For those who might be taking Writing 420 remotely (in no particular order):
don’t be afraid to use office hours with T! especially to get more one-on-one face time going remotely
be open and honest about where you are in the project, and if you feel like you need to say something or are worried about your progress, speak up earlier than later; you’ve only to gain!
keeping to a schedule is hard being remote; make plans and actually follow them. if you end up breaking the schedule, make new plans and follow those. if you end up breaking that, maybe you should talk to T, lol. don’t fall behind the best you can.
creativity & passion > grades
engage in class as much as you can; those 3 hours every week are only awesome if you’re an active player in them
likewise, make time to read people’s projects / works ahead of time and be ready to provide feedback; think about the level of respect & time commitment you expect others to have for your project
eat food, drink non-alcoholic beverages, have a dog on your lap; as long as you can focus and feel happy in-class, that’s positively infectious to everyone’s mood
where-ever you are, show your work / project to peers / friends / family as much as you can during times like this. get some feedback and have some fun with it
respect that mentors / consultants may not want to help you given the difficulty of remote interactions, but do not give up on the project itself
similarly, be ready for setbacks due to remoteness. if you have a project that might be hard to do because of remoteness, don’t abandon it (maybe now’s not the best time; maybe after class), but just be ready.
This has been quite the journey, both within this community and throughout my four years (and one more remaining) in undergrad.
I think my piece, site, and content speak for itself (as the image above shows), and I am not one to spoil. So, I have nothing else to say except…
Thank you. To anyone and everyone else, but amongst them all the Minor-in-Writing community for reintroducing me to writing as a passion, a life-long process, a medium of expression, an art, a craft… everything, truly!
And thank you, T and everyone in our Winter 2020 Capstone cohort, for quite the wonderful semester even despite the remote odds!
so thank you — thank you very much! 🙂
and also made this last night. might as well self promote lol
As I talked about in my pitch, I’m going through my writing process right now. I’ve had some interesting things I am fleshing out more so now:
More and more research (this will never stop), especially now that I’ve moved the setting to start from 1945ish until 2013. So, lots of history to research.
Complete change in plot direction, as expected. My plot does not involve anything about a padded cell or mental institution of that sort (cliché and I was trying to avoid it since the start — it was more so of a starting point to have something).
Considering cinematographic directions to some degree (transitions, POV and shots, takes, etc.) as I am used to writing for the more static/flat imagery of plays than the dynamic motion picture.
Soundtrack/sound in general is something I’ve not considered much, and have to think about how I want sound to interact with the images on screen (diegesis or not).
Other than this, everything else is also going accordingly to plan, such as:
Typical processes of laying out 1) scene-by-scene treatments, 2) major cast of characters, their motivations, and changes throughout the story, 3) motifs, symbolism, metaphors, allegories, allusions/themes, etc., and 4) notes of potential ideas which need to be either fleshed out or discarded (everything’s tentative in the process, really).
Ideas are coming to me not instantaneously, but usually by just recalling things in my life, experiencing things in the now, or just when I’m doing something else (working out, showering, eating food, etc.).
I’ve got the first act laid out, and planning to flesh out act II and act III by the end of Spring Break (hopefully) to present on the first day of work-shopping.
The progression of the storytelling (it will start from the end and conclude at the beginning — a backwards story, so-to-speak, as we understand the characters’ development).
As always, everything is always tentative and in-progress (even after I’m done writing by the end of the semester). If anything, I’m hoping more things will change as I think those are the moments of greatest creativity, inspiration, and novel ideas.
I always find it fascinating how fast time flies. I was in the gateway course what feels like an incomprehensible amount of time ago but really was only two years ago (I think?). Thus, I find that these reflections document our change and growth over the course of the years… our life both in and outside of writing. An archive of our experiences, so to speak. But Before I begin this reflection, I wanted to mention the first thing that I immediately noticed upon revisiting this blog: my last post from the gateway course. I intended to continue this capstone course with writing my novel/novella that I started in the gateway course, though none of the pitches I made today even considered this at all. Again, it just fascinates me how much I’ve changed in both my writing interests and style. Anyway, regarding the pitches…
Overall, my peers commented that they enjoyed my ideas and the diversity in my pitches both in topic and medium. My peers suggested that I encourage challenging myself more however, as most of my mediums were in theatrical playwriting of which I am already fairly comfortable/familiar writing.
