Interactive Fiction on the Horizon?

ebook possibilities

A while ago, I mused about the future of books. One of the things I wondered about was whether e-books would make reading more interactive.

Netflix, according to a recent story on Variety.com, is launching interactive television episodes for children. On limited systems (for now), children will be able to choose which story line to follow.

As a reader, I have always created alternate or extended plots in my head about my favorite characters.

Writers often have to choose among several plot lines and character development to get their story to progress in a linear fashion.

Is it time for these two to merge and become interactive reading? What would it take to create an interactive book? Will e-publishers take the economic risk to offer them?

I’m sure this has been used for children’s books somewhere. Their stories are usually simpler (and shorter) than adult fiction.

The technology is here to produce interactive fiction for adults.

This is an exciting development for authors. Think about it; you offer alternative fictional worlds and lives. Minor characters could morph into protagonists. The possibilities are endless.

Has anyone tried this yet? Is anyone working on it? Anyone have suggestions on how to go about doing this?

Why Our Brains Need a Style Guide

His_Girl_Friday_still_2

“Man, that’s my style!”

That’s what Neil Young replied when the producer of “Tears Are Not Enough”* asked Young to sing his line again because the producer thought it was a little flat.

The New York Times is considering changing its practice of using courtesy titles on second reference. It may no longer be “Mr. Trump,” “Ms. Clinton,” or “Dr. Carson.” This may not matter much to the general public, but it is a really big deal for journalists, writers, and even Times subscribers. Why? Because it is a huge style change.

Why is it important to have style guidelines, and should we come up with our own?

Much of the information we process when we read is subliminal. Because of this, writers need to be aware of their grammar, organization, punctuation, and style to make reading effortless. The brain will stop and raise an alarm when it hits inconsistencies.

Style guides are there to ensure consistency. The Associated Press tells writers how to spell email or how to use certain punctuation. An article on email that has it appearing as email half the time and e-mail the other half will make your brain grumpy. Your brain will notice and will tell your subconscious “Hey, this is different!”  every time.

Your brain gets accustomed to all sorts of things when you read specific periodicals, like the Times, regularly. You may not notice courtesy titles or fonts, but your brain does. It expects these things. When they suddenly appear different, your brain may suffer a crisis of authenticity. That’s a huge bump in your reading road.

Writers follow style guides to make life easier for the reader. However, established styles – AP, Chicago Manual of Style, Modern Language Institute, and American Psychological Association among the biggies – may not address the particular impression or “brand” an organization is shooting for. A consistent brand is vital to set expectations for the reader.

The New York Times uses courtesy titles on second reference to exude more formality in its content. It gives an old-fashioned impression that the newspaper is a staunch chronicle of history in the making, something that sets it apart from USA Today.

A business may not want to be that formal in its publications. It might ditch last names altogether in a blog post and use first names in order to provide a friendlier, more informal setting on which to base relationships with customers or clients.

A style guide can be created or adapted for the individual’s or organization’s “brand.” But the magic for the reader’s brain will always be consistency.

 

*a 1985 effort by Canadian musicians to raise money for a famine in Ethiopia

Find Summer Adventures at Your Library

From Stars reading in tree

Ah! Warm days, sunshine, and no school. Summer is here and so are swimming, bicycle riding, camping, and trips to the library.

Huh? Trips to the library?  In summer?!

Hey, these aren’t your grandma’s libraries anymore. It’s amazing some of the things today’s libraries offer.

Sure, you still get your story hours, but there are so many more programs you (and your children) can tap into. There are free movies, book clubs, computer instruction (some libraries even offer online gaming groups), and reading contests for children and teens.

One library I visited recently had a flyer out for a program on how to maintain and repair your bicycle–really useful information for the human-powered, bi-wheel crowd.

There are magicians, comedians, and musicians who put on performances. One summer program for children I tripped over was “Play with Your Food,” which promised a fun way to explore the senses as well as a way of making a s’mores machine.

There are so many benefits of tapping into your local library this summer, not the least of which is to keep children reading during school break so they won’t have to play catch up come fall.

