Panel 8: Writing for Young Audiences

Gavin Inglis
Christine Chong
Rebecca Rouse
06 Jul 2021
10:15 - 11:30

Panel 8: Writing for Young Audiences

Christine Chong, Gavin Inglis and Rebecca Rouse

In Creating a remote, site-specific story in a time of COVID-19, Christine Chong discusses Stories on Site; a digital narrative storytelling series, targeted at children aged 8-12 that is a product of COVID-19. A site-specific, choose-your-own-path story, it uses Google Street View and ambient sound, and is delivered to a mobile phone via a browser. It was funded by the National Arts Council of Singapore as part of “Arts in Your Neighborhood”, an outreach programme that aims to encourage casual arts audiences to explore a residential district through different artforms. As it was not clear at the time of commissioning what the social distancing requirements would be (or if the country would return to lockdown), the project had to be consumed remotely. What appealed to the team at the time, and probably to millions of people suffering from cabin fever, was getting out of the house, going on walks, and exploring the real world. How could they create a story that could replicate the sense of freedom? Inspired by an earlier project by Editions at Play, Stories on Site was created. This paper discusses these points:

  • Results of COVID-19, social distancing and lockdown on arts programming, literary production, and reading in Singapore.
  • When does a story become a game? Impact of blending elements such as tech, ambient sound, game mechanics and visual novel user interfaces.
  • What happens when fiction is layered over “the real world” (or its representation in Google Street View)?
  •  What are some other ways digital literature can use other APIs to enhance storytelling?

There are currently two stories in the series. The first, Kallang River Quest by Akshita Nanda, is set during the “circuit breaker” period and is framed as a puzzle hunt. The second, On Trek to Otter Greatness by Dave Chua, is about wildlife in Pasir Ris and is presented like a visual novel, with more game mechanics.

In The Reader Remix, Gavin Inglis presents the Alternarratives winning entry. Alternarratives was a 2020 Nesta programme, calling on storytellers to imagine how short-form fiction could be told in new ways. Its intention was to re-engage young people at secondary school, aged 11-16, with the act of reading for pleasure. Nine projects were commissioned for initial development. The winning project, The Reader Remix, invites its audience to construct a dynamic soundtrack to a short story, using a web interface inspired by club DJ tools. The Alternarratives entry comprised a new piece of short fiction, two spoken word performances, eighteen original music clips and the program code necessary to create a working prototype. This presentation will explore the inspiration and development process for The Reader Remix. Its roots lie in the Scottish spoken word scene, and music software such as Ableton Live. Although the process was well supported, time for development was limited, and COVID-19 forced an early rethink of the project’s scope. The presentation will touch on the technical framework of the project and plans for future development.

In (Re)Discovery and Making the Self through Movable Book Design and Intertextual Storytelling, Rebecca Rouse explores the development of a book project. While mapping has associations with Colonialist conquest, a global approach to spatially engaged storytelling can take on different dimensions. Working with a group of twenty 3 to 5 year olds in a Montessori classroom, this presentation shares the process and outcomes of co-creating a movable book with a range of paper engineering structures. In reflection, we can see the meta-narrative is one of re-discovery, and builds on the childrens’ propensity at this developmental stage to “take special pleasure in finding things back in the places where they have been put” (Montessori 1936, p. 57).

The finished book, titled Around the World with Swimmy Apple, tells the story of the classroom’s fish as he travels the globe. Swimmy’s adventure interweaves the children’s knowledge of world geography, botany, zoology, and artistic skills in drawing, watercoloring, and paper art as he visits each of the seven continents, as well as an inter-textual romp through a selection of the children’s favorite picture books. The book includes more than one kind of mapping, bridging the global and local, mapping the children themselves into these various environments with Swimmy as their proxy. Maps include continental maps from around the world, along with a precise mapping of the children’s own classroom environment, represented as a fold-out dollhouse version of the classroom in the final pages. Returning home, Swimmy enters the three-dimensional space of the classroom, and a sound chip is activated with a recording of the children’s own voices, singing to welcome him. The flexibility of the paper medium combines both simplicity and sophistication that meets the children where they are, with their already creative readership practices, to invite a range of expressive possibilities for them as artist-author-readers mapping themselves in conversation with the complexity of the codex.