10 Tips on How to Know Your Story is Done

writing tipsEvery month, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (known by we-members as #IWSG) brings the most insecure among us together to discuss (in pithy concise posts) what bothers us, what helps/hurts our writing, and what we would suggest to others who would like to write. Last year, one of the optional questions was When do you know you’re done? I had no idea but was inspired by efriend Erika Beebe’s great answer to dig around on Twitter for more of what people said. I found ten tips that really made sense to me. See if you agree:

  • Does the thought of one more edit make you want to throw up?
  • Are your fixes now changing earlier edits rather than making new ones? Notwithstanding Oscar Wilde’s confession (often attributed to Mark Twain):

I spent all morning putting in a comma and all afternoon taking it out.

  • Did you finish all the lists you created for editing, the ones that expect you to search out was, saw, look, n’t, -ly, and there they’re their ilk?
  • Does your gut say you’re done, as in this anonymous quote:

“Her heart finally told her to stop wasting her time.”

  • Anne Lamott, says that trying to get a book ready is like:

“…putting an octopus to bed.”

Is your octopus asleep?

  • Did you cram in the correct word count–not too many for your genre?
  • Did you fix that spot where you wrote yourself into a corner and couldn’t escape, like a defective Roomba?
  • Have I gotten rid of the first paragraph? (that bit where she wakes up, or he thoughtfully pets his dog. You finally figured out you didn’t really need that bit, didn’t you?)
  • Did you have beta readers–or a critique group–review it? I know–uncomfortable, but agents like to know that’s done.
  • Did you write ‘the end’?
  • Did I just press send too soon?

Me, I’m working through these tips as I edit Book 2 of my Crossroads trilogy, The Quest for Home. My goal is Fall 2019. We’ll see…

If you’re curious about IWSG, check out my IWSG posts in response to their questions.

–published first on Today’s Author

More on writing

12 Survival Tips for Writers

An Affordable Writing Program

Series or Not a Series–How do You know?


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, an Amazon Vine Voice,  and a columnist for NEA Today and TeachHUB. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Quest for Home, Fall 2019. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning

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21 Tips on Working Remotely

work remotelyI first considered this topic at a presentation I attended through WordCamp Orange County. I had several trips coming up and decided to see how to address writing issues while away from my hub. Usually, that’s when I realize I can’t do/find something and say, “If only…” And then I read Diane Tibert’s post about Writers Who Choose to Live Fulltime in RVs. It has only grown since I first pondered it. We Work Remotely is a website devoted to the concept and why it is exactly the right choice for lots of people.

It got me thinking. Truth is, life often interferes with work. Vacations, conferences, PD–all these take us away from our primary functions and the environment where we are most comfortable delivering our best work. I thought about this when I read an article by a technical subject teacher (math, I think)  pulled away from his class for a conference. Often in science/math/IT/foreign languages, subs aren’t as capable (not their fault; I’d capitulate if you stuck me in a Latin language class). He set up a video with links for classwork and a realtime feed where he could be available and check in on the class. As a result, students–and the sub–barely missed him. Another example of teaching remotely dealt with schools this past winter struggling with the unusually high number of snow days. So many, in fact, that they were either going to have to extend the school year or lose funding. Their solution: Have teachers deliver content from their homes to student homes via a set-up like Google Hangouts (but one that takes more than 10-15 participants at a time).

All it took to get these systems in place was a problem that required a solution and flexible risk-taking stakeholders who came up with answers.

As a writer, I wondered: Why can’t I work from the road? In fact, I watched a fascinating presentation from Wandering Jon where he shared how he does exactly that. John designs websites and solves IT problems from wherever he happens to be that day–a beach in Thailand, the mountains in Tibet or his own backyard. Where he is no longer impacts the way he delivers on workplace promises.