Where else can you tap into so much fun at very little or no cost than your local library?

 

(If your child is looking for good books this summer, check out Stars from which the illustration is taken, and Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe, which is really funny.)

To Write Better, Focus on Quality Reading

I constantly  talk about how to be a better writer based on my observations and anecdotal evidence. Now, a recent study from the International Journal of Business Administration is backing me up.cat_and_dog_in_library

What you read influences how you write. If all we read are tweets, Facebook posts, or short news blurts, we will tend to mimic those constructions (syntaxes) when we write. I had a student in a composition course who constantly, despite my repeated warnings, failed to capitalize the personal pronoun I and continued to use text abbreviations like b/c, thru, and w/o in his essays. He was mimicking what he read.

Quality of reading material matters more than the quantity of time spent reading. If we spend hours and hours reading posts about the Kardashians or pulp novels, we may feel as if we are making great efforts to improve our minds. However, we still aren’t improving our ability to write well. We need to stretch our reading muscles even if the quality text we read is only in short spurts.

The medium doesn’t make a difference. Many people feel electronic text is more difficult to read than a printed page, but the study suggests this is less of a problem than the quality of what is written. Sometimes electronic offerings tend to focus on “make it quick and make it easy.” However, there is little difference in whether a book is electronic or in physical print when it comes how it influences writing.

Good writing skills are highly valued in the business world. The study states:

Changes in workplace technologies have placed an even heavier emphasis on reading and writing skills than they had in the twentieth century workplace. Employees now send and receive more messages than ever before, while applications like email have eliminated editors and support staff who would formerly have edited writing for managers.

Since modern technology has taken away the former layers of review, the onus falls squarely on the writer.

It isn’t a matter of intelligence; it’s a matter of ignorance. It’s not that people don’t have the intelligence needed to write well. It is our ignorance of other ways of writing that holds us back. If we are never exposed to a variety of rhythms and syntaxes, how can we know that they exist and that we can use them, too?

Students often ask me how they can become better writers. I tell them they need to read better writing. Now I have at least one study to support me!

 

P.S.: With a title like “Syntactic Complexity of Reading Content Directly Impacts Complexity of Mature Students’ Writing,” the study itself was a real syntactic workout!

 

Two ‘Secrets’ to Better Writing

“How can we become better writers?”

We ask this all the time. No matter how well we write, we always feel we can do better. What should we do to get there?

The secret to improving writing lies in establishing two simple habits: practice and reading good writing.

“WMountainhat?! I climbed up this stupid mountain to hear that? What a gyp!”

Were you expecting something more complicated? This seems too simple, but it isn’t easy. If it was easy, we’d all be great writers. There are loads of people who won’t do these two things, just as there are tons of people who won’t practice an instrument or do drills for a sport. They want to be great without having to muddle through the boring fundamentals. Good luck with that.

Let’s investigate a little more of what I mean.

Practice

Writers need to write. We feel compelled to do it. We can’t help ourselves. The trick is to make sure we write regularly and with purpose. I make sure I write a minimum of 30 minutes each day – every day. Most of the time, this is no problem for me. The trick is to make sure that I’m writing something constructive. I keep a personal journal, but I don’t usually count that toward my 30-minute minimum. What I write in that journal are emotions, things that have happened to me, dreams I’ve had, or observations about my life. I’m not concentrating on writing.

However, I also keep a writing journal where I write about how certain emotions might manifest in characters I’m developing, what the needs may be for certain audiences and writing products, comments about things I’ve found in other people’s blogs about writing, and tips and techniques I’ve read about that I might want to try.

I also practice writing actual products. For instance, right now I am working on coming up with a media kit for a group that wants to establish a local community center. I have been collaborating with them to describe the scope, vision, and goals of the project as well as to provide background on why the project is necessary. Eventually I hope to write a grant. I’m donating my time and talents, but it is for my benefit as well as the project’s. They get media and communications products, and I get to play in a writing “sandbox.”

By practice, I mean activities specifically geared toward the writing process.

