Planning Project One

As we approach the beginning of this project I have to say it’s been difficult to zero in on one idea. I’ve been bouncing back and forth between the distinction between creative fiction and creative non-fiction. I don’t think I could get any broader than that. However I do know what I like and how I want to come across in my writing so at least there’s that.

Mindy Kaling’s witty and heartfelt book, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?,” is a form of writing that I would really like to emulate in my own pieces of writing. I thoroughly enjoyed the lightheartedness with which she shared everything from embarrassing stories of her childhood to her interactions with men and her hatred for dieting. You can read the excerpt that I will be drawing from here.

Right off the bat the title of the chapter, “Non-Traumatic Things That Have Made Me Cry,” is grabbing and makes me wonder what sorts of non-traumatic events are worthy of Mindy Kaling’s tears. Throughout her book she uses hooks like these to keep the reader engaged and provoke their curiosity. The stories she then pursues to tell are written in a way that is relatable to the reader. When she retells her experience of being stood up by Evan Lieberman (a fake name kindly given by Kaling considering the circumstances) she shares details that immediately spark recognition with readers.

“I had kept all my best friends updated about my upcoming date in a long and exhaustively detailed e-mail chain with the subject heading: ‘HOLY SHIT YOU GUYS, MAY NOT TURN INTO A CRAZY JANE EYRE ATTIC LADY AFTER ALL.'”

I think all of us can remember a time when we were excited about a new crush and had the pre-date butterflies. I can remember trying on numerous outfit combinations before hanging out with a guy and having my friends weigh in. We all know it’s ridiculous and yet we care too much anyways! Kaling captures the hilarity of the situation and makes us feel a connection to her. It’s impossible to read her reflections and not think, “Yes! That’s happened to me too!” Kaling’s biggest asset in her writing is her ability to connect to her audience. This in addition to her comedic and easy going tone are things I want to mimic in my own writing.

Another piece of writing I’d like to reflect on (one of my favorites ) is “Outlander,” by Diana Gabaldon. This incredibly well written book is the first in a series of historical multi-genre novels. It tells the tale of WWII nurse Claire Randall who is sent back in time to 18th century Scotland and tries to survive the dangers and adventures alongside hunky clansman Jamie Fraser. While I don’t plan on writing a novel for this project, I greatly admire Gabaldon’s prose and attention to detail.

Jamie made a fire in a sheltered spot, and sat down next to it. The rain had eased to a faint drizzle that misted the air and spangled my eyelashes with rainbows when I looked at the flames.

From this sentence alone I feel like I am right there next to Claire staring into the fire. Gabaldon’s use of descriptive language allows readers to envision themselves as part of the adventure throughout the book, which is why it’s such an exciting read!

Furthermore her use of dialogue is incredible and so accurate that I can’t believe she isn’t a Scotland native.

“Claire, if you’ve never been honest we’me, be so now, for I must know the truth. Clarie, are ye a witch?

Using words like “ye” and combing phrases like “with me” to “we’me” makes it easier for readers like myself to hear the Scottish accent as I read. I don’t have to remind myself where the book is taking place, because the language is so accurate of the time and place. This is a key component to any novel (especially historical-fiction) and Gabaldon executes it flawlessly.

She also accomplishes the melding of the historical, sci-fi, and romance genres, without seeming like there’s too much going on. I admire the multi-genre approach, because I personally find that most of my ideas wind up being multi-faceted. It’s like I can’t just write a research paper or a love story or a murder mystery. I want there to be lots and lots of layers.

I have found myself returning to this book whenever I go home to try and capture just exactly what it is that makes me keep coming back for more. Gabaldon’s detailed writing and layered themes are two factors that never seem to let me down.

What are Multimodal Projects?

In chapter one of Writer/Designer we are taught that a surprising amount of the things around us can be described as “texts” and those texts are all multimodal. For example I never would have thought of an academic essay as having multiple modes of communication other than the words on the paper. However it becomes clear through this chapter that all texts are multimodal! Specifically there are five modes at play that affect the way we perceive what we are viewing. Visual (think color, layout, style, and size), aural (what sound effects are happening, is there music or silence?), gestural (facial expressions, hand gestures, body language, interactivity), spatial (how the text is organized), and lastly linguistic (how/what words are being conveyed).

To demonstrate how these different modes work together among everyday texts I have presented three examples I came in contact with over the past week. The first is an emailed advertisement from the clothing brand Free People. These advertisements flood my inbox daily, because I am too weak to click unsubscribe, but for the sake of this blog they serve as a great example of multimodality.

Free People Advertisement
Free People Advertisement

This image appeared in one of the emails I received from the company. It uses visual, gestural, spatial, and linguistic modes of communication. Spatially the  layout is centered around the model. In this case it makes sense that she would be at the center of the advertisement since the ad is trying to sell the clothes she is wearing. The words that appear next to the girl are communicating with viewers in a visual and linguistic way. The words themselves are trying to convey a message about what the clothing brand represents–something that no one else has and that makes dreams come true (in reference to wishing on a dandelion). Visually the words appear in large lettering as if they were hand written. The font says something about the whimsical style of the brand and the size communicates to us that the message is important. The advertisement also includes interactivity (a gestural mode), because clicking on the picture will take you to the website where you can purchase what the model is wearing.