Here’s what I came up with that I either currently use or can easily arrange:

  1. Have necessary apps on iPads and smartphones. This includes email, faxing, note-taking, scanning, social media, and all sharing.
  2. Have at least one cloud-based email account (forward your other accounts through this one).
  3. Set your email message to appropriately warn emailers that you may be out of touch occasionally.
  4. Have a cloud-based note-taking program–Evernote, Notability, or Google Keep for example.
  5. If you’re traveling to distant locations, know where to find co-working environments in case of emergencies (these are places that rent fully-equipped office space by the day/week).
  6. Use eboarding passes–don’t print. Who can find a printer at the beach? Send the boarding pass to your phone.
  7. Have a cloud-based fax program like RingCentral.
  8. Wean yourself from hard copies. It’s easier to do than it sounds.
  9. Use a hot spot connected to your phone. Try really hard not to use public WiFi like Starbucks–very unsafe.
  10. A WiFi repeater is nice in case you’re REALLY remote.
  11. Be brave about solving problems–don’t let setbacks and roadblocks stop you, be accountable to yourself or you won’t get stuff done.
  12. Download books to your iPad/reader/smartphone (not in cloud).
  13. Have a virtual map program like Google Maps.
  14. Have a Find-my-phone program.
  15. Have a Find-my-friends program–so friends can locate you via GPS at any given moment.
  16. Have Skype or Google Hangouts to stay in better touch with your nuclear family.
  17. If possible, have a satellite phone.
  18. Have backup batteries for your phone and iPad. Personal hotspots and Google Maps burn through power. What should last nine hours turns out to be two.
  19. Have redundancy where something is important. My external battery charger died and my iPad ran out of juice on a flight home. I had to read (gasp) a paperback rather than a digital book. Yeah, the paperback was my redundancy.
  20. Check in regularly with friends via social media; they want to know you’re OK.
  21. Be aware of time zones.

If you’re considering remote work, here are some job boards that offer writing jobs done away from an office:

10 Companies with Remote Work

Working Nomads

Remote Writing Jobs


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for TeachHUB and NEA Today, and a freelance journalist. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Quest for Home, Summer 2019. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning

Top 12 Favorite iPad Shortcuts

tech tips for writersTech Tips for Writers is an occasional post on overcoming Tech Dread. I’ll cover issues that friends, both real-time and virtual, have shared. Feel free to post a comment about a question you have. I’ll cover it in a future Tip.

I find iPads awkward to write on. For one thing, they’re not geared for a keyboard. That’s not to say you can’t use a keyboard with them. What I mean is they’re designed for swipes, flicks, taps, and squeezes. The keyboard is an afterthought–to accommodate those of us stuck in the dark ages of typing.

Like me.

I’m not even a mouse fan but after decades of trying to get along with it, we’ve come to a companionable arrangement with each other that mixes mouse right clicks and keyboard shortcuts. So, when I got an iPad, the first thing I looked for was the shortcuts. How can I do one flick, swipe, or squeeze and accomplish what five minutes of other movements would do?

Here are my 12 favorites, the ones that save me the most time so I can write more (or read more):

ipad shortkeys

Do you have any favorites?


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and Born in a Treacherous Time, first in the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for TeachHUB and NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Survival of the Fittest, March 2019, first in the Crossroads Trilogy. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning

 

Google Drawings: Great Free Tool for Writers

writerGoogle Drawings is a free Google Drive-based drawing tool that allows users to create drawings, devise marketing pieces for their writing, brainstorm stories with concept maps, and more.

To use Google Drawings, here’s what you do:

  • Open your Google Drive account; go to New and select Google Drawings (it’s probably located under ‘More’).
  • Insert shapes, lines, an image, or text with the editing tools.
  • When finished, publish the drawing as a stand-alone or add it to a Google Doc, slideshow, or spreadsheet. As with all Google tools, it can be shared with others in a wide variety of methods.