My first pitch proposed the idea of a “silent musical” (minimal dialogue, except possibly during the occasional songs which would have lyrics). I am not sure if this is a relatively unexplored genre of theatre/plays, so I thought this would be fascinating to dive into. I was hoping to explore the ideas of love/romance and how gender & hypermasculinity influence people’s relationships. A big part of this is that I wanted to explore not only this unfamiliar/challenging idea of a silent musical (composing music to tell a story and minimising dialogue) but also writing something like an ensemble cast for both characters to allow equal stage time.
I received fairly positive feedback for this idea. My peers wanted me to challenge myself if I were to continue writing plays, as I have mostly written plays in my creative writing background. However, they were receptive toward the idea of challenging myself with composing music/lyrics as well as silent storytelling. My peers could see that I was passionate about exploring both of my hobbies in music and writing, combining them into an interesting medium of storytelling through the silent musical.
My second idea was to write a traditional full-length play for the theatre. The topic of the writing would entail exploring mental health and mental differences (often referred to as “mentally challenged”) and how people’s different perceptions of the world because of this can influence their meanings and evaluations of life. My curiosity in this lies in my weaker background on the topic, so I wanted to simultaneously write and research & learn about mental health.
The feedback I received about this was that although the topic was interesting, the medium was not exploring a new form of writing for myself. Because of my background in playwriting, this would not challenge me in my writing abilities so much as the other pitches. Nonetheless, because the topic is still valid, I might wish to explore applying this topic in other less familiar mediums to still utilise the main story components whilst also exploring another form of writing.
The third idea I proposed was the idea of writing several product papers for a B2B security solutions/tech software startup for which I head sales/customer experience. I thought this would be a very creative writing experience, since the product paper is inevitably highly multi-modal and explores the usage of space & structure in formatting the paper’s design. Because I would also have to cater it to my audience’s needs (the customer), I would also be able to explore writing several product papers to produce multiple different yet similar kinds of work that I have not done before.
The feedback I received was mixed about this one. Agreeing with my peers’ sentiments, I also found it to be far too professional for my tastes of creative writing — it felt more like a job/task as opposed to exploring creative writing. Although this would be a highly challenging and multi-modal piece, I do not think it is what I seek to learn from the class’s goals & learning environment.
The fourth and final idea I had was to explore screenwriting. I proposed rewriting one of my plays as a film and seeing how that goes. This pitch arises from my interest in entering the film/media entertainment industry and how I want to see how my previous experience in playwriting will effectively transfer over to screenwriting. Because I have no experience in this, I thought this would be a nice incentive/initiative to begin.
My peers found this to be the best pitch despite the fact that I would be rewriting a play (and thus not ideating new content necessarily). Because I have never explored screenwriting before, yet it is still within some scope of comfortableness due to the similarity of playwriting to screenwriting, this connects well to introducing the screenplay genre to myself.
All in all, the pitching experience was highly beneficial. Not only did I receive feedback for each pitch, but I learned what made each pitch strong and weak in terms of exploring my writing learning experience. Overall, to align with challenging and thus learning as much as I can through this course, I think I will follow through with the fourth idea of screenwriting. I also explored this further by possibly taking a screenwriting course simultaneously (intro to screenwriting), though I think I find myself more effectively learning through rigorously challenging myself in this environment.
I took a pretty dissected and objective analysis of my peers to help myself parse through the pitching session so this might not have been the most fun read. But, anyway… because of the interesting topic of mental health I also discussed earlier, which I know very little about, I might combine both this unfamiliarity with the topic of mental health and unfamiliarity with screenwriting to create a feature film about mental health and the mind.
I have some ideas boiling & ready to explore, so I’m looking forward to the semester!!
Enrolling in my first, gateway course to pursue my minor in writing at the University of Michigan molded a unique experience that I never expected.
