Explainers Explained

What is an explainer? This is the first question my group and I had to tackle as began working on our project at the beginning of the semester. The answer: An explainer provides a succinct, lively overview of a concept, issue, situation, event, principle, process, rule, procedure, or the like. It’s typically aimed at a broad audience. It can take the form of a written explanation or audio and visual media. As we began work, we looked at a variety of explainers to get a general understanding of how explainers were typically presented and decide how we wanted to present our own explainers.

One of the challenges we faced when creating our explainers was completely understanding the material in order to condense it into a concise explainer. This ended up working out in our advantage as we learned more about Thoreau and his life and his writing of Walden. Our final explainer focused on the Gettysburg Address and the five copies that Lincoln wrote. The explainer includes a brief story about each of the copies while also numbering them in the order Lincoln presumably wrote them in.

Another challenge we faced when creating explainers was the programs used to create them. Moviemaker was an integral tool in making the video explainer. I used both PowerPoint and Inkscape to make two different explainers. Inkscape is essentially a free version of Adobe Illustrator. It’s much easier to use this program than it is to use PowerPoint because it allows for free manipulation of text and graphics. Inkscape is built for designing graphics like explainers whereas PowerPoint is built for designing presentations.

The other half of our project was creating an explainer contest. Before the contest was opened, we created a rubric to judge the entries with and we created an email address to accept submissions. We also reconfigured the website to explain the contest and what an explainer is, wrote an announcement and sent it out. Unfortunately, the contest was unsuccessful, as we received two entries that were not what we were looking for. Despite the lack of success of the contest, the groundwork has been laid for the contest to run next year, hopefully with more success.


Group Members: Julie Eckert, Brodie Guinan, Kimberly Owen, and Jonathan Pepperman.

The Fault in Our Copyright Laws

The conversation in class last week about freedom and copyright reminded me of a video that John Green made a year ago about the importance of copyright. For those not familiar with him, John Green is a Young Adult author who also makes YouTube videos with his brother, Hank. In the video, John discusses a poster design that he found on tumblr based on his novel, The Fault In Our Stars.

To summarize: the poster was created by one person, combining a painting created by someone else with a quote from the book. As confusing as that sounds, this is a relatively common situation on the internet. People are constantly collaborating with one another to create all kinds of artwork. Copyright would only inhibit this creative process. Copyright is meant to protect the creator, but what happens when it stifles creativity rather than fostering it?

Copyright is an incredibly important means of protects creative license, but sometimes it can go too far. For instance, an author would have a copyright on their book meaning no one else can use that material without their permission. But this means that fans of the book would not be able to create anything based on the book, as the creative content is under copyright. But these creators are only trying to express their love and enjoyment of the novel; shouldn’t they be able to create artwork inspired by the original work?

The issue of money further complicates copyright. Take the situation with the book from before. Imagine that someone created artwork using a quote or some other integral aspect of the book and then sold that artwork. We can probably guess that author wouldn’t be too happy about someone else making money off of their creativity, especially if the artist claimed it as their own.

I probably haven’t explained this well, but I think copyright law boils down to one simple thing: ownership. What can we legally claim ownership over? Ideas? Writings? Artwork?

Authors on Twitter

We recently talked in class about how the internet can be a democratizing force rather than an alienating one. To me, social media affords us this opportunity to consider one another as equals. Twitter is an especially great example as you can follow your friends as well as your favorite celebrities with both then appearing on the same feed. Twitter is also home to many authors, to name a few: Maureen Johnson, John Green, Lois Lowry, and Meg Cabot. Twitter humanizes these authors in a way that we have not seen before. For example, Maureen Johnson (@maureenjohnson), a YA novelist, juxtaposes tweets about her dog with tweets about the how the media tends to forget about women writers.

Maureen Johnson

Recently, both John Green (@realjohngreen) and Lois Lowry (@LoisLowryWriter) have been tweeting about their books being adapted into movies. They have both been incredibly enthusiastic about the adaptations, while addressing readers’ questions and concerns regarding the adaptations.

John Green

Lois Lowry

Meg Cabot (@megcabot) displays a balance between tweeting about their writing and other literature with personal tweets.

Meg Cabot

What sets these authors apart from others is that they have actual conversations with their audience. They take the time to answer questions and truly listen to their readers. Twitter gives us an opportunity to be immersed in the writing process. As authors tweet, they invite us along as they write, edit, and then publish their works. In today’s digital age this opportunity to actually interact with writers and authors comes as a welcome change. Literature is a conversation between the author and reader, a conversation which is then continued through interactions on Twitter.

Once Upon a Story

I have recently been watching a YouTube adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. This series modernizes the novel and tells the story through a series of 5 minute YouTube videos. The series focuses on, Emma Woodhouse, a modern day matchmaker. Emma is driven and exudes self-confidence. She truly is the modern day example of the heroine that Jane Austen wrote of almost two centuries ago.

The series is entitled Emma Approved and is the second adaptation of a Jane Austen novel from the same team. The first adaptation was the Lizzie Bennet Diaries and was a surprising success. The videos, which featured Lizzie Bennet talking to a camera in her bedroom, told the story of Pride and Prejudice in an entirely new way. Lizzie, like Emma, is a heroine that Austen would be proud of.


I couldn’t help but think about while watching these videos that they are resurrecting story telling in a way that is well received in the digital age. Short YouTube videos uploaded twice a week allow for Jane Austen’s stories to reach a wider audience than she ever imagined. The videos are successful because they tell stories that are universally recognized and loved. The stories focus on character development while driving the plot forward in a way that allows the audience to become invested in the lives of these fictional characters. I believe that these videos are paving the way for a storytelling revolution. This revolution would see more and more adaptations of classic novels in a way that are increasingly accessible. The audience that the videos reach has not necessarily read the novel that is being adapted but might be interested in reading it after watching the videos. In this way, these videos encourage and promote reading as well as storytelling. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved have set the tone for a form of storytelling that will only continue to grow.