There are a lot of drawing programs available — SumoPaint, KidPix, and TuxPaint to name a few. All are wonderful in their own right and many more powerful than Google Drawings. So why use Drawings? Here are eight reasons:

  • It’s collaborative which is nice if you’re working with a team.
  • Projects are easily shared with others.
  • It syncs between locations so you can start a drawing on your laptop and finish it on your tablet. 
  • It is minimalist which means it is easy to learn, intuitive to use, and with only exactly what you need for most drawings.
  • It’s easy to find. Rather than trying to remember where you created your drawing, Drawings are all saved to your Google Drive. 
  • Edits are easy. Just open the project from Drive and edit.
  • The project can be shared as a link or embedded into many different locations with an embed code found under File>Publish to the web
  • A project can be downloaded as a .jpg, a .png, a vector graphic, or a PDF

Here are eight projects perfect for writers:

Brainstorming, mindmap to plan your story

Create the bubbles and arrows popular to mindmaps with Google Drawings rather than a dedicated mindmap tool like Bubbl.us. Since Drawings allows for collaborating and sharing, it’s easy to brainstorm a story if you’re co-authoring and come up with a collaborative solution everyone likes.

Here’s an example I created:

google-draw-mindmap-brainstorm-k

Comic strip another way to share your story

Create a comic strip trailer for your novel quickly and visually. Here’s an example:

Infographic about your story

Introduce your story with an infographic created in Drawings. Here’s a good video on how to create the shapes required for infographics. Once that’s done, add text boxes to describe your story.

Timeline (events in your plot)

I love timelines but most of the online tools are less than satisfactory (I won’t mention names). Google Drawings has become one of my favorites because of its minimalistic approach–add text boxes to identify events in the story and then add pictures. The example below uses a thick line, text boxes for events, and one picture to sum up the story:

Clickable map of your story

Create a map of the locations in your story. Add a picture that links to a rundown of what happens there in your story. Use this to inspire interest in potential readers.

Here’s an example of a story, based in the USA (though you won’t be able to click the red stars because I’ve uploaded a screenshot only):

plot map in google draw

***

In a literary world where getting noticed is critical, Google Drawings could be exactly the right tool.

More on Apps for Writers:

Digital Storytelling Tools

How to Screenshot

How to Use Canva in Your Writing


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and Born in a Treacherous Timefirst in the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for TeachHUB and NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Survival of the Fittest, Spring 2019, first in the Crossroads Trilogy. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning

Photos For Class–for writers and teacher-authors

photos for classA question I get a lot from readers is where to go for free, teacher-safe images. Photo sites are either too sparse or poorly vetted. And–while we’re on the subject of online images–it needs to be easier to add citations because otherwise, students will just skip that step.

Photos for Class(but not just for classes), brought to you by the folks at Storyboard That (a premier digital storytelling site that quickly and easily enables users to mix avatars, backgrounds, and talk bubbles to tell a story–like your latest book in comic form) does all of these. It uses proprietary filters to search millions of Creative Commons-licensed photos from the Library of Congress, the British Royal Archives, and Flikr’s safe-search setting to curate a classroom-safe collection of topical photos in seconds.  There is no log-in, no registration, no fee or premium plan, and a zero learning curve. All you need to know is how to use a search bar and a download button.

Here’s how it works: Go to the Photos for Class website (no registration or log-in required), search your topic:

free online photos

…and then download the selected photo. Each downloaded photo includes an attribution and license detail.

online photos

There is no charge, no delay, and lots of choices.

In addition to photos, the site offers suggestions on citing and filtering photos, and a list of the top 250 searches.

Pros

Photos for Class is intuitive, easy-to-navigate, with child-safe content for even the youngest searchers. It makes it easy to develop good habits for properly citing online content.

If users find an objectionable image, they can report it to the site with the assurance that–if inappropriate–it will be removed from the site.

Cons

Besides downloading, photos can be saved with a right-click. This is a con only because they don’t include attribution. You have to add that yourself if needed–like with Flikr photos.

Insider Tips

Storyboard That’s premium service includes the ability to add photos from Photos for Class to Storyboard That projects. This is a great way to share your upcoming novel with authentic pictures in a way that people like to read. It’s a pleasant change from video trailers..

Writing applications

This is a great source of high-quality photos for your book marketing, your blog, or any other place you need pictures for your writing. It’s not as large as Pixabay but focuses on G-rated and kid-friendly. The thumbnails are big and bright. The search bar is prominent, and the results are fast.

More about online images:

Quick Search for Plagiarized Images

5 Image Apps

What Online Images are Free?


