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Transcript of Creative Writing
- Maya Angelou,
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
“Here is a lesson in creative writing.
First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college.
And I realize some of you may be having trouble deciding whether I am kidding or not. So from now on I will tell you when I'm kidding.
For instance, join the National Guard or the Marines and teach democracy. I'm kidding.
We are about to be attacked by Al Qaeda. Wave flags if you have them. That always seems to scare them away. I'm kidding.
If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don't have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”
Approaching a Work
There can be overlap between approaches.
This class is a catalyst for this union.
The Careful Balancing Act Between the Writer and the Audience
The importance of Rhetorical cognition
Day 1: Why do We Write?/Poetry
Day 2: Poetry Slam/Approaching a Work/Satire
Day 3: the Careful Balance Between the Writer and the Audience/ Short Story Workshop
Day 4: Short Story Symposium/Using Symbolism to Enhance a Story/Developing a Play
Day 5: Finding Time to Write/Developing a Novel-Length Narrative Framework
Day 6: How to Become Published/Tips for Enduring Rejection/Novel Workshop
In this class, we will create, write, and share our work with one another; class-time will be allocated for writing, but sometimes the writing will spill over into our individual lives.
Through the creation of our art, we will leave this place familiar where strangeness greeted us on this first of days.
Some of us write to ensnare an emotion...
“Sometimes I don't understand how another can love her, is allowed to love her, since I love her so completely myself, so intensely, so fully, grasp nothing, know nothing, have nothing but her!”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,
The Sorrows of Young Werther
Or to make a point...
“Strengthen the female mind by enlarging it, and there will be an end to blind obedience.”
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Some of us write to connect with our heritage...
“Among the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.”
Things Fall Apart
to capture a moment in time...
even the stars
are whispering to each other.”
or a combination of the two.
“It was so easy to disappear, so easy to deny knowledge, so very easy in the smoke and din to mask that something dark had taken root. This was Chicago, on the eve of the greatest fair in history.”
The Devil in the White City
Some us write to spread our beliefs...
"Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught."
The Gospel According to Luke, NIV
to make known an idea...
When Zarathustra was alone, however, he said to his heart: "Could it be possible! This old saint in the forest hath not yet heard of it, that God is dead!"
Thus Spoke Zarathustra
to raise awareness...
“All day long this man would toil thus, his whole being centered upon the purpose of making twenty-three instead of twenty-two and a half cents an hour; and then his product would be reckoned up by the census taker, and jubilant captains of industry would boast of it in their banquet halls, telling how our workers are nearly twice as efficient as those of any other country. If we are the greatest nation the sun ever shone upon, it would seem to be mainly because we have been able to goad our wage-earners to this pitch of frenzy.”
to make known the stories erupting inside of us.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?”
Some of us write to entertain...
"Six years to the day we met, Harry, d’yeh remember it?"
"Vaguely," said Harry, grinning up at him. "Didn’t you smash down the front door, give Dudley a pig’s tail, and tell me I was a wizard?"
"I forge’ the details," Hagrid chortled.”
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows
and some of us write as an art...
“The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring."
So tell me...
Why is it that You Write?
This question will remain in the back of our heads as we continue throughout the semester.
A Man without a Country
Poem Challenge Number Three:
Write a 4 to 10 Line Poem Using this Picture as Inspiration
For this class we will be using a combination of Google Docs and Google Drive to store all of our writing and to give ourselves easy access to our work.
Poetry Writing Challenge
Instead of turning this class into a refresher course of the types of poetry, we will be engaging in a series of speed writings designed to flex our creative muscles by putting ourselves within various constraints for writing; there may be an example and some review regarding a structure, but our focus lies with creating art.
-Why am I writing?
-Who am I writing for?
-What is the purpose of my writing?
Writing for Art vs. Writing for Procedure
-Structured with a more definitive format
-Is transparent in its purpose, but may have underlying layers composing it
-Easier to understand and is often easier to produce
-Easier to sell/publish
-Highly personal with a fluid format
-Can be opaque or littered with layers that add multiple meanings and various interpretations
-Harder to understand, but often is more meaningful to those who make the attempt to understand it
Today we are going to practice a synthesis of these two approaches within the realm of satire.
Your Purpose For Writing:
Because it allows for a greater breadth of creativity but at the same time contains a basic framework that must be met in order for it to be a success.
"The holy passion of friendship is of so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring a nature that it will last through a whole lifetime, if not asked to lend money."
Puddin' Head Wilson
While that is great and all...
what exactly is Satire?
3 Questions to Ask yourself
A satire is a farce, parody, or otherwise some other means to make apparent and critique the fallacies of others.
So you have an idea, but just aren't quite sure how to start...
Approach Number 1: Research
Let's say that you wanted to write a Gothic novel set in 18th century England. You have a setting, you have your characters, you have your plot, but when you sit down at your computer, you can't seem to find the words you are looking for.
One possible explanation for this writer's block is that even though you have a good idea about what is going on within your novel, you do not have a strong enough understanding of what the social atmosphere and political climate was like within the period of time being depicted.