During interviews, people ask me, ‘tell me about yourself’ and to ‘walk me through your resume.’ I scan through my few years as an undergraduate at college: my accomplishments from before, my projects right now, and my goals in the future. ‘I am pursuing a minor in writing because you learn how to tell a story. You learn how to convey meaning, so that the customer understands. Because you need to empathise with the customer; you need to know how the customer can feel and understand something in the same way that you do,’ I tell my interviewers. I still hold true to this. I still believe this is one correct way to interpret writing and transfer it to my career aspirations for marketing and communication for life, in general.
I came in with the assumption that I would be working on a ‘professional’ and ‘formal’ piece. ‘What is the minor in writing,’ people would ask, ‘what kind of writing do you do?’ In September, I told them that my focus was in formal writing, ‘like essays and research.’ By the end of October, my answer flipped into creative writing. That, precisely, is my growth pattern whilst enrolled in my Minor in Writing Gateway course. I always advertise myself as a ‘generalist’: someone who holds many curiosities and interests, many abilities and backgrounds, and wishes to apply it in every corner of their life. But, my refusal–my fear–to stray away from formal writing contradicted that very philosophy. This course inspired absolute free-thought and wild creativity, that many other courses would frame as a deviation from institutional formulas and their structured checklists. And that is where the takeaway, growth message derives.
I learned how to not conform to my and others’ historical successes–to not limit myself from taking new risks.
My final experiment was a prologue to a novel, which is something I never expected to start entering the course. But, that is precisely the lesson. I tried something new and, consequently, expanded my writing expertise on the more creative side of writing. This, I think, is the true ‘storytelling,’ that I always mention during my interviews and when people ask me about my minor in writing. I grew as a writer, in these past three months, as I took the uncomfortable risk of writing a prologue to a novel (in the style of collection of vignettes, which is also newfound to me), for the first time. My expanded progressiveness toward risk-taking is the very strength that I am excited to expand as my Capstone course approaches, thus concluding my Minor in Writing experience.
What I find even more phenomenal, though, is that this project is incomplete, in a sense. I have ideas bouncing in my head; sometimes it is the only thing I think about, as I walk to-and-fro between my class meetings. I adore this passion that I have nurtured through this course, along with hearing the many stories that fellow classmates have composed, too. Now, I understand why the ‘Minor in Writing’ is capitalised as a proper noun: it is, truly, a unique experience, inimitable in any other course at my university.
As my graduation approaches closer with each passing day, I eagerly look forward to expanding this prologue into a full-fledged chapter for my novel.
To Tommy and Alex, the two narrators in my novel’s plot: see you again in Fall 2019!
Sorry for the title, by the way. It is late, I felt the urge to blog, and I am somewhat incoherent.
In all seriousness, having the opportunity to attend the Writer-to-Writer talk was phenomenal, especially for the experimental piece I am currently working on. With Dr Shelley Manis interviewing Dr Heather Ann Thompson in an independently-owned book store, Literati, local to Ann Arbor. Throughout the entire talk, I had not heard of this book before (my fault) and had not heard of Dr Thompson prior either (also my fault). The modest space, surrounded by bookcases and the store’s quaint decor, allowed me to be included in the conversation, as if I was in a dialogue with Dr Thompson herself. The comfortableness of the space, too, gave me the confidence to ask my question (though I did nervously fumble a few words once all the faces turned to me).
‘Helllloooo, loved the talk by the way. I really liked that ‘torture’ theme you mentioned earlier. So, when you are in the writing process and are trying to balance in-between from being too vague or too explicit–and choosing what to intentionally include or exclude in your writing–whilst still trying to empathise with and immerse your reader, how do you decide what you want to keep in your writing?’
That is a lot of words. Basically, I was asking, ‘how do you decide what to include or exclude in your writing and how do you avoid being either too vague or too explicit?’
