Monthly Archives: May 2016

Trouble In Paradise

This school assignment required us to watch a short video and then describe the story.

Trouble in Paradise

The sun smiles down on a lonesome palm in the middle of the South Pacific. It’s rays playfully lick each leaf and dapple the small, sandy island in sunlight. Really, it’s nothing short of paradise, and that’s the way Chester, the crab, likes it. Now, you can see him kicking up the sand in a vain effort to expand his shaded home beneath the tree. Meanwhile, a coconut thumps to the ground behind him. Oblivious, Chester pokes his scarlet head out of the ground, grumbling. He hasn’t been having the best of days, but he hopes a stroll across the sunbaked beach will improve his mood.

However, it is not meant to be. Pivoting around on pointed feet, Chester notices an unwelcome visitor to his private oasis. He’s not quite sure what it is, but whatever it may be, it can’t be good. “This won’t do!” he exclaims in his throaty voice. The trespasser is a brown, round, and strangely hairy. Suspicious, Chester scuttles behind a sand dune and regards it from a distance. His mind races, devising a plan to get rid of this intruder.

Eventually, Chester decides that he needs to take this matter into his own claws. He carefully approaches the foreign object and extends his claw. Tap, tap. “Hmm,” he observes, “it sounds hollow.” He taps again, and this time the intruder rolls over, exposing three holes. Chester jumps in alarm. “It has to go!”

Dune after dune, Chester heaves the long, heavy object to shore. It’s a long and arduous process to be sure, but Chester keeps at it, determined to have the island all to himself. At long last, the intruder is lost to the waves. Satisfied with his handiwork, Chester looks on as the object floats into the horizon. Ready to start his long-due walk, Chester scampers to the heart of the island. There, an unwelcome sight awaits him.

There’s a new intruder, and this one doesn’t look like it’s going to move anytime soon.

Once Upon a Time: A Guide to Creative Writing

While I was in school, I did an ILP, or Independent Learning Project. We had to write a guided report and create a visual presentation on a topic we were interested in. I chose creative writing.

This is my essay:

 

The Question

Words march across the page like shiny black ants, their numbers growing by the second. As you type more and more letters, the colony swells until it fills 3…4…5 pages!  You continue to hack away at the keys like a mad pianist. The black symbols swarm in front of you, threatening to engulf you in nouns, adjectives, and verbs. But the story just has to get done! If you see yourself among these sentences, you are a writer, without the shadow of a doubt. Writing has always had a special place in my life. Even when I was still toddling about on stubby legs, I was being read the classics – Goodnight Moon and The Purple Crayon are just some. I even memorized a few and began to tell them to others. This love of storytelling has grown with me. Currently, I am in the process of writing and (hopefully) publishing an ebook with my twin sister. I also have a blog called DNA Wordshop, where I share my love of words (and my creative stories) with the world. In my book, any story is one worth reading.

Much of my love of stories comes from a podcast called Storynory. From an early age, I was listening to the adventures of Bertie the Frog Prince, Katie the Good Witch, and many more original characters. I listened more and more, until I was spending practically every minute of every day engaged in one story or another.

Through this, I unconsciously learned the elements of a good story. If I wanted to have any hope of creating a masterpiece of words, I realized, there were several things I needed. First: characters. Any good story (or any story, for a matter of fact) needs characters. My characters could be anything from an ant to an elephant, so long as they had personality traits. These are also very broad. No one ever said characters had to be likable. In fact, the villain of the story is called the antagonist, while the protagonist is the main character. Second: problems and solutions. I was quick to realize that each and every story I had listened to had an issue, which got resolved by the end of story. I knew that a story couldn’t be called a story without a problem and solution.  Third: dialogue. Every Storynory tale I’ve ever listened to included dialogue, and for a good reason. Dialogue moves a creative story along and gives the reader insight into what a character is like.  Lastly: voice. This is probably the most important lesson of all.  Natasha (the woman who read the stories) had a different voice for each story. She sometimes used serious tones of voice if the story was a solemn one, or talked energetically during more upbeat stories.  How does she know what to do? I wondered. The answer? Voice, ironically.  The voice of a story is how the main character views the world. Depending on the kind of story being written, the voice will be different. Over time, I have developed a voice of my own.