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and Born in a Treacherous Timefirst in the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for TeachHUB and NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Survival of the Fittest, Spring 2019. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning

Top Tech for Writers

In case you missed this in April, here’s an article I wrote for Ronel (at Ronel the Mythmaker) for her T entry in the A to Z Challenge. I love talking tech but generally bore friends and family with it so was beyond excited when Ronel invited me to discuss it as much as I wanted.

These are five of my favorite tech tools for writers:

self edit1. A good editing program

Whether you’re self-published or agented, you want your manuscript as clean as possible. You can edit it yourself, use beta readers, or pray, but one more option to include in your toolkit is a good online editing program. Often, these ask you to copy-paste your text into a dialogue box on their website and they take it from there. Sometimes, you upload your entire manuscript. What they do varies from simply checking your grammar and spelling to analyzing pacing, word choice, and more. I like Grammarly for basics and AutoCrit for more detail.

See my Grammarly review here.

 

2. A digital deviceipad tips

I know lots of people who write the first draft of their novels with paper-and-pencil but almost always, the next version is completed on some sort of digital device. That might be a Mac, PC, iPad, Chromebook, laptop, or in some cases a dedicated word processor like the Retro Freewrite or Alphasmart. Pick one or more that work for you, doesn’t matter which as long as it’s digital and allows you to type and edit your manuscript.

See my reviews here for Chromebooks, iPads

 

3. Google Forms

Google Forms are an easy digital way to collect information from readers, sort it, and throw it into a spreadsheet. They’re professional-looking, intuitive, quick to create, and can be personalized to your needs. I use them to collect data for blog hops, curate my newsletter list, ask for feedback, sign up interested readers for an upcoming book, and more. There’s just no reason to struggle through this sort of design by yourself anymore.

See my Google Forms review and another form program I like, JotForms.

 

4. Canva

It’s hard enough writing a novel and bringing it to publication, without then being forced to also market it. That includes banners, logos, fliers, headers, announcements–yikes! Years ago, I knew I had to reform when my kindest beta reader wrote, “Is the flier supposed to look like that? No–really, I like it!” Right. I found Canva.com. Canva provides all the tools writers need to create headers, banners, Facebook placards, Twitter tweets, informal book covers, and the myriad of marketing materials that are part and parcel of publishing a book. It provides templates, size options, samples, even a design school–all for free. And it didn’t take long to get used. Now, I create what I need usually in less than five minutes. You heard that right. Try it out.

See my Canva review.

 

5. Book Trailer Program

Book trailers are quite popular because movies are a nice way to get readers excited about your book. If you’re creating your own, you want a program that is easy to use with a shallow learning curve, looks professional, and is as free as possible. I’ve seen a lot of options for this task, everything from Animoto to Tellagami to even a storyboard program like Storyboard That!

 

More tech for writers:

Best-in-Class Digital Storytelling Tools

8 Digital Tools for Writing

5 Must-have tools for Writers Conferences


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and Born in a Treacherous Timefirst in the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today and TeachHUBmonthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. Look for her upcoming trilogy, Crossroads, eta Spring 2019.

What Authors Should Know About MS Sway?

Lately, among teacher-authors (these are teachers who also write), one of the most talked-about webtools is Microsoft Sway. Though fairly new, Sway may unseat PowerPoint as the presentation-tool-of-choice because Sway projects are visually appealing while minimizing the amount of time spent formatting.

What is Sway

Sway is free from Microsoft and part of Office 365 Education. It is an easier, more versatile alternative to the popular PowerPoint slideshow program. Using the Sway canvas, writers select a theme and then add notes and media. Sway organizes the content, suggests images and even data, and then helps the writer to quickly arrange everything into a comprehensive and fully-fleshed project. If the selected theme doesn’t work, simply click “remix” and get a different look. More advanced users can edit the pieces to fit particular colors and interests. When everything’s perfect, it can be shared, embedded, and/or published.

