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For Writers: Embracing Multimedia In Writing

Author Keven Newsome to speculative writers: Everything’s going multimedia…except books. But as the digital book age progresses, the technology will also progress. It is time for us writers to embrace multimedia.
| May 18, 2012 | No comments |

Look at your feet. Look where you’re standing. Okay, do what I do. Lift your left foot over the edge and place it on the floor. Now lift your right foot over as well. Now. See there? That’s what it feels like to stand outside the box.

Actually. I’m on the wrong side. I tend to do that. Outside the box, but on the wrong side. Let me come around.

Now, follow me to this round table over here. We’ll call it the “Thinky” table. There are no bad ideas at the “Thinky” table. Let’s just be a little wild and crazy for a moment. Forget about that box over there. You can go back to it in a few minutes.

Let’s talk about multimedia. Music, video, art, sound fx. And let’s also talk a little about our society. We’ll start there.

Our society is not what it was. People have shorter attention spans and no discipline. They have microwaves and smart phones and GPS and cable internet and streaming movies and Pandora. They can have just about anything they want as fast as they want it. They can learn something new quicker than you can determine in what encyclopedia volume the information may be located. Two things characterize this trend in our society…speed and multisensory perception. In other words, they want things faster and to engage as many senses as possible. They want it realistic and they want it now.

Funny. But wouldn’t that just be…oh, I don’t know…LIFE??

Speed and realism spill over into our media. Action movies are hotter than ever, the ultimate sensory overload with tons of speed. Music is very rarely music alone because almost always there’s some music video online to go with it. Concerts, even orchestral concerts, now often feature large video screens for a multimedia experience. Everything’s going multimedia…

…except books.

Let’s face it, the digital book age is here and it is here to stay. Yes, there’s something awesome about having a real book in your hands. Yes, they probably will never go away. But they will diminish. They will eventually become the minority of the book industry. (Wait, I think they may already have. Must check the facts.) And as the digital book age progresses, the technology will also progress.

It is time for us writers to embrace multimedia.

How can we do that? I see you looking at your box. Stop it and pay attention. Here are just some ideas…a few of which are already being done quite successfully by a number of authors.

Book trailers. I’m not talking about boring old picture stories. Remember, multimedia! There must be sound, music, text, and acting! Get your camera and your friends, kids friends, youth group, whatever you need, and be creative. Shoot a live action trailer. Video editing software is cheap and easy to use, so don’t be scared. Watch movie trailers for ideas. And keep it under two and a half minutes.

Audio books. With Acx.com (a service of Amazon) providing an easy way for authors and producers to connect with a royalty share program, there’s absolutely no excuse for any author not having an audio book made. Why not get a decent microphone and record it yourself? Make a video of it! Post some chapters to YouTube!

Don’t just blog…vlog. Any webcam can record a short one to two minute video of you ranting about something. Post it to YouTube. Don’t forget to add in music and your website links.

Are you musically inclined or know someone who is? Write an original soundtrack and put it on iTunes or YouTube. Can’t write original music? Then just make a track list of music you like that should be in your soundtrack. Encourage people to download your soundtrack and provide an audio cue guide so they can play certain tracks at certain points while they read your book to create mood and ambiance.

Book signing/Concert events. Partner with a local musician to have combination concerts and book signings. You’ll be the MC and will get to do a little “talk” about some major theme in your book…though not specifically just about your book. Set up your book table right beside the CD table.

And when technology catches up, we’ll embed short video, soundtrack music, pictures, and snippets of narration directly into the electronic manuscript so that readers need only tap a button to have a multimedia experience.

So there’s some of my ideas. What about the rest of you? Do you have any great ideas about bringing multimedia into the world of writing?

Oh. I see. Your brain hurts. Okay then, you may return to your box. I think I’ll stay here a little longer.

Keven Newsome is a graduate student at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where he is pursuing a Master of Arts in Theology specializing in Supernatural Theology. He writes stories that portray the Supernatural and Paranormal with an accurate Biblical perspective. He is the author of Winter, a thriller published by Splashdown Darkwater. He currently lives in New Orleans, LA with his wife and their two children.

Find Keven at his website or on Facebook. He is also the founder and administrator of The New Authors’ Fellowship and produces music and video through Newsome Creative.

