time every day to problem solve with the technology of commenting and discovering how those would display and also deploying the conversations. This meant I tried not to over-schedule the work for each day.

No Editing!

I had to do the best I could editing before posts were added because I couldn't go back and edit them later. That would screw up the deployment performance. This caused (and still causes) anxiety for me.

Archiving

I didn't have an archive plan until day one of deployment when I realized how vulnerable a live Twitter poem would be.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Storytelling in Podcasts


I got hooked on Serial 1 (the crime story of the murder of Hae Min Lee). I skipped the second season and then doubled down on my love for Serial 3 (S-Town). I loved the artwork of the site, the topic of clocks and a man's struggles living in a small town. I even wrote a poem about it.

I've been thinking this last week about why I loved those podcasts. And I think it was all the great sound effects added in so you could really imagine the stories. Like novels, podcasts depend mostly on words and insist that you create visuals entirely with your imagination. It's always shocking later to Google pictures of the real people and modify your imagined versions of them. 

The Serial writers also piece-apart their stories well, segmenting them into different points of view and angles of meaning. Both stories illustrate the difficulty of digging out truths from tragedies. 

My Dad and I are always having philosophical arguments about technology and modern life over the phone. I live in Albuquerque and he lives in Cleveland. I usually put him on speaker phone so I can hear him better. One day my husband confided that he listens along and that we should have been recording podcasts of our conversations all this time. This is a strange idea to me. But someday I'll wish I had done it. Family story podcast might be very helpful for tracking our histories. Who cares if the audience right now is just your family. 

Two people talking is another type of podcast I enjoy, especially etymology podcasts like Way with Words and the older episodes of Lexicon Valley with Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo. But those aren't really stories outside of the longest story of our culture: the way language evolves. Those types seem easier to produce though. Story podcasts seem to require more effort and ambiance of sound.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Video Story Yum Yum


This week we looked at some video storytelling and it was delicious. An additional set of options are available to readers engaging with recorded film: staging, lighting, ambient sound. So much can be done without words.

I like the rough, observational Cinéma vérité of these blog stories, although you wonder if for all the roughness and bad angles, the shots were meticulously story-boarded and scenes set up to provide that feeling.

If I were to do anything like these video blogs, I would particularly try to imitate the imperfect, accidental-seeming, abstract camera angels of Marble Hornets and the ambient sounds of Connect with I. They both work subliminally to make you curious about what’s going on. They’re also beautiful abstractions of image and sound on their own. And they can be seen as a commentary on bad camera work and editing, like the 15-min show spoofing bad cable access, Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule. Some ugly, discontinuous things can be reframed to look interesting or beautiful.

These blog segments are addictively small (just one more potato chip…), like commercial-break segments, which is odd considering as a culture we’ve always proclaimed to hate those time slots of storytelling. Internet culture has maybe converted our brains into liking information being served up in this way. If our attentions were so short, we wouldn’t be able to binge watch TV shows and video blogs. But we don’t mind the segments being smaller sized for our convenience. When you think about it, there’s a lot more time involved in clicking the play button over and over again every two minutes. These stories demand that we commit to them again and again like needy friends.



Works Cited

Check It Out! with Dr. Steve BruleAdult Swim, Accessed 21 March  2019.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Best Part of Digital Stories

My fascination with digital literature is curious considering I love physical books. I think a book is an amazing piece of technology, indestructible unless you rip it, water it or set it on fire. And stories in books can last thousands of years and still be accessed (give or take an evolution of a language), unlike their computerized counterparts which struggle to last longer than a decade.

But that’s part of the fascination for me: what can books do that computer stories can’t do and visa versa. So the most important element about a digital story for me is how the story uses its affordances, or the unique properties of its machine, to tell a story in a way that a book could not. And related, how digital stories fail in ways that books do not. As C.T. Funkhouser says, "When people read a book, they never receive a message that a page doesn't work" (193).

So point of view, tone, theme, setting, plot, and conflict: all these are all important to a story, but for me the device is everything, how does it work to unveil setting, conflict, tone and plot with branching choices, interactivity and all the baggage of online culture.

For example, the story "De Baron" by Victor Gijsbers (2006), (view Mark Sample’s walk through video, 48 minutes, warning: very difficult content), uses gameplay format to force the moral decisions of the “hero” on to you. This is something a book cannot do very well. Readers of books are given the distance of non-participation. Readers are allowed to feel like witnesses rather than participants. In gameplay however, readers suddenly become culpable for their choices and the results of those choices feel very visceral. Suddenly, all the dangerous choices in this game become a metaphor for very tragic choices in a human life. The medium gives the story a startling and tragic affordance, just by offering (or forcing) the reader to deal with the responsibilities of choice.

