Teacher Consultant

Pen Campbell

St. Joseph High School
St. Joseph, Michigan

Third Coast Writing Project

Writing the Voiceover Script

Pre–Writing

I implement a variety of pre-writing to get students engaged in this initial part of the writing process:

  • Conversation-Brainstorming: With the collaborative projects like the bullying books or the group anti-bullying/cheating PSAs, conversation about what shape they want their work to take is very productive. Students brainstormed ideas and collected possibilities, narrowing them until they settled on an idea. In the cross level groups (seniors and eighth-graders), the seniors were primarily to facilitate, not control, group decisions.
  • Quickwrites to specific prompts – sometimes using poems as models: For the eighth-grade graduation digital stories, students each wrote to three specific prompts, two of which were poems they used as models. It was a small parochial school, and most students had been together since kindergarten. The prompts included the following:
    • I used to... But now...
    • The poem "Where I'm From" by George Ella Lyon
    • The poem "The Icelandic Language" by Bill Holm
      These poems are especially effective in bringing out concrete images rather than generalities. I stress William Carlos Williams's idea of "No ideas but in things," so we look especially for details. Using the poems as models also allows for talk of acknowledging the original source, which I'll confess in the early days of working with students I did not consider as I should have and only had them credit or cite in their written work that accompanied the digital story. I've since corrected that, and all student work now has credits that cite sources (though not in MLA format, but more simply).  
  • Webbing/clustering: Clusters I've found particularly useful are "Myself as learner" and "Important people in my life." "Myself as learner" is particularly good because the act of learning inherently contains that spark of conflict or tension and the moment of epiphany that lends itself so perfectly to digital storytelling.
  • Spots in Time: Students sketch early neighborhoods or houses and identify particular spots where something "story worthy" happened. Then they talk with a neighbor, telling them about the map they've created. Then they write.
  • Repeton: One last useful prompt for personal narrative is to choose a moment or incident with some tension, list details using "I remember" as a repeton or repeating line, then details using "I don't remember." Then follow that with an extended quickwrite about the moment or incident using details from both lists (I had the idea first from professor and writer J.D. Dolan, though don't know if it's "his," per se).

Drafting

We often use a 3 x 5 index card and, for the drafting process, I tell students they can use both sides if necessary to emphasize that scripts need to be short and tight – no fat, no general statement, followed by specifics, followed by a wrap-up of what was just said. As drafts progress and we begin to connect images to words, the script changes, especially because of the layered nature of the composition. You don't have to say everything in words. Each separate layer – voiceover, image, effects, transitions, soundtrack – each of these, and all of these, contributes to the meaning. The script is the beginning, and it should be as tight and rich and polished as it can be; but even then, it will usually change as the process goes on. And sometimes, of course, images may lead the process, or lead parts of it. Maybe I'll have a strong picture and just feel the need to shape a line so it will fit, which is of course fine if it does indeed fit. But in some ways, all these levels and elements become the stuff of the draft, just as words on the page form the written draft, but with a difference a little like the difference between weaving a single colored cloth and one with colors and textures and patterns that all form a picture.

Revising

In revision I stress clarity especially, since we're writing not just for the page, but for the ear, and what the audience hears will be accompanied by images and other sounds as well. The meaning has to be immediate and powerful because the audience can't go back and reread the line. In conferencing, I often read lines aloud and offer alternatives, reading or saying each in turn: Which is clearer? Which sounds better? I encourage students to read their work aloud, to revise lines that they stumble over. I also encourage them to revise as the layers are added, taking out lines that may not be needed because now that idea is expressed in an image or in text over a picture. Just as we look for surprise in our writing, we try to go beyond the purely illustrative: the voiceover says "daffodil," we see a daffodil. One requirement of the seniors' digital stories, whether they are personal narratives or nonfiction to accompany their multi-genre research project, is that they include at least one visual metaphor. This is really excellent practice in figurative language and effective comparisons. As students watch examples from past years and notice things to discuss, it is often the less than successful attempts at visual metaphor that they pick out. A couple of practical tricks that I use for revision are to have students create a quick and dirty storyboard by just triple spacing their script and using that copy for notes on images. I also encourage them to line-break their scripts like poetry, breaking blocks of text up to make it easier to read.

Editing

I think in some respects the editing process for digital storytelling blends much more with revision than with a written piece. In a written piece you're examining surface errors, primarily, though still on the lookout for usage, clarity, and all the rest. In that respect, editing the script for a digital story seems more like more revision than the somewhat separate process of written editing. Timing, for instance, would come into the process – manipulating the images and transitions so the right image appears at exactly the right time, adjusting the sound levels so the voice is effective over the background music. It's more than just the words on the page as it is in the written piece, so sometimes in editing the whole, the script itself may need to change. It's just not: Okay – I'm finally done with my script; it's set in stone; now I'll move on to the rest of the digital story. The whole process is fluid and recursive, just as writing is, but magnified, multiplied. That's why I particularly love it. It's like writing on steroids. (Hmmmmm…clarification: The writing process on steroids, not the writer.)

Proofreading

I do require students to turn in scripts and do view them as finished pieces of written work, so in that sense, I use standard editing/proofreading strategies: highlighting (if necessary) coordinating conjunctions, standing on the coordinating conjunction, looking left and looking right to check for independent clauses to detect compound sentences/comma problems; checking sentence beginnings for intro commas; reading from the end backwards, one sentence at a time; checking Bear words (our list of usage problems) – the usual.