Her response hit home the point of ‘setting up’ your reader to know what is going to happen. I found this concept to be interesting. Dr Thompson highlighted the age-old concept of ‘show, don’t tell,’ as she described her writing process in detail. For example, setting the vibes of a scene or the character’s appearance, etc., all can enable the reader to already connect and feel the scene without it even happening. As she pulled up the example of a gory torture scene from a recent movie, she described how properly setting up the scene to the reader can convey the emotions of the event without having the event explicitly happen. This allows the reader to easily predict what is going to happen, based on a scene that is possibly just a few seconds before the plot’s climax. I think this is great advice to keep in mind when trying to stir up the reader’s emotions, through symbolism and metaphors versus explicit behaviours and actions.
My favourite takeaway from this (especially being a strong supporter of the feminist theory!) is when an audience member asked her a question about the intersection of her social identities when writing Blood in the Water: what is it like to be a white woman writing a book like Blood in the Water (which describes the experiences of people-of-colour)?
Dr Thompson said that, as a white woman who has convenient access to resources to research these issues, she has an obligation. Dr Thompson’s voice raised with a strong fervor as she said that, and the energy and passion (which was one her favourite words, by the way) vibrated throughout the room.
She really did make history come alive.
You can see the Michigan Daily article that covered the talk, too!
This Tuesday night, I attended The Moth, a platform for artists & writers to share personal stories based around this night’s theme of Distance. With eleven speakers to share a 5-6 minute story relevant to the topic of distance, each came with a different approach to their tone, content, and usage of comedic relief for their stories. Complemented by a highly interactive audience of 200+ people, the speakers and audience became ingrained in the same experience of vicariously reliving the stories.
With a plethora of genres intersecting with one another, all shared the features of being non-fictitious and personally experienced narratives. Although some stories may have been performed on-the-spot whereas other pieces may have been carefully tinkered with prior writing preparation, all pieces shared the story-telling aspect. Just like any form of writing, being able to convey your primary meaning to your audience is the most valuable component to any writing. With story-telling, the composition of the audience is highly variable, so being able to communicate fluidly is crucial. Despite the importance of clear communication at The Moth, several performers often had unclear stories which made me feel lost about what was happening. This was probably one of the worst feelings: when you know the artist has a phenomenal story, but you just don’t understand.
Nonetheless, a lack of clarity was a rarity. Many performers spoke compelling stories, driven with emotions. The comedic stories gave a lighthearted and funny narrative, whereas the more serious stories honoured my presence and allowed me to put a face to social issues. For instance, the judged winning speaker that night discussed the conflicting intersection of child molestation and family, providing me an outlet to empathise with the speaker’s experiences. Not often do we have individuals able to willingly talk about such personal and traumatic experiences in public.
Experiences like The Moth need to be experienced by everyone, and at least several times. Story-telling is an opportunity for us to share personal experiences and thus bring awareness to issues that often go hidden. By creating a vulnerable and open space with an inclusive audience that is excited to listen, speakers also can find a unique opportunity to share with a highly supportive audience. All in all, The Moth is a phenomenal way to spend a night, not only learning but also being entertained.
Graphic novels & comic books are an interesting genre to explore. A lot of people (probably your parents) probably didn’t see flipping through these ‘picture’ books as ‘really reading’ like textbooks & literature, and that they perceived it as more of a past time than anything. You were having too much fun to really be reading & learning—but that is precisely the value of these graphic texts.
We learned a lot of morals and values through those super-hero comics, or Dr Seuss books, believe it or not. And as children with minimal attention span, being able to want to continue reading and not perceive it as the traditionally tedious ‘reading’ that we usually avoid is HUGE. Visually-saturated text masters the skill of grabbing your reader’s attention.
But with high reward comes high risk. Using visuals—especially if you choose to go completely wordless in your text—requires heavy perspective-taking and empathy-building with the reader to ensure that your metaphorical imagery conveys what you mean to convey. Here are some things to keep in mind as you lay out the story of your visually based adventure:
Shock your reader… occasionally. Experiment with using visually complex imagery that may challenge your reader’s predictability for what they expect you to do. Surreal and unreal art, when appropriate, can bring a lot of attention to the reader to an exaggerated feature in your imagery. Just make sure you don’t abuse this too much such that your reader is just left plain-out confused.
