Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Art of Telling Stories: Nancy Tozier Sieling

Today's guest for the series The Art of Telling Stories is Nancy Tozier Sieling, a brilliant seamstress and costume designer. You can check out her blog, some photos from her most recent shows Peter Pan and Seussical, or follow her on Facebook.

Nancy, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am a seamstress and costume designer. I do alterations and make custom clothing - mostly wedding and formal wear. I also design and make costumes for theatrical productions.

How would you define storytelling?

Storytelling to me is communicating a set of related ideas, thoughts, and feelings. Usually, but not always, there is a point to be made or something to be taught. The greatest storytellers are able to reach across time and cultures with tales that resonate with a wide variety of people, which is why so many filmmakers turn classics (take Les Miserables, for example) into blockbusters.

In what way do you use costumes and clothing to tell stories? 

If I am working on a show, my job is to help the director portray his or her vision of the story. Costumes help define who the characters are and how they relate to each other. They might be rich or poor, attractive or ugly, self absorbed or clueless, etc. and I try to reinforce those qualities and relationships through their clothing. Color can be used to define someone's mood, attitude, and social status. Costumes can also be used to sort people into groups to make the story easier for the audience to follow. If I do my job well, you will feel like you know something a important about an actor the minute he walks onto the stage. Costuming is not usually a standalone form of storytelling, though it can be. How the actor wears and uses his costume is also important. For example, in 1905 men all wore hats.  Does he wear it properly, toss it in the air, twist it in his hands? What the actor does with his hat takes you deeper into the story.

Could you look at one person and see a story in them, based solely on the clothes they were wearing?

I do that all the time. Sometimes I have the opportunity to find out if my surmises are correct, but more often I don't.

How do you approach the thought process of telling the story of a character through their clothes and appearance?

I start with the time period. I research both the era and the clothing. I educate myself on the social class and occupation of the character. Next, I consider what other details the script tells me about the person - any peculiarities, color or dress preferences, etc. and integrate them into the costuming as much as I can. I love to read old books and have found pop fiction from the time period I am working in to be very helpful, because it tells you things about everyday life that you wont pick up elsewhere. 

What is your favourite thing about costuming?

My favorite thing about costuming is transforming a person from today into someone from another place and time. I feel really successful when an actor's mother fails to recognize her own child.

What is your favourite outfit/era? Why?

I can't pick just one, but in general I love the time period from 1880 to 1950, and I especially like the early 1900's and the 1940's. Fashions in these two eras were graceful and slightly formal without wild excesses of fabric (with the exception of the hats in the 1910-1919 era). Wartime shortages and rationing of fabric and buttons forced clothing designers in the 1940's to be really creative.  The result was the development of some breathtaking designs. This is a favorite of mine from 1912:

...and this is a favorite of mine from the 1940's:

If you had to pick one element of costuming that has the most impact on telling a story, what would that element be and why?

If I had to pick one element of costuming that makes the most impact I would say it is what you don't see- the foundation under the costume. The undergarments of an era provide the shape the dress or suit sits on and plays a huge role in setting the time period. Something as simple as a man wearing suspenders under his suit coat with the pants cinched way up can make a huge difference in setting the time period. Ladies foundations run the gamut from nonexistent to incredibly complicated, and are capable of giving the same woman wildly different shapes. Compare these two dresses- the foundations are radically different:

Don't forget to check out Nancy's Facebook page and blog!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Art of Telling Stories: Harley O'Brien

Welcome to the next in the series of interviews on The Art of Telling Stories. Today we will hear from Harley O'Brien, a multimedia architect and big-picture thinker. Coming up, he will be at mLearnCon, speaking on Redefining the Document: Creating Content for a Mobile World. You can follow him on Twitter, check out his LinkedIn, or click here to visit the conference webpage. 

Harley, tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

I'm a multimedia architect, I deal with images, forms, and colors, but also with computer code. It's a nice blend of designer and programmer. My formal background is communications and marketing, but from a very early age I got involved with computers, and the interactivity captured me. I fell in love with the worlds you could create and control using media and programming.

