Using deviantArt as a Writer and Voice Actor

I’ve used deviantArt over the years, constantly trying to figure out how to best use it for my various creative interests. It hasn’t always been easy, and I’ve reinvented that account probably close to half a dozen times over the last ten years just trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted from the site and then again trying to figure out how to use it to show off and highlight the creative directions my life has taken.

deviantArt is a site dedicated primarily to visual artists. Photographers, sketchers, painters, sculptors, costume and jewelry designers – They can all find a home on deviantArt. There is also a corner set aside for writers and poets, but vocal artists have to be a little more creative.

Being a writer on deviantArt is really the easier part. While deviantArt isn’t necessarily geared toward writers, especially those who write chaptered or serialized stories,  it does offer a space to play and get feedback. I like to post stories, vignettes, and even scraps of an idea I was playing with that I can’t find a good home for among my more serious work. Sometimes, it’s the only writing I get done in a week (or a month, as has been the case more recently), and sometimes those bits of story become the basis for voiceover and sound design practices. (I’ll post the audio to SoundCloud and then link the two together so someone finding one can check out the other.) I also like to back up writing from classes and other sites, just in case.

I also find the Journal a useful place to share posts on writing-specific topics from my blog along with craft-agnostic productivity and creativity topics. (You may have noticed I’m currently on a bit of a transdisciplinary kick. How unusual, right?)

One of my better ideas, though, came when I had to start creating covers for my stories and audiobooks. I’ve read so many books and articles on how to create a brilliant book cover, but I find it’s almost always more telling to get them out in front of people and see what the actual reaction is. So, I’ve taken to sharing covers for completed projects, giving them their own gallery so I can see my own progress (and catch any ticks I may be relying on). It’s one of the few ways a voice actor can really use deviantArt, even when she forgets to post the track covers she designs for projects headed to SoundCloud, and it’s a great way to get in some graphic design practice.

My other favorite way to use deviantArt as a voice actor, and I’ve only just started doing this recently, is to create promotional shots for my audiobooks and the audio dramas I perform in. These have really taken off on Instagram, but I back them up to a gallery in deviantArt, again so I can see my progress in developing these and to make sure I’m not getting stuck in ruts. Plus, it’s a great way to get in some photography practice.

What makes deviantArt a great place to store all of these stories and images is that you never know when some random deviant will come by and offer just the right piece of advice or well-timed supportive word on your work.

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Lessons Learned – Developing a Serio-Episodic Story

Want a scary thought? I started Chasing Normal in October 2014. As of right now, I’ve written roughly two dozen Scenes. This isn’t the first time I’ve created and maintained a serial project, but it’s probably the first one I’ve managed under strongly adverse conditions. As happens when you work on something under any type of duress, I’ve learned a lot about managing a serial project, so I thought I would share some of the more important things I’ve learned.

The first tip concerns story structure. If you write, regardless of your format, you already know that good writing has a structure, usually governed by the form, medium, and length, and that all of those stoires have some sort of rhythm to them. A serial story takes a little bit more thought, because you’re breaking up your story into consistently sized arcs, allowing you to develop a posting rhythm that will keep readers (or viewers) happy. But it’s not just enough to break up the story. Each of these episodes (be they chapters, scenes, individual short stories linked to other parts, etc.) have to have within them a beginning, a middle, an end, and a hook to the next part. If you use a question-response structure to bridge chapters in your novel (or similar long work), you’re familiar with this mini-structure already. It’s the same thing. These episodes must also have their own rise and fall that has to make sense within the rise and fall of the larger story. Again, if you’re a novelist or a long-form writer by practice, this isn’t a new concept.

The second tip is keep a story bible that tracks both your world and your story. I’ve been writing Chasing Normal as a hybrid outline/pantser story. I can’t tell you where the story is going. I don’t know the ending. I do know where the next two arcs (what I call each cluster of six scenes) are generally headed. As you’re reading this, I’m probably outlining the six scenes that will comprise Arc 6. Writing a specific story by the seat of your pants is a confusing, but flexible, experience. It’s worse when you’re pulled away from the story for over a month by unforeseen circumstances. And that is when a well-maintained story bible becomes a lifesaver. I keep my story outline at the front of my story bible, updating it as I plan out each arc and adding in information when plans change. I then update the settings and character sheets as I edit each scene to make sure I’ll have it when I need it later. When I came back after that accidental hiatus, I was able to review the story outline, the plans for upcoming arcs and scenes, and continue the story with minimal disruption. (I also keep track of hooks I’ve dropped in earlier scenes so that I’ll remember to pick them up later when an opening presents itself.)

