Diving into Digital Fiction: Book Camp pt. 2

Is there such a word as ‘backblog’? If there is I have a serious case of it. If there isn’t such a word, I claim it as my own.

This photo courtesy: kodomut via Flickr cc licence

Last post I started to unpack the many discussions that took place at BookCamp during the Melbourne Writers Festival. I was eager to attend BookCamp to hear Kate Pullinger talk about her journey as an author with digital (in particular, transmedia) fiction. I was not disappointed!

The topic under discussion for the session she led was:

Why do we read? What do the new technologies offer to stories?

We first tackled the question of why we read fiction.

  • to escape, to relax, for enjoyment
  • to discover (empathy, other ways of thinking)
  • to inform

Included in this was discussion on what we want as a reader from the experience.

  • good writing
  • a good story
  • experience of being taken away – a connection to the writing

We then turned to the big question. What does that mean in terms of digital transformation? We identified books as a form of content management/delivery. Their advantage is one of minimal technology – no computer, no electricity, no downloading etc.. One still has to learn how to use them.

What happens when you take the content beyond the book? How do you retain that ideal reading experience?

Kate gave us a walk-through of a chapter of her transmedia fiction, “Inanimate Alice“. She spoke of how the work took on a life of its own (unanticipated) in terms of pedagogy/education. Schools were using it as a gateway into digital literacy and multimedia. Fanfiction popped up then started flooding in. We watched an example of some authored by year 5’s at a local school.  Kate spoke of some of the decisions she made while writing IA that addressed the ‘why we read’ issues.

  • the story is told in first person narrative – for engagement purposes
  • no representation of faces in the illustration side of the work – they trialled that and the reader response was not as good. Readers wanted to imagine Alice for themselves.

We moved to discussing the evolution of story-telling. Stories in the 19th Century depended heavily on detail. Kate had a quote (must find out whose!) about literature from that time containing “a continual rain of detail’. With the advent of cinema there was a move toward economy of detail and a stronger emphasis on action/plot. Digital fiction removes the detail further by supplying the visual in a fashion not disimilar to picture books. Text and visual still need to work together. Visual literacy is necessary to understand the story.

We went on to explore the relationship between interactive/digital fiction and gaming. What gaming can bring to story-telling is the notion of play. Kate’s research found there is a divide between those who want to be told/given a story and those who want to have control and make choices over the story. Kate spoke of how they(creative team) worked hard on the design of Inanimate Alice so movem nt into more interactivity occurred pleasantly and inobrusively. They were aware of the importance of enhancement but not at the expense of the story.

The dicussion turned to the question of whether some genres or types of stories leant themselves to digitial/interactive story-telling better than others. The biggest barrier at this point it was agreed was the screen experience. As screen technology improves more people will be willing to experience stories from them.



Diving into Digital Fiction: Locating/Selecting Part 3: Web Fiction and Online Novels

Online/Web Fiction

This form of fiction is simply a regular novel or collection of stories that exist online. Web fiction authors often publish on blogs or community wikis. Readers can comment, review, and subscribe to novels if they are still works in progress.

Web Fiction Guide

This is a community site with online novels, story collections and reviews. You can select from categories and one of those categories is young adults. There is quite a collection to choose from, some still being updated and others complete. Readers score the stories and stories are tagged as well so you know what you’re getting into ahead of time. Some of these stories can be downloaded as pdf files so could be loaded on to handheld devices, some are available on Issuu, some  also have podcasts with them so students can read and listen, a bonus especially for ESL students or those with reading difficulties. Novels still in progress often have an rss feed available so you automatically receive the next chapter when it comes out. Here are a few I’ve dipped into (each quite different) so I plan to include:

Scary Mary

Impeccable Petunia 

Mortal Ghost 

Also part of this site is Top Web Fiction a listing of the top rated stories on the site.

One of the downsides of using a site like Web Fiction Guide is it does leave your students the option to go to other categories of fiction, one of which is erotica. This may or may not be blocked by your school filters. Common sense says active supervision is a must if students are the ones searching and selecting stories online.

Fifty-two Stories with Cal Morgan

Fifty-Two Stories is a website run by Harper Perennial (part of HarperCollins) and is a showcase for short stories. Each year a theme is selected and authors contribute their offerings. Each week one story is selected for publication on the site. The theme for 2011 is: ASK. The quality of writing is professional, the stories are for general consumption so again it pays to preview what’s on offer although I haven’t run into anything untoward.

One of the offerings worth a look on this site is  The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, a novella by popular author and screenplay writer, Neil Gaiman.


This is another community offering novels in different genres. It was started by a Christian self-published author so features some of her writings but also contains many other self-published authors. There does not appear to be any mature content stories on this but preview before selecting. I did like the fact that this site includes some online graphic novels. The down-side of this site is that there are no ratings on it so quality is highly variable.

Diving into Digital Fiction: first dip

Photo courtesy: Mike Baird at flickr.bairdphotos.com

Photo courtesy: Mike Baird at flickr.bairdphotos.com

At the end of term 2 one of the English teachers came to the library to talk about ways of engaging some of her Year 8 students who don’t like to read. She said she wanted to try eBooks but as we talked I discovered it wasn’t really eBooks she meant but online/digital/interactive fiction – something novel (excuse the pun) to hook them back into reading.

I talked to her about Inanimate Alice and a few other possibilities and she’s now keen for her class to sample a variety of online fiction. I’m spending the term break becoming familiar with ‘what’s out there’ and the possibilities for use in classrooms.