How would you define the idea of storytelling?

The basic idea is to convey a story... sounds simple, but that's what makes it so exciting. It can be as simple as a short marketing message, pretty obvious, uh? But also an e-learning module where you need to communicate new concepts, or even better, an RPG or an immersive scenario!

As a Multimedia Architect, how does the work you do make an impact on the way the story is delivered or perceived?

It affects it in almost every way. I'm a firm believer of the old saying "the medium is the message." And that applies even more to interactive media. If you think about it, audiovisuals and interactive media require a lot of team work. You need graphic design, audio, music, layouts, interactions and of course, a good story!
I see a multimedia architect as the orchestra conductor that weaves it all together, carrying the responsibility to respect the essence of each of the parts and enhance it in a new whole.

What role do graphics and images play in storytelling?

Nowadays, a lot. We live in an audiovisual culture. For good or bad, not judging, it's just the way it is. Most of the world's population believe that an image is worth a thousand words :)
I think I could put it this way: "visuals" are important. Even a still image can tell a story, ask any photographer... but also the right word, the right font and the right background can be a powerful visual. See how it is all the medium? Anyway, I feel that text can be a flexible, on-demand and cost-effective media when used correctly. 

What thought process do you use to approach the way you present information to your consumer?

I think you should start with the end: what is the reaction you want? You work from there. You know your times, media, resources. Put yourself in the user's shoes. In what context will he receive the message? a video on a TV screen sitting on a couch or just 20" from a computer monitor? Maybe walking down the street on a smartphone screen?
Then you dissect the message, identify the essence, and start creating different ways of communicating it effectively. Keep in mind that "the message" can be anything, a conventional message in the case of a marketing piece, an e-learning lesson or an interactive experience in the case of an application. I would say that creating interactive media is creating user experiences, something like on-demand, user-controlled storytelling.  

Would you consider yourself a storyteller? Why or why not?

Definitely. I see myself as a user experience designer. You as a writer can identify with this. The end goal as a creator is to create a user experience. In computer lingo, there's even an acronym for that, UX Designer :-)

How do you think multimedia architecture is going to change over the next decade? In what way will that impact the way we communicate and the way we tell stories?

I think the technological aspect of it is the least interesting. I'm sure most people won't be surprised to be able to create holograms at home or use 3D printing. Our fascination threshold is pretty high. But it's the social implications I'm excited about. The Web 2.0 gave us the tools to produce content and share it with the world. Some developing countries have gone from no land lines to a cell phone in every hand and internet connections in just a few years. This moves us towards scenarios that should make us think.
With the overwhelming complexity of search, the trend to "curated" content is growing. Are we sharing our knowledge or giving up on our decision processes?

What about the cloud? It's not only for storage. A lot of "smart" devices are now windows to content that get processed in "the cloud." But remember the PC revolution of the 80s that meant breaking free from the big central computers to have your our processing power on the desktop?
I could talk for hours, but imagine a world with overwhelming audio and visuals, interactions that affect other senses but only 140 characters for text. I'm so up for that challenge! :-)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Looking for Dragons

One day, she went looking for the dragon.
She set out on food, walking through the trees.

She walked past the hidden apple tree.

And strolled through the sumac tree wood.

And stumbled into the Enchanted Forest.

She saw a bird. It wasn't singing.

When she reached a strange rock wall, she paused and looked around...

Was she lost?
She turned back. Everything looked the same.
She frowned, concerned, and began walking again.

She walked for hours.

Finally, she found an old birch tree. It seemed to be
pointing her towards something. She began to walk in that direction.

Suddenly, she stumbled into the field on the edge of the Enchanted Forest.
She breathed a sign of relief.

She began to head towards home, disappointed that she hadn't found the dragon.

Then, out of the corner of her eye she saw a splash of red, 
amid the green wash of green and brown that surrounded her.

It was beautiful.

Then she looked up.
She saw something in the trees.
She moved closer.

A wall? She began to follow it.

It was the Lost Fortress!