The last tip I want to share is quite possibly the most important. If you screw up the first two, you can fix them. If you screw up this one, it’s a mess. And this is the easiest one to screw up. Ready? It’s simple: Keep your production on track and on schedule. Production calendars are not just for professional creators. They are your best friend when you’re creating a long project. A well-developed and managed production schedule can keep you going when everything else has fallen down around your head. (I know. It’s saved me twice so far.) It keeps you going. It keeps you working. It keeps you publishing. Even when you would rather just sit and stare out your window at the terribly cruel, unfair world.

That said, life does happen and production calendars derail. About three months before I finished producing the Dead Bunny videos (about six months before they finished releasing to YouTube), my life completely disintegrated around me. I had to make a number of major life changes very quickly, including moving halfway across the country…and most of Dead Bunny’s subscribers never had any clue there was anything going on. Toward the beginning of Chasing Normal, and then again earlier this year, my household went through two major crises. And it impacted the story. At first, I thought about just dropping the story all together. And then I revamped my production schedule to try to keep things sort of working while things were going on. And now the story is back on its original release schedule. The key when life deals you these obstacles is to give yourself permission to freak out for a moment, and then take a deep breath and figure out how you’re going to pull things together and keep going, even if you can’t figure out how to pull yourself together.

There you go. Three (really, four) tips for surviving a serial project, at least according to my experience. Hopefully, they’ll help you get started and stay motivated, because serial projects are a lot of fun to work on.

Broadcast Media and Public Domain

Necessary Series Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. The information presented in this series is based entirely on my experience as a creator and curator.

Right around the time I was finishing up Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, I was watching an Extra Credits episode (I was a bad researcher and did not note the video’s URL.) where they used one of Tenniel’s illustration right next to a Disney clip. It made me wonder: How does anyone determine whether or not a movie or television show is in the Public Domain?

The obvious (to me) answer was: They’d go by the current copyright laws and the last known clear copyright holder.

The actual answer, it turns out is far more complicated, simply because of the changing nature of copyright law (although being unable to identify who holds the copyright free and clear also causes headaches. This is such a thorny issue, in fact, that there is no official list of movies or television shows in the Public Domain, and most legal sites who have made such an attempt or consulted on a site trying to make such an attempt have included a note that those looking to use a movie or television show thought to be in the Public Domain should consult with a lawyer.

Some movies have legitimately come into the Public Domain, their copyrights expiring according to the copyright law of the time. Any television show thought to be in the Public Domain (because major revisions to copyright law in 1976 and 1989 have really muddied this matter) are potentially in the Public Domain because the copyright was renewed improperly, dropping the show into the Public Domain, or because there was no copyright symbol on the show. (This is a great quick reference on the tip of this iceberg.) Interestingly, some shows are only partially eligible for Public Domain because some of their episodes contain elements that are still copyrighted.

Really, I think looking at how copyright laws have affected movies and television is a really interesting study in both copyright law and how it affects artifacts over time.

Friday Five – Audio Resources Edition

My apologies for being absent in the Friday Five department last week. It turns out moving on isn’t always the easiest process.

But I’ve been spending a lot of time around audio-related resources (a side effect of getting involved with voiceover) and thought you guys might enjoy some of these things. They come in a variety of forms and usefulness.

1. The Master Handbook of Acoustics. I wish I could remember who suggested this. It may have been Mike Rugnetta on his Reasonably Sound podcast, but I honestly can’t remember. In many ways, it reminds me of Why Does e=mc2?, in that it’s a very accessible educational resource…just for sound rather than relativity. I knew some of this already, and I’m learning a lot. It goes through various aspects of sound production and listening, and provides a lot of visuals and case studies to help illustrate his points.

2. Reasonably Sound. I did not know this, but apparently PBS Idea Channel‘s Mike Rugnetta did sound design back in the day. (I say that jokingly, as I believe he’s roughly a decade younger than me.) And he has this podcast that explores various aspects on sound production and usage. It’s been really interesting, and if you have any interest in sound, be it creation, design, or just listening, I highly recommend it.