Research, therefore can be used to fill in any gaps in your understanding of a subject area and allow you to portray the subject with a greater sense of realism.
Approach Number 2: Outline
Let's say this time, you're writing a murder mystery story entitled,
The Spider's Web.
You have a few chapters written, but in the process of creating so many twists and turns within the story, you find yourself confused and unsure how to continue writing.
Outline Strategy Number I: The Story
Mrs. Lavoisier hosts the dinner party
Malcolm Gladwell makes a ruckus and is kicked out
Lucia Finklestien whispers in an aside to Colonel Reinholt that Gladwell and Mrs. Lavoisier are having an affair
The lights go off
When the lights return, Mrs. Lavoisier is missing.
The outline is used to briefly summarize the events of the story in order to visualize the transition from the initial introduction to the final resolution, or intended resolution, allowing the author to see where gaps need to be filled in.
Outline Strategy Number 2: Character Bios
This style of outline is meant to help the author keep track of what traits and background is unique to each character in order for their portrayal to be genuine and noncontradictory.
Mrs. Lavoisier- a socialite whose first name is unknown to all but her husband, having been relegated to the background by his egomania and kept subjugated by abuse. The novel begins with her throwing a dinner party to welcome her husband back home after his company, Lavoisier & Sons, secured a contract producing a new kind of plastic for the U.S. military.
Malcolm Gladwell- a professor of political science at Langdon Institute, he is known for his liberal ideologies of the rejection of the public defense industry. Mrs. Lavoisier attended one of his lectures decrying her husband's company out of curiosity, and ended up asking him out for drinks following the lecture. His attendance at the dinner party is the subject of much curiosity, and despite his promises to behave civilly at the table, feeling provoked by Mr. Lavoisier's presence, he makes a scene leading him to be escorted out.
Outline Strategy Number 3: Character Relationships
This outline serves not to summarize key events from the plot nor to provide character biographies, but instead illustrates how the characters are connected, be it by family or other relationships..
Approach Number 3: Free Write/Brainstorming
Let's say you have some ideas and some characters you want to incorporate into a piece of writing, but don't have any idea how to go about the plot.
By free writing/brainstorming, you can come up with the plot with minimal effort.
Free Writing vs. Brainstorming
The act of writing continuously without pausing to consider grammar, spelling, punctuality, or continuity.
The rapid generation of ideas, often in bullet point form, used to propose an array of options, most of which will not be used.
Approach Number 5: Role Play
Sometimes when we write, especially when it comes to longer fiction, it can be difficult to determine how one character can get from one situation to another and it be believable.
This is one of the advantages of writing in first person because it makes it easier to slip into the mindset of the narrator.
You may even find key events changing entirely because by taking upon the guise of the character, you may find that the course of action you wanted to take would not be the logical one at all.
How will you tell your story?
There are costs and benefits to each manner of narration (1st, 2nd, and 3rd) that you should consider before writing a work in order to maximize the effect that your writing will have upon its readers.
the Narrator is a Character
The person telling the story is a character within the novel, and as such, the narrative is subjective to the character's perspective.
This perceptional bias can allow the author to tackle certain issues with a stronger emotional resonance by projecting the experiences unto the reader.
When done correctly, 1st person narratives can leave a profound impact upon the readers as if they were directly experiencing the relayed story- done incorrectly, it is easily dismissed as sentimental, melodramatic, mediocre, etc.
With 1st Person Narratives it is easy for the reader to confound the attitudes and beliefs of the narrator as if they are the author's own.
Second Person: The Reader is a Character
You look up at the projector, wondering what the next slide will be, only to discover that it is written not in a third person method of relaying information, as you have been accustomed to but instead a 2nd person mode of narration, a manner with which you are not certain you have an opinion on.
While there is a potential chance of alienating your audience with a 1st person narration, the 2nd person has an even higher potential of having this effect as it requires you, the writer, to dictate how the reader fits within your fictional world; this method of narration is harder to pull off, but done well, and you will have an artistic masterpiece on your hands... or a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book.
Third Person: the Narrator is the Author
This style of narration appears more objective on a surface level, making it easier for the reader to make judgements about the characters based upon the characters' actions alone, instead of being based upon a single character's preconceived biases.
Because of the distance involved in this style of narration, it sometimes can be hard for a reader to engage themselves in the storyline.
Limited vs. Omniscient
The narrator knows all.
The narrator knows some.
Easy to surprise the reader with unexpected twists
Makes the reader play a detective role to figure out what is going on
Easy to use foreshadowing to build dramatic effect
Usually easier for the reader to make sense of what is going on
Introduction to Rhetoric
The success of a satire lies in its ability to get the audience to think about the subject matter without being so offensive that the audience tunes it out.
Satire and Context
Without the proper context, it can be easy to miss the humor/salient points within satire.
Take Lewis Carroll's
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Before we start writing satires of our own, we will read together from an unfinished work of Mark Twain spoofing etiquette books popular in his time.
Approach Number 4: External Guidance
Science fiction writer, Philip K. Dick, used the I Ching to dictate the plot of his novels, using its divination tools to mold his stories.