Her mind began to spin castles and adventures...

...and suddenly there were knights and witches
and fairies and animals...

...and there was her dragon.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Art of Telling Stories: Amber Anderson

The next guest in the series of interviews on The Art of Telling Stories is Amber Anderson, a graphic designer and animator. Amber is always looking for new people to work with and new projects to work on - and asking questions is always free! You can find out more about Amber and her services by visiting her website.

Amber, tell me a little bit about who you are and what you do.

I am a self-educated designer, animator, developer, and programmer that believes design and visual appeal are a mainstay in any marketing or branding effort, with eight years of professional experience in the fields of information technology, social media, website design, e-marketing, branding, animation, website development  project management, and graphic design. I create and design end-to-end solutions with standards-compliant code with an emphasis on identity branding, efficacy, cross-platform browser compatibility, interactivity, accessibility, and search engine optimization. 

How would you define storytelling?

When I think of storytelling, I think of someone expressing themselves creatively using an outlet such as writing. When someone says storytelling, I think of a fable, or someone taking inspiration from a fairy tale.

In what way can images fit together to help tell a story?

Images and graphics are key elements of supporting and/or singly expressing a point inside a story. They give the audience something to envision and imagine when exploring an idea or concept. They also give the reader an identification point of a way to feel connected to the author and the author's vision.

How do you decide what images or colours tell a part of a story and what ones don't?

It depends on whether I'm using graphics to tell the story or graphics to support the story. When using graphics to tell the story, I go on my own gut instinct of what I feel and what I see when I review the content. When using them as support for an existing story, I pull key words, scenes, feelings, characters, and seasons, along with other components from the story to visually express the writer's vision.

I use all of these elements to visually format the story. That can be anything - changing fonts, sizes, colours, graphics, layouts, margins - formatting is everything. Formatting is what makes the document visually come together. It's what makes it easy to read, it's what makes the story come alive, it's taking your vision combined with the author's vision and making it tangible for someone to be able to connect to.

What is your favourite design work that you've done?
My favourite projects are ones that I get a hand in all the way down the line. I would have to pick something where I got to do some formatting of text, graphic design, story boarding, animation, framework design - any project where I get to touch it from beginning to end. For example, I recently worked on a project for a client that was producing multiple toolkits to provide a variety of programs working towards similar goals but in different locations, in order to have access to tools and resources to help them better implement their events and assist their clientele. On that project, I designed the framework, the templates for the documents, created their branding style, worked on story boards, and developed tutorial animations for the final product, created visual graphics for reports, and more.

In what way does branding tell a story?

Branding expresses the vision of that individual (or organization). It expresses not only how they see themselves, but how they want to be seen by other people. Branding is a stylistic consistency that allows customers to identify with, feel connected to, and know that they can have faith in the company or organization and its products.

What is your favourite colour and why?

If you had asked me that question twenty years ago, I would have told you anything but pink. If you asked me that question today as a 32-year-old woman, I would tell you that my favourite colour is pink. I used to run away from anything that labeled me as a girl when I was younger because I thought that meant constraints, keeping me inside a box, holding me to a standard, having to be a part of a societal norm. As an adult, I realized that being a girl and liking pink are probably two of the most powerful things that I own. I learned to embrace my gender but not conform to the societal norms or stereotypes, and instead created my own way of thinking that didn't necessitate the colour pink, but still welcomed it. The colour pink signifies to me where I started and how far I've come professionally and personally. It's a reminder to me as to how strong we all really are. 

Similarly, what colour do you use the most frequently when designing and why?

Grey. It's a neutral colour, it's a complimentary colour, and it doesn't overpower or take over a program or organization's already established colour pallette. It's a way to add in lines, colours, and graphics with a calming appeal which doesn't clash.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Creating a brand for your business or organization is important. It's as important as buying a house. It's something that is going to be with your business for a very long time. Don't settle. Don't find one designer and think that you have to stay there. Don't take no for an answer. Don't lose your vision because someone is trying to tell you that you're ideas aren't valid or that you're wrong. Your brand is a part of you. It should be a reflection of you and it should tell your story.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Leaping Into the Universe - Children's Literature Week

The thing I like the most about children's stories (aside from the fact that they're chock full of magic and wonder) is the way they can make it possible to take a leap from your living room chair into the whole of the universe.

