Words, Pictures, Music

We’ve been working on the Writewell stuff for awhile now, putting the pieces together. We need a script, we need a slide show outline, we need pictures. What I’m finding as I put these lessons together is that the three things interact with each other and change each other. It’s an entirely new approach to writing for me, and I’m finding that for non-fiction at least, it seems to be remarkably effective at getting content organized and presented.

I start with the slide show which is pretty much a visual outline of what I want to say, words on a screen. As it occurs to me, I add images that I hope will make the concepts stick. Then the images change the content because they’ve clarified the idea. Then I write the script to go with the slides, and as I write the slides expand to follow trains of thought, and the images shift to illustrate what I have to say. And then the images change the script . . . I’m so far into the 4 Act Structure slide presentation that I don’t even know if it makes sense, but I know it’s much better than it was before I worked with written words, pictures, and sound.

I’ve always known that pictures helped in fiction writing because I made collages that were vital to the books. And I knew that sound made a difference because reading my stuff out loud as a final edit is really effective. (Actually reading it on paper is completely different from reading it on screen, too.) But I don’t think I’ve ever put all three together like this. it’s really exciting. Add in that Lani is teaching me to manipulate the slide show so that it matches up with the recording, and it’s been an illuminating two weeks.

I’m trying to think how I can do this more directly with fiction, and I’m not seeing a way. But I think when I finally do my non-fiction books, I’m going this way, lots of graphics and sidebars, presenting the information as many ways as possible.

Anybody out there have experience with this? And does my plan sound like a good thing in a book? (It’s a good thing in a video slide show for sure.)

37 thoughts on “Words, Pictures, Music

  1. so exciting! can’t wait to take the courses! thanks for all that you do and I hope you are taking time out to relax! xox

  2. As a very visual learner I say PLEASE do it that way for your non-fiction books. When it’s fiction, and I am reading for pleasure, I prefer my imagination to run rampant among your prose.
    However, when I’m trying to learn, and really absorb the information, having a good visual representation of what is being taught really helps me understand.
    I can’t wait for the classes. Since the muse has been absent lately, learning craft will be a very good use of my downtime. Thank you,and Lani, for all your hard work. And thank you for being the kind of people who want to give a hand up where you can. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. If you want to use it for fiction, how about pulling images for a specific scene or act – maybe doing this as you go through, rather than in advance like the big collage. You could use plastic display pages in a ring binder, putting a background sheet in first (just a plain piece of paper, probably) and then slipping the images on to that, so you can keep moving them on the page or swapping them if you like. Then you’d end up with a binder full of scene sparks (maybe glue them down when you’ve written the scene).

  4. That’s a good point about readers needing to make their own fiction pictures in their minds.
    For writing, I make collages, so that’s already covered.
    The obvious solution is graphic novels.

      1. Hey, we can be classy. DoubleFeature did two 8 page romance shorts for Valentine’s day, for example. (DoubleFeature is a monthly comics anthology that my husband does, full disclosure.) http://doublefeaturecomics.com/

        Plus, you know, Strangers in Paradise. Awesome comic.

  5. Does this sound like a good thing in a book? Jenny, anything you do sounds good in a book. I have been waiting for years for you to write a book about writing. I don’t care how you write it, because whatever you do will be fabulous.

    Yes, it sounds like a good plan and will undoubtedly help many people. And I can hardly wait for Writewell Academy.

  6. Another visual learner here. As long as you don’t have to grasp everything on the page, this approach works well for me. I mean, if the visual learners can look mostly at the pictures, the text people mostly at the text and audio people what, listen to the audiobook version? As long as each of those routes is valid then this approach is great. For me, the Dorling Kindersley books are a really good example of integrating text and images and page layout for non-fiction.

  7. Edward Tufte has written a great deal about infographics and the presentation of information by any and all means necessary.

  8. I have done my share of technical writing, and I find that the picture and words reinforce one another quite nicely. Romney’s mention of the DK books is a great example; they work well for learners at many levels.

  9. “Anybody out there have experience with this? And does my plan sound like a good thing in a book? (Itโ€™s a good thing in a video slide show for sure.)”