No matter what you believe in regards to divination, tools such as tarot or the I Ching can be handy for providing a narrative framework, giving the writing task a sense of unpredictability- though one could also use a different framework, a predictable one, let's say based upon a popular classic, and use that to evolve into a modern retelling, such as James Joyce did with
Done well enough, the fact that an author used another work as a framework becomes no longer noticeable, making it a reward for well read readers to note the parallels, e.g. Toni Morrison's African American Historical "Comedy" inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy.
So What are We Trying to Persuade in Fiction?
Writers of fiction have to rely upon rhetoric to convince their readers that their stories are worth reading just as much as writers of nonfiction rely upon rhetoric that their logic is sound.
Details too absurd or inconsistencies within a story can easily delineate the reader from the world the writer is trying to immerse their readers in- likewise details too mundane and uneventful plots can tax the readers' patience.
Too many details can overload the reader with sensory information to where it may become difficult to follow the plot, but too few can leave the reader less willing to engage with the work.
Balance is key, and it relies heavily upon your intended demographic.
One of the most important components of a good book is an enticing first paragraph. It can determine whether an agent will take an author on as a client, whether a publisher will transform the work into print form, and influence a person to purchase it, and sets the tone of what to expect from the book overall.
Baiting the Reader with Rhetoric
As a class, we will engage a few opening lines from various books and analyze what the rhetoric says to us, the reader, about each text.
THE event on which this fiction is founded has been supposed, by Dr. Darwin, and some of the physiological writers of Germany, as not of impossible occurrence. I shall not be supposed as according the remotest degree of serious faith to such an imagination; yet, in assuming it as the basis of a work of fancy, I have not considered myself as merely weaving a series of supernatural terrors. The event on which the interest of the story depends is exempt from the disadvantages of a mere tale of spectres or enchantment. It was recommended by the novelty of the situations which it developes (sic); and, however impossible as a physical fact, affords a point of view to the imagination for the delineating of human passions more comprehensive and commanding than any which the ordinary relations of existing events can yield.
Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus
to wound the autumnal city.
So howled out for the world to give him a name.
The in-dark answered with wind.
All you know I know: careening astronauts and bank clerks glancing at
the clock before lunch; actresses cowling at light-ringed mirrors and freight elevator operators grinding a thumbful of grease on a steel handle; student riots; know that dark women in bodegas shook their heads last week because in six months prices have risen outlandishly; how coffee tastes after you've held it in your mouth, cold, a whole minute.
-Samuel R. Delany,
Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some
they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon,
never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes
away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is
the life of men.
-Zora Neale Hurston,
Their Eyes Were Watching God
I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who
haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie extoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.
The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance agent
promised to fly from Mercy to the other side of Lake Superior at three o'cock. Two days before the event was to take place he tacked a note on the door of his little yellow house:
At 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday the 18th of February, 1931, I will take off from Mercy and fly away on my own wings. Please forgive me. I loved you all.
(signed) Robert Smith,
Song of Solomon
Everything is an Argument
Be it an advertisement, a novel, a philosophical
manifesto, or short story, everything that is produced via the manipulation of media, e.g. a poem, relies on solid sequencing and salient points in order for it to leave an impact on a reader.
Think of your favorite book- what about it resonates with you so well? Each reason that you come up with is another component in the author's argument, .i.e. that the book is worth being read.
What differences do we see between this excerpt and the one from
How are these excerpts akin to one another? Are there any parallels between these and the previous two we discussed?
Both of these excerpts introduce characters and setting from a third person perspective, but how do they use this technique to achieve different effects?
"In fact, I'm beginning to fear that this confusion
will go on for a long time. And all because he writes down what I said incorrectly."
The Master and Margarita
Fiction as Argument Further Explained
Argument: The Master and Margarita is a fantastic read.
Evidence: It is a satire of Communist Russia.
Evidence: It does not place judgement upon its readers.
Evidence: Its cast of characters are well developed and varied.
Evidence: Its scenes are well thought out and flow together greatly.
Evidence: It tells three separate intertwined stories that come to a most satisfying resolution.
Evidence: It is thought provoking, causing the reader to engage with thoughts he/she may never have engaged with otherwise.
Evidence: It tropes the boundary of the absurd, but manages to remain all the while believable within the confines of the written universe.
Evidence: It blends humor, horror, history, and mythology in a manner that is both folklorish and literary.
Notice that most of this "evidence"is highly subjective, but it reveals aspects about myself as belonging to part of the targeted demographic of the book.
One Author: Many Demographics
Demographic and Argument
As a writer, you may find that your targeted audience may switch from piece to piece, and as such it is important that you do not forget that the audience you are writing for now is not necessarily the one you've written for before.
“You’re not supposed to dislike your own child. You were supposed to like them no matter what, even if they were not what you wanted.”
- J.K. Rowling,
The Casual Vacancy
“There are some things you can't share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.”
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
The writings of J.K. Rowling serve as a prime example of a demographic shift, with her books pertaining to children having more supernatural and "coming of age" elements to it, themes not present in books aimed for older readers.