Take Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin, for example.

On the first page, it introduces the idea that the world is much bigger than just us. Then it goes on to talk about the specifics of our world... from the perspective of a worm, but in the context of something much larger.

Simple, but effective.

Or take this book: 

Tuesday opens up the idea that everything is weirder than you can imagine...

...that anything is possible...

...and that you can never predict tomorrow. In addition, there aren't any words in the book, so it allows you to tell the story yourself.

The Magic School Bus uses facts. It says "look how amazing the universe is. For real!"

...except for the whole "magic" part...

If you check out Baloney (Henry P.) by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, it takes the total opposite approach - take a look at the immense potential for exploration that is available just inside your own mind.

Also it has fantastic pictures.

But my favourite of all has to be The Big Pets by Lane Smith. First of all, the illustrations are spectacular (you may notice that the images are oddly similar to the illustrations in Baloney)... 

...and secondly, it takes you from simple, wonderful, and calm imaginary place where the girl is small and the cat is big...

...to the massive majesty and awe of the universe in one two-page spread. I could stare at this page all day.

...with the milk and the cat and cat toys and the stars
and the globe in the corner there and the yarn
and the little cat houses
and all of the cats!

Children's stories are great, and if you keep looking and reading, you'll find the perfect one: a story that opens up the whole of the universe just for you in just a few short pages.

To check out more blogs about children's literature, visit the Genre Underground.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Lonely Whelk: Editing Has Begun

Everyone has a slightly different editing process when they go through their rough drafts. I know people who write everything out by hand and then type it as a way of processing; others might read it out loud to themselves. I do what I like to call "putting my editor hat on;" in other words, I am doing for myself what I would do for any friend or writer's group member: track changes! I thought I would share a few of the comments I have begun to leave for myself, just in case you want to try to guess what my next book is about. :)
  • This is too obvious. You’re clearly trying too hard. Perhaps you should cut this paragraph out, and use the story at the end when [spoiler].
  • Run away; play along in case she’s insane - rock
  • Rewrite this section. Hazel would have a less… suspicious response. This is probably something she’s thought about a lot before. She should be better prepared.
  • Rewrite through here at least.
  • How will I get home?
  • Men tend to be less afraid of strange women than women are of strange men.
  • Not probably a good reaction. FIX! FIX!
  • You should decide what kind of drunk he is, and then make him follow that stereotype.
  • Okay, so we need to do some serious work on Maddy's personality here and everywhere, really.
  • Got hit in an asteroid belt.
  • hahahaha
  • And suddenly he’s not drunk any more. Either he is or he isn't. Make up your mind, yo!
  • Now he is again…
  • Ummm… no.
  • What does this even mean?
  • Pick something less game-y
  • Enough with the ‘cute’ already!
  • Too much drama. Give Rupert a less irritating character.
  • This description could be way more awesome. Get your game on, Ariele!
  • Etc.
Next steps: Go through each note as an action item and get my "writer's hat" on.

And since this book is about a lonely whelk, I give you this:

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Art of Telling Stories: A.H. Browne

Welcome to the first of my series "The Art of Telling Stories." Over the next few weeks I will be interviewing a series of individuals who work in different vocations, and looking at how they approach the art of telling stories.

My first guest is Ariana Browning, who writes under the name of A.H. Browne. She is author of Dark IllusionsDragon's Dawn, and Always Consequences. You can check out her writing website and personal one, and you can find her on Facebook here.

Ariana, tell me a little bit about yourself and your writing career.