It’s hard to not get drawn to Keith Haring’s exaggeration of this person’s elongated body. The simple depiction of an uncommon feature draws our attention.
Colours tell a story. Especially with black and white graphics, the colours you decide—from hue, brightness, and contrast—can invoke certain feelings and focus the reader’s attention on certain sections of the panel. Colours are a very subtle way to emphasise something with a low likelihood of confusing the reader.
Think outside the frame. Change up the spatial mode of the comic strip or organisation of your visuals. Add variance to the gutter (space between each frame) or the size, shape & organisation of the frames themselves. This is a great way to manipulate the reader’s perception of time on a still image (how long or short they read the panel).
One of the top image results for ‘unconventional comic’ in a popular search engine. Notice how panels bleed over each other, the dialogue that leaks outside the frames, the vertical organisation of the story progression, and the sizes & shapes of the frames.
Perspective-taking is #1. Because you won’t be as explicit in describing a character or setting, you need to empathise with whether a reader would be able to feel and imagine the same things you want them to through your more ambiguous representations.
Be very intentional. Like any text, take into close consideration what you are deciding and not deciding to include in your text. Unlike the traditional word-heavy text, though, you have a very small & limited number of panels to communicate your message versus a book’s tens-of-thousands of words. A reader is likely to spend half a minute just staring at one panel, trying to consume all the information, even.
Take advantage of visuals. You can now literally draw things of important value to a character or plot development without having to depend on slightly imperfect words. Focus on painting vivid panels, focus on drawing facial & gestural expressions to invoke feeling, etc. You can also better convey movement and action by drawing these in, making a still image come alive. Words should complement your visuals, not be your main focus.
This meme could be our metaphor for substituting heavy text with detailed imagery. Think of it like this: with less vivid visuals, the more you probably will have to explain via text what you want to convey, which just exacerbates the messiness of a panel and a potentially uninteresting paragraph to the reader.
The graphic & visual text genre is a massive genre with many underlying branches. Take a look at just a handful of the many graphics, including Keith Haring’s artistry to understand the importance of art form in graphics.
Consisting of a collection of four of Haring’s ‘Pop Shop II’ art pieces, this collection focuses on displaying an interesting level of surrealism in his art that is frequently seen in all his art pieces in different forms. Haring plays with the limitations of the human body by creating a four-legged figure, a hovering figure, an elongated & highly flexible figure, and two figures combining bodies together. By experimenting with the uncommon and unimaginable, Haring’s simplistic yet signature art styles draw the attention of many who are simply intrigued by this unusualness. The unsettling uncomfortableness with the unreal is visually attractive. Often times, these pieces also only include one figure (or one conjoined figure), showing that it is important to not create an information overload with too many moving parts in the visuals that may confuse the reader.
This large collection of Haring’s works throughout his career as an artist displays the numerous techniques he uses to distinguish his artistry. He frequently includes straightforward pictures with a single anomaly to attract the viewer’s eyes (i.e. two figures in the portrait, except one of the figures is looped inside the other figure’s body that has a gaping hole in it). Haring’s simplistic yet bright colours also make the imagery easy to understand despite the surrealism, which is important when trying to ensure complex imagery is still easy to consume. Another interesting concept that Haring uses is his motion lines that help to show movement in the visual, such as a moving joint or limb. This is also highly significant for static imagery, since this allows us to convey moving parts to communicate a mini-story as the figure moves.
Frans Masereel’s 25 Images of a Man’s Passion (1918).
This popular wordless graphic novel exhibits the significance of choice in including certain imagery in each frame. For instance, some may include a highly simplistic illustration of only an individual supported by a black or white background, whereas others may include many individuals or objects in the portrait to explain relativeness or a de-focus on the subject and instead the environment & setting. With limited space to convey explicit detail and movement, attention is drawn to facial expressions and the gestural mode to show action. Black and white colours also allow Masereel to contrast the darkness versus light, which allow him to play with many emotions that this may connotate.
Frans Masereel’s The City (1972).
