Monthly Archives: March 2013

Beauty in words

Not too long ago, I was asked how I go about creating beauty in writing, and what beauty in story writing actually is.

Everyone is acquainted with the concept of beauty and the debate it has stirred. How can you establish a “standard” of beauty when the subject of beauty is so subjective (bear with me)? After extensive discussion and class projects and more discussion, I can only say that each person has a unique sense of what beauty means, even if that sense is fed by what’s popular. You know those moments when you read an article on Yahoo! about the latest fashions? Well… I’ll tell you what; some of those outfits (most, I should say) are… very unattractive to say the least. Why ANYONE would be willing to strut out in some of those get-ups is something I will never understand. Initially, my appreciation for something like that is very, very low. However, it’s good to keep in mind that someone created it; someone appreciates fashion as an art and as a way to express themselves. To them, it is beauty, and when I think about those odd outfits in that light, I find I can appreciate it on a very basic level, as artist to artist.

Writing can be considered in the same way. What I think of as beautiful will probably be very different from what another author feels is beautiful, and those ideas on beauty will change as we all get older and our horizons expand. That being said, though, I think there are a couple aspects of writing that are particularly striking, especially when done well.

Reality/believability
This is something that I’ve picked up on as something very essential to a beautiful piece of writing. I am convinced that there is nothing more beautiful than raw human (and I don’t mean that in a cannibalistic way… honest). In Les Mis, for example, Fantine sells herself for the sake of her child; she reaches the gravest point of desperation in her need, and yet she still loves her child enough to give her up so she can work for her sake, and to die in her efforts to support Cozette. I haven’t read the book yet, but I plan on it (hopefully this summer when I have a little bit more time). But really, think about it. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ve seen enough to know what I’m talking about. Revisiting that movie in my head is overwhelming me a little bit, actually… it is so rich in beauty because of ugliness and gross corruption. As much as people hate to see the bad bits of life, and as cozied away as we try to make ourselves from it, that is where the stark reality of life is, and that is where you’re going to find the most evident expressions of beauty, especially through avenues such as love, rescue/redemption, and restoration.

Now, as to creating it in story writing? It’s tough. You don’t want to force your readers to feel sorry or exuberant and happy for your characters, so the goal is to earn the reader’s emotions (in other words, as my professor would say, don’t go the easy, cliched route). Traveling the hard road requires you to dig deep and get to know your characters and then write them as they are, rather than what you want them to be. A character will develop him/herself; if you’ve written anything more than a couple pages, you’ll notice how it works.
I haven’t spent enough time really getting to know my characters, and I can tell you, it shows. In workshopping classes, character development and the believability of said characters is one of the weaknesses that other students pick out of my writing, so I’m not exactly an authority on this subject. But, I do know enough to say that when your story/characters are grounded in the reality of who they are, what they’re doing, and where they are (emotionally, physically, etc),   they will shine. When they are tested and the reality of their character is exposed, a reader will take a step back and shake their head, chills might run across their skin, and they might read that beautiful, real moment again.

So, I’d say that the first step in creating beauty in story writing is to foster reality and believability in your characters and the situations they’re in. Don’t sacrifice reality for artificiality. =)

 

Stay tuned for another post about creating beauty in writing! =)

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New books!

There are few things that please my heart more than finding impeccable editions of beloved books at the thrift store, new books to read (at the thrift store, library, friend’s bookshelves, or wherever else one can discover new books), and 85% dark chocolate. What makes these things even better?

CHEAP.

New books!

I procured these guys for less than $3.42 at a local Goodwill store. It made my heart happy. I’ve determined that I will collect each and every Redwall book there is, which requires just a tiny explanation. As a child/young teen, I absolutely LOVED Redwall will all my heart. Animals were a huge thing for me as a kid: I wrote a series of “The Little (insert any type of animal name)” stories, which continued for who knows how long, and then I spent at least four years co-administrating a roleplaying forum in which I created characters in animal form and interacted with other people’s characters. In running the risk of making myself look kind of weird and nerdy, the roleplaying phase of my life was the part that helped me realize the passionate love I have for writing. Not to mention, some of the plots and characters me and my role play buddies came up with were legit.

But, back to Redwall.
I loved it mostly because of the animal world it was set in. In my young mind, barely anything could beat an otter with swift slingshot skills, or squirrels with frightening accuracy in the practice of archery. Even as a junior in college, Redwall holds a very soft spot in my heart, and I intend to impart this crazy love to my children someday, hence why I am determined to own every book in the series. So far I believe I own five… and there’s at least 20. Maybe. I’ll have to make a list.

What about Great Expectations? Well, I’ve heard mixed reviews, so I thought I’d read it and form my own opinion. Dickens is not my favorite author, especially considering that his books start out slow. It’s difficult to stick to the story until about halfway through… then it gets interesting. I managed to read the first 50 pages today, and I’m hoping to have it done by the first week of next month. We’ll see how school cooperates though. I figured that if I owned it I’d be more likely to finish reading it than if I borrowed it from the library. Plus I need to start getting great classics to fill up my future library!