This next example is a commercial I was recently shown in one of my communications classes. The Under Armor advertisement features Michael Phelps and plays off of his looming retirement.

The commercial begins with footage of Phelps swimming underwater in silence and then begins to play a song about the last goodbye, clearly referring to his last olympic games. It then shows him going about his daily routine, eating breakfast, working out, swimming, etc. The commercial doesn’t just show us these mundane tasks, but shows us the behind the scenes too. The parts where he is sweating and struggling to push through. It ends with a transition of Phelps shivering in the dark after swimming to standing in the spotlight amongst a roar of applause.

The only words in the commercial appear at this time, “it’s what you do in the dark that puts you in the light…rule yourself.” The combination of the visual and aural modes here work to make the viewer feel a sense of sadness for the swimmer who has worked his whole life to do this and now has to say his last goodbye. The visual footage allows us to catch an inside glimpse into his life and makes us feel a connection to him while the sad tone of the music makes us feel a sense of melancholy. If it were hype music like rap or metal rock we as viewers would feel much differently about the message they are trying to convey. In fact it isn’t until the end that we even know the commercial is for the brand Under Armor. The organization (spatial mode) is key to how the company wants viewers to think and feel when their product is finally revealed. Had it been given away at the beginning, we may not have felt as sentimental as we were at the end and maybe would not have been as inclined to buy the product or “rule [ourselves].” It should also be noted that the words at the end of the commercial are the only words ever stated other than the song. Phelps never speaks, which makes this use of the linguistic mode that much more powerful. Less is more in this case.

My last example is from the iPhone app Snapchat. One of the features of the app is an interactive discover page that allows users to click on any of the bubbles to view the stories from that specific publication for that day.

All of the modes are working together here to communicate with users. Visually the page is very colorful, with each publication having its own specially designed icon. This allows people to easily differentiate between them. Part of this is also spatial in how the app is organized. While it is hard to see from this picture alone, each bubble is extremely interactive (gestural). For example Cosmopolitan typically has images thrown in-between their stories that you can draw on, send to friends, and save to your phone. Additionally, some of the stories and images are accompanied by music/sound effects (aural mode). This works to communicate a fun and upbeat tone to users. Linguistically words are presented in different ways for different parts of the app. The titles are presented in the bubbles and arranged in neat rows so that users have an easy time navigating their way around the app. However, once they click on one there is a stream of articles and stories, which present the app as more of a news source.

The takeaway from the examples above is that all of the modes work together to communicate meaning and each has a hand in what that meaning is. Taking one mode away could greatly alter how the text is viewed or understood. Although none of these texts are the same all of them are multimodal.


How Writing Leads to Thinking

This article made me look at the minor in writing from a slightly different angle. Of course I assumed we would be improving our writing and learning along the way how best to do so, but Hunt so clearly captured the reality of how absolutely and completely stressful writing can be sometimes. I originally thought that the minor in writing program would improve our writing by making it easier. Easier how? I’m not really sure. I guess I felt like some magic would occur between our gateway and capstone classes that would make us effortless writers. Now I see the goal of the minor more geared towards helping us grow our radishes and when the time comes, weeding them out. In a sense this will make writing easier, just not in the effortless way I thought it would.

Throughout her article, Hunt emphasizes the importance of momentum over quality, because the bad stuff, like weeds, can be picked out later. Similar to Lamott, she inspires me to worry less about what I am writing and focus more on putting pen to paper. She says that, “most mistakes come from not being yourself, not saying what you think, or being afraid to figure out what you really think”, which results from not writing in the first place. A goal I have for this course is to allow myself to write honestly so that I can reach new places of thought instead of focusing too much upfront on what ideas I already had. I think a key step to this is not worrying about what others will think when they read it…to “discover that no one ordered [my] execution.” To me this is the hardest step, because I weigh advice from my peers heavily.

This brings me to my second goal for the semester. As writers we become attached to what we write good or bad. I want to be able to release the writing I have grown attached to if it benefits me in the long run. Perhaps if I am able to put pen to paper and gain momentum instead of rereading my notes, then I won’t find it so hard to let go of my writing. The more I have the easier it will be to pick out what is necessary and what isn’t.

Hunt’s advice on reading also struck me as something I would like to work on in this class. She says to pay attention to what grabs you in a book and then try and figure out what the author did to draw you in. I now find myself thinking back to some of my favorite books and wondering what aspects of them hooked me. Was it the writing itself? The choice of dialogue? Or perhaps the detail? I’m not sure, but moving forward it is something I would like to pay more attention to.

Most importantly perhaps, this article has given me perspective into how writing more means thinking more, but thinking more without writing can leave you at a dead end.