Inanimate Alice is the obvious starting place, Kate Pullinger is not only an author but also an educator and many fabulous teaching/learning resources have grown up around Inanimate Alice. There is an official Pedagogy Project containing lesson plans and other educational resources. It is available (free) by registering with iTeach on the website. Some introductory articles are linked at the start of the resource providing helpful background information. The lesson plans themselves focus on the multimodality of the work and multiliteracies:

‘Inanimate Alice’ is a new media fiction that allows students to develop multiple literacies (literary, cinematic, artistic, etc.) in combination with the highly collaborative and participatory nature of the online environment (from iTeach, Inanimate Alice)

Other great resources for Inanimate Alice worth checking out:

But the teacher doesn’t want to focus only on Inanimate Alice so what else is out there?

Unpacking Multiliteracies

Still working on my holiday reading of Anstey and Bull’s Teaching and Learning Multiliteracies.

Multiliteracies means being cognitively and socially literate with paper, live and electronic texts. It also means being strategic, that is, being able to recognise what is required in a given context, examine what is already known, and then, if necessary, modify that knowledge to develop a strategy that suits the context and situation. (Anstey and Bull, 2006, p.23)

So we need to understand/be understood:

  • when writing/reading;
  • in speeches, interviews or performances
  • using computer/phone.

We need to understand/project the right level of formality/respect for a given situation

  • when writing/reading;
  • in speeches, interviews or performances
  • using computer/phone

This is terribly important in today’s world where you are dealing with such a diverse population. Heck, even excluding diversity, things can go terribly wrong – think how the crew at Chaser’s War on Everything got it so wrong with their skit on terminally-ill children. Somehow the people doing the strategic thinking did not accurately predict the level of disapproval that would be provoked.

Anstey and Bull (p.23) point out that every form of text is created with a purpose (no text is neutral). In order to be fully literate we need to be aware of that fact and to understand how text is constructed to influence.

So what are the implications for teaching our students? Well first they need to understand about text, all kinds of them. Astley and Bull have compiled common understandings about text from the body of literature about multiliteracies. They are:

  • text may be paper, live or electronic
  • may be made up of one or more than one sets of signs and symbols (eg. words + emoticons)
  • are consciously constructed
  • are actively constructed
  • may have several possible meanings
  • may be built from other texts (or refer to them to have meaning)
  • may be multimodal, interactive, linear or non-linear

The authors recommend that any mulitliteracy programs planned need to use these understandings as outcomes for student understanding (Anstey and Bull, 2006, p. 24-25).

This got me thinking about how I was taught to ‘read’ various forms of text in my daily life. I wasn’t taught any multiliteracies in school. I had no education in this … or had I?

As children we were read to … a lot and we had wonderful records of stories told by masters like Danny Kaye. Stories told well involved ‘voices’ -tones of voice, colour within those voices to denote children or evil villains or wise old folk. There were levels of sound and patterns of speech repeated in many of the stories. And we heard the stories over and over until we’d learned them off by heart.

We learned to understand/read the language of music when we listened to wonderful recordings like Peter and the Wolf, the Nutcracker Suite and The Carnival of the Animals. Each instrument had a unique voice, each piece told a story.

We watched puppet shows and saw mime artists on TV like the wonderful Marcel Marceau who spoke to us through gesture. The stories were simple, the language was crystal clear.

We were taken to art galleries and our parents talked about the paintings. We watched cartoons like Bugs Bunny with dialogue that held several possible meanings (and British adult comedy full double entendre if we weren’t caught!).

We played with code rings and rebus messages, we learned about using tracking symbols in Scouts/Guides in case we got lost when hiking.

Perhaps like any things multiliteracies were around in our day, we just didn’t have the name for it.


Photo from flickr by phoenixdiaz through the cc licence

Understanding Multiliteracies: beginnings

Too much text by seventhsamurai on flickrI’ve got my hands on a copy of Teaching and Learning Multiliteracies: Changing times, changing literacies by Michele Anstey and Geoff Bull. Thankfully it’s a slim volume because I’ve decided to get my head  firmly around multiliteracies before I start on the next two subjects of my M.Ed TL course. There’s just never enough time to absorb everything. Yet working in the little alternative primary school where I am, I recognize there is a gap between the way many of the children gather and use information in their ‘home’ world and how they are working with it in class. I’m betting this is not unusual for most schools, but I want to tackle this by first raising my own awareness.

I’m reassured by the preface of the book that it’s going to first introduce me to the language of the new literacies so I can hang terms on concepts. I’m glad because ‘jargon’ or professional language is not one of my strengths. I may have a very good handle on something but often can’t remember the term for it. Second, I like that it has reflective exercises.  I can write my reflections here for re-reading. Third there are practical examples so you can take theory to practice. And that’s the whole point isn’t it?

Chapter One offers a little history; how literacy in post-war schooling was basically about print — reading, and writing.  Anstey and Bull (2006, p.2) point out that pictures then were mostly decorative. This was certainly the system I was educated in. I don’t remember many illustrations having labelled parts, cross-sections or adding to the context in any real sense. And examining older texts (still weeding these out of the collection) I can imagine as a child being overwhelmed by the dense columns of words, getting to what you hope is an oasis only to find that the illustration has nothing to offer you beyond colour and a break in the page. It certainly seems designed to separate the men from the boys. Either you can read and succeed or you can’t read and you’re a failure. It’s a message, I certainly don’t want to send to my students with their varying levels of ability.  The urgency to weed these old books out has just increased.


Anstey, M., & Bull, G. (2006). Teaching and learning multiliteracies: Changing times, changing 
     literacies. Kensington Gardens, S.A.: International Reading Association and The Australian
     Literacy Educators' Association.
Photo: Too much text by seventhsamurai on flickr