Challenge Blog Three: First Year Writing 2.0

I am taking a First Year Writing Requirement as a second-semester senior. This was entirely by accident. I only decided to enroll because the course is focused on pop culture and music. So obviously it looked interesting! As a MiW, I have taken plenty of argumentative essay courses. Then why am I having trouble starting this first paper? It is a 4-5 page rhetorical analysis that unpacks an interview with Blondie (well, just Debbie Harry and Chris Stein). This should be right up my alley, right? But I just can’t pin down the exact problem, because I think it’s two-fold. First, my professor provided some incredibly confusing guidelines for the paper-writing process that I am not used to. She is almost guiding us too much! For example, she gives us concepts to consider for each text we want to close-read and then we are meant to answer a set of questions of our classmates creation. I feel like I do this process (asking questions of the text) in my own natural way as I start a paper. So, her guidelines may be too constraining. Secondly, I feel pressured to write an interesting and revealing paper in just four or five pages. I have been writing longer papers since my last FYWR, so I simply feel stuck right now and can’t jump in.

im out

What did I do when I felt this way in my other writing courses? The upper-level requirements were definitely more challenging, but they had incredibly open-ended prompts. I don’t enjoy feeling like I have to answer a specific question, so I may approach this paper in a similarly flexible way (while still acknowledging her guidelines). I would like to reveal new perspectives on this interview rather than arriving at any solid answer. Because this Blondie interview is complicated! I won’t forgo the assignment guidelines altogether, but I think I have to just start this paper knowing I will arrive at multiple answers (and finagle a way so that I am not too bogged down by rules). Is that too rebellious? I don’t know. But I am a senior in a freshman writing class and feel like I can be more creative with a rhetorical analysis.

Personal Essay

Summary of Stage One:

For this semesters experiment process I elected to rewrite a blog post I wrote this past summer. This blog post was part of a weekly blog post requirement assigned by Michigan LS&A in order to receive a scholarship for my summer internship. This was not my best piece of writing and I think it heavily had to do with the fact that I had a time limit and it was restrictive to what they wanted. I am interested in exploring this piece of writing in a personal way, which I can discuss my emotions more as well as go into more detail. I think it would be interesting to see this piece as a personal narrative that really displays my summer in Croatia.

How to Write a Personal Narrative:

Honestly, when I decided that writing a personal narrative was the approach I was going to take to tell my story of my summer in Croatia I really didn’t know what exactly I was going to do. I knew that a personal narrative required some sort of story about my life, but wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to need to do. According to online sources, this is what I should do:

  1. Focus on a memorable event/moment in my life
    1. While Wikihow suggests I think about a time I ‘struggled with body image in high school’ or ‘my disastrous 15th birthday party’, I have decided to stick to my topic. I do think this advice is important because it is easier to focus on one thing than try and explore multiple things for a shorter narrative (https://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Personal-Narrative)
  2. Include Certain Elements
    1. Characters: ME!
    2. Tense
    3. Voice
    4. Conflict
    5. Descriptive language
    6. Make your point
      1. This is the most important advice because it states that I shouldn’t say something basic, but I should really look into the story I am trying to tell and the most important aspect of that story (https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-write-a-personal-narrative-1856809)
    7. Body Paragraphs
      1. “Show, Don’t Tell”
        1. Good story telling includes details that help the reader understand exactly what the writer experienced, and this website suggests that I explain all of my senses not just what I saw (https://www.sbcc.edu/clrc/files/wl/downloads/StructureofaPersonalNarrativeEssay.pdf)
      2. Passage of Time
        1. I am going to try and incorporate what happened over time, and not just over one day. I plan to discuss my experiences and interweave the important moments amongst my overall feelings
      3. Making the introduction interesting
        1. Give the readers the hook: I have to make my essay very interesting because it is important that I get people to actually read it, and want to read it 

The part that I am most worried about is the conclusion of my essay. I think that it is really difficult to write a conclusion to something that is about my life, as it is completely concluding my experience. That is something I am most worried about but am excited to tackle.