Writing is very important to me, so I know quite a bit about it. However, there is always room to grow. I’ve learned about writing strictly through personal experience and school assignments. In my pre-searching, though, I have found multiple websites that provide useful hints to hone my writing skills. You bet that these tips will be making appearance in some of my stories. I’m eager to start sharpening my pencil and refining my creative work. Through this ILP, I hope to become the best writer I can possibly be. My goal is to implement all of the things I learn during research in my everyday writing. In essence, I want to grasp these things: What are some things you can do to become a better creative writer? How do creative writers develop a good plot? What are some common creative writing mistakes? I’m interested to see whether I already practice any tips I’ll learn. I also can’t wait to know how to develop a plot, because this is not my strong suit. Mostly, though, I hope I’m not making any mistakes in my writing! Even if I am, though, the whole point of the ILP is to learn.

What I Learned

 So, what are some tips I can use to become a better writer? For the most part, all you have to do is write. I know it seems obvious, but so many people just don’t write! They assume that they can snap their fingers and they will become a writer, just like that. Not so. Creating a story takes effort. You can’t just slap together some words and call it art. It is important to write something every day, and establish a schedule that works for you. Maybe you can write for 30 minutes every day before you go to bed, or just after you read. It makes a difference! As Matt Blackstone, author of Sorry You’re Lost put it: “Write a lot, but it helps if you can train yourself to write at around the same time every day.” And, if you truly want to be a writer, stop procrastinating. Put away your phone and sit down at the computer to write. You’ll be surprised at what you can create with a little discipline.

I know you won’t want to, but revising is also an important part of writing. If you don’t revise, you may as well not write at all. Taking advice is always hard, whether it be from yourself or someone else. But if your creative side is nagging you to fix something, do it. “Be brave,” said Matt Blackstone. “Ignore the voice inside of you that says you can’t.” Blackstone also pointed out that in order to really bring your piece to life, you need to have fun with it. Write about what you care about, not anyone else. Keeping writing personal can propel you to the next level. While revising, also try to look for grammar and spelling mistakes that you make a lot. Scan through the piece and replace any weak words (especially verbs) with some fresh vocabulary. It can make all the difference!

My next tip? Read, read, read! You might be doing it already, but if you’re not, it’s time to get started. Reading is the key to success when it comes to writing. Reading can help you expand your vocabulary. You should read anything and everything! Reading a variety of books shows you what works the best for your own story. It exposes you to different writing styles and shows you what else is out there, according to Matt Blackstone. Mostly, it helps you build up a love of words. You can’t say you’re a writer unless you’re a reader first! In the words of Kate DiCamillo (author of Because of Winn Dixie and Tales of Despereaux) “Read, read, read, read, read.”

Through my research, I’ve realized that I am practicing many, but not all, of these suggestions. While I was researching, I found myself clicking link after link at the bottoms of pages. The more articles I read, the more I realized how much I could do to make my writing better. I found that there was one website in particular that had a lot of good information, Writing Forward. I read and reread her posts, learning more each time. I also emailed multiple authors, two of which responded. One of the responses was rather rushed, but the other gave long, detailed answers. As it turns out, typing a question into the search bar isn’t all that goes into research. I have also made it my goal to write more consistently than I currently do. Perhaps I will write for 20 minutes after I read each night, since my creative juices will already be flowing. I will also make a point to write about what I really care about. Sometimes I’ll find myself writing pages and pages of fluff — which is to say, empty words. The interview with Matt Blackstone really hit home for me on this topic, and I know now that fluff is not okay. As far as reading goes, I would also like to expand my horizons. I am stuck in the “Fiction Trap”, and refuse to read anything else. It’s about time I end all that. I have read one or two autobiographies, and have found them to be quite good.  I’ll try to start reading more of those. I hope to begin implementing these strategies into my daily life, and that my writing will be the better for it.