3. “How to Create Soundscapes” (Audio Drama Production PodcastFor all the time I spend listening to things (this is actually how I became a voice chaser as a kid), I don’t really pay much attention to what’s going on. It’s a sad thing to admit. But between the background noises woven into Pottermore chapters and suggestions in Mary Robinette Kowal’s Reading Aloud Archive on using left-right balance in audiobook narration, I’ve started thinking about how sound creates a world. And this episode is a great look at how that works on a practical level in an audio story.

4. Tabletop Audio. This is a cool resource of background audio designed to accompany game sessions. I’ve known people who have slaved for hours trying to put together the right music mix for game sessions they were running, and they would probably drool all over this archive. I’ve been listening to them while I read this week (oddly appropriate while reading a book on acoustics), and I’m really enjoying them.

5. Pocket Film School. This has virtually nothing to do with audio or voiceover, but it’s this charming little YouTube series I stumbled across a week or so back and am really enjoying. I do still intend to eventually make my first Vine and other short film-style media in my attempts to make myself worthy enough to hang out with those who create digital storytelling projects (since it is no longer cool to say “transmedia”).

So, there you go. Five resources my inner voice actor and aspiring producer have recently found interesting. Maybe others of you will, too.

Friday Five: Copyright Edition

So, it turns out a lot of us have copyright education on the brain right now. I have my Copyright Primer series going, and other sites are exploring their own favorite topics. But we’ll start with the one that’s probably the most confusing.

1. James Bond is in the Public Domain…sort of. And that “sort of” is a doozy. When we get to Public Domain in the Primer, you’ll see just how thorny an issue Public Domain really is, but James Bond is one of those particularly treacherous copyright minefields because it not only addresses the books, but also movies, games, and any other tie-in materials that have been licensed. When we say James Bond is in the Public Domain, it’s only the Ian Fleming books that are in the Public Domain. Everything else is still under copyright protection. The other part of that “sort of” is that the Ian Fleming-written James Bond books are not in the Public Domain across the globe. They’re only in the Public Domain for those countries that signed the Berne Convention without modification. Here in the United States, Bond is under copyright protection across the board. (This is a really great case study for how Public Domain works across political and media borders.)

2. During the Primer, I’ll keep coming back to the idea that digital media is changing our relationship with and understanding of copyright, but digital technology is also forcing us to rethink the purpose of certain copyright protections. As the world changes in terms of media creation and distribution, copyright laws have to evolve to reflect the current state of things.

3. Copyright and IP protection laws are difficult to understand and apply, even for the most well-meaning. But certain myths keep persisting. (If Gawker is more your speed, io9 did a great job discussing these earlier this week.) The moral of the story here is that you should treat any statement about copyright the same way you should treat alarmist claims on Facebook: Go find a reputable source and check it out.

4. One of the myths that persists that really isn’t covered in either list is the concept of the “poor man’s copyright“. This is the idea that mailing something to yourself and then not opening it unless your copyright is challenged will provide proof of your copyright. The idea extends into digital fields, assuming that a timestamp will protect you if a copyright claim surfaces against you. There are a lot of problems with this myth, not the least of which is the fact that multiple people can legitimately come up with similar products without ever seeing or hearing about the other products. (Reseach can only do so much in some situations.) If you’re really that worried about it, registration is fairly inexpensive.

5. I recently learned that you can tell Google Images to search only for images that fit certain copyright and Creative Commons criteria. Type in your search term, and on the results page find “Search tools” at the top. When you click on it, a menu opens. Clicking on “Usage rights” brings up a selection of options including the most common Creative Commons combinations. It can be incredibly helpful when trying to find images for audiobook and e-book covers, but always check out the image thoroughly because the tool isn’t foolproof.

There you go. Five links/tips to augment the copyright primer, and to help you navigate those copy waters a bit better armed. Check back next week, when I will share five links and tips on whatever I find.

Find Five Friday: Cross Media Edition

This week’s post is going to be a little unconventional. Instead of posting five links to things I’ve found interesting or learned from this week, I’m going to share what I believe to be my first crossmedia project (since I don’t recall the Future of Storytelling class actually having us make one).

If you’ve been following along on the blog this week, you know DigiWriMo’s writing prompt this week was to tell in a story in three media. It took me until I stumbled across my magnetic poetry Tuesday night while looking for some way to make the visual component of my story that I finally found a story to tell. Here goes:

Step 1: Start the story in your primary medium.