How to Write an Academic Article

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Stage 1 Summary

Hey everyone! Ok, so in contemplation of which origin piece to select, I felt really fortunate to land on my first essay from my English 125 class, entitled “Checklist.” I wanted to started off my freshman year with a creative spin, so I resorted to what I knew best – checklists. As you can imagine, the essay was structured as such, with each list followed by a narrative account. It felt right, except for the fact that at the bottom of each list was always a box left unchecked – a certain goal that was frustratingly unattainable. At the time, I thought that this structured organization and rigid system of goal setting was flawless, but, you will come to find out that at the end, I seriously consider dropping this way of approaching life.

The last sentence of the essay reads: “☐   Leave the checklists in the past.”

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I’ve realized that the main problem with this piece is that it is, well, unfinished. I have not made up my mind and, as I continue to follow down this structured path in my current life, I am left uninformed as to whether or not I am doing myself any justice. So, for this stage I would like to delve deeper into the underlying psychology at play here. More clearly, I’d like to tackle a research/academic paper in lieu of a strictly personal narrative. And, at the end of it, I’d like to walk away with something ~scientific.~

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How to Write a Research Paper

Ah, yes – the dreaded land of academic articles and research papers. We all have encountered them and their esoteric jargon, but how do we actually go about writing them? Do we just throw a slew of fancy words against the page and hope they sticky? Probably not (though, that might be what BuzzFeed would suggest). So, in an effort to avoid that, I’ve contacted the source directly – that is, academic articles on how to write academic articles. It’s a match made in heaven.

 

  • From A Guide to Writing a Scientific Paper: A Focus on High School Through Graduate Level Student Research” I’ve learned the proper formatting for such papers. This guide, provided by Renee A. Hesselbach, details the importance of providing an abstract – one that could in fact stand alone. Throughout my experiences, I’ve always found these to be incredibly helpful – perhaps even too helpful – so I will definitely need to find just the right amount so as to deter my audience from focusing exclusively on the primer.

 

  • Additionally, from Harvard’s Writing Center’s “A Brief Guide to Writing the Psychology Paper,” I’ve learned that the majority of sources used will be empirical reports found in journals. It also mentions that, whenever possible, I should cite articles from peer-reviewed journals (meaning that the journal requires that the article be reviewed by experts in the field before it is published).

 

  • And, lastly from Columbia University’s “Writing a Research Paper” I’ve learned the importance of something that I once though to be, perhaps, very trivial. Here, it stresses that the title must be specific enough to describe the contents of the paper, but not so technical that only specialists will understand. Given that I don’t want my paper to be used by really niche groups – but rather, well, everyone – it’s important that I not overlook the fact that the title should be appropriate for the intended audience (in hindsight, I suppose I knew this, but I now will be giving it much more thought and attention).

 

Lastly, in order to be effective, it would be helpful to have a specific research question. For this, I think what I am targeting is something along the lines of: “Do checklists – as they pertain to everyday life – increase anxiety and ineffectiveness or do they allow for increased happiness and productivity?”

 

That is all for now; if you’ve gotten this far, thank you! And, if you have any experiences with checklists, I’d love to hear about them!

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Turning to Fiction

Writing fiction seems like it should be easy, right? I mean, you can write whatever you want. However, this is the problem that I am currently stuck with. Sure I have some guidelines. I am attempting to create a fictional screenplay based off a non-fictional essay I wrote last year for ENG 325. But this is a bigger leap then I first anticipated. I have an idea for a story but I feel as though it could go in so many directions. There are so many different themes I could focus on, symbols I can emphasize, and types of characters I could develop – but the question becomes, what are the choices that will lead to the best script?

This experience reminds me of my gateway project. For that project, I was taking an academic essay that I had already wrote on The Beatles’ song “A Day in the Life,” and attempting to turn a creative interpretation as to what The Beatles hidden, deeper messages were in the song. I struggled with finding what the most important lines of the song were, and the themes which to focus on. With time I was able to come up with a strong piece of writing that I felt comfortable with, but still being in the early stages of this project has made me question how difficult it will be this time around.