Sway accepts almost any file format including videos, PDFs, text, audio, images, native camera pictures, charts, audio clips, audio recordings, and links. A completed project can be embedded into any Office app (such as Excel, PowerPoint, or Word) and automatically updates with the original. Sway works in Windows, on iPads, iPhones, and desktops.

How to get started

  • Install the Sway app to your iPhone, iPad, Surface Pro, or use it on the web.
  • Create an account so you can collect all of your Sways in one place.
  • Click the “Create new” button or alternatively, create a Sway from a topic or an uploaded document.
  • Click to add new “cards” (these are content areas; you might think of them like slides in a PowerPoint deck). These are stacked to the right of the screen and easily moved by dragging-and-dropping. Each of these contains space for all content related to the theme of that card.
  • As you add content, Sway suggests web material that may be relevant and might be good additions to your document.
  • When your Sway is finished, add it to any site that accepts embed codes, send it out as a link, or share it to a variety of social media outlets.

Prosms sway for writers

It’s free — so much power for no money. That’s amazing.

It’s easy to use and has lots of automated options that take the stress out of being creative.

Sways are automatically saved, by default to the MS Office account you used for the sign-up.

Multiple people can collaborate on a Sway. All you have to do is send the Sway link to collaborators.

Sway will create a project from a theme. You type in the theme and Sway suggests text, pictures and more that fit that topic.

Cons

Sway requires a Microsoft account (but not Office 365). This isn’t bad, just one more place that requires a log-in.

While Sways can be shared on various social media or via an embed code that can be played in situ, other options aren’t as easy.

8 Writerly Uses for Sway

Here are some of the ways my teacher-author colleagues and I use Sway:

  1. Easily create quick book trailers that pop to share with your writing community.
  2. Create a linear website for your book with content that’s revealed with a flick of the finger.
  3. Create a website with your resume and/or writer’s portfolio.
  4. Research and collect notes in OneNote, then send that information to Sway to be mashed up as a presentation
  5. Write and format marketing materials. Input the text and then let Sway suggest images and other resources.
  6. Prepare any presentation, much as you might a PowerPoint.
  7. Create a themed newsletter quickly to share with your (GDPR-approved) mailing list.
  8. Create digital stories with a mix of text, images, and other multimedia pieces.
  9. Create a portfolio of artwork, poems, or writing that can be shared to showcase your work.
  10. Collaborate with your writing team on your WIP or marketing materials.

Overall, Sway does a great job of minimizing formatting in favor of writing — a real plus in today’s busy world.

More on writer’s tools


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, a weekly contributor to TeachHUB, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

I’d Love Help Launching Born in a Treacherous Time

I just launched my latest novel, the prehistoric fiction, Born in a Treacherous Time:

Lucy and her band of early humans struggle to survive in a world where nature rules, predators stalk them, and the next species of man threatens to destroy Lucy and everything she understands.

If you like Man vs. Wild, or have ever wondered how earliest man survived but couldn’t get through the academic discussions, this book is for you. 

If you read To Hunt a Sub and loved the cameos of Lucy, the ancient female, Born in a Treacherous Time reveals her life, why she appeared to Kali as sad, and how she set off on what would be man’s African exodus. Also: Learn how to knap tools, steal carcasses from Scimitar-tooth cats, and avoid the many dangers that preyed on early man.

If you are interested in featuring my book on your blog, I’d love to share your site on my writer’s website, WordDreams. I have a series I call ‘Traveling’ where I visit your website article about my book and promote that on my blog. To participate, add a comment to this post with a way I can contact you and I’ll reach out.

Here are some details:

Summary

Born in the harsh world of East Africa 1.8 million years ago, where hunger, death, and predation are a normal part of daily life, Lucy and her band of early humans struggle to survive. It is a time in history when they are relentlessly annihilated by predators, nature, their own people, and the next iteration of man. To make it worse, Lucy’s band hates her. She is their leader’s new mate and they don’t understand her odd actions, don’t like her strange looks, and don’t trust her past. To survive, she cobbles together an unusual alliance with an orphaned child, a beleaguered protodog who’s lost his pack, and a man who was supposed to be dead.