Unforeseen Demographic Shifts, or The My Little Pony Effect
One of the peculiarities about writing is that no matter how much thought you put into a work, you will never be able to anticipate all of the ways the public will react to a piece.
What is a Demographic?
A demographic is a group of people with a particular group of characteristics in common.
What are these characteristics?
Age, sex, gender, education, income, marital status, occupation, religion, sexual orientation, political views, etc.
Knowing these characteristics about your audience allows you to make sure that you do not accidentally alienate or offend them.
Middle aged, straight, Filipino farmers; young, bisexual, inner city latino muslims; and conservative transgender college graduates are all examples of oddly specific demographics.
The Economics of Demography
Just as there are costs and benefits to choosing a method of narration, there are costs and benefits based on the type of audience you are targeting.
The smaller the audience, the easier it is to craft writing that appeals to the demographic's palates, but this does not always mean that the writing fits your style best.
If that audience is a teacher, for example, especially one whose tastes differ from yours greatly, it can be difficult in trying to appeal to him/her because those qualities that would resonate well with your teacher are not ones that come to you easily.
Likewise, if you write for too specific of an audience, and you are wanting to be published, even if your writing comes easily and appeals to you, it may be too niche for publication because it doesn't resonate well with enough of your readers.
Wide demographics can be difficult to write for because the amount of people the author must connect make his/her writing connect with; this means the author must consider a wider variety of life experiences, use more general language, and possibly filter down the ideas the author to incorporate into the piece.
Your demographic provides the context that determines how to evaluate your writing's success.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
-William Butler Yeats, "The Second Coming"
As a children's story, this excerpt is an absolute failure. It also fails at being a piece of science fiction.
Appropriateness and Demographic
Appropriateness in regards to rhetoric does not mean the same thing as appropriateness in terms of ethical behavior.
It may not be appropriate in terms of ethics to show up at a funeral wearing nothing but a foam finger and a smile, but it certainly can be appropriate for a piece of writing.
It may be appropriate in regards to ethics to be cordial to everyone one meets, but it may not be appropriate to come off overly cordial in your writing if your targeted demographic prefers edgy writing.
How does a TV Show targeted for little girls resonate so well with young men? Is it just good writing or is there something else going on at play?
Introduction to the Monomyth
Proposed by Joseph Campbell in his book,
The Hero with a Thousand Faces
, the Monomyth is basic narrative arc common in a substantial amount of narratives around the world.
By tapping into these familiar arcs, the author is able to make the story resonate with the readers beyond their demographic.
Let's practice determining appropriateness.
Let's say you promised your agent to write a short piece of horror, and you came up with this- what's wrong with this passage?
'Twas a most sun-filled day. No cloud could be seen in the sky. The children, knowing no fear would come to harm, ran to the streets singing songs of the old heroes, vikings, titans, and other warriors of yore, while Ivan hammered away at his anvil. Tap-tap-tap. He let nothing interfere with his work. Tap-tap-tap. Always hammering- tap-tap-tap.
Little known to Ivan, there was a spirit dwelling in the anvil, a demon, Melchior, from long ago in the days when the darkness still claimed the earth and the rains knew not how to fall from the sky.
"Blacksmith, you throttle my ears with your merciless banging. I've been patient long enough, dealing with your tap-tap-taps for years, but I have had enough of it. Let's see how you like it," and with a wave of his hand, Melchior cursed Ivan with the sound of a thousand hammers, not knowing Ivan was deaf.
Story Structures Beyond the Hero's Quest
Kurt Vonnegut on "the Shapes of Stories"
What Does Your Audience Expect from Your Work?
Being able to answer this question should enable you, as the author, to become privy to the needs and wants of your demographic.
A person wanting a mystery novel expects for there to be suspense and red herrings; a person expecting a science fiction novel expects technology to feature somehow within the plot.
Appropriateness does not have to restrain your writing, but keep in mind that if you transgress too much against what your readers expect based off how the work has been initially presented to them, they could dismiss your work as irrelevant.
Creative Structure: the Skeleton of Our Rhetoric
The manner in which we structure our writing can have just as much impact, if not more of an impact, than our rhetoric itself.
Reinhard Döhl's concrete poem, "Apfel," William Faulkner's
The Sound and The Fury
, especially in regards to the narrators Benjy and Quentin, and Mark Z. Danielewski's
House of Leaves
all manipulate the structure of their rhetoric in order to add further dimensions to their work.
The cost of becoming too creative with a structure comes with a proportionally increasing risk that a work may be too esoteric.
Using Symbolism to Enhance a Story
Everything that is written contains symbolism, but not all symbols are of equal merit and not all symbols are intentional.
Every letter in a given language is a symbol after all, but in isolation these letters convey hardly anything, and some words, for example "the" or "at" reveal only the relation of words within the sentence; there is meaning, but the meaning is not necessarily powerful.
Complexities with Symbolism
What is Symbolism?
Simply stated, symbolism is the use of an object, image, a set of actions, a grouping of ideas, etc., to bring a greater meaning to something.