Similar to Masereel’s other pieces, he uses his black and white visuals to develop a story without linguistics. The City especially emphasises Masereel’s usage of intricate details and create a highly detailed environment for the reader to immerse themselves in. Instead of construing story and character information through many frames, Masereel creates complex visuals that allow the reader to get a highly detailed understanding of the context solely through one or two frames. This showcases the value of providing enough information, especially with a short comic strip, to quickly develop a meaningful plot without losing the reader’s interest.
Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2000).
Persepolis is a graphic autobiography that describes a young child’s development to adulthood whilst in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. The black-and-white visuals effectively complement the text to communicate a fluent narrative that allows the reader to directly engage in the text through visualization. The colour choices in which sections were either black or white help to communicate ‘dark’ and ‘light’ in terms of what could be considered ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Satrapi’s mastery of colour draws focus and invokes feelings, crucial for any visually-heavy text. Additionally, the spatial organisation and size of the comic frames alter the reader’s sense of time in consuming the text and order (or lack of order) of reading it.
A nonfiction & fiction collection of short stories combines multiple genres at once. Although this approach to a story allows for a very detailed plot, the mixture of both nonfiction and fiction may disrupt the tone and flow of the story. It is crucial to be able to balance the nonfiction and fiction aspects fluidly to create a story that naturally flows whilst communicating plots points that are necessary to the story’s growth. Likewise, a collection of short stories creates a fluid interaction between papers, though it is still important that you accentuate each paper’ unique strengths. As with any genre, especially this one which is comprised of so many moving parts, there are certain expectations to improve your rate of success.
Considering that most people do not have the patience or interest to want to begin reading your story, it is vital to attract and maintain your reader’s attention at every stopping point of the reading journey. Below are guidelines I have created for writing within this genre:
Quality over quantity. Focus on developing a single or few characters versus introducing many characters. Because the objective of a short story is to communicate a compelling story given limited space, it is important that the characters that are present in the piece are fleshed out enough so that the reader actually knows who they are; the reader should not be trying to learn about a plethora of characters within the span of a short story, which would derail the focus.
One story at a time. Don’t try to paint an entire timeline of your life. A short story revolves more around one event and the effects & implications that instance has had on your life. Like the previous guideline, by limiting the amount of space to write, this allows you to narrow your focus on expanding a high-quality story that reader will be able to fully understand.
Power as a whole, yet independence as an individual. Each story should be fully independent. The reader should not be forced to read another short story to reasonably understand the plot of any story in the collection. However, by combining all the stories together, the grouped collection of these stories should improve the readers’ experience as connections are being created between each story to enhance the plots’ contexts.
Imagery is your best friend—and only friend. With little space to elaborate or describe anything, visuals allow the reader to consume a large amount of information at once whilst creating an image of the situation that directly matches the writer’s intentions. Vivid and clear descriptions prevent substantial confusion that implicit statements or metaphors may otherwise cause, which is especially important in the limited amount of space a short story has.
Take advantage of fiction. Keep in mind that the objective of the short story may sometimes require fictitious content to convey the main idea. Moderate how much of the text is fiction and nonfiction (if any) and focus on the primary goal of the story. If your objective would be more strongly emphasised if a specific moment occurred, craft that moment and interweave it with the nonfiction aspects to create an interesting mix of truth & fiction. The fiction should help to enhance the nonfiction portions of the story, and vice versa.
Be proactive in providing information. Share valuable information necessary for the progression & development of the story as early as possible. Provide the information in a succinct manner, but do not leave out details that may ultimately prove to be important later in the plot. Prevent the readers from having to step out of the plot to educate themselves to then understand the plot itself. This makes the reader lose focus.
Check out some of these examples of great collections of either short stories, vignettes, or essays; these may not necessarily align exactly with this genre, however many seem to share similar features:
Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 2015.