Any writer can tell you how very, very valuable a good name resource is.
I’m a TERRIBLE namer. I have favorite names that come and go, I forget my character’s names all the time, I change them. Heck, I have to think for a LONG time before I can come up with anything… and the worst part about that is that I must have a name before I can start creating. It’s a writer’s tic, and it’s a tic that ticks me off sometimes. I’ve lost so many ideas because I spent too much time trying to come up with the “perfect name”, something I’m sure someone else can relate to.

It’s hard to pass up a good book deal. =)

Also, exciting news! cosmologicallyconstant over at gravatar suggested a post on beauty in writing and how it’s created! I’m super excited to have my first topic suggestion, and I’ll definitely see what I can do about getting a response up over the next week. No promises on how well thought-out it’ll be, but I’ll have something =)

Thanks for reading!

Writing Prompts

As a writer, I’m always on the lookout for sparks that inspire me to write. Sometimes it’ll be a person who has odd characteristics or personality quirks, and sometimes it’s an idea or concept. More often than not, I don’t have a notebook with me and I miss the richness of that unexpected spark.

Discipline in writing is something I struggle with because I always wait for those sparks to come, or I expect them to come when I make time to sit and write. When they don’t show up I get discouraged. Sparks of inspiration don’t come on-demand like television does. It helps to have an outside source to prompt ideas, however random or terrible they might be. I once had to write a series of three poems each of which consisted of one line, two line, and three line stanzas. The results were awful, but it forced me to consider what I was putting down.

… And so that brings me to writing prompts. I’ve hunted for good creative ones, though, admittedly, not very hard.
I stumbled on one unexpectedly today, though, and my mind is brimming with ideas. Have I ever talked about how much I love a good thesaurus? I love them. And you should too! It helps when it comes down to getting rid of adverbs and cutting down on the number of adjectives you use in your writing. I was working on my resume today, using a thesaurus of course, and I happened to look on the right of the page, and what do you know? They give examples of sentences using the word you’re searching. Curious, I tried playing with a couple synonyms of the word “benefit”, and most sentences proved to be a good start to a story of some sort.

So there you are.
Tip of the day: Use the “example sentence” feature of a thesaurus to prompt your writing.

And here’s a good place to start: http://thesaurus.com/browse/benefit?s=t

“Little Squares”

A week ago, I received an email from one of my professors with an invitation for me and the rest of my editing class (from last semester) to attend an event featuring special guest speaker Dr. Jennifer Holberg, who is the editor of the journal Pedagogy, a publication of Duke University Press. Upon seeing that it was talk focused on academic editing, I was excited to hear the wisdom and advice of Dr. Holberg, especially considering my interest in pursuing a job in the publishing world.

The first thing she covered was her journal, Pedagogy, and how it came about and the vision behind it. It is the first generalist journal in English, and it publishes using a double-blind review process, which is basically a process that removes names in order to produce a journal with submissions that are accepted and published without a bias toward those who have powerful names in the field. This allows writers and educator’s across the board to submit with an equal chance of publication. This journal, in effect, is a publication that desires to be the place of conversation for those who are dedicated to teaching, especially teaching literature.

She then spoke about editing in general, and shared some wisdom that I know I will cherish. Three main points:

1. Nothing is ever wasted.
2. Way leads to way.
3. Look around and see what needs to be done.

Sometimes I feel like the little odd jobs that I do around school and in the English Department are pointless and do nothing to further my goals, but as Dr. Holberg so tactfully pointed out (and backed up with her own personal experiences), everything you do has an impact on what you’ll do in the future. I was reminded to not undervalue that in any way, and it also called to mind the editing work I helped my dad out with early in highschool. To be sure, I wasn’t a very adept editor at that point (and I’m still learning.. and forever will be), but it gave me exposure to the process of communication in editing and working with an author, which has prepped me, in a small way, for what I have been doing this past year. So, all in all, it was cool to see that one point of encouragement already at work in my life.

The second piece of wisdom (way leads to way) was a challenge to me. I guess I find myself expecting to get where I want to be right away after graduation, and slowly, I’m beginning to realize that that may not happen. It might, but it’s better not to expect that. Rather, as this point encouraged, it’s better to take advantage of the positions available right now, gaining experience as you go and embracing those opportunities (nothing is ever wasted, eh?), and in that way walk the paths of life. I spoke to a friend last weekend about expectations, and in that conversation, I realized just how destructive they can be if they’re counted as surety. So in going with this word of advice from Dr. Holberg, don’t let expectations ruin the opportunities presented! How refreshing is that?

The last point was a little harder to apply, but it was a good nudge. She gave the example of Pedagogy being the only generalist journal in English that puts more focus on teaching literature than on composition. She saw the opportunity and took it, and because of her (and her co-editors) hard work and dedication, Pedagogy has existed for 13 years, and has been the recipient of awards (one such being the 2001 Best New Journal Award from the Council of Editors of Learned Journals -linked at bottom of post-). I can only hope that my eyes and mind stays open to the needs in my field, however broad it is.

