Artichokes on Hold

So, remember the last post I wrote (you know, two days ago 😉 ), when I said that everything would be awesome? Well, it seems like it might be a little longer before awesomeness strikes.

Lee Ann Roripaugh
Random fact: Roripaugh’s username on her blog is “heartichoke,” which could partly explain why she is currently holding an artichoke. Partly.

I was planning to bedazzle you all with an awesome discussion about two poems by an author named Lee Ann Roripaugh. Of course, to do this I would need the poetry books that I (in)conveniently left at my parents’ house three hours away. That’s what I get for being an English major with only one bookcase in my apartment.

Anyway, sorry for (maybe?) getting everyone’s hopes up about that awesome discussion, but if anyone’s interested, check out a poetry anthology called Contemporary American Poetry: Behind the Scenes. In particular, take a look at “Octopus in the Freezer” and “The Woman Who Loves Insects.” (I know, the titles are a little strange, but Roripaugh is quirky and awesome. Trust me.)

Now that I’ve spent a sufficient amount of time rambling about Roripaugh, I think I’ll leave you all with a writing exercise from the creative writing class that I took in undergrad.

I’m sure we’re all pretty familiar with the popular saying “show, don’t tell.” (If you’re not familiar with it, count yourself lucky. There are only so many times I can hear that phrase before I want to strangle the person who says it.)

Writing Fiction
Buy it. Read it. Trust me.

Fiction is made more realistic through “[s]pecific, definite, concrete, particular details” (Burroway and Stuckey-French 22). Such details often add to the overall credibility of a piece and allow readers to suspend their disbelief. When readers can glimpse the world of the characters, they experience the action along with them. Stories don’t happen in a vacuum, so description helps you paint a picture for your readers.

That phrase “show, don’t tell” is definitely valuable, but it may be a little misleading. When we think of the word “show,” we automatically connect it with the sense of sight—which causes our descriptions to be mostly sight-based.

But what about hearing, tasting, smelling, touching? There’s a whole range of senses to choose from to help deepen your work and give it that added layer of believability.

Let’s take a look at an exercise based on one of those other senses:

Touch. We sometimes neglect to use tactile descriptions in our writing, but we do touch—all the time. Shopping for clothes, shaking hands, playing with pets, shuffling cards, scrubbing pots, shooting baskets. Think of what it means to touch an odd, rare, or even holy object. Consider temperature (tepid, frigid), moisture content (arid, greasy, sticky, crisp), texture (crinkled, gritty, silky), and weight (ponderous, buoyant). All of these sensations provide us with great descriptive words. Use some of them and find others.

Describe the way an action or event feels—putting on a piece of clothing, engaging in exercise, eating a tough or squishy item of food, dancing, moving across a crowded room, carrying groceries in from the car, kissing, waking up, washing the car, whatever. What impression does your description give? Does it prompt a scene? Can you make some characters talk while they’re doing one of these activities? (Burroway and Stuckey-French 71)

Feel free to share your work in the comments section! 🙂


A Brief Works Cited

  • Burroway, Janet, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, and Ned Stuckey-French. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. 8th ed. Boston: Longman-Pearson, 2011. Print.
  • Roripaugh, Lee Ann. “Octopus in the Freezer.” 2001. Contemporary American Poetry: Behind the Scenes. Comp. Ryan Van Cleave. New York: Longman, 2003. 234-36. Print.
  • – – – . “The Woman Who Loves Insects.” 1999. Contemporary American Poetry: Behind the Scenes. Comp. Ryan Van Cleave. New York: Longman, 2003. 232-34. Print.

Everything (Will Be) Awesome!

Hello, everyone! So, good news: I’ve got an awesome two-part post planned that’s about this awesome poet that should be pretty awesome. Bad news: end-of-term papers have sneaked up on me and I haven’t been able to finish the first post.

Everything is Awesome
Apparently I belong in the LEGO movie, because everything is awesome.

So, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I have decided to bestow upon you even more of my poetry! Like the poem from my last post, this one is also a little personal. It’s loosely based on my memories of my great-aunt.

Enjoy~


 

Namesake

I don’t remember if it was sunny or gray
the day my great aunt’s coffin was sealed away.

“Beth was so kind,
Beth was so sincere,
Beth always drew others near.”

Each repetition, a nail straight to the heart—
It was my name they were calling out.

I met relatives I hardly knew:
“Hello, Elizabeth,” they’d say.
“It’s Beth, actually,” I’d like to relay,
but I didn’t have the energy that day.

A coarse gray pillow sitting in our back seat
used to smell like her:

An old, lonely widow, waiting for death—
an eternal, spoiling aunt celebrating young life’s breadth.

Her smiling face is something I can’t quite recall,
just a cloud of gray
and brown-spotted hands
pressing little treasures into my palms.

Starbucks and Pizzelles

Hello, everyone! School (and work) is unfortunately in full swing right now, so I’m afraid today’s post will be a little on the short side.

Basically, this is me right now.
Basically, this is me right now.

So, I thought I’d leave you all with another work that I wrote for my graduate-level poetry class. This one is a little personal, loosely based on a question my mother once asked me about if I had any memories of my late grandmother.

Anyway, here it is!


“You Remember my Mother?”

I remember Grandmother’s slow smile, her wavy yellow hair—

The way her eyes crinkled at the corners, like yours.

But mostly I remember you—your face at the funeral.

The way it lit up when fifteen-year friends

Showed their respects—an isolated ring of happiness.

Your stricken expression when you discover

The wickedness of two others:

A sister, brushing back hair from the necklace she stole,

A belle-sƓur, leaning in, sweet-talking the widower.

I think I’ve learned the lessons passed from your mother to you:

The value of hard work,

The warmth of fresh-baked pizzelles,

Drifting smells drawing lost souls in.

Just Say “No”

Procrastinating Panda is Procrastinating.
Procrastinating Panda is procrastinating.

The Procrastinating Panda pretty much sums up the fact that I’m currently avoiding the paper I’m supposed to be working on for a graduate class. Before I succumb to the panda’s call and take a nap, though, I think I’ll leave you with a writing exercise that I’m totally stealing from my creative writing class in undergrad.

Our class had been reading up on using dialogue to build character when we came to a section in our book called “no” dialogue. According to the authors of Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, “Tension and drama are heightened when characters are constantly (in one form or another) saying no to each other” (Burroway & Stuckey-French 82).

So, with this idea in mind, here’s the prompt: take 10-15 minutes to write a scene where two characters do nothing but say “no” to each other. This criteria can be met in more than one way—for example, you could have one character ask a question that the other never actually answers.

Have at it, and feel free to share your work in the comments section! 🙂

Surprise Me!

Not Today
I would tell you to read the BuzzFeed post where I found this, but it is full of spoilers and written by people who advocate NOT reading George R.R. Martin’s books.

I really hate spoilers.

As my roommate can attest to, if I get so much of a whiff of something that’s going to happen in one of my television shows, there’s a pretty good chance my entire week will be ruined. This happened with Once Upon A Time back when the show was in its prime: (Spoiler Alert) I was forced into watching an episode that referenced Rumpelstiltskin as Henry’s grandfather, and I seriously considered abstaining from the show altogether.

Although the spoiler I just mentioned was a significant one, my enjoyment level significantly goes down if I know even the smallest detail of a story. Even if I’d normally be moved to tears by a particularly poignant scene, if I know it’s coming I just shrug and say, “Okay, what’s next?”

I think the main reason that I hate spoilers is because I want to be surprised.

Despite this need to have stories surprise me, though, I often wonder how much the stories I write actually surprise my readers. The key to crafting works that surprise your readers, according to several books about fiction writing, is that you first surprise yourself—a statement that I’ve always found difficult to put into practice.

Buy it. Read it. Trust me.
Buy it. Read it. Trust me.