After further research, the vignette style that Cisneros uses in her book effectively gives a vicarious look into important moments in her life without going into extensive detail. This brevity is fundamental as it zooms in and goes straight to the peak of the story and the takeaway message & purpose of the story without elaborating on details that the reader may find distracting or uninteresting to learn. Cisneros uses an interesting tactic of including stories that are often from different perspectives as well, allowing for implicit character development through seeing something in that character’s lens occasionally. This is an interesting tool to provide the same story twice, but under different perspectives, which can create two entirely different plots.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “ESSAYS.” Edited by Edna H. L. Turpin, The Project Gutenberg EBook of Essays, by Ralph Waldo Emerson., 15 Mar. 2012, www.gutenberg.org/files/16643/16643-h/16643-h.htm.
When Emerson’s essays are all combined together as a single book, this creates an interesting connection between all of them despite that they each focus on different topics. Whilst crafting a collection of short stories, seeing the organisation of this collection of Emerson’s essay is helpful to know when chaining stories together to create a fluid plot. Another important takeaway from this text is that each story—or in Emerson’s case, each essay—should be independent of each other, such that the reader should be able to fully understand the plot in one piece without having to read another. Essentially, by grouping the papers together, this should enhance the overall reading experience by offering a relational insight via comparing each piece under varied lens, independently.
Melville, Herman. “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street.” Melville, Herman. 1853. Bartleby, the Scrivener, www.bartleby.com/129/.
This single short story by Melville about a lawyer working at Wall Street and his interactions with a newly hired and defiant clerk shows the tremendous detail that goes into developing each character, such as the lengthy paragraph that introduces Bartleby’s three employees. This allows the reader to quickly visualise and consume information necessary to understand the plot later in the text. The detailed descriptions of seemingly unnecessary features of each character and the setting allow the reader to be able to paint a very vivid image of the scene, activating the reader’s imagination to match the meanings that the writer is trying to convey, thus showing the value of providing detailed visual descriptions to make up for the brevity of the text.
Thoreau, Henry David. “Walden.” The Walden Woods Project, The Walden Woods Project, www.walden.org/work/walden/.
Although Thoreau’s Walden is a memoir regarding a secluded trek to nature, his work strongly connects with short stories collections because of the book’s chronological organisation that mimics many collections of short stories’ progression (and especially the progression of vignettes). As Thoreau’s time in the woods increases with each passing chapter, the plot grows. The weather around Thoreau is constantly shifting, allowing Thoreau to progress his story based on the changing seasons, thus creating a naturally flowing text. Thoreau’s observations of both the self and the environment are described in an effective manner through descriptive details and imagery, allowing the reader to conveniently visualise the setting and almost vicariously live his experiences. This vicarious living is crucial to creating a compelling plot that the reader can connect with.
Since senior year of high school with creating an online women’s clothing business’ website, I have always found websites to be an enjoyable medium that conveys a plethora of information. Unlike a book or newspaper, a full-fledged website can contain unlimited information that is bound only by the mouse scrolling of the reader. Every single mode fluidly translates into a website, from the visual mode of animated .gif imagery, spatial mode of the placement of elements in certain places, and so on.
It was not until recently with my decision to create an interactive website did I realise the difficulty in the genre of create-your-own-journey websites. Unlike any regular website, these interactive websites must somehow combine the user’s uncorrelated input into a coagulated result. Further, it is crucial to ensure that the reader really understands the end-game result and that the reader feels his/her choices were valuable in deciding the fate of the result. This is where perspective-taking and empathising with the reader’s experience comes into play.
There are many complications associated with creating an interactive website, some technical and some more centralised on the reader interpreting the content. After analysing several examples of text, there are some positive and negative trends in how these interactive, create-your-own-journey websites operate.
Acknolwedge that the reader is a user. The reader is an active of a reader as he/she will ever be. The reader is trying to grapple with the content on the page through interacting with it. By using the mouse cursor and pressing on elements on the page, the reader is making decisions. Consequently, the writer must think beyond simply ‘how is the reader interpreting this information,’ but also ‘what is the reader’s experience navigating through this website?’. This is where the design of the website, particularly the spatial mode, is enormously vital for the reader to understand the meaning of your text.