What I learned from that last experience was when I start with a big idea, and then start to narrow it down and focus on what seems to be the most important, and then researching and spending time thinking about it is how I got the most productive response. I am trying to do this for my story now, but there seem to be a lot of challenges that I didn’t anticipate.

How to Write Modern Social Science

Experiment 1 Stage 2 — Aayush Patel

Stage 1 Summary

                For my experimentation processes this semester, I have chosen to revisit a personal free-write piece from my junior year of high school that analyzed the historical consequences of having a “money-based” society and addressed whether a society without any concept of money was feasible. Because this piece was a free-write and my teacher had let us essentially ramble, there is no clear genre that I intended to replicate for this piece. However, my natural free-write tendencies led to this paper becoming more of a social/philosophical narrative argument with some signs of a research paper. And I’ll be honest, I thought I was hot shit in high school and my writing reflected that. I can just remember my arrogance as I wrote this paper and marveled at the beauty of my own philosophical thoughts. Now that I look back on it with a more humble outlook, I still think “DAMN I’M GOOD!” Just kidding. I really need to filter out my arrogance in this free write because it smells loud. That is only partially related to the genre experiment, but mostly a personal thing I want to improve on. In general, I’m really interested in seeing how my personality change in the last 3 years is reflected in this experimentation process.

Ultimately, I have the opportunity to transform this paper into any genre I want because the topic of a moneyless society can be tackled in so many variations, which is a blessing and a curse. For this first experiment, I want to experiment with modern research papers that present social research with a blend of objective and subjective arguments (think Freakonomics). This task will require me to conduct academic research on my topic and also find a unique balance between an academic tone and argumentation.

 

How to Present Modern Social Science

Since the 2000s, the social science genre has spiked as a result of a movement to incorporate authorial perspective in presenting research within these fields (economics, sociology, psychology, history, etc.). I believe that Freakonomics and Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point has likely lead this movement. These authors unique ability to present social research in an attention-grabbing and creative way has inspired researchers to rethink how they present their information. Their success in challenging societal misconceptions about real estate agents, sumo wrestlers, drug dealers, crime reduction policies, suicide, and abortion all within three-hundred page books is directly related with their success in incorporating their own perspectives with their research. Dubner and Gladwell excel at storytelling, drawing comparisons, and identifying real examples of their research’s conclusions about society. There’s no wonder that the Freakonomics podcast is now one of the most popular podcasts in the world, with Dubner in high demand by University seminars around the world (He was Michigan last year). The success of this social science presentation format has continued even into more current times. A look at the NYTimes Bestsellers list features dozens of books written by scientists and researchers, something that would not be possible if these individuals continued writing boring academic papers alone. Angela Duckworth, the author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, entered the bestsellers list by presenting research on mental toughness and the importance of persistence towards personal goals. However, she supplements on concrete research with examples of how industry leaders, successful millionaires, and professional athletes all incorporate her work in their daily lives. This influence has even trickled into the more general science field. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry simplifies exactly what I am claiming about this genre transformation. The title alone suggests that a complex and dense subject matter like astrophysics will be presented “for people in a hurry”. This means limited jargon, less math, and most importantly, Tyson’s own perspective on his information. The global success of all of these novels suggest that the trend towards concise information and narrative tones in research is still continuing.

Here are some common themes in successful social science novels:

  • Select a general societal theme to emphasize and wrap your research around these themes. Freakonomics essentially focuses on incentives and the importance of analyzing hidden factors in social issues. Incentives are addressed by comparing real estate agents and sumo wrestlers. Hidden factors are discussed by analyzing the relationship between abortion and a reduction in crime. In other words, come up with things that sound flashy and will make your reader feel like they acquired specialized knowledge (even though they are just learning examples of general knowledge). You can trick your audience into thinking that they learned more than they actually did if you follow this essential rule.

