Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tips on character

Three pieces of great advice from Institute of Children's Literature.

1. The main character should FACE a problem/challenge and not BE the problem. Having a main character who is deeply flawed and whom you will "fix" though the story plot does not work for young people. It feels lecture-some (at worst) and fails to connect with the reader (at best). Like adults, young people like main characters they can relate to and admire. And just like adults, most young people do not consider themselves selfish, mean spirited, or spoiled. Sure, some actually ARE...but they still think of themselves in positive ways. It's just human nature. So if we create main characters who are selfish, mean spirited or spoiled - we create characters that the reader cannot connect with. And that makes a story fail.

2. The main character should face a problem/challenge that cannot be ignored. Your main character needs to have pressure to act. And since you're creating an admirable character, the character will act in a way he believes/hopes will solve the problem in a positive way. For instance, if your main character faces the problem of having something in his room in the dark, that's not something he could ignore. He couldn't just roll over and think...well, whatever it is, I'll just ignore it. Kids aren't wired that way. So he'd have to try to find out what's in his room and do something about it. So create a problem that forces positive action. And create a character you like enough that you're first choice for what he/she will do won't be a spoiled child action.

3. The plot will follow the actions of the main character on the problem. Overcoming must not be easy. The main character needs to pull upon something positive in him/herself in order to solve the problem. He/she may need to be unusually brave, or unusually compassionate, or unusually clever (or some combination thereof). It is by pulling upon that reserve inside him/herself that the main character will grow and change.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

SpongeBob Bad?

Not my favorite "quality" show but it's still on at my house.  I have to 
remind myself I watched hours of He-Man and She-Ra 
and turned out mostly normal.  :)

Is SpongeBob SquarePants Bad for Children?

Researchers report that 4-year-olds who had just watched the fast-paced fantasy cartoon “SpongeBob SquarePants” — which follows the undersea adventures of a yellow sponge — did worse on tests of attention and problem-solving than young children who watched a slower-paced educational program or spent time drawing.
Officials from Nickelodeon, the network that produces “SpongeBob,” dismissed the significance of the study, saying in a statement that preschool-age children are not the show’s intended audience. “SpongeBob” is designed for 6- to 11-year-olds, according to the network, which questioned the study’s small sample size of white middle- and upper-middle-class children.
The study, which appeared in the Sept. 12 issue of the journal Pediatrics, involved 60 children whose parents reported similar levels of television-watching and attention skills. The children were randomly assigned to one of three groups: one watched nine minutes of the cartoon, another viewed nine minutes of the educational program “Caillou,” and the remaining group spent the time with drawing paper, markers and crayons.
The tests were administered immediately after the children watched the program and were designed to assess what is known as children’s executive function, which underlies attention, working memory, problem-solving and the delay of gratification. The children were given tasks that involved following instructions, reversing the order of numbers and resisting treats.
“The children who watched the cartoon were operating at half the capacity compared to other children,” said Angeline S. Lillard, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and one of the paper’s authors.
She said the effect was not specific to “SpongeBob SquarePants” and has also been demonstrated with other fast-paced cartoons in which “there are lot of things happening that can’t happen in real life — magical things going on in totally new places, the bed catapults you out and you land in a lake wearing an astronaut costume — and happen in fast succession.”
“There is so much stuff that’s hard to assimilate, it might be disrupting the child’s thinking process, so they may not be able to grasp the messages that are educational,” Dr. Lillard said. “This suggests the brain is working very hard to register it all and gets exhausted afterward.”
Asked whether the fatigue might indicate that some kind of learning had occurred while watching “SpongeBob SquarePants,” she said the random and unpredictable nature of the cartoon was more likely to “disrupt the ability to focus rather than strengthen it.”

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Film Making for Kids

My son saw the movie "Hugo" after reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret and was inspired to continue his movie making hobby. Here are some things I've been studying up on as we've been trying out lately for digital storytelling.  Info from Trevor Cairney and other sources...

