Re-VISION in the digital realm

Your final digital narrative asks you to perform one of the most crucial tasks facing any writer: that of returning to prior work, and revising it into a more fully-realized, complex, expanded version of itself. There’s a reason we call this act revision; it asks you, literally, to re-see the work, to re-imagine it completely. This goes far beyond mere editing or proofreading. Today’s class is designed to help you begin the process of re-seeing your work towards the final project, work you will continue on your own outside of class in the coming weeks.

Today you’ll be doing one of the following activities at a time. Either:

  • Meeting with me one-on-one (or one-on-group) to discuss your plans for the final project, as per the questions I asked you to complete for today;
  • Brainstorming activities to help you imagine how to expand / develop a journal entry or former project into a fuller digital narrative that embodies multiple characteristics;
  • Revision exercises to help you expand, refine, or polish an existing digital project, or;
  • Working on implementing the changes you’ve decided to make towards your final project (this should be saved for after you meet with me).

Whether you already have a clear sense of what your final project will be or not, I strongly encourage you all to engage in at least one brainstorming and revision activity, as they are all useful in helping you think about the kinds of global changes you can make to truly strengthen any of your existing digital work into a strong final project.

Brainstorming Activities

If you’ve got a journal entry or project that is currently just a kernel that you think could be a great final project, but which needs a lot more material and a structure before its fully realized, try one of these activities to help you see how you could grow it into a digital story:

  1. Identify all of the potential “scenes” in this story, each one on a notecard or sticky note. Now identify the story arc (how does the action of the plot  or the tension / conflict rise and fall?). Now identify the central character (the player / reader or someone in the piece?). Identify the character arc (how does the character change or fail to change?). What do these arcs suggest that the story is “about?” Now go back to the list of scenes: which scenes are necessary to the story arc? Which scenes are necessary to the character arc and make clear what the story is “about”? Keeping only the ones you deem necessary, play with how you might arrange those scenes to convey the story.
  2. Make a list of 10 concrete nouns that would be a part of this story (pajamas, coffee, Paris), then write 3-4 ideas beside each noun (cozy, caffeine buzz, romantic). Choose a combination for each noun, and begin to imagine how you might arrange a scene around it. For example, if you chose caffeine buzz and coffee, you might write a sentence like: “I’d had three cups of coffee before I left the house that morning, and I was jittery from the caffeine.” Take it from there.
  3. Make a list of all the characters involved in this story (real or fictional). For each one, write an extended introduction, including what they look like, how they are dressed, what objects are associated with them, any identifying marks, any identifying habits or gestures, their way of seeing things, their attitude toward the world, their age, their ethnicity, their occupation, their family relationships and history, their relationship to the central character, any other character’s opinion of them, their desires, their problems, their faults, etc. Also include some backstory for each character in that introduction. What do you know about their pasts, how they’ve come to be who they are now?
  4. Write one anchor scene with all of your main characters in the same room, maybe even talking. What is the setting, how do they interact with each other, how do they relate to each other, etc? Introduce everyone within one scene and then work off of that scene.

Revision Exercises

If you’ve already got the beginnings of a story, or you’re planning to expand one of your past digital exercises for your final project, try one of these exercises, designed to help you identify the core of an existing story, and to improve the rhythm or readability of it:

  1. Start a new Google doc and type up a pure text version of the story. No copying and pasting, either. Write out exactly what happens throughout the piece. How does this change your understanding of the story’s core? What is extraneous? What needs to be cut? Where are there missed opportunities for depth, detail, description? Now that you see the whole thing as text, try to reimagine the story in digital media, choosing the more organic medium for each scene, moment, or action of the story.
  2. Watch / read / listen to / play your original story. No skimming, no skipping section. Do the whole thing, every which way. As you do, on a separate piece of paper, make two lists: everything you find genuinely interesting, and every moment you find yourself getting bored. If you are bored, your reader is, too. Take the list of boring moments and choose a strategy to rewrite / remake it so it isn’t boring. Some ideas? Cut it from the piece. Make it interactive. Give your reader a choice. Retell it from a different character’s perspective. Retell it using a different medium. Make it a list or a question. Rewrite it as dialogue. If you’re still stuck, take a look at your interesting moments. How or why are they interesting? How can you steal one of your own strategies?
  3. Create one notecard or sticky note for each “section” of the existing story (these may be scenes, paragraphs, arcs, conversations: you get to decide what makes something a section). On the note, write a 1-2 sentence summary of what happens in that section and why you think it’s important to the story. If you can’t think of why, set that card aside. Now, try rearranging the cards from their original order. First, try removing the first and last section. What do you lose? Do you gain a more interesting beginning or ending? Next, put those scenes back, but tell the story backwards: arrange the cards in reverse order from the original. Third, pick a section right in the middle, and make it the first section of your story. What scene would a reader need to come next, and then after that? For each iteration, I suggest taking a photograph or copying the summaries down on a separate piece of paper. You might learn something about how to drive the story’s action forward.

Remember, if you ever feel stuck, you are sitting near people at similar stages of the writing process; turn to them and ask for help! Offer to trade projects and do one of these activities for each other, and get some fresh new eyes in return!

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