 

  • Build on sub-themes over the course of the book to make audiences feel like the information is becoming more specialized as the book progresses. Gladwell chooses three laws of epidemics during the first part of his novel and briefly describes each of these laws. However, he chooses to present these three rules in an order of simple to most complex in order to make the audience feel like his research is becoming more scientific over the course of the novel. The idea of few people having a lot of social influence is simple, but the Power of Context (discussed towards the end of the book) is not. If your book isn’t getting more difficult to understand over the course, you’re kind of insulting your audience’s intelligence. Reward them for making it to chapter 10 by teaching them more complex ideas.

 

  • Avoid academic jargon if possible. Explain in simple terms and concrete examples if you are going to use jargon. The main reason modern social science is thriving is because authors have learned how to make knowledge more understandable and have distanced themselves from esoteric language. If your table of contents seems to be focused on too much jargon, you’ll scare readers away before they begin. The more simple your language, the larger your audience. This does not mean you sacrifice your academic integrity or dumb down your work (not entirely). Just build up topics slowly and provide common examples of principles and theories related to your field.

 

  • Stay away from getting too detailed about the empirical methods and math that were used to draw the social conclusions your research leads to. Readers who care will stick to academic journals anyways. Yeah, math is probably essential in defending your discoveries. But the average global audience will probably shed a tear if you try mentioning some calculus or your extremely complex empirical methods with little footnotes everywhere. Leave all this stuff for the actual academic publications. If readers are more interested into the method behind the madness then they’ll seek out the finer details on their own. Just focus on your themes and takeaways if you want to keep your readers awake by the end of chapter 1.

 

 

  • Provide your own concerns and feelings about your research to show the audience your human side. Nobody likes reading textbooks, so don’t write a textbook. You can still be your usual self and maintain your academic integrity. Loosen things up with personal anecdotes, humor (even though you’re probably not funny if you do research), and emotional responses to the case studies you decide to address.

 

Good Luck and Welcome to the genre Bandwagon!

 

 

Speed Dating 101

Prior experience with speed dating: I had a coffee shop interview with a woman from Brown when I was applying for undergrad, and she asked me, “If you were in the elevator with the current Brown president… what would you say?”

 

I froze. I had absolutely no clue what I would say. Elevator pitches, or speed dating, has always scared me a little bit. I addressed this fear when I was assigned a one-minute pitch to advertise to possible publishers a story I wrote on algal blooms in the Great Lakes. I did well, but that was easier — I had done all the work and written the story already, and I was able to know how to summarize my thoughts succinctly and get a point across. In this case though, my intentions are much more vague. I hope it goes well.

Expectations for speed dating: A first impression can go a long way. Making this a cohesive pitch is essential… I should only bring the most prominent or interesting details come to light. Because, when speed dating, people can only remember so much from each person. If I can make one thing stick out and have it remembered by everyone in the class, that would be a success.

Possibly, today will be the memory people jump back to when thinking about my topic for the remainder of the semester. This doesn’t mean people’s opinion of me can’t change, or that I can’t do something unexpected, but making a good first impression is important. Especially, it’s important for people that I won’t interact with on a weekly or class-by-class basis. So, I hope it goes well.

I want to captivate people’s attention, spark something that helps them to remember this project. That way, next time when I do a full pitch they are better mentally prepared to contribute and have ideas for me.

Results: Nervous at first, what helped me get through all six or seven “speed dates” was listening, asking questions of others, and putting my project in perspective; rather than just simply focusing on my own project individually. The more the pitches went on, I realized the things I was listening for:
– What motivates you to want to tell this particular story/project?
– Who are you going to reach, and how will you reach that audience in a unique way that hasn’t been done before?
– What experiences have you had that will help you write your story/project?

So, though I was excited to ramble about my idea and express my true passion and desire… to make my 4-minute speed dating pitch resonate I began to focus on these central questions. The more I gave the pitch, the more directed it was, and as a result I think I received better feedback.

Now… continuing to listen (to the feedback) will be essential in moving my project out of the brainstorming stage and making it a reality.