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Rebecca P. Minor
Member

Excellent thoughts, Keven. I love this vision, and I think we may be closer than you think to seeing it realized. For example, East India Press, started recently by fantasy author David Farland a partner, are endeavoring to make books in what they call an “enhanced multi-media experience” format, which includes links to relevant information, sound, animation, games, you name it. I believe they are piloting this technology on Dave’s books to start, but may very well branch into acquisitions as well.
It’s my prayer that the technology will take off–it strikes me as something like the “box set” for some DVDs that contain all the extras major fans want to delve into. And it’s also my prayer that other publishers will sit up, take notice, and embark upon the multi-media trail.

Galadriel
Guest

Book trailers and soundtracks are one thing. But strike me dead the day  books have scanner codes for extras inside and features that make it impossible to read without electronics. Strike me dead.

Kessie Carroll
Member

Back in my fanfic days, I tried all of the above. Pictures. Sound effects. Background music. All of it distracts from the story. Not one commenter ever said that the multimedia helped them enjoy the story. They liked the stories for themselves.
 
Now, audiobooks are a different story. The more they sound like a radio drama, the better. Different voices, music, the whole nine yards.

Galadriel
Guest

Has anyone here heard Focus on the Family’s Radio Theatre? Oh man, it sounds like a movie, just without the images. I own all seven of their Narnia productions, as well as At the Back of the North Wind. Their Aslan, in my mind, is superior to the films, and his roar definately is.
And their production of Screwtape Letters is amazing–how much they managed to rearrange the content without altering the spirit. Plus, they got ANDY SERKIS to play Wormwood.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Serkis was Undersecretary Screwtape, actually. And he owned the role. In my view, there is now no other voice in which to read Screwtape’s lines.

I should have mentioned Radio Theatre in my comment about the Left Behind audio dramas. Really, it seems like audio drama is one genre that Christians kind of own, now, ever since Adventures in Odyssey (yes, that program is still going, since 1987). These are high-quality productions with crossover appeal, which stretch the imagination.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

From Galadriel:

But strike me dead the day  books have scanner codes for extras inside and features that make it impossible to read without electronics. Strike me dead.

(Applauds.)

Even for e-books, if any of that stuff started flashing around on my screen, I would immediately click into the options and deactivate any and all Flash plugins, GIF animations, hyperlinks, audio clips, and possibly even illustrations.

I have enough distractions as it is. My laptop, my desktop, and on both: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, news sites, and new The Legend of Korra episodes. Most recently, a new/old smartphone (though I try to curb its distraction factor by refusing to pay extra money for it to actually be a 3G-accessible phone). When I pick up a book, I don’t want more razzle-dazzle. I want story.

In my view, that’s not a “box.” That’s real imaginative freedom. Less is more.

Pictures. Sound effects. Background music. All of it distracts from the story.

Exactly, Kessie. It’s an over-mixed genre. Novels should be novels and movies, movies.

Plus, so far, I haven’t seen a book trailer I haven’t liked. To be fair, though, I haven’t watched many recently. Maybe they’ve gotten better? Yet trailers are for movies.

Now, audiobooks are a different story. The more they sound like a radio drama, the better. Different voices, music, the whole nine yards.

Absolutely. In fact, that’s why I still maintain the Left Behind dramatic audio series — not an audiobook! a dramatic audio series — was superior to the novels. Action actually made one’s pulse pound. Dialogue was amped up. Adapting writer Chris Fabry made sure to explore things the series author(s) either skipped over or minimized — such as exactly what the literal Two Witnesses’ resurrection looked like, or what it would have been like to be in the middle of the ocean on a ship when an asteroid hit.

Only Jesus was a disappointment. He didn’t sound like James Earl Jones, of course; or one of my favorite Jesus actors, voice actor Corey Burton, who provided dozens of voices, including Christ’s, for Adventures in Odyssey. Rather, he sounded like music artist Steve Green. (Anyone remember Steve Green?) Ah well! Everything else was spectacular, particularly the demon locusts. They were amazing, with chilling effects, especially when they bit people and made them scream, or all chanted “A-badd-on!” in unison. And people say Christian fiction isn’t afraid to go into the dark Gritty places.