That concludes the portion of her talk that revolved around Pedagogy itself. She went on to talk about her editor experience in general, and honestly, it was an honor to hear and learn from her. She explained editing as a communication art, a role that combines knowledge with teaching. The primary goal of an editor is to encourage authors to think about scholarship (in academic writing specifically), and to communicate how an author can grow their ideas. Just the other day, I was talking to a friend about poetry, and how it’s a constant work-in-progress, aka. the growth of an idea. For me, the growth of that idea results in a different poem every time, but the idea of growth applies to other types of writing too, of course.

She also talked about how editing is more of a helping profession than a spotlight profession, which made the editor and introvert in me happy. I am a very behind-the-scenes kind of worker, and that comment was particularly pleasing and affirming to me. Not only does editing make me happy, but the fact that it’s done in such a out-of-the-limelight sort of way is a reason to rejoice.

I’ll end this blog post with a couple more pieces of advice that she shared in relation to pursuing a job in publishing. A lot of what she said resonated with what I’ve been learning through the resume critiques I’ve been going through, but there were some things that stood out. Holberg talked about demonstrating good writing skills, which, I realized today, doesn’t just mean clean, grammatical pieces. It includes the ability to write copy for book abstracts or cover summaries, item descriptions, press releases, and all manner of small, punchy content. How does one go about practicing such a thing? Good question. I’m hoping to come up with an answer for that. Holberg described book cover writing as a genre in itself, and suggested going through a library and sampling said genre. I think I know what I’ll be doing over spring break =)

Another good piece of advice was to know the company you’re interviewing for. That goes without speaking, but it’s a bit of information that I know I forget to incorporate in decision-making. Also, KNOW strengths and weaknesses, and figure out how to apply them to where you’re applying! In my notes, I’ve written “Take what you’ve done… and show how you can incorporate it” into the workosphere of a company, which goes back to knowing a company and finding out where the position you’re applying for is situated in the publishing structure.

I send off the reader with a quote that she shared:
““What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?” – George Eliot, author of Middle March

As an editor, that’s kinda what we do. =)

(As promised, information about 2001 award found: http://kscenglish.wordpress.com/tag/editing/)

Book List

In Progess:

  • The Warden
  • The Meaning of Marriage
  • Life Together
  • Love in the Time of Cholera (pg. 34)

To Read

  • Middle March
  • Les Miserables
  • An Agatha Christie book (haven’t decided yet…)
  • Strong Poison (Dorothy Sayers)

Completed

  • Green (Ted Dekker)
  • The Vicar of Wakefield (Oliver Goldsmith)
  • Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen)

Update!

Hey folks! It’s been a good while since I’ve posted here… but I do have a solid reason: schoolwork. 

Never before have I experienced not having enough time to do everything I need to. I’ve had moments (many of them) where I chose to spend time on things I didn’t NEED to do, but this past week has opened my eyes to the reality of there not being enough hours in the day. A milestone in my growth from college student to working adult? 

Most frustrating is a recent desire to spend an entire afternoon with music, whiteboard, and poems, but guess what?! No time. Literally. =( 

I’m taking a poetry writing class this semester, and one thing that had struck me in the course of writing and workshopping is the importance of spending time with the poems one writes. I have a habit of writing something, polishing it after I’m done, giving it up to workshop, and then leaving it alone until a mid-term manuscript or submission deadline looms in the near future. Not having enough time to spend with my poems and fiction pieces frustrates me because it’s something, one of the few things, that I absolutely LOVE to do. A lot of learning and application takes place when intentional review and revision happens. 

However, I have been productive, regardless of my writer woes! I’ve made it through a third round of resume critiques! The Vocatio Center on campus has been amazing in helping me develop my resume to its full potential. This past meeting showed me that I have a whole lot of work to do even still (and here I was, thinking I was ready to go apply to internships…), but I’m excited to do the work, especially if it results in me getting placed at a publishing company internship for this summer. My fourth review is set for March 22, so I have a little time to mull, but the plan is to get it ship-shape next weekend if I can. 

Also, I’ve mentioned on my personal blog that I have a goal to read 50 books this year, and since that goal is all about books/writing, I thought it worthwhile to post my progress here! So far, I haven’t been as progressive in this goal as I would like to be, but considering the heavy workload I have this semester, I’ve done more pleasure/personally-enrichment reading than I expected! 

 

In Progess: 

  • The Meaning of Marriage
  • Life Together
  • Love in the Time of Cholera (pg. 34)

To Read

  • Les Miserables
  • An Agatha Christie book (haven’t decided yet…)
  • Strong Poison (Dorothy Sayers)

Completed

  • Green (Ted Dekker)
  • The Vicar of Wakefield (Oliver Goldsmith)
  • Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen) 

 

Till next time!