    Yes, lots of experience with this, and yes, your plan does sound like a good thing. You might want to look at one of the Head First books from O’Reilly. They’re mostly technical but one of them could give you some ideas. You should also definitely read Kathy Sierra’s blog. Sadly, she no longer updates it but the old information will be valuable for you: http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/

    Ah, and here’s my favorite post of hers — I used to make all my authors read this before starting to write. It’s a crash course in learning theory. http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2006/01/crash_course_in.html

    Also, I don’t know how this book turned out, but Julie Dirksen’s Design for How People Learn was the last book I signed before quitting my job as an acquisition editor. It might be helpful for you. She’s a fun writer and it’s all about how to do good instructional design.

    1. Okay – the world is a funny small place, but I was listening to Popcorn Dialogues and Storywork a lot while I was writing Design For How People Learn, and there’s actually a quote from Lani (about the importance of showing vs telling) in the book (p. 167). Let me know if you’d like a review copy, Jenny.

      Also, Sarah’s right – Kathy Sierra rocks.

  10. When you get to the non-fiction stage, you could actually just incorporate the slideshows and so on directly into the book. Apple has a free tool for making ebooks with extra media content (iBook Author), and I expect that more such tools will be forthcoming.

  11. Graphics are used heavily in some types of tech writing to great effect (and also to miserable effect … really depends on the project and the players). But I don’t think regular non-fiction uses graphics nearly enough. I think that using all the pieces you are talking about will make for much more accessible and usable books.

  12. OK, I totally know this is weird and seems off-topic, but Lauren Redniss’s book about Marie Curie, called Radioactive, is AMAZING.

    It’s biography, sort of, not straight “learn from this” nonfiction, and it doesn’t have charts, exactly. But it is a fabulous integration of visual art and written words and extra stuff – maps and grave rubbings, etc. It’s really fantastic.

    I guess that’s just a recommendation for anyone at all who is interested in putting together text and visual art in new(ish) ways.

    1. I just got that! It’s on my TBR pile, but looks fascinating — what I noticed was the “Ten Speed Press” style “font” (you know, like the Moosewood cookbooks that are all hand-written? Maybe it’s only Moosewood that was like that (-:.) Now I really wish I had time to read it NOW!

      1. Yeah, there’s a note about the font – she designed or commissioned it or however that’s done.

        It really is neat. Enjoy it!

  13. Jenny, what you’re talking about with incorporating sound and image and text could be possible in your next book it you’re doing an e-version. One of the textbook publishers is currently working on an e-textbook that will include video, pictures, voice-overs and who knows what else. It isn’t due out for at least another year yet, but with e-books making their own place in the written world, you’re enthusiasm will definitely have an outlet in the future. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I think there are quite a few multi-media textbooks already available. Check out Inkling, a small company that is helping the big guys 3-d their textbooks.

  14. It’s a great time to be a writer! Okay I stole that from Bob Mayer. But you guys already know that. I’m very visual and arty and this sounds exciting to me. Fabulous for non-fiction, but also I bet there will be a time when e-books will come out in two versions. The read only version for people who like to make their own pictures in their heads, and the fully featured, movie, picture, text, audio versions. A multimedia reading experience. I can see these coming out before too long.

  15. Great concept, especially since I think in pictures. And seeing them in a tutorial/writing class is something I’ve never come across. It will definitely help the message stick in my brain. I’m looking forward to ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Are you asking about experience doing this with ebooks? I’m guessing you are, since plenty of non-fiction print books have pics/images.

    The book I epubbed has pictures and it’s not that difficult to do, especially if you’re using a Mac. And if you pretty much ignore Amazon’s convoluted instructions. The only caution I’d give is that images make the file really huge, especially if you use “high definition” images (no idea what the technical term is, this topic is perilously close to being cr*fts). I ended up not using as many as I’d originally planned.

    Amazon and B&N have a pretty big threshhold for file size (okay, looked it up, 50MG and 20MG respectively) (as of December, anyway), but if you plan to use Smashwords, their limit is 4MG. That’s small. I even emailed Mark Coker (who is an incredibly nice guy; he replied almost immediately and was very helpful) to ask whether it was a typo. It wasn’t. Also, Amazon charges a per sale “delivery fee” that’s based on file size. It’s not much, but just FYI.

    Also, keep in mind that on some ereaders, the images will be in gray-scale, not colour. And only the most advanced ereaders are capable of handling anything like sound. But it’s all changing so fast, probably next month they’ll have holograms.

  17. Oh, and I heard from others in the forums that it’s damn near impossible to wrap text around images. So much changes if people re-size the text when they read. Best to just center the images and not attach text to them.

  18. This is fantastic. I don’t thank you all enough for being such a terrific resource. I truly appreciate the wealth of knowledge you share with me.