Commitment issues

Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever struggled so much to get started with a project. I’m having issues committing to any one thing, consequently hindering my ability to create a decent production plan. The open-endedness of the capstone project, while a huge privilege, is also the most daunting part of it. My fear is I’ll pick something that I’ll end up hating. I recognize that anything I start will require a substantial amount of research, so I’d like to at least be excited about doing the work since I don’t think I’ll have another opportunity to like this one.

My original plan was to write a short fiction story about a crime (probably rape or murder) from the perspectives of the plaintiff and defendant. I wanted to make it complicated enough to make the reader sympathize with the person committing the crime. The issue with this piece was the fiction writing. I realized just how clueless I was when it came to fiction and the amount of mentoring or research just on how to do it well would take up the bulk of the assignment – plus, I wanted to work with true stories, existing tragedies. But then this would just turn into a report on various controversial crimes and my thoughts on them. No thanks.

My second decision was to pursue a piece on climate change. I care deeply about climate change issues. I wanted to work with nature writing and maybe do a personal narrative. After days of researching nature writing and important people in the field, I think I turned myself off. Why? I’m not entirely sure. The topic just doesn’t have the ‘oomph’ that I usually get about picking a topic.

So I am backtracking- reflecting on the things I set out to do in the minor in writing initially, which is to work on my writing skills, voice, and style. I started these mechanics as freshman and I’d like to walk away having improved them quite a bit. I don’t know what genre would allow me to do this but I’m pretty sure it’s a feature piece/personal narrative.

Presently, I find myself yearning to write about a topic I’d already written about: the Bosnian war, immigrant status, etc. I swore I wouldn’t do this in the Capstone, but I’m now realizing I was too preoccupied with the thrill of something new that I didn’t consider how many different things I still have to say on the subject. I ran across this hesitation about writing about the same thing over again in my New Essay course last semester (ENG345). We were working on a photo essay, and I expressed concern that the only things I could think to write about were about my family’s background as Bosnian refugees and how this has shaped by identity here. My professor challenged by anxieties by asking, “so you’ve said all you could say on the matter?” I ended up writing about epigenetic inheritance (trauma passed through generations). It offered me a new look at the same topic, a way out of my comfort zone. I’m realizing that the reason I write about my family’s identity and the former Yugoslavia so much is because something still feels so unresolved to me- what are the lessons that need to be learned from war and atrocity, the lessons of resilience and redemption that come from tragedy?

So with that in mind, my plan is to just start writing a thing tonight. I’ll write about war.I’ll write about nature (because I’m not quite ready to abandon that yet). I’ll write about my anxieties. And I’ll write until I understand what it is I am trying to communicate. I think of Ann Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts,” in which she says that something you’ll have pages of material before the bulb lights up in your mind.

 

Challenge Journal 1: Genre

One of my struggles this week was deciding on the genre for my Capstone project. I know what topic I want it to be and, generally, its purpose–a reflection of my time in my a cappella group (though audience(s) and ‘research’ question are still in-progress, too)–however I was struggling on how to best approach my chosen medium of a video. One of the big pieces of my project is a video of a song I am arranging and teaching to my group, so video is important to capturing the sound and mood of the piece (just audio wouldn’t capture my planned choreography, nor any other performance aspects of the performance, like singers’ facial features).

For inspiration, I looked back at a video of the Men’s Glee Club (embedded below). I was in the club when this was filmed but, sadly, unavailable for the shoot. However, the video is very similar to what I want to do. It examines the context of the highlighted piece, the perspectives of those involved, and it situates the piece in the greater context of the art world. I want to do that for my project. It also gives a prime example of a genre I can borrow from; however, I’m still debating on whether I want my project’s tone to be so professional or if I want it to be less professional and more intimate (as was my original intention for the project) or, even, to lighten it up with something like this.

I guess what I’m most struggling with right now is how to balance (a) my original desire for this to be a reflective, relatively-serious piece, (b) my (very) limited videography skills, which may limit the tone, and (c) a conscientiousness for my audience, as I know that a project that’s too personal would be off-putting to those not part of my target audience (which, again, begs the question of what my audience is! Is it myself, my a cappella group, potential auditionees, the art critic world? What do you think is most prudent?)