I have been writing since I was young, but never really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the storytelling and fantasizing part of it, but not the writing aspects. I never really had a passion for it until my mid 20's, at which time I used it as a way to save myself. A lot of personal stuff happened in my life and I needed something to focus on to get my mind off that. Around my mid teens, I ended up starting with poetry because I've never been good at expressing my emotions and I used that as an outlet. I began to write short stories around 18 or so and then progressed from there with encouragement from people to put it online. When I noticed how much joy it could bring people to read what I wrote and that I could perhaps change lives through it, I found this passion strike me that has stuck with me since then. No matter how much hard work it is at times and how much I wish I could have a break, I couldn't imagine doing anything else. I love it.

I've published 3 books so far and many poems. Short stories too. Some of my poems have been in writing magazines and poetry books, but I've lost touch with where those all are. When I was younger, I sent them off, but didn't think about keeping track. Most of the poetry and short stories can be found on my website (www.ahbrowne.com), as well as what I've published, and the list of what's to come.

How would you define storytelling?

Now that's a great question. I've never really thought about it. Let me see; I would say that storytelling is taking someone into another world of existence. Opening up their heart, mind, and soul, and taking them on an adventure without them ever having to leave where they are at. Magic does exist. All around us. That, is storytelling: magic.

Do you do any other forms of storytelling (any element of theatre, design, fashion, music, etc.)?

Other than trying to motivate other people to better themselves and showing that they can do anything they want, through telling my own story on www.arianasmemoir.com, for now, I do not. I have plans later on for more, maybe even sooner than later, but right this second I am focusing mostly on my books. 

How do you think about designing your book covers to communicate to your reader what they are going to experience?

When I design a book cover, I think about the colors and images that most convey the story in psychological ways without giving everything away. For my most recent cover, Always Consequences, I wanted something with a slight military theme overall, but also a woman imprisoned. The psychological part is whether she is imprisoned mentally, physically, or both. I went with a title font which portrayed a military theme, and the blue, green, and grey colors. Those colors went with that more somber quality of being imprisoned. The slight bit of red on her dress was to be eye-catching for the observer and break up the blue, green and grey coloring, but also because one of the main lead males, Umar, happens to dress her in a red dress for his benefit. It's also the color of passion and strength. Then you have the bars she is looking out, which happen to be a window to signify a prison and mental anguish.

So the main theme became military, imprisonment, and the colors blue, grey, green, and red. Simple, but loads of meaning behind it. Covers don't have to be complicated, just eye-catching to make the reader check out the synopsis. (Keep your eyes peeled for free download days! Coming up June 4th and 14th, and July 18th and 19th!)

How do you decide what you are going to write? Where do your story ideas come from?

My ideas come mainly from dreams. Or moments where an idea pops into my head from reading another story, watching a movie, or staring out at nothing and losing myself in nothing for a while, which I admit, I can do when it's gorgeous out. Nature is my addiction. I choose which story to work on through gut instinct. I have had to abandon stories that, after a few chapters, didn't stay with me when I didn't listen. But in general, I always advise choosing one that you feel within. That little voice that says this one. You will never go wrong because even when you're mad at your book, and hate your characters, the love will be there, and you will stick with it. Since doing so, I've rarely, almost never, experienced writer's block.

What is your favourite word?

Favorite word ... wow, not something I thought about. How about "which" when I write and in real life, all the old words! I am determined to keep using old words because I love the sound of them, how they sound, how they flow. I may start annoying people by avoiding contractions too. 

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Shall I share how much I love chocolate? Oh, sorry, about writing. How about some advice? Know that we all think we're a failure or have that little voice saying "I will never be that good." The winners are the ones who have those thoughts, but keep pushing ahead, despite that fear. In the end, the winners are the ones who don't let that fear keep them from being as amazing as they can be. 

Thanks, Ariana for sharing all of this with us! And good luck with your work!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Orange Fur: Life Lessons from Goblin

Don't let anyone disturb your nap. Ever.

Stalk only the things that matter the most. 
Like feathers.

1. Find the ribbons. 
2. Get the ribbons back.
3. Leave no one alive.
4. Chew on the ribbons.

If you're desperate for a hug, you can probably find one somewhere.
Just keep it short. And don't be afraid to bite them when they won't let go.

Life is good. I am not Milton. Thank goodness.