Sometime we should ask the Left Behind sound designer/director for a guest column …

Anyway, if it helps, Keven, what’s made Winter so attractive to me, though I haven’t read it yet, is its cover, the book’s premise, your presentation as a thinking author (daring to speculate about actual Christians, of all things), and internet marketing. Razzle-dazzle hasn’t had anything to do with that, at least not for me, and not so far!

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

But what do we do with the ever-growing population of over stimulated multimedia junkies?

Perhaps not assume they’ll never change … perhaps by teaching them to enjoy story for its own virtue, for how it reflects and glorifies God and His greatest true Story?

Otherwise, there’s seems no redeeming purpose behind marketing/multimedia/etc.

I already know that I have enough trouble getting rid of the distraction factor. That may be how some people are by nature. I certainly won’t say it’s always a sin to be distracted. But I know that for me, it’s an issue of plain old discipline, even holiness. Because of my bent to have such a media-reinforced short attention span, I must:

  • Put away that smartphone.
  • Disconnect the internet connection, and write that article or novel chapter.
  • Ignore that online troll. (Gasp. Someone on the internet is wrong? Big deal.)
  • Refuse to get yanked back to that web-design project on the seductively glowing screen downstairs when you really should be sleeping, at 2 a.m.
  • Reject an absurd, meaningless, explosion-intensive movie based only on what a corporate board’s game decided was sure success based on board-game name-recognition (a-hem!), and see another and better-made film instead.
  • Drop all of that stuff altogether and read a real book: fiction or nonfiction.

In my case, killing the monster of sin within, and not feeding it even more junk food, is the cure. I’m sure I’m not the only one. That’s why my first question to someone who’s hooked on multimedia, arguably too much multimedia, is not “how can I mollify this interest/addiction of yours,” but “why do you want to do so much all at the same time? Does it really help you enjoy God’s gifts of art and story more?”

I’d first start by asking that of the people who feel forced to keep their televisions on all the time. Why do that? Can they not live without the background chatter? I do not understand this bizarre tribal ritual. And this is not because I’m an anti-TV Christian! (My wife and I enjoyed Howl’s Moving Castle on DVD last night). Rather, if a good show is on TV, then sit down and watch it. But keeping the thing running in the background all the time — during dinner, company, phone calls, homework, yard work — can’t be healthy (and results in a terribly high power bill). It also reduces enjoyment, and dulls the impact of truly great TV storytelling. Less is more.

Great discussion, brother!

Paul Lee
Member

Can I suggest interactivity as a great way to leverage digital media for stories?

There are already many forms of interactive stories.  Sadly, they are impossible to be distributed in the time-honored print and bound book.  However, they are already being integrated into e-readers through apps (and of course smartphones, etc.).

Imagine the reader being able to pursue different plot threads to different degrees in a story by clicking on different keywords.  This could affect the outcome of the plot to whatever degree the author chooses.  Maybe the reader can only see the story from different angles, or maybe details of the story change depending on the reader’s choices.  Maybe the reader assumes the role of the protagonist of the story and takes the plot head-on, making the story also a game.  For this, take a look at the interactive story system Undum, which also provides a great method of multimedia integration without being distracting.  It guides the player/reader’s attention very well.

Maybe you read Choose Your Own Adventure books at some point.  These printed books allow the reader to choose from different plot threads by turning to different pages, presenting a non-linear experience and different potential outcomes.  This is the most basic sort of interactivity, but CYOAs can be much more complicated and intricate using digital technology.  Check out ChoiceScript.

Then there’s my favorite form of interactive story, traditional parser-based interactive fiction.  The story world is simulated with locations and objects represented by chunks of descriptive and narrative text.  The player-reader, assumes the role of the protagonist and types imperative commands which the protagonists enacts in the story.  There’s lots of systems for writing IF; the largest one, Inform, deliberately tries to mirror the book-writing experience by allowing the writer to describe the simulated story-world in natural English-based code.  Two other IF systems, ADRIFT and Quest are based on clickable interfaces and should be easy for non-technical writers to learn.

I love interactive storytelling.  If anything, it feels more ancient and more spontaneous instead of less.  It’s like being in front of the ancient storyteller by the fireside.  You should try some of these concepts of interactivity! 😉 

Kessie Carroll
Member

If you’re going for open world, open-ended storytelling, there’s games like Assassin’s Creed, or Diablo 3, or the Old Republic MMO. Videogames are the ideal medium for interactive story.
 