So, hand the power to the reader. Unlike your typical BuzzFeed ‘What Dessert Are You?’ interactive website, often these create-your-own-journey websites have a reason behind their existence. To avoid sounding like you are simply educating or arguing a point across to the reader, you have to make the experience enjoyable. Simply put, an effective way to do this is by granting the user full autonomy, which is something we, as writers, are not used to doing. The reader is writing his/her own story, not the writer. You simply facilitate the reader’s imagination to inspire a narrative. Once the reader creates his/her own narrative, the reader will take ownership of that work and feel responsible for the result, allowing the reader to better empathise with the website’s purpose.
Then reward the reader for taking the reins. After an arduous journey traveling through the website, the reader must feel satisfied. To be satisfied does not necessarily mean a happy ending, but simply a sense of closure and that the reader’s decisions mattered. Make sure that the reader’s choices accurately match with the result that he/she received at the end. This also means that all results should be equally satisfying for the reader to experience; the choices that the reader selects should not impact his/her satisfaction, but only the characteristics of the result.
Figure 1. A happy ending is not always the best ending, especially if you are trying to convince the reader of an argument. An ‘a-ha!’ moment can make the end-game of a create-your-own-journey website very fulfilling, especially if the reader leaves the website learning something they didn’t know before. Think in the lens of the last minutes of a film, which viewers often use to rate the film’s quality: you don’t spoil the end of the film’s plot but show how everything that has happened throughout the film has built up to that moment. Source: http://jug-lviv.blogspot.com/2013/01/fridays-fun_1938.html
More generally speaking, there are also plenty of trends in the broader genre of a website, which are dissected below.
A website designer is fluent in all modes. Or at least they should be. A true website designer should be able to utilise all modes throughout the entire website. The code on the website grants full freedom for the writer to convey information how he/she pleases. Linguistic mode can easily be communicated like any text through words and phrases, visual mode can be seen by uploading and inserting image or video files, spatial mode can be structured with the website’s formatting and placement of HTML elements, aural mode can be heard with uploading a sound file or even implementing a music file that plays when entering the landing page, and gestural mode can be presented through visuals of people’s gestures. The writer can choose to use only specific modes on certain pages and then interlace all these pages together as a single, cohesive website.
The audience of a website can be specific, but it is always published globally. The potential generalisation of the audience to anyone in the world should always be on the mind of a website designer: it defines the threshold between public and private information to display on the website. However, this also means that you must understand many readers could be visiting the website without an actual interest in the website’s topic initially. For instance, readers must intentionally go to the library or store to obtain a book after considering beforehand what they were looking for. In contrast, ‘website surfing’ could mean that many website visitors appeared out of curiosity, with no incentive to stay. This means the ‘hook’ that attracts the reader on a website is significantly more important than in a book or other genres, as many visitors have no reason to continue browsing the website if they are not initially interested.
There is no limit to how much information you can communicate. As stated in the beginning of this post, the only restriction on the amount of information you can convey is barred only by the reader’s mouse scrolling. There is no real limitation on information. If you don’t want the reader to scroll, you can always redirect them to another website page as well. Unfortunately, having no limitation on how much information you can convey means that many website designers incorrectly overload the reader with far too much information. This is dangerous as it works against the writer. Not only does it ruin the reader’s experience, but also makes it difficult for the reader to parse the important concepts in a text to remember. The freedom of information is thus both a blessing and a curse.
Figure 2. A reader can only handle so much information. Even if you could speak for hours on the topic, the reader may have only opened up your website assuming it would be enough to entertain them for a 5-minute coffee break, not a 90-minute lecture. When the size of the scrolling bar is shorter than the width of your thumb, you know need to start cutting the amount of content on your page. Source: https://gifer.com/en/3b8
The new genre of the interactive website, and more specifically the create-your-own-journey website is a phenomenal avenue for writers to convey their text. Although website design is somewhat more complex than more traditional mediums of text, it is important for writers to keep up with new technology to engage all forms of readers. And, there is no better time to create a website than now—the number of free website builders that exist allow for full creativity in an easy-to-use platform. With these tips about the interactive website genre, why not try making your own right now?