Symbolism and Metaphor
The Paradox of the Ending
The conclusion regarding a piece of creative writing serves a paradoxical role, in so much that by this point, the reader has already invested himself/herself into the piece so much that reading the work becomes a sunk cost; instead of arguing that the work is worth reading, a good conclusion instead sets up the argument that the work is not only worth reading once, but it is worth being read multiple times.
As with everything else, a satisfying ending considers its demographic in mind in order to maximize the effect.
Metaphor, in the simplest of terms, is the use of using one thing to stand for a completely different thing.
When economists use the terms bull and bear market, they aren't literally referring to a place where one can purchase animals, but instead are using attributes of those animals to describe the economy as a whole.
This vegan/vegetarian cafe in Edwardsville uses metaphor in its name to create a double entendre- that is, we take our coffee seriously, and this is a safe haven for members of a subculture who do not have the restaurant going privileges that their meat-eating counterparts.
Symbolism and Simile
Simile is to metaphor, as a plastic fern is to a potted plant; that is to say, similes compare objects to one another, traditionally using the words "like" or "as" to establish the object being like something else without it being representative of something else.
If we say that Spanish reporter and TV presenter Pilar Rubio's eyes are like Amazonion turquoise pools, our audience knows we are only comparing her eyes to something else and are not actually saying that she sees through eyes composed of water from South America.
Likewise, if we say President Obama was happy as a clam because he won his reelection, none of us envision him transforming into a literal clam, no matter how funny it may be.
Symbolism and Language
When we engage in the study of symbols, we are engaging in a field of linguistic study called semiotics.
Semiotics concerns itself with the study of what is called the sign, signifier, and the signified.
The Sign and Symbolism
A sign is something that can be interpreted as having meaning something other than itself.
When you see the word, "tree" for example, you do not think of the word in your head, but instead, you envision an actual tree, perhaps a deciduous maple or coniferous pine.
The Signified and Symbolism
The roles of signifier and signified are reciprocal, able to function both as the thing being seen and the thing being thought of.
If you see the word "tree," you think of an image of a tree; if you see an image of a tree, than you think of the word "tree."
That which we see is the signifier,
that which we think of is the signified.
Prototypes and Symbolism
One of the fascinating features about Semiotics is that even if the Signifiers remains the same for a group of individuals, the Signified can change person to person.
If we were to catalog the qualities from the various Signified to compose a single picture made up of all the qualities those Signifieds have in common, we have, what is called in Semantics, a Prototype.
Semantics and Symbolism
While Semiotics is the study of Signs, Semantics studies the meaning of words, specifically words in relation to one another.
Think of it like this, Semiotics is focused more so upon the meanings derived from single words, let's say, "land," "lord," and "landlord," and Semantics is concerned more so with the relationship these words share with one another.
Why Study Semantics and Semiotics in Relation to Creative Writing?
As an author, it is imperative for you to consider what language you are using and how it is interpreted by your audience.
Writing creatively is to encode a set of ideas, mental pictures, and abstract qualities so that the reader can unpack them- since it is impossible for the author to perfectly render into the readers' mind what the author is envisioning as he/she writes, the author must be as specific as possible without using language that might not resonate well with the audience.
Symbolism and Allegory
Allegory is a specific type of metaphor wherein everything that take place within a story stand for something else.
Cliches and Symbolism
Metaphors and similes can be exceedingly powerful, but like most things, if they become overly abundant or commonplace, the generality can rob them of their effect upon the reader and can make the reader potentially dismiss the talent of the author.
The reason for this is the more commonplace the idiom is, in this instance the metaphor or simile, the less original it sounds.
You can think of this in relation to the philosophical concept of the Hedonic Treadmill, which states that happiness fades as a new stimulus grows old- in this case
Symbolism and Object
Objects, like places, can be used by an author to add an extra level of depth to a piece.
The ring from Tolkien's
Lord of the Rings
and the paw from, W.W. Jacobs, "The Monkey's Paw" both serve as more than plot devices, but act as a commentary about the human experience.
Some objects, like the Eyes of T.J. Eckleberg, serve no plot point at all, but add meaning from the periphery.
Symbolism and Plot Structure
Symbolism and Place
Introduction to Structuralism
Symbolism and Character
Metaphorical places within a creative writing framework tend to be symbolic in one of two ways- the abstract or the pseudonym.
Strawberry Field, a Salvation Army's Children Homes in London, serves a metaphor for childhood innocence in the Beatles's song, "Strawberry Fields Forever."
In Robert Olen Butler's
, the town's name is a pseudonym for Granite City and allows the author to borrow from the city's history while also allowing himself a chance to not be as bound to a historical framework.
Characters can sometimes hold hidden keys to the symbolism present within a work, such as Raskolnikov (Schism) of
Crime and Punishment
and Beowulf (Manwolf) of the epic with the same name.
The easiest way to incorporate symbolic characters in a work is to frame them within archetypes.
Be wary with some archetypes that don't age well.
Once an author figures out what each individual character represents, more metaphors can be created through the plot points themselves.
The dwarves quest for their homeland in
is a metaphor for the Jewish Diaspora.
The murder of Lenny by George in
Of Mice and Men
takes the metaphor of the American Dream and turns it on its head.