 

(EDIT: I realize that the above videos probably don’t qualify as something that I’ve done in the past, though I do vividly remember the Glee Club making the video. However, I can add in one more logical link. I also looked back on my Remediation from the Gateway, which helped jog my memory of various other video formats I’ve been a part of. To make the link more direct, these videos are one of the reasons that I’m hesitant to do a more professional tone because these ones–which are not professional–were many, many hours of work without fancy videography, and with that added learning curve it’s not reasonable to expect high professionalism. People work full-time on these types of videos and they still take them weeks or months!)

How to Write a Vignette

My origin piece is a poem I wrote in high school for an assignment based on the Allen Ginsberg poem “C’mon Pigs of Western Civilization Eat More Grease.” The goal was to focus on themes of excess, like Ginsberg, so I wrote about makeup in the context of high school and adolescence.

If I’m being honest, it’s a terrible piece of writing. My knowledge of free verse poetry was limited to what we’d covered in class. The structure is a glaring indication that I had no idea what I was doing. The purpose is vague and undefined. Then there’s the fact that the Ginsberg poem I based my poem on was written for spoken word. I cringe at the idea of my poem being read, much less read aloud. Not to mention that it’s riddled with teen angst.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yeah, it’s not great.

Despite all that, I think there is a salvageable topic among the wreckage here. For my first experiment, I want to write a collection of vignettes about the culture surrounding makeup and beauty. I’ve only attempted to write vignettes once before for an assignment after reading Sandra Cisneros’s House on Mango Street, which is the only vignette collection I’ve read. I did what anyone does when they aren’t sure what something is. I typed “vignette” in Google, and my search produced two definitions:

  1. “a brief evocative description, account, or episode.”
  2. “a small illustration or portrait photograph that fades into its background without a definite border”

The word “vignette” is familiar to a lot of people as a tool in Instagram’s photo editing.

The setting blurs the edges to draw the eye to a specific focal point of the image, which is not far from the definition of “vignette” as a literary device or genre. Vignettes are not limited to written word. They can also be used in photography or even in film like in Sam Wright’s 11-vignette comedy, Coffee and Cigarettes. The HGTV website even uses vignette as an interior decorating technique in guide called “8 Tips for Making Beautiful Vignettes.”

For my experiment, I will be focusing on written vignettes like in House on Mango Street, but no matter the medium, all vignettes have a few key qualities:

Vignettes must have a singular focus.

Literarydevices.net defines vignette as a short essay, focusing on a particular moment, mood, setting, or object. In vignette photography, this quality is a literal one, with the focal point of the image being sharp against a blurred background with darkened edges. In written vignettes, like in House on Mango Street, each vignette is focused on one thing, like a particular character, or the house the narrator lives in.

Vignettes can be fiction or nonfiction, but they have to be short.

Writersrelief.com advises that, while there is no hard cut off, a vignette should not be longer than two thousand words. Some of Cisneros’s vignettes are as short as a few hundred words. However …

A vignette is not a short story or flash fiction.

According to Vine Leaves Literary Journal, a vignette is distinct from these genres. Where short story and flash fiction require defined structure and plot, a vignette is more about leaving an impression through “poetic description.”

If part of a collection, it should have a unifying thread.

A collection of vignettes should have a universal theme running through each piece to tie them all together. Each snapshot should somehow relate to the others to create a bigger more complete idea.

Bonus vignette fun facts:

  • The word “vignette” comes from nineteenth-century French writers who drew images of vines on their title pages.
  • The app Vine originates from the word “vignette,” since (if you’re using the definition loosely) Vines are essentially 6-second video vignettes.

Putting it all together:

Here is an excerpt from the vignette “My Name” from Cisneros’s House on Mango Street.

Cleary, the vignette has a singular focus: the narrator’s name. It only goes on for a couple more paragraphs, so it’s short. Cisneros uses poetic descriptions of the narrator’s name, Esperanza, to give an impression of her character. While the unifying thread isn’t necessarily clear from reading this one excerpt, I know from reading the whole collection that two major themes in House on Mango Street are gender and identity, which are woven into this piece.