Now for my second question: How does a creative writer develop a good plot? When it comes to the plot of your story, a story arcs is a must. There are three main points that need to be addressed if you hope to keep your readers turning pages. First of all, there is the exposition. You might also know it as the introduction, but exposition is the proper term. This is the lowest point on your story mountain. In it, the setting, characters, and conflict are introduced, says Glen C. Strathy on his website, How to Write a Book Now. You’ll want to make your main character likable, so readers will root for them through the entire story. However, not only should your protagonist be likable, they should be lifelike. Get to know your character. Matt Blackstone recommends answering these questions: What does he/she like? How does he/she speak? What is he/she scared of? If you know your main character, you will also know how they will react to whatever predicament you put them in. This character must have a goal as well. This is what Strathy has to say: “The Story Goal is, generally speaking, what your protagonist wants to achieve or the problem he/she wants to resolve.” You should establish the things your character needs to accomplish before they reach this goal. To keep readers hooked, tell them the consequences if your main character doesn’t accomplish their goal.  

Although it seems a little backward, you need to decide on your conclusion before you go any further. Knowing where you want to go with the piece helps you on your journey to creating an engaging composition. According to Strathy, there are four different types of stories: comedy, tragedy, comi-tragedy, and tragi-comedy. (The last two are unofficial names.) This translates into four different types of resolutions. Comedies, despite popular belief, are not always humorous. A comedy, put simply, is a story with a happily ever after ending. The main character accomplishes his or her goal, and is satisfied with the results. As you may have guessed, a tragedy is the opposite of a comedy. A tragedy is basically a happy ending gone wrong. The protagonist (tragically) never sees his dreams come to life. A comi-tragedy is the ending when your character achieves their goal, but it is not all they hoped for. A tragi-comedy is the exact opposite. The main character fails to reach his or her goal, but realizes that things were better this way. Having one of these endings in mind makes your writing more organized and purposeful.

Before the resolution, there is the climax, which is the turning point in the story. This is the highest point on your story arc. This is how Strathy explains it: In the climax, the main character makes a decision about himself or his goal that changes the rest of the story. It’s the point of the story where there is the most tension. Your climax changes depending on what kind of resolution you’d like. If your aim is to write a comedy or a comi-tragedy, your character should either stick with a good trait, let go of a bad one, or take on a good one. If you want a tragedy or a tragi-comedy, then your protagonist should do the opposite. If you put all of this together, you’ll have yourself a solid plot outline.

Multiple times while researching this topic, I found myself thinking: Wow. I don’t do this. As bad as that sounds, I believe that’s a good thing. It means there is room to improve. Because of my extensive research, I now know how. I discovered a website, How to Write a Book Now, that gave step-by- step instructions on how to develop a plot. It sure was helpful! I also had good advice from experts. A detailed yet comprehensive response from Matt Blackstone allowed me to learn how the masters create plots of their own. From this point forward, I plan on making sure my setting, characters, and conflict are introduced in my exposition. I will also be more thorough when it comes to creating my characters, and answer the key questions Matt Blackstone recommends. In my stories, I’ll keep my ending in mind, so my writing is actual writing, not just aimless wandering. I hope to put these plans into action as soon as I possibly can. Hopefully, using these tips will help me make great strides on my road to writing a book with an intriguing plot.

We have finally come to my last question: What are some common writing mistakes? Many people think that writing a tale is as easy as pie. Surely, it’s impossible to mess up creative writing, right? Wrong. I hate to burst your bubble, but like with anything, mistakes in writing are inevitable. However, you can learn to tame your fears. It all starts with thinking positive. Sure, you’ll make some slip-ups in the process of writing, but you can’t let it get to you. View your blunders as opportunities in disguise, at least for the first draft. If you use too many adjectives, so what? You can do it better the next time. If you lose your document, what’s the big deal? You brush yourself off and get back on your seat. Now you know to save your work. Writing a draft is fun, so keep it that way. Matt Blackstone recommends naming revision files “recreation”, “playtime”, or other positive names. “Mistakes? No such thing.” he wrote. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Having said that, there are still a few common writing mistakes  opportunities to watch out for, especially during revisions. You can afford to become a little bit more picky the second time around. I can’t tell you how much I dislike a lifeless beginning. Readers don’t want to trudge through a stale exposition. No matter how much better the story gets, there’ll always be those readers who put down a book within the first humdrum chapter, or who will abandon a short story after one tedious paragraph. I’d have to say that a lot of the time, a creative story has a beginning that just falls flat. Melissa Donovan explains why on her website, Writing Forward. It’s because as we write, we get to know our characters and get into the swing of things. The best thing to do is write a shaky introduction to start, and revise it later, when you know what you want.