Puppet Pals is available as a free app for the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad. It is essentially a simple way to create an animated movie using 'cut-out' themed characters and a variety of backdrops and scenes to create an animated 'puppet' play.

There is a free version that comes with Wild West backgrounds and actors.  However, you can also purchase different themes for $US0.99 or the 'Director's Cut' in which you can access all the themes for $US2.99. These allow you to obtain a range of additional scenarios and characters based on themes such as monsters, space, pirates, arthropod armada, Christmas and so on. You can even make your backdrops and characters.

This is a very simple to use app that provides very easy storyboarding. You can record dialogue, move characters around, create some simple effects, change backdrops and settings and characters. Below is an example that my eight year old grandson produced with little instruction and next to no preparation at his second attempt using the app. While ideally, before creating the animation, the writer/producer prepares plot summaries and story ideas, Jacob made this excellent animation as a first take. He used the 'Arthropod Armada' theme from 'Director's Cut'. 

Puppet Pals is a wonderful resource for supporting story telling, writing, language development, creativity, and problem solving, while at the same time introducing them to film making and animation. I could see myself using a smartboard to collaboratively develop a story with my class before introducing individuals and groups to this smart little app.

'Movie Maker' was developed by Tim Grabham, Suridh Hassan, Dave Reeve and Clare Richards. It is another wonderful resource fromWalker Books designed for primary school aged children (7-12 years). It is a kit that contains ideas for making movies, a handbook that shows you how armed with a simple video camera you can make movies. The handbook talks about techniques like storyboarding, production, equipment, sound and lighting, design, special effects, how to vary camera shots and so on. It also includes some very cute aids such as a binocular mask, an adjustable frame, sample story boards, character props (e.g. glasses, moustache) and even authentic theatre tickets.  All it doesn't include is the popcorn.

The Klutz Book of Animation

'The Klutz Book of Animation' by John Cassidy and Nicholas Berger is another excellent aid for child film makers. The book provides step by step guidance to primary aged children to make simple animations using a video camera (as simple as a web cam) and computer and a variety of props, objects, plasticine and so on. The publishers provide a number of videos online that teach children the fundamentals of animation and film making (here). At the publisher's site you can download free instructional videos (here), free sound effects (here) and sample videos made by children (here). Below is a sample using the Klutz methodology. This is a great resource for young film makers. Steven Spielberg would have loved to have this as a child."

Friday, March 9, 2012

Character Arcs

In my study of writing, I learned about character arcs.  Ever heard of them?  Here's a brief tutorial.  

Comparing the Paradigms for Character Change

Each paradigm comes with different requirements and different key moments that your plot must provide.

Required Characters

  • Main Character Alone: In the Hero’s Journey, it’s a lonely quest where the main character changes him/herself. Yes, there are supporting characters, but they are secondary to the internal arc.
  • Friends: The Friendship arc requires two people who appear to be polar opposites, but eventually change each other.
  • Either: In the Dysfunctional arc, you can feature another character, or it can be against a situation or event.

Key moments:

  • Fears. Hero’s Journey requires an Inmost Cave, the moment when the character faces his/her worst fears and comes out changed.
  • Difficult Relationship. The Friends arc requires a blow-up in a relationship, with some compelling reason to later recommit to that relationship.
  • Coping. The Dysfunctional arc has that moment when the dysfunctional coping crosses paths with the functional coping and one takes precedence over the other.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Big Long Study I liked...

Ever wonder what kind of research I like to read as I sit around the house in my PJ's?'s one example I liked...especially the section on effective reading programs used in the US for struggling readers. 67 pages of my kinda stuff.

Effective classroom strategies for closing the gap in educational achievement for children and young people living in poverty, including white working-class boys

Found HERE

Published by these folks:  Centre for Excellence and Outcomes in Children and Young People’s Services (C4EO)