Well, my primary medium is text. Writing, more specifically. So I wrote a story. I was going to use the magnetic poetry to spell it out, and then realized that would be blending media, and that wasn’t the point of this assignment. Instead, I posted the story to Twitter around noon Wednesday.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsStep 2: Continue the story in another medium.

This was a little bit trickier. I knew I could just tell a story about this guy who has discovered taking selfies, but how was I going to create a video for it? (This was what led to the half dozen rewrites of yesterday’s post.) I soon realized I didn’t have to take a video. I just had to create a visual of this selfie n00b. And what better way to do it than to create his selfie? (One small problem: Small art mannequins don’t have as much mobility as would be helpful sometimes.) I posted this to Instagram Wednesday afternoon.

Tell the truth. Does this selfie make me look brooding and complex? #digiwrimo #crossmedia

A photo posted by Rebecca Thomas (@kirylin) on Nov 5, 2014 at 2:04pm PST

//platform.instagram.com/en_US/embeds.js

Step 3: Continue the story in the medium you haven’t worked in yet.

This one was simpler…sort of… All I had to do was write a quick story and record it. I have experience doing both, so it should have been relatively easy. Except it was pouring Wednesday morning, and I had to wait for it to let up enough to not be heard in my recording space. (I learned this lesson the hard way in Seattle.) Originally, I had thought to just tell a larger story about this character, but then I thought it might be fun to have an outside voice share their feelings on watching this character’s descent into selfie lunacy. I posted this to SoundCloud Wednesday evening. (Hopefully, this will post correctly. The preview’s not working.)

And there you have it, a brief story about a character discovering selfies and the friend who just wants to help, told across three platforms. Ta-da! I hope you enjoyed it.//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Types of Media: Well, Would You Look At That!

The last type of media we’re going to look at in this brief overview of what I personally know about text, audio, and video is the one that scares me for no good reason: visual. Unlike its friends, visual can really be broken into two varieties: still and motion. What’s funny is that I have taken pictures most of my life, but when the conversation rolls around to visual media, my mind always goes to video, which I have limited experience with. So this could get rewritten a dozen times while I straighten out my own relationship with visual media.

Let’s start with still visuals. Pictures that, unless they are somewhere in JK Rowling’s wizarding world, have no motion to them. We’re talking about photographs and drawings, even holograms like those stickers we all used to love getting. They may be two-dimensional. They may have some sort of built-out elements. They may have some sort of perception or visual illusion layered in to make us feel like we are looking at something deeper than a piece of paper. They capture a moment in time; a group of them may capture several moments in time, telling a story of a significant event or a happy day or a butterfly’s first visit to a garden. They’re an expression of a moment, trapped in whatever medium we chose at that moment.

Then there are moving visuals, becoming more and more common as portable media gains more and more capabilities. There was a time, only a hundred years ago, when moving pictures were difficult to produce, requiring all kinds of specialized equipment and training. More, if the moving picture you wanted to create involved drawings rather than a kind of rapid serial photography. Because that’s really what moving visuals are – a series of changing still visuals delivered at a rate that allows a visual illusion called “persistence of vision” to take over and fill in the gaps in your mind. It’s really quite amazing. As a result, these moving visuals can be created on the frame-by-frame film reels, or an animated slide deck, or even just a stack of paper flicked rapidly to produce the illusion of moving images.

So, there you go. Three major types of media: text, audio, visual. Each with its own breakdown of ways you can work with it. Chances are, you have the ability to create with all three with nothing more than your phone. Not bad for a hundred years’ progress, yes?

Dead Bunny Guides: When a Blog Became a YouTube Channel

Since we’re talking this month about creating and iterating and experimenting, I thought I’d share some stories out of my own work, starting with what is easily my most successful adventure – Dead Bunny Guides.

Several years ago, I was tutoring a lot of high school students struggling with integrated math (or with the transition back into the separate math threads), and middle school students struggling with the radical change in how math class was presented to them. They were frustrated by not being able to understand what was going on in class, and I was frustrated by what was going on in the curricula these kids were facing.

Being an experienced blogger, I decided to launch one dedicated to explaining math, which I called Dead Bunny Educational after an incident with a writing student I was tutoring at the time. I planned out a series of posts and started writing them. Most of them were fairly easy at first, and the blog was gaining attention from adult learners who had gone back to school as part of a career change. I had hoped to eventually expand the blog into a book.