The various stages of Siddhartha's life in the Herman Hesse novel of the same name serve as a metaphor for the various ways people live out their lives.
Shaping a Play
When writing a play, it is helpful to create a list of all the characters in order for you, the writer, to keep track of how wide and varied your cast of characters are, and always try to keep in mind what kind of archetypes they represent.
Even if you don't use this character outline for yourself, if you have any desire of having your play performed, you will need to include one of these before your first Act; otherwise it can be difficult for potential directors to cast all the necessary parts.
Although we approach writing a play in a similar manner to the way we approach a short story, the medium of a staged drama provides a set of difficulties not experienced within other mediums of story telling.
Play writing is an off-shoot of short story writing, as it has to tell a full story within a short period of time (usually around 90 minutes to an hour, sometimes two), but it has to contain various themes and subplots to be successful, much like a novel.
Unlike a novel, play writing can sometimes be easier to write and more fluid in structure since it exists primarily within the construction of dialogue.
Remember- the more characters there are, the harder it may be for the audience to follow along.
Traditionally, plays are divided into Acts, and each Act is divided into scenes; Acts tend to coordinate major plot points together that are interrelated to one another, while scenes are used to illustrate minor shifts in time, characters, and locations
For example, Act I of Hamlet introduces us to the Danish Prince whose deceased father tells him (Hamlet) that he (the ghost) was killed by Hamlet's Uncle Claudius, Act II focuses upon Claudius and Polonius's efforts to understand Hamlet's strange behavior, Act III is the culmination of everyone's actions from the first two acts, Act IV curtails around the aftermath of Polonius's death in Act III, and Act V centers around the final showdown between Claudius and Hamlet.
An Important Component of any Successful Play
Our writing is limited only by our imagination, or so the maxim goes, but in a theatrical setting, it is certainly clear that is not the case.
While there are numerous factors that influence whether is a production is a success beyond the writing (the producer, director, the actors, etc.) stageability is the most important factor in getting a play to be performed.
Acts are usually indicated by capital Roman numerals (e.g. I), and scenes are represented by lowercase ones (e.g. i); together they are written like this, I.i.
If a play requires too intricate of set designs, scene changes, or its characters to undertake activities that are too strenuous for the actors to perform, or if the dialogue is too lengthy, it will lessen the likelihood anyone will want to produce it in the first place because the stageability of the production is low.
Stageability is the capacity a play has to being performed on a stage in a manner true to the text.
Got the Time?
Finding Strategies that Maximize Your Writing Output
One of the most difficult parts of being a unpublished author is setting aside time to write.
An Author's Dilemma
Once an author becomes published and can land a contract, it is easier to find time to write because writing becomes an occupation and not just a hobby, but until then, an author must find ways to straddle the divide between their needs (jobs, social relationships, etc.) and their art.
Strategy #1: Temptation Bundling
Hopefully one or more of the following strategies will prove useful to you in trying to ensuring that your art makes it from your mind and onto the page.
Temptation bundling is an economic tool where an activity one does not necessarily enjoy or has to do is paired with something that one enjoys or would prefer to do in order to make sure that the less desired activity is done.
Let's say we are really excited about an album we just downloaded, but we also really need to mow the lawn- instead of doing just one or the other, we can listen to the album as we mow!
So how do we use temptation bundling with writing?
While it is true that we can do some forms of multitasking based temptation bundles, given the active focus necessary to engage in writing, it can be sometimes more difficult to do bundles, but not impossible.
For example, no matter what, during the course of your day, you will have to eat (your need), and you may have some downtime while you are having your meal.
You can fill this downtime with writing (your want), and while it may take you slightly longer to eat, you will be able to produce more than you would otherwise.
Strategy #2: Quotas
Drawbacks to Temptation Bundling
Depending on what is paired with the writing task, the resulting product of the bundle may be of an inferior quality.
Some bundles run the risk of causing damage to your written pages or device you are using to write if you don't take extra precautions.
By giving yourself a daily goal, you give yourself a set amount of writing to be done, allowing writing to be integrated into your daily schedule.
Quotas as simple as writing for 15 minutes or 100 words a day can come a long way in developing a work, and they can easily fit into one's schedule with minimal effort.
Where Quotas Can Fail
If a quota is too high or unreasonable
If the quota is disrupted by a few busy days and writing begins to hit the back burner
If the writer loses motivation to meet the quota
Operant Conditioning: A Commitment Device to Work around Implied Quota-Based Failures
By assigning rewards and punishments based upon whether or not your writing quota is met will help insure you feel motivated to meet your goal.
Positive Reinforcement and Writing
Within Operant Conditioning, positive reinforcement is the act of rewarding a person with something that person desires for engaging in a preferred behavior.
For example, if you enjoy looking at pictures of cats on the Internet, http://writtenkitten.net is a site that actively rewards writers for every 100 words that they type by displaying a new picture.
For those who do not find cat pictures to be enough of a positive reinforcement, there are plenty of other solutions, such as putting money towards a vacation, let's say $3 every time you meet your quota.
Negative Reinforcement and Writing
Negative reinforcement is the act of taking away something that a person doesn't want as a reward for engaging in a preferred behavior.