  19. As an audible learner pictures just get in my way and annoy me, however this format sounds like it will hit every ones learning style and will be a success.

  20. I was going to say much the same thing as Kate: I don’t see why an e-book shouldn’t have words AND pictures AND sounds in it. You could be a pioneer in the field. However, it’s going to take three times as long to put together (at least I would think it would.) Still, new literature only comes along once every few centuries . . . .

    My first thought was that it might be too much to commit to. And if that’s the case, you could still story-board your story and add sounds to an outline between the first and second drafts, and see if that helps improve matters any. You already collage, and you already soundtrack. BTW, this approach (using all three for an outline of your idea) could be a very helpful pitch . . . don’t you think? Although, how you get an editor or agent to sit down to watch your pod-cast (esp. when you don’t already have an editor or agent) is a whole other ballgame! But it could be good advertising for people who self-publish? Particularly if the book summary is less than three minutes and has the potential to go viral on its own.

  21. This post made me think, Jenny would thrive in the theater or the movie business, where sound, visual, and words all come together.

  22. It also sounds like it could be a cool iPad publication. I don’t know much about it, but I know you can use Adobe InDesign to make media rich interactive magazines (and other things I’m sure) – it’s not an .epub or .pdf, it’s the .issue format. Right now, I think .issue files can only be read on the iPad. We’ve started teaching this to our graphic design students at my college, so I’ve seen some cool examples (including some with animations and sounds) and my students tell me it’s relatively easy. And that’s all I know. Probably not practical to put so much effort into something that can only be read on one platform, but it would be so cool.

    1. This is great. I’m still taking baby steps with what I’m doing with the Writewell stuff but I LOVE it.
      Of course, my slide show is probably going to give people seizures because there’s so much movement in it, but the important thing is that I’M having a good time.

  23. I like visuals with non-fiction and often like illustrations with my fiction – but I can’t read graphic novels. I think part of it is the “things look too much like something other than the picture in my head” (I’ve only tried with authors I liked already), but a lot of it is that there just aren’t enough words – the dialogue is abbreviated to go in bubbles, etc.

    So, no insights into multimedia publishing, just one reader’s opinion on graphic novels as a way NOT to go. You probably weren’t anyway.

    I hope that everyone is having a Good Passover and will have a Happy Easter!

    1. I’m kinda with you here. But then graphic novels are primarily images telling a story. Text stories tell the story in words. I think either is an extreme, and a combination would be good. But being the person who loves the collages but only understands them after they’re explained in words, I would worry about presenting a concept *only* as an image, but not worry about an image that is reinforced by or an accent to text.

      Thinking of ways to go add images to my work instruction documents. I do try to make them readable and navigable. But there’s the balance between brevity and completeness that gets in the way. Will check out sone of the recommendations posted.

  24. In terms of tools for doing this, I’ll echo Pamela’s mention of iBook Author. People are creating some amazing multi-media books. Inkling is a small company that’s been converting traditional textbooks to media-rich versions. I would love to work for them (she says, polishing up her resume.) They’re incredible. Open up a bio book with that damn hard-to-memorize Krebbs cycle and it could link to the song that helps it stick in your brain. I don’t know if they do it yet, but I would love to be able to highlight things so they would jump to my notecards for memorization exercises. (I digress, but have you played with some of the notecard apps? They are fantastic. I have a quote set that I’ve set up to be my screen saver in lieu of Lani’s Subway Poster over on ReFab).

    Does Curio include audio and video? That might be a fun creation/design/brainstorming tool for the process you describe. I love how the program stimulates my brain when I find internet pictures.

    As to your main question about how a romance novel could be made multimedia… I’m torn b/c I’m not a fan of graphic novels (my eyes get stuck on the pictures so they take forever to read.)

    Something that _would_ be cool, though would be things that are analogous to the extras on a DVD. The directors comments, scenes as they were in earlier drafts. Maybe some of the character backstory that you cut. All of these are things I wouldn’t want to read on the first pass, so they would have to be indicated by a little icon so I could go through and click later when I’m not ready to be finished with the story. (Just like I do with the DVD extras).

    These could include any of the stuff you keep in the notes section in Scrivener– mine are full of research, exercises I used to get to know the character, pictures used for inspiration (I guess this could link to pinterest stuff and your blog to round out the social media portion everyone seems to require these days), link to the song on iTunes that inspired a scene. I would so pay extra for that.

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