Reading Good Writing

I love to read. I’ll read a cereal box if it is the only thing handy. I recently borrowed my grandson’s Percy Jackson series and read them in about five days. When I read for pleasure, I subconsciously pick up what makes the writing good. However, I’m primarily feeding literary “candy” to my brain.

When I read to make myself a better writer, I take a book, article, blog, or whatever and break it down to see what the author has done to make the writing seem so good. What words has he used? Where has he placed certain events or ideas? How has he built up to them? What is the rhythm in the words? How can I incorporate some of these things in my own writing?

I try to avoid poor writing unless I want to examine examples of what not to do.

Find something that is well written, and read it with a critical eye. Investigate writing you might not normally read to stretch those writing muscles. I can’t write poetry, but I have decided to start reading some to see if I can adapt some techniques to make my own prose writing better.

Sure, I haven’t offered any earth-shattering revelations here; however, it never hurts to be reminded that we need to consistently keep doing the things we already know.

Books–An Impossible Addiction to Kick

Hi, my name’s Annette, and I’m a book addict. It’s been shady bookthree days since I bought a book.

It all started innocently enough. I got my books free at first. My parents pushed picture books and easy readers like the Golden Books at me. Then I got into the good stuff – Dr. Suess’s Hop on Pop, Cat in the Hat, and the “primo” Green Eggs and Ham.

There was no turning back. Dolls or toys for my birthday or Christmas? I didn’t want no stinkin’ toys! Gimme books! And they happily fed my addiction. The piles started building. Books crammed my shelves, towered on my bureau, and scattered across my floor.

The Methadone Equivalent

Oh, I tried to cut down and quit. I can still remember the rush of my first library card (restricted to the children’s room at first). It was amazing! I could bring lots of books home with me! Of course, I had to return them, but then I could get another stack to take home for a while. Brilliant! Genius!

I made my acquaintance with Beatrix Potter and Dr. Doolittle. I swam in the high of new worlds and new characters. When I got my “adult” card, I hit dizzying heights. There was just so much to read – fiction, biographies, histories, how-to books. I almost overdosed.

Every Saturday I would head out to the library. I would cruise the card catalog, pull out a drawer, and run my fingers through the cards, the scent of countless others who had gone before wafting up.

Then I would saunter through the stacks, caressing the bindings as I went. I’d stop, pull out a book, and read the synopsis on the cover. Maybe I’d put it back to revisit another time. Maybe I’d tuck in under my arm to bring home for a an intimate snuggle.

Falling Off the Bookmobile

But then, I grew up, and trips to the library became rare. There was no time to stop in, and it was too far away. This is where I started getting into real trouble. I started buying books from bookstores. The problem was that I didn’t have a lot of extra money.

“I have to have this book! If I glue the soles back on my shoes, I can squeeze a couple of more weeks out of them,” I’d rationalize.

I couldn’t sustain that kind of spending for too long, so I ended up in the book buying “underground.” Yes, I’m talking about yard sales, estate sales, flea markets, and thrift stores. I got The Federalist Papers for a quarter, for crying out loud! Who could pass that up?

The library itself has become a book-buying source. There are fewer and fewer books on the shelves to borrow. They are being migrated to THE BOOK SALE, where you can get a bagful for $1.

“Wanna sign up to borrow e-books?” the librarian huskily whispered as I clutched my bag and plunked down my $1. I hid my face in my hands and sobbed, “Yes!”

The Book Pipeline

The Internet has proved calamitous to my addiction. Now, I don’t even have to leave my house to get used books. I can get them delivered from sites like Alibris and Thriftbooks. My fellow addicts and I rotate our books in a circle of readers. Only the Postal Service knows the volume we move.

E-books don’t help, either. If I’m not buying discount books from Amazon, I’m downloading free books from Project Gutenberg. (Although e-books are convenient, I still like the feel of a real book, with pages to turn.)

There is no hope that I’ll ever contain my addiction. Recently, my grandson visited and marveled at the number of books I owned. He looked over the books loaded into the built-in shelves in the guest room.

“Wow! Nonna,” he said. “You sure have a lot of books.”

“Which ones would you like to take home with you?”

And so it goes…