Let's say you make a pact with someone that every time you meet your quota, you get out of having to do one daily chore or errand; this is an example of negative reinforcement.
Not having to put $3 into a household fund because you have me your quota is another variation of negative reinforcement.
Positive Punishment and Writing
Negative Punishment and Writing
Positive punishment is when a person is forced to do something/is given something he or she doesn't want as a consequence of having performed an undesired behavior.
Having to do extra housework or errands as a consequence of failing to meet a quota is a positive punishment, as is having to donate to the household fund instead of the vacation jar.
The app Write or Die uses a combination of positive and negative punishments when writers fail to meet their daily quotas.
Negative punishment is the act of taking away a desired thing in response to failing to comply with a preferred behavior.
Losing money from your vacation jar every time you fail to meet your quota is one example of negative punishment.
Having part of your writing erased when you fail to meet your quota is another type of negative punishment.
Strategy #3: Prioritize Writing
As a day goes on, the amount of things that can come up and interfere with your writing gradually increases.
By writing first thing in a day, you can free yourself to other commitments without your writing suffering the consequences.
The Economy of Prioritized Writing
Writing first thing in the morning will enable you to guarantee that you are able to produce writing every day but it is important to consider the opportunity costs that may accompany using this strategy.
If you already have to do a lot around your home when you first wake up as it is, you may find yourself losing sleep so that you can make time to write.
Once you've written yourself into a "flow" state of writing, you can find yourself losing track of time, and other responsibilities may begin to accumulate.
With time and pragmatism, these costs can be reimbursed and writing will be fully integrated into your daily routine.
Strategy #4: Remove Unnecessary Distractions
By staying away from cell phones, social media, or other mediums that can divert your attention from the writing task, you can maximize the amount of output you produce within a given time, especially when combined with elements of strategies #2 and #3.
Writing, after all, is a mental process, and by shifting your thoughts towards something else, you are robbing yourself of the full richness your writing has to offer.
The Pareto Principle and Distraction Management
Also called the 80/20 rule, the Pareto Principle is a business management technique that focuses upon making small changes to maximize a result.
Although we are writers, with the Pareto Principle in mind, we are also scientists, for in the act of making these changes in our daily routines, we are experimenting by seeing how each alteration affects the quality of our writing.
Developing the Framework of a Novel
Finding the Story's Spine
How to Write a Novel
(According to Chuck Sambuchino of
1) Write the story you'd most want to read.
2) Begin with a character.
3) Give that character a compelling problem.
4)Make things happen!
5) Make things believable.
6) Stick with the project.
7) Ignore all the rules.
How to Write a Novel
(According to Matt Sautman)
1. Begin with a concept you enjoy that will allow you to achieve your aim.
2. Decide on (some) of your cast of characters.
3. Figure out what those characters represent.
4. Find ways to humanize those characters.
5. Decide on your narrative mode.
6. Decide what constitutes the "laws" of your setting.
7. Don't let the important stuff stagnate.
8. Keep things "logical."
9. Let loose with your art, but never lose sight of your audience.
10. Revise/Edit as you (and others) see fit.
Beginning with a Concept
As writers, we all have ideas flowing through our heads that we want to convey to our readers, and it can sometimes be overbearing retaining all of them within ourselves when somewhere there is a blank page that needs to be filled, but it is imperative that we focus these ideas, filter them to a single concept at first, and then later complicate the plot with other concepts as the writing process progresses.
Whatever concept you (the writer) chooses to begin with, should be one that you not only enjoy, but will allow you to achieve the initial goal you set for yourself when you decided to begin writing on the piece.
Decide on (Some) of Your Cast of Characters
Once you have an idea of what your story's concept is going to be, you will need to brainstorm a list of characters who may be involved within the framework of your narrative.
This list doesn't necessarily need to be written down, nor will it account for every character you will write into your plot, but it will enable you to find a solid starting point for creating the character conflict that will drive the plot forward.
Figure Out What Your Characters Represent
A hollow, undeveloped character is a wasted character no matter what the genre an author writes for.
It is recommended that before writing, one should try to flesh out at least some of these characters in order to maximize those characters' individual economies within the narrative framework.
Humanize Those Characters
Stereotyping weakens the potency of writing and does not allow a work to age well.
As you flesh out these characters, make sure that they are balanced in their characteristics and do not come across as one dimensional in order to maximize their impact.
Decide on Your Narrative Mode
Are you going to let one character, multiple characters, a third-party observer, or the reader guide the narration of the story?
Are you going to have limited or omniscient narration?
Formulating the "Laws" of Your Setting
Laws in this sense occupy two functions: natural laws and social laws.
Natural laws are those that determine your fabricated reality, and range from the most fantastic, e.g. the presence of talking animals, to the most mundane, e.g. a world void of color with abnormally high gravity.
Social laws are those laws that govern your characters either officially through legislature, or through conflicts in social behaviors.
Don't Let the Important Stuff Stagnate
For many pieces of writing, the plot may prove to be secondary to the ideas that are being conveyed- Dante's
, for example, but it is important as audience friendly writers that we do not allow the plot to stagnate too much while our character(s) engage in discourse(s) that seek to probe the underpinnings of the universe if that is not what our demographic expects to grasp from the work.