There’s also tabletop RPGS, like Dungeons and Dragons, Savage Worlds, GURPS, and a jillion others.
 
But that’s not books. That’s games. If our culture is so spastic that we can’t tolerate books anymore, then we’re going the way of Rome with its bread and circuses.

Paul Lee
Member

I certainly like games and agree that they can be very good at interactive storytelling.  However, I don’t think videogames can be the ideal medium for interactive story.  Text is a better medium for narrative.  As has been expressed in other comments, multimedia can distract from the story.

Text-based interactive fiction is a more pure form of storytelling, more like novels, and has its roots in the tradition of poetry and the riddle.  When you figure out a riddle, the text takes on greater or different meaning in the lights of its solution.  That gives a riddle a “game” element, but the riddle is still a form of literature.  So it is with IF, at least according to the author of a non-fiction book about interactive fiction that I’ve read.  Game and story are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

 

But that’s not books. That’s games. If our culture is so spastic that we can’t tolerate books anymore, then we’re going the way of Rome with its bread and circuses.

Don’t worry. Interactive fiction will die out long before the book will. IF had a spurt of popularity among early home computers users, and ever since it’s been a struggling niche. I would hate to see interactive fiction uproot the traditional novel, but that will never happen. Even if interactive fiction were to become widely popular (which is unlikely), it still wouldn’t kill the novel. When the novel came along, poetry wasn’t eradicated, even if poetry has no commercial market in our time. Have we not already gone the way of Rome for not appreciating poetry as much as our ancestors did? But people still write new poems today, and still appreciate both old and new poems. Therefore, interactive fiction will never threaten the existence of the novel.

Paul Lee
Member

(Forgot to give the link for ChoiceScript, sorry:  http://www.choiceofgames.com/make-your-own-games/choicescript-intro/)

Kristen
Guest

Keven, you asked “Do you have any great ideas about bringing multimedia into the world of writing?”
I don’t know if they’re great, but they’re ideas.

Haven’t we call reached the end of a book and wished for more? That’s what this is about. It’s about providing the “more” for readers who want it.
If you think about it, drawing and writing are two different mediums, so any illustrated book is “multimedia.”
My son once said, on seeing the endpaper maps in Eragon, “all the best books have maps.” I think it would be incredible to have 3D maps of some of the great fantasy storyworlds. Think Google Middle-Earth.
Virtual environments, like the 3D walkthroughs architects use to show clients what a building will look like from the inside, would be awesome add-ons for some books. I’m working on a contemporary novel where the setting is as much a character as anyone. I’d love to have this kind of representation of that location to release in conjunction with the book so readers could take a virtual tour.

Paul Lee
Member

My son once said, on seeing the endpaper maps in Eragon, “all the best books have maps.”

I absolutely agree, at least for high fantasy stories. Critics may belittle the Standard Fantasy Map, but there’s nothing that draws me into the secondary world more. I love to linger at the sites of ancient battles, trace my fingers over the courses of mighty mountains and sprawling countrysides, and wonder what mysteries may lie beyond the edges. I’m skeptical about fantasy novels that don’t have the Standard Fantasy Map. I’m automatically drawn to ones that do. Here’s an example of multimedia that really can enhance the experience, with little possibility of distracting the reader or detracting from the experience!

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

My son once said […] “all the best books have maps.”

Hmm. Just another one of the many ways that the Bible — the ultimate and only true epic “fantasy” book — beat all the other derivative fantasy books to the punch.

Literaturelady
Guest

Hi Kevin,
 
Thanks for sharing this article!  I have never thought about a multimedia approach, and I see the value in it.  I guess a writer could also make friends in different vocations and learn new ideas/plots/character ideas/information on a topic/stuff like that.
 
But I was wondering about your opinion on this: do you suppose that a writer’s goals should determine whether he uses a multimedia approach?  For example, if a writer wants to support himself by his novels and wants his name to be widely known, then it seems that book trailers, novel soundtracks, and the rest would greatly help.  But if a writer (like me) has no plans to support himself thus and doesn’t care about fame, do you suppose multimedia would do more harm than good?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.
 
Again, thanks for writing this.  I always appreciate new advice and new ideas to think about!
 
Blessings,
Literaturelady