Born in a Treacherous Time is prehistoric fiction written in the spirit of Jean Auel. Lucy is tenacious and inventive no matter the danger, unrelenting in her stubbornness to provide a future for her child, with a foresight you wouldn’t think existed in earliest man. You’ll close this book understanding why man not only survived our wild beginnings but thrived, ultimately to become who we are today.

This is a spin-off of To Hunt a Sub’s Lucy (the ancient female who mentored Kali Delamagente, the female protagonist).

Kirkus Review:

“Murray’s lean prose is steeped in the characters’ brutal worldview, which lends a delightful otherness to the narration …The book’s plot is similar in key ways to other works in the genre, particularly Jean M. Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear. However, Murray weaves a taut, compelling narrative, building her story on timeless human concerns of survival, acceptance, and fear of the unknown. Even if readers have a general sense of where the plot is going, they’ll still find the specific twists and revelations to be highly entertaining throughout.

A well-executed tale of early man.”

–Kirkus Reviews

Click here for the entire review

An reader review

Born in a Treacherous Time sheds light on a period of time that gave birth to the human race, and allow us to bear witness to the harshness and tenacious spirit that is uniquely human—to survive and endure. Readers with a thirst for knowledge and who enjoy historical fiction, this is a must read. I am looking forward to reading book 2 when it is published.

 “I devoured the book in 2 sittings.”

–Luciana Cavallaro, author of Servant of the Gods series and webmaster of Eternal Atlantis

Continue reading

Best-in-Class Digital Storytelling Tools

digital storytellingA digital story is a series of images connected with text and/or a narrated soundtrack — captured by a digital device such as an iPad or smartphone — that tell a story. It can be fiction, non-fiction, narrative, biographic, expository, or even poetry. Think of Ken Burns’ The Civil War, or Colin Low’s City of Gold. Because of its multimedia approach and appealing blend of text, color, movement, sound, and images, it has fast become one of the most popular formats for visual writers.

According to Center for Digital Storytelling, there are seven elements critical to a good digital story:

  1. Point of View — What is the perspective of the author?
  2. Dramatic Question — A key question that keeps the viewer’s attention and will be answered by the end of the story.
  3. Emotional Content — Serious issues that come alive in a personal and powerful way and connects the audience to the story.
  4. Voice — personalize the story with the author’s unique writing style to help the audience understand the context.
  5. Soundtrack — Music or other sounds that support and embellish the story.
  6. Economy — Using just enough content to tell the story without overloading the viewer.
  7. Pacing — The rhythm of the story and how slowly or quickly it progresses.

These elements are conveyed by the vast swath of multimedia tools available in digital storytelling.

Writing a digital story includes five basic steps:

  1. Research the topic so you are clear on presentation.
  2. Write a script, a storyboard, or a timeline of activities.
  3. Collect the required multimedia parts — text, images, audio, video, oral selfies, and more.
  4. Combine everything into an exciting story.
  5. Share and reflect on the completed story.

These five steps are stepping stones for beginners and critical to experienced storytellers.

There are so many online options for digital storytelling, rarely is there a writer who can’t find a web tool that fits their communication style. Here are some of the most popular. Try them all and then pick the one that works best for you:

adobe voiceAdobe Spark Video

Free; iOS

Adobe Spark Video is an easy-to-use digital storytelling app for iPads. It integrates text, images, royalty-free clipart, background music, and your own artwork into a story you tell and then render as a movie to be shared easily through the cloud. As the name implies, the storytelling revolves around your voice. While it lacks many of the bells and whistles of more sophisticated digital storytelling tools, it includes everything necessary to relay exciting, creative stories.

puppet palsPuppet Pals

Freemium; mobile app

With Puppet Pals, you add a voice-over to a selected cast of characters (only one available with the free version) and animate them to tell a story. The paid version provides additional characters and more storytelling options, but the free version allows for a great deal of flexibility in the writing process as well as an authentic expression of ideas.

storybird kindergarten digital storytellingStorybird

Freemium; web and mobile app

Storybird is a gorgeous collection of high-quality artwork that has inspired over 5 million to write. You pick an artistic theme for a story, then add text to as many pages as you’d like. Once finished, the story is saved as a booklet that can be shared via a link, printed, or embedded in blogs or websites.