I’m not a crazy person (okay, that’s debatable). I haven’t quite gotten the hang of breathing life into the characters of my stories in such a way that allows them to run rampant in my mind. They don’t live inside my head, and they stubbornly refuse to tell me what happens next in their stories. So, how exactly am I supposed to “surprise” myself if I’m the only one writing the story?

The only answer I’ve been able to find lies in the creation of lifelike, fully developed characters who have distinct wants and desires. According to the authors of Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, one of the keys to writing good fiction is to have protagonists who “want, and want intensely” (Burroway and Stuckey-French 251). If your characters aren’t striving for something, there’s nothing propelling them to action—and characters are the source of action, of plot.

Once you’ve managed to create characters who act (and react) realistically based on their wants and desires, the plot in a sense makes itself.

Swamped

You can’t even watch a good torture when you’re this swamped.
You can’t even watch a good torture when you’re this swamped.

If you’ll remember from my last post, this semester I made the wonderful decision to take two graduate-level English courses on top of my usual 9-5 job. This is apparently a very bad idea for someone who likes sleep, needs to write creatively in order to keep sane, and also happens to be an extroverted leech who gets her energy by draining the life-force of all of her introverted friends.

So, I thought I’d provide y’all with a list of how I feed my starving creative soul when, a) I’m dead tired and can’t bring up the mental brainpower to work on any of my serious creative writing projects, and, b) I’ll go mad if I don’t interact with people who aren’t my coworkers or some wandering freshmen looking for directions.


  1. Do Something Else Creative

    Okay, so depending on what you define as “creative,” this one won’t necessarily involve interacting with other people. For instance, I’ve recently discovered that for some reason, rearranging songs on my playlists satisfies that creative itch.

    This may be because I’m weird. When my roommate makes a playlist, she’ll take a bunch of songs she likes—let’s take animated musicals, for example—and simply group them according to content: The Lion King’s “Be Prepared” goes next to Anastasia’s “In the Dark of the Night,” on her mix.

    Caution: Do not fall asleep while creating these playlists. Most likely you will wake up in a random room with no memory of how you got there.
    Caution: Do not fall asleep while creating these playlists. Most likely you will wake up in a random room with no memory of how you got there.

    I, on the other hand, largely order my playlist according to ear (does one song flow nicely into the next?) and according to whether or not the list of songs I’ve gathered from a bunch of different sources can be pieced together into an entirely new story.

    Of course, you could also go to the local West Coast Swing night in order to get your creative juices flowing. That way you’ll also interact with other people.

  2. Go to a Writer’s Group

    Going to a writer’s group easily fulfills my extroverted requirements, while also helping me expel that suppressed creative energy. I get to be social and interact with a bunch of people (okay, maybe like 10) who like crafting stories just about as much as I do, and as an added bonus, I’m also able to get some much-needed feedback on my work.

    Win-win, in my opinion.

    Writer’s groups are awesome in general, really. If you’re serious about writing, it’s important that you find a community of writers that can give you feedback and help keep you accountable. A new set of eyes can see things that you’ve missed, or present a new avenue to explore in your work. They can also help you shake off that pesky writer’s block, too.

  3. Play Dungeons & Dragons

    My former roommate posted this on her Facebook, and I very much wanted to say “I understood that reference!”
    My former roommate posted this on her Facebook, and I very much wanted to shout out loud “I understood that reference!”

    I’ll be honest, for the longest time, I associated Dungeons & Dragons with the uber-nerds and the cultists. Let me just say this now, though: it’s freaking awesome. So far, our campaign has only spanned three sessions (of which I was only able to attend two), but from what I can tell, it’s going to be just as fun and rewarding as going to a writer’s group.

    I guess it depends on how much the members of your campaign actually get into the story aspect of the game, but D&D feels a lot like an Elder Scrolls video game to me, except you’re actually interacting with real-life people instead of NPCs (albeit real people role-playing fake characters). Sure, you roll dice to determine the outcome of just about every chance-based action, but you also interact with the unique creations of the other members of your campaign.