Of the stories I've read in class, I still appreciate how “The Dionea House” used its mechanisms and all the functionality of blogging to tell its tale. This story would not work the same way on paper. The characters, plot and conflict all evolved over multiple blog posts and a plethora of comments where sub-plots unfolded. Transformation and point of view unfolded over multiple blogs:


This is the original display of the main story, a blog of emails compiled by the character Eric to tell friends and family about the tragic disappearance of their friend Mark. The blog format provides assumed implications of a community readership because of the fact that multiple readers can access a web page at the same time, unlike readers of a book.


The author uses the date stamp functionality of blogs, which works to build suspense over time. 


The inserted emails also make use of email affordances (subject lines, date stamps and uncanny, undeliverable messages).



Eric also starts a personal blog when the public blog garners too much attention. This illustrates how easy it is to jump to other channels for storytelling (starting a new blog is usually free, after all). His thoughts turn much more personal here and so the blogs contrast each other in tone. His last comment attracts hundreds of comments, both real and fake, which work to increase the uncanny ambiance of the story. Everyone else is alarmed about Eric, so we should be too.


Jenny’s blog is a great example of an abandoned blog, started with the best intentions but left like so much Internet debris. However, a fascinating thread of comments lies beneath its surface. The author uses hidden comments like Easter eggs.


The babysitter Dani gives us our first glimpse into a first-hand account of someone operating from inside the house! Her blog is a good example of characterization through blog functionality (the mood barometer and her ASCII character emotive faces and teen-speak).


In contrast, Loreen’s blog is a first hand account of the house but from a tough-talking, gritty homeless woman.

All the blogs hide story elements within the functionality allowed within the blogging platform and Internet machinery, which provide experiences in reading unavailable from a book.

As a reader you can choose to read only part of the story or follow every comment trail and link to the sub-blogs and creative blogger profiles. Or you could choose to read only the surface story. It’s very similar to "Infinite Jest" readers who refuse to read the nine-hundred plus footnotes in the back of that book. You can do that but you miss plot points that way. The blog format allows an author the opportunity to explore all the options of date stamps, comments, html and blogger culture and David Foster Wallace, likewise, was exploring the limits of what a physical book’s footnotes could do. Because a book is a machine, too.


Works Cited

Funkhouser, C.T. "New Directions in Digital Poetry." Continuum International. 2012.

Gijsbers, Victor. "De Baron" walkthrough video by Mark Sample, YouTube,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-iuO6gq0tk&feature=youtu.be,  Accessed 9 March  2019.

Heisserer, Eric. “The Dionaea House.” Creepypasta, http://creepypasta.wikia.com/wiki/The_Dionaea_House. Accessed 9 March 2019.
Heisserer, Eric. “A Quiet Space.” Blogger, http://dionaeahouse.blogspot.com/. Accessed 9 March 2019.

Ohdanigirl. Adventures in Babysitting, LiveJournal, https://ohdanigirl.livejournal.com/.  Accessed 9 March 2019.

Levin, Jennifer. Missing Since Sept, Blogger, http://jennylevin.blogspot.com/.  Accessed 9 March 2019.

Mathers, Loreen. loreenmathers, LiveJournal, https://loreenmathers.livejournal.com/. Accessed 9 March 2019.
Wallace, David Foster. “Infinite Jest.”  Back Bay Books. 1997.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Game Play Stories: The Joys and Frustrations



I was unexpectedly out-of-town this week and spent a while trying to download [text] A Summer Story by Ayu Sakata. I was tech-blocked by my work Mac, my husbands iPad and our two Androids. But this pretty much maps to my prior experiences trying to get Wallpaper by Dreaming Methods to work. It's a visual story I've been trying to read for years. I even bought a game stick to use with it. But none of the computers at my disposal (work or home) are powerful enough to play it.

This is very frustrating. I really want to experience these stories. They do read like stories to me because there is so much text, enough to qualify as a read. And the walkthroughs I've seen, including this one for [text] (warning: the narrator is a teen/young kid and some may find his irreverent comments offensive) make the stories seem very appealing in an immersive way.

For instance, the immediacy of the choices put to the reader (whether by clicking link options of a branching plot or making decisions on movement through a space) place a sense of anxiety in the hearts of readers. This enhances the conflict, makes you part of the conflict. You're culpable in the outcome, after all. By literally putting the plot in your hands, a reader takes on a feeling of responsibility.

The effects of the image and sound don't make it any easier on you. You are primed to feel fear or happiness when sounds and images are presented to you.

[text] felt overwritten to me and there were five to ten minutes of reading that would go by before any choices were to be made. The editor in me says this could have been tightened up by half.  Walk throughs don't let you explore all the different endings either so I'm hoping to get another chance at this story when I'm back at a PC.

I did enjoy how the story had two fields of reading: the phone text itself and the running interior monologue to the right. Sounds and pictures are also "read" in a sense and it would be interesting to know how others chose to order their approach to "reading" each available element. Did you notice the picture and sound first or consider those after reading the text?