Keep Things "Logical"
Remember, all writing is an argument, and as such, it is important that you, the writer, adhere to the rules that you create for your universe in order to retain credibility as a storyteller and to guarantee that your work is an overall success.
Let Loose with Your Art without Losing Sight of Your Audience
Ultimately writing should be an enjoyable task where you. the writer, are enabled to foster your own world, but make sure that as you go along that you never lose sight of who you are writing this work for.
If the work is for you, then you are the sole authority of what is right for the book, but if there are others involved, then it is important that you recognize these other tastes as well.
No first draft is perfect, and you may find yourself going through multiple drafts before you even consider having another person look over it.
We'll talk about editing a bit more next week when we cover rejection.
Break on Through to the Other Side:
Ways to Publish Your Writings
You have your manuscript ready to go- maybe it is a poem, a play, or a novel, but you've put in all the hard work, and you do not know what to do next to ensure your work becomes published.
Choose Your Own Adventure
There are four paths that may be taken if you want to become published within our current market, but each path is coupled with a series of pros and cons that ultimately lead to the same goal.
These paths are self-publishing, contest based publishing, agent based publishing, and publishing house based publishing.
Publishing House Based Publishing
The one guaranteed way to ensure that one's work becomes published is publish yourself. While the rest of the methods involved within publishing involve the incorporation of other individuals who play the roles of mediators and gatekeepers, this method of publication allows authors to churn out their work without much avail, but there are several factors to keep in mind if this avenue is going to be one that interests you.
The Problem of Distribution
When you are the person responsible for both the authorship and the publication of a piece of writing, you will have to figure out not only where you are going to sell your work, but how to garner a marketable appeal for your work, otherwise despite all the time and resources you invested into your work will be for nothing.
How you market your work largely depends upon how you are formatting your publication. Are you publishing it digitally? Is it part of a blog or a website? Is it on social media? Are you publishing an ebook? Are you publishing a physical book? Each question comes with its own sets of difficulties.
Problems of Physical Books
There is an economical maxim beloved by monetarists that states "it takes money to make money," and when it comes to publishing physical books, that maxim is certainly the case.
When you are your own publisher, and you are choosing to produce tactile books, you have to invest your money into the printing process, including the acquisition of the materials and machinery necessary for it; if the book doesn't sell, that loss is inescapable.
Even with services such as Outskirts Press, which will print your book for you, you will still have to pay for each copy of the book before you can sell it.
Problems of Digital Publishing
While with digital publishing there is less of an upfront cost, there may be a percentage of the profits that the company being used, e.g. Amazon, will take out in order to pay for the service they are providing for you.
The most difficult aspect of publishing online comes from the marketing due to the simple fact that there are thousands of ebooks on the market, and when one is a relatively new author, it can be hard to make a book stand out from all the rest in this format.
Often requiring a low fee, if any at all, contest-based publishing is great way to garner publicity towards a work, but there is a twofold problem that accompanies this method of publication: one) success largely determines upon the preferences of the judges, and two) even if a work is fantastically written, if there is a large talent pool of fantastic writers, your work may be overlooked.
freelancewriting.com is an excellent database to find these contests.
By hiring an agent, you as a writer are able to focus upon your craft while your agent handles contacting publishers and the marketing side of publication.
AgentQuery.com is an excellent resource for locating a potential representative for your work.
You can also land a publication deal by directly sending a manuscript to a publication house, but it is important to pay attention if the publication house is actively receiving manuscripts, otherwise your efforts will have been wasted.
Some publishing houses may only take work through agents as well.
The hardest part of any of these last three forms of publication is rejection, which is yet another reason why many choose the self-publication route over these other alternatives.
If you do get rejected, it's important to know that you are in good company- some of the most popular books have been rejected numerous times.
Writing is a Learning Experience
It's important to be objective whenever receiving a rejection letter.
Yes, you have invested so much of your time and effort into creating your piece of work, and it can be hard separating yourself from it, but you need to ask yourself why your work might have been rejected.
Maybe the demographic is wrong? Maybe the demographic you are appealing to is so now that the company doesn't see it as a wise investment? Maybe there are weak points in your work that you didn't notice before, but now that you have a more critical eye, you can go back and hammer them out?
Writing, Persistence, and Publication
Michael Levin, author of books such as
Gutenberg to Google: the Rise and Fall of Books
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Your Civil Liberties
, may not be the most prolific author, but he raises important points for us keep in mind, even if a few of these points may be delivered within a somewhat polarizing fashion.
Novel Writing Workshop
The rest of class time will be spent fleshing out our ideas for novels.
As we go along, please take notes as we listen to each person's novel framework, so that we can better comment and focus upon the writing that is at hand.
As we listen, we will note things that we enjoy about the piece of writing, things that we think could be elaborated upon further, ideas for future exploration, and suggestions for revision.
Keep in mind, these are early drafts, so do not be too negative with your commentary- by all means be constructive, but don't pick apart your classmates' hard work.