storykit1Storykit

Free; iOS

Storykit makes it easy to tell stories with photos, text, personal drawings, and audio. Each page is created individually using images from the camera roll, the optional addition of audio, and then curated into a link that can be shared with others or uploaded to the Storykit server and made available to all users.

tellagamiTellagami

Freemium; iOS

With Tellagami, you create a thirty-second story using an animated avatar (called a gami) that moves and talks in response to a recording of your own words (added via voice or keyboard).  After customizing the gami’s appearance and emotions, it is placed in a background selected from the camera roll, taken with the device camera, or hand-drawn directly onto the screen. Finally, the audio overlay is added.  When completed, it can be saved to the camera roll or shared via email or a variety of social media options. This app is well-suited for book trailers or anyone who wants to promote their book but doesn’t like a visual recording of themselves. The cartoon character makes it easier to communicate required information without what is–for some–the embarrassment of seeing themselves on video.

voicethreadVoiceThread

Fee; web or iOS

VoiceThread is an interactive, cloud-based slideshow approach to digital storytelling that can share images, documents, videos, voice, and more. It’s intuitive to use, as simple as adding the media you desire with the click of a button and a drag-drop from your digital device. Once published, viewer comments are appended via typing, audio, or video. As others comment, they can draw on the screen and/or add other documents (images, files, and more) to better explain what’s being said. When completed, it’s saved as a video and can be shared in a wide variety of methods.

This is one of the most powerful digital storytelling tools, allowing users to share a wide variety of media in support of their story, narrative, documentary, or argument.

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However you start the use of digital storytelling, just start! It will change the way you think of writing.

More about Digital Storytelling

Storyboard That–Digital Storyteller, Graphic Organizer, and more

8 More Digital Storytelling Websites

19 More Digital Storytelling Apps


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the upcoming Born in a Treacherous Time. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

9 Breakout Tips from Donald Maass

I have a huge bookshelf of self-help books for writing. If I get stuck, I roll my chair around to face my floor-to-ceiling shelves and explore tips from Donald Maass, Bob Mayer, Strunk and White, or James Frey on my problem-du-jour. These books are a wealth of information and take a long time to digest. I thought I’d take a few of my favorites and distill their highlights.

Literary agent Donald Maass is also the author of more than sixteen novels. I must admit, I’ve read none of those but have devoured his thoughts on how to write. I’ve reviewed both Writing the Breakout Novel (Writers Digest Books 2001) and The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for the Career Fiction Writer. These next nine tips are a distillation of both:

  •  When novelists whose previous work merely has been admired suddenly have books vault onto the best-seller lists or even achieve a large jump in sales, publishing people say they have ‘broken out’.
  • I first came to my conviction that the techniques of breakout storytelling can be learned around the moment that I first met one of my best clients…
  • Writing the breakout novel is… the habit of avoiding the obvious or of covering familiar ground, and instead reinforcing the conviction that one’s views, experience, observation of character and passion for chosen story premises can be magnified and pushed so one’s novels achieve new levels of impact and new degrees of originality
  • To survive in today’s book publishing industry, it is not good enough just to get published (as true today as ten years ago when Maass first wrote those words)
  • Most authors commit to story premises instinctively. Their gut tells them this is the one. There is nothing wrong with that, except the gut can sometimes be mistaken. It cannot hurt to subject your breakout premise to a little scrutiny.
  • The key ingredients I look for in a fully formed breakout premise are 1) plausibility, 2) inherent conflict, 3) originality, and 4) gut emotional appeal.
  • If there is one single principle that is central to making any story more powerful, it is simply this: Raise the stakes
  • Relegate setting to the backseat or make it the chassis on which everything else rides, but do not ignore it.
  • …if you do not have a moment of unexpected tragedy or grace in your novel, …consider where you might put it in

What’s your favorite how-to-write tip? Share it in comments.

–published first on Today’s Author


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the upcoming Born in a Treacherous Time. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.