    I get that social aspect that I’m craving at the end of a long work day, and I get to play out a story. Don’t believe me yet? Try it out! It can make for some of the most entertaining couple of hours of your day.


So, now that I’ve rambled on about my weird playlist habits and my venture over to the “dark side” of D&D, what do you all do to keep sane when you’re swamped with work?

The Story of Scars

Scars
The Internet tells me that the idea that “all scars tell a story” is actually fairly popular, but I’d never heard of it before today.

This week I have come to the realization that one should not attempt to take two graduate-level English classes while also working a full-time job. Although I might feel accomplished when I actually manage to turn my coursework in on time, this doesn’t change the fact that at the end of the day, my brain is completely fried.

So, in lieu of the post I was planning to write tonight, I shall present you all with a writing prompt. During a work meeting this morning, the speaker said a line that really struck me: “Our scars tell a story.”

With this phrase in mind, write a short scene words about a character with a scar (or scars). What kind of story do the scars tell?

Feel free to post your work in the comments section! 🙂

The Lessons We Learn (And Then Promptly Forget)

I've always thought this was a F. Scott Fitzgerald quote, but the Internet cites at least to other people who "coined" the phrase. Interesting...
Quote courtesy of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. (Illustration courtesy of Chris Piascik).

This past week, I’ve had to come to terms with a lesson I thought I’d already learned years ago: sometimes the best thing you can do for a piece of work you’re writing is to cut it to pieces.

I’ve probably mentioned this fact in some of my other posts, but I’m currently in the process of writing a thesis for my English M.A., and up until last week, it was going
not so well. The thesis proposal I’d sent out to my committee over the summer term was returned with a startling amount of red marks and puzzled comments—enough to make me seriously question whether I should even be attempting to write a thesis.

This book has a lot of helpful tips on creative writing. If you haven't checked it out (or any of Eddings' creative works), you really should. Like right now.
This book has a lot of helpful tips on creative writing. If you haven’t checked it out, you really should. Like right now.

But my committee members apparently were not ready to give up on it. They sent me encouraging emails, met with me in person, and helped narrow and fine-tune my argument. Through their support, I was able to realize (again) that just because something needs work doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t worth the effort.

Somehow, I had forgotten a similar lesson that I’d learned during my creative writing class in undergrad.

I’d been working on this one story for years (still working on it, actually) and had almost given up on ever finishing, but on a whim I decided to completely rewrite the first chapter of the novel in first person. The results were amazing. I was able to gain a depth of insight into the main character that had been sorely missing in my first draft.

As fantasy writer David Eddings argues in the introduction of The Rivan Codex, sometimes it’s better to scratch everything you’ve written than to continue with a story that doesn’t quite work:

If something doesn’t work, dump it—even if it means that you have to rip up several hundred pages and a half-year’s work. More stories are ruined by the writer’s stubborn attachment to his own overwrought prose than by almost anything else. Let your stuff cool off for a month and then read it critically. Forget that you wrote it, and read it as if you didn’t really like the guy who put it down in the first place. Then take a meat-axe to it. Let it cool down some more, and then read it again. If it still doesn’t work, get rid of it. Revision is the soul of good writing. It’s the story that counts, not your fondness for your own gushy prose. Accept your losses and move on.

Moral of this post (no matter how many times I may be forced to learn it): the need for major revision is not an indication of failure, it’s “the soul of good writing.”

Worldbuilding with a Twist

The art of rock 'n' roll.
The art of rock ‘n’ roll. (Photo credit: me.)

So, now that I’ve (finally) downloaded some of the pictures I took during my visit to Seattle at the beginning of the month, I thought I’d write a post about one particularly awesome part of my trip.

Apparently, there’s this place in Seattle called the “EMP Museum.”

Initially named the “Experience Music Project,”  the museum is more often known by its acronym “EMP” because it’s no longer specifically dedicated to rock music—although they do have a cool guitar sculpture in the building. Instead of just focusing on music, the museum has exhibits dedicated to the fantasy and science fiction genres (among other themes).