On a different note, you should also try to avoid verbiage. By definition, verbiage is an “overabundance or superfluity of words, as in writing or speech; wordiness” says Donovan. Using too many words is a problem many writers face, including myself. Sometimes, writers feel the need to use paragraph upon paragraph where a single sentence would do. On Writing Forward it lists some reasons why: perhaps you are trying to fulfill the requirements for a school paper, or maybe you just want to sound smart. Whatever the reason, verbiage is not something you should make a habit of.

As I did my research, I couldn’t help but think that I have made every single one of these mistakes. However, I am determined to put a stop to it. An email response from an experts yielded the best results yet. From it, I learned that failure is a part of writing, and that I should take it in stride and learn from it. After reading another really good article from Writing Forward, I was on my way to understanding mistakes real writers make. Putting myself down will become a thing of the past, and I’ll make sure my beginnings are always full of action. I’ll also try to limit redundant words, since those make up most of my pieces. Although it will be difficult, I know doing these things will develop my writing skills. Now that I know which problems to address, improving my stories will be a breeze.

How I Have Grown as a Researcher

I have to say, this project has really shaped me as a researcher. With each and every question I researched, I learned more and more. Now I know to read and re-read articles. The first time through, you are bound to miss some important details. As I learned, reading an article again insures I’m able to milk the source for all it’s worth. I also realized that note-taking is just as important to research as finding the sites to begin with. Taking notes deepens my understanding and helps me get my thoughts out on paper. Throughout the writing of this essay, I spent more time referring to my note sheets than I did actually writing! The last thing I realized was that it is good to have several go-to websites. When I find one, I should make sure to read any posts it has that regard my questions. It helps to click on any website links that may come up while reading; you might find an additional key source.

I felt that all of these areas were great successes, since learning is the best reward of all. However, I think I also did well in finding sources. I found several solid websites that provided practical information. These sites had many, many, posts that succeeded in answering all my questions and more. All of these things point to the fact that I was successful at the most important thing of all: choosing a topic. At first I had my doubts that there would be websites devoted to writing. As you have seen, though, that should have been the least of my worries. In the long run, choosing creative writing as a topic was a good move.watch full movie

Despite these successes, I had my share of failures as well. Next time I need to research a topic, there are a few things I’ll make sure to do. For instance, I will try to email more experts. Although I contacted five authors, only two responded. Out of those two, one expert gave little to no advice. I know now that extensive research on experts is a must. I should try to contact those people who will most likely respond, and email as many people as possible. Although five is a fair amount, I could have done better. The more people I reach out to, the more people will respond! I also failed to check my sources for reliability. In terms of the craft of creative writing, information can only be so inaccurate. However, in other cases, checking for reliability is extremely important. Outdated data can be your downfall if you are researching science or history. Luckily, I checked my sources when I realized I had not done so. However, that was after I had written an entire essay based on my sources. Image what a disaster it would be if you found your whole paper was based off of false information! Ultimately, the process of writing this paper was one I will never forget.

 

Works Cited

Blackstone, Matt. Interview: 2 May 2016

DiCamillo, Kate. “Writing Tips.” Kate DiCamillo. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2016. <http://www.katedicamillo.com>.

Donovan, Melissa. “8 Common Creative Writing Mistakes.” Writing Forward. N.p., 25 Mar. 2013. Web. 21 Apr. 2016. <http://www.writingforward.com/creative-writing/writing-mistakes>.

– – -. “The 22 Best Writing Tips Ever.” Writing Forward. N.p., 8 May 2014. Web. 21 Apr. 2016. <http://www.writingforward.com/writing-tips/the-22-best-writing-tips-ever>.

Gutman, Dan.  Interview: 5 May 2016

Strathy, Glen C. “How to Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps.” How to Write a Book Now. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2016. <http://www.how-to-write-a-book-now.com/plot-outline.html>.

– – -. “Plot Development: Climax, Resolution, and Your Main Character.” How to Write a Book Now. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2016. <http://www.how-to-write-a-book-now.com/plot-development.html>.