But the skills became harder to cover in textual explanations, and I started realizing that skills I was trying to explain required students to be comfortable using other skills. It derailed my work for a while as I tried to decide what was missing and how best to address everything and put it all back together. I finally just sat down and wrote out on index cards every single pre-algebra and algebra skill (plus a few geometry skills) I could think of. On each card, I wrote the skill in math symbols, and the skills a student would need to be comfortable with before attempting the skill.

I ended up with 73 cards, and I spread them out across my tiny room. Then, I used those prerequisite skill lists to try to pull the skills into some sort of order that made sense. But I realized I had all of these skills that needed to be conveyed in some way, that weren’t being well served by a blog. About that time, I happened across Beyond Bullet Points, and got quite the crash course in creating presentations. (I didn’t have a whole lot of Power Point experience at the time.)

So I got ambitious and decided I wanted to figure out how to make videos to teach the skills, and Dead Bunny’s Guide to Algebra was born. It took me forever to get the hang out writing a script that could be turned into a storyboard, and then creating the storyboard. I borrowed file management ideas from game writing books I was reading at the time to keep up with everything.  I was learning audio editing software and movie maker software. Using the book as a guide, I taught myself how to create slide shows, narrate them, and then put everything together.

It was slow at first. In the first four years I was working on the videos, I made a total of fifteen videos. If you look at Dead Bunny’s YouTube channel, you’ll notice there are right around 85 videos. In the last two years I was working on the series, I made seventy videos (it does help to get a production routine down), migrated the videos from my channel to their own channel, named Dead Bunny Guides because not all of the skills covered are algebra-specific, got accepted into YouTubeEDU, and learned how to create metadata, a link structure, and playlists for the skills. I’ve even figured out how to add captions. (It’s easier now than it was two years ago.)

So, that’s Personal Project #1. When I finished the last video, I told myself I might think about going back and adding in more geometry and Algebra 2 lessons, but for now, the series is complete.

Personal Projects as Practice

Depending on your chosen industry, trade, or craft, there might be a number of strong communities of practice to collaborate and practice with. Or you might be forging new trails, mixing up trades and crafts to better fit your creative vision.

Whatever your situation, you do yourself a world of good by developing your own projects to drive your learning and give you a meaningful practice space that will likely help you gain feedback. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned, just by deciding I wanted to try to do something I’d never done before.

For example, when I wanted to learn how to create educational videos, I was just starting to fumble my way through creating Dead Bunny.  Because I knew how to blog and to write, the original plan was to blog about all the skills I wanted to cover, and then turn that blog into a textbook of sorts. But I love a challenge, and as I was reading about video production and educational videos, I realized I could attempt to turn Dead Bunny into a series of educational videos.

It was definitely a learning experience. I decided to go the route of narrated slide shows because I had no video camera. I had to learn Impress (the OpenOffice/LibreOffice version of PowerPoint), Audacity, and different video production tools as I moved between computers (I was blowing up computers every six months at that point). I had to learn how to script, to storyboard, to manage both my image and my audio components. With every video, I learned a lot about production and asset management and kept fine-tuning my process. It took me six years, but I finally completed all of the videos I intended to create.

Knowledge that I gained while learning how to produce Dead Bunny has ended up serving me well in my voiceover work, although it is completely fair to say that Dead Bunny did not adequately prepare me for the production challenges that come along with creating audiobooks. I’m far more competent on a wide range of tasks on Audacity now than I was two years ago, but my asset management skills have proven invaluable. (I have yet to produce a personal voiceover project. I haven’t found the right project to attempt yet, so I stick to learning from working with others.)

Recently, I started posting to Archive of Our Own a fan fiction project I’ve referred to in reference to using fan fiction to learn how to write. At the time I started writing those pieces, I had fallen out of fan fiction and, to an extent, out of writing and I was afraid of losing my skills. So I started using a dubbed anime series as writing prompts. It gave me an excuse to write when I couldn’t motivate myself to write anything else. But more than that, it got me thinking about plot and character development. I kept them to myself for a long time, despite having shared the rest of my fan fiction with the fanfic community, but even privately they had a positive impact on my writing skills.

You really do learn a lot from designing and working through your own projects, and they can inspire you to investigate skills, industries, trades, and crafts you might otherwise have never considered trying out yourself. It’s a good way to get your feet wet in skills you’ve been thinking about learning, and to create opportunities for feedback. So get out there. Find a skill you’ve been meaning to try, create a project that will force you to start learning that skill, and then do it! And then go really crazy, and build the project that will help you level up in that skill. Let me know how it goes.