The week I was in Seattle, the museum also happened to feature a costume exhibit.

On Star Wars.

And yes, it was epic.

During the exhibit, the EMP Museum showcased the actual costumes from the original Star Wars set, as well as the set for the more recent trilogy. However, viewers didn’t just get to geek over the costumes of their favorite characters—including a terrifyingly huge replica of Chewbacca—they also got a glimpse behind the screen, into the mind of George Lucas and the various costume designers of the series.

Chewie? (Photo credit: me.)
Chewie? (Photo credit: me.)

I’ve always been fascinated by the costumes in the Star Wars films—even when everything else about Episodes 1, 2, and 3 left me sincerely wishing that I was still watching the original trilogy. How did they manage to get a costume to look so creative, and yet so fitting to that universe?

Apparently, by taking some aspect of real-life culture and history, and adding their own twist.

One costume in particular caught my eye in the exhibit: one of those over-the-top gowns worn by Queen Amidala and her decoy. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who was thinking “What in the world is she wearing?” when we first caught a glimpse of PadmĂ© sitting on her throne in the beginning of Episode 1.

But the designers were thinking when they made the queen’s costume—and they were actually thinking pretty creatively. PadmĂ©’s dress may look a little ridiculous in the 21st century, but it probably wouldn’t have looked out of place at Mongolian court, or in 18th-century Japan.

The Three (Million)Faces of Padmé
Three Faces of Padmé (Photo credit: me.)
Photo credit: me.
Mongolian Princess (Photo credit: me.)
Photo credit: me.
18th-Century Geisha (Photo credit: me.)

The designers started with the concept of traditional Mongolian dress, and carefully added in a dash of 18th-century geisha to the mix. The result is something that looks very much original, but still has an aura of believability—at least, to the casual history buff.


So, now that I’ve rambled on about Star Wars for the majority of my post, what exactly does this have to do with writing?

Personally, I’ve always had trouble with worldbuilding. (Dialogue, I can do, but when it comes to setting and background, I’m more or less at a loss.) However, I think the designers’ approach to costumes in Star Wars can definitely be applied to worldbuilding. When you’re trying to create a nation in a fantasy world of yours, get inspiration from the real world. It’ll ground your work and add a little bit of believability. But don’t stop there—add your own little twist, make it your own. The results may just surprise you.

Hinting at Fiction

Hello, everyone! I’m back from Seattle and slowly recovering from my week-long trip (although I’m not entirely sure why I need to “recover” when I was on vacation. I swear, I was exhausted when I got back yesterday afternoon…)

Anyway, for this post I thought I’d share a little bit of hint fiction with you guys. (Selayna wrote a post about this particular form of short short stories a while back, which you guys should definitely check out.) I was introduced to the genre back in my undergrad, when my Creative Writing professor had us write three pieces of hint fiction for a class period. Instead of just having us write flash fiction—which, as Wikipedia will tell you, can actually vary in length from around 100 to even up to 1,000 words—my professor was evil and decided to limit our stories to 25 words or less.

Below is one of my better attempts:


Flowers in Warfare

At first, all I saw was a brilliant field of poppies.

Now my vision is clouded only by a sea of red.

I've always found poppies to be be visually stunning.
I’ve always found poppies to be be visually stunning.

It was definitely challenging for me then, and it would probably be just as hard for me to write a 25-word story now. I’ve always been more of a novel-length writer, so much so that the final project that I turned in for my Creative Writing class was definitely not a 15-page short story (like it was supposed to be), but the first 15 pages of a new novel. Oh well…

So, what do you guys think? Do you feel up to trying your hand at hint fiction? (Selayna’s example of hint fiction is a whole lot better at giving the sense of a bigger story, so you might want to check out her post if you haven’t done so already. 😉 )

Feel free to share your work in the comments section!

Oh, and on a side note: today (July 8th) is also my birthday. I expect virtual cake from everyone, although I suppose I will settle for comments… 😀