I think the biggest challenges for me will be breaking away from the framework of plot and structure and being intentional with my details. Exploring my topic through the frame of a vignette will allow me to strip down the topic to a universal theme. Moving forward with these guidelines is at least a step in the right direction of that goal.

 

How to Write Fiction

When I was little, I used to thrive off the idea that one day I’d be the best fiction author. I didn’t want to be the president, didn’t want to save lives as a doctor or fly into outer space for NASA. There might have been a veterinarian phase, but for the most part, it was always being an author. I was going to write the best fiction anyone had ever read.

But as I got older, it moved from fiction to non-fiction, and then poetry. After a while, it became nothing.

(Not actually nothing, just nothing to do with writing.)

So when I got to college and joined the newspaper, it was almost like a step backwards for me. I somehow rediscovered the little girl who enjoyed writing, and now basically does it for a living (never mind that it’s articles and PR briefs.) For my origin piece, I wanted to use an article I’d written that I thought would benefit from experimentation — how far could I go with word choice, how can I change the story, how could I broaden my horizons?

Because of this, I think it would be kind of cool to go full circle and revisit fiction again.

I want to combine my origin piece (an article) with what initially dominated my reading as a child. I feel like they’re basically complete opposites, so this assignment — AKA “How to Write Fiction” — seems perfect.

Where articles seem very structured and straightforward with hard facts and data, fiction is really whatever you want it to be, with you being the reader or writer. There’s so much wiggle room in fiction because your options are endless — which, sometimes, might even seem like a drawback considering how expansive your opportunities are.

Because of this, it’s probably important to get a solid layout down for how to actually write good fiction. For me, having too much freedom with writing is sometimes more detrimental and overwhelming than helpful. To figure this out, I read an article from the Slate called “What are the Qualities of Good Fiction Writing?” The great thing about this article that a lot of “how-to” articles don’t do is that it teaches the good qualities of fiction by telling you what not do through beginner mistakes. And this girl is the QUEEN of beginner mistakes.

A lot of the tips are general writing tips, similar to this article by the New Yorker describing eight rules you should follow for good fiction writing. However, as you get to the more advanced mistakes, you see more comprehensive issues to stay away from — lurching tones, nonstop action, bland characters with no pitfalls, etc.

Although it seems obvious, this is really great advice for fiction writing, because it’s so broad and open and free that you feel like you can do anything — including creating perfect characters and nonstop action. But as a reader, that kind of material is sometimes hard to digest, and focusing on little things like making your protagonist afraid of mosquitos can actually be really helpful.

In another article by the HuffPost, a “Top 10” piece (classic!), I looked for employment of these tactics in fiction but was met with a stunner of a first line that I think says more about good fiction than a lot of other lists:

“One thing that’s great about short stories is how quickly they can ruin your life.”

Okay, pretty accurate. If I’m writing a story so impactful it can ruin someone’s life (in the best way a story can ruin it), I feel like I’d be pretty happy. But as great as it’d be to ruin someone’s life (in a good way), the basis of the article pretty much said that everyone has different tastes; something that can destroy one person’s life may not even make a dent in another.

I feel like this is a pretty good basis for fiction writing because it basically tells you everything is a go and sometimes it’ll work, sometimes it won’t. As long as the reader can latch on to your mosquito-fearing protagonist, or literally anything, chances are good you can make a connection with your audience.

In an article through the Writer’s Digest, one important idea also stood out to me for writing good fiction — try starting your story with tension. Often times (in my young writing days when I thought 16-year olds exemplified the ideal generation) I’d have a hard time starting stories. There’s so much detail you have to include, so much buildup for your characters.

And here’s this article that’s just kind of like screw it. Start in the middle of your battle with some random dude garnering an eyepatch trying to steal a precious gem ( @ Jumanji ) or in the middle of your fictional Greek mythology exam that you’re about to fail.

That’s kind of the beautiful thing about fiction — as long as you make it somewhat attachable for the reader, chances are, you could make just about anything a good story.