Finally!

At the end of the semester, I can finally look back on the work I’ve done and comment on it. Briefly, I’ve grown as a reader and writer this semester. After dabbling in a variety of genres and learning more about the term genre itself and its allowances and constrictions, I feel a little bit more liberated in terms of my writing. Standard, traditional definitions of specific genres do not dictate my writing — I can take them as guidelines and help in formatting, but ultimately, what matters is my purpose. Genre is simply an outline, a platform from which to enunciate a message. If the message isn’t thought out, then it doesn’t matter what genre is used. 

I’m going to continue to build on this by practicing new genres in my writing. I would like to go further out my comfort zone from now until the capstone by trying out genres I’ve never tried writing in before. 

Anyways, here’s the link to my ePort! https://gunala.wixsite.com/wri220eport

Literati Event 11/27 Reflection

I want to start off with a question that I wish I had asked — “Is there anything that you wanted to include in Blood in the Water that you weren’t able to, for whatever reason? Why?”

I wondered about that question after I left Literati. For some reason, the idea stuck with me — although Dr. Thompson had produced over 700 pages of cited work on the events at Attica in 1971, there had to be some material that she wasn’t able to keep in the final cut. I’ve struggled in the past with knowing what to keep in a piece and what not to. Although I didn’t get a chance to ask about that part of her process, she did indirectly answer it when she discussed balancing tone in her piece.

Dr. Thompson spoke at length of how to deal with communicating trauma. On one hand, too much gore and violence can desensitize a reader to the horror, or could repel a reader. On the other hand, the subject of the book is not rainbows and butterflies and needs to be understood and communicated as the horror it truly was. I appreciated her frankness on the topic, because I think it helped clarify something for me: writing successfully depends a great deal on balance and proportions. When stated so bluntly, the idea seems common sense. Of course an element of writing is balancing different textures. But as I gleaned from Dr. Thompson’s commentary, balancing is actually key to how a reader perceives a text. When deciding on what to keep and what to cut, as a writer I have to decide ultimately what I want a reader to conclude after reading the full thing.

Dr. Thompson’s work is really inspiring, and I’m hoping to read Blood in the Water as soon as I get the chance. It sounds a bit like the works of Erik Larson, who I’m a huge fan of (he wrote Devil in the White City, Dead Wake, and In the Garden of Beasts, to name a few of my favorite books of all time). I also feel inspired to actually try my hand at historical nonfiction — BiW took 13 years to write and it took a lot of digging into sources that weren’t readily available to just anyone, and I think it might be a really cool writing project to tackle some subject that would actually require research into the facts of history, some of which are buried deep.

Finally, I wanted to comment on the event at Literati as a whole. I’ve never been a huge fan of talks or podcasts, but this was actually incredibly interesting to listen in on. Shoutout to Shelley, who created an incredibly warm atmosphere and asked engaging, pertinent questions. Although Dr. Thompson’s content was obviously fascinating, Shelley kept the conversation flow natural and relaxed. Literati itself is a great place to hold an event like this, since it’s relatively small and intimate (and it didn’t hurt that the lights were dimmed and it was snowing outside!). It was as though I were sitting in on a conversation by the fireside, silent but absolutely an active participant in listening.

A Story is Not an Essay

I ended up listening to the podcast, and I think I didn’t do exactly what the assignment dictated and listened to individual stories instead of a single episode. They were from different themes and regions, I believe, but they were all very interesting.

 

I think one thing I wasn’t expecting was exactly how I would negatively react to some of the stories. I don’t really want to go into detail because it’s a bit personal, but there was one particular story which bothered me. The reason that it bothered me stuck with me throughout the entire story, but there wasn’t really a way for me, as a listener, to voice this and get it off my chest. I listened to the whole story (which was around 10 minutes) and couldn’t get my mind off this one thing. Whenever the storyteller said something pertaining to this problem, I just felt angry.

 

This initially pissed me off and I almost didn’t want to finish listening to the story — I think going into listening, I had this mindset that all the stories I would listen to would move me deeply and emotionally, in a good way. They would open my eyes up to the world, connect me to humanity, etc, etc. My experience was honestly anything but.

 

I ended up finishing the story and thinking on it, and although it still doesn’t quite sit right with me, I realized how brave it is to tell stories as personal as it was. I’m sure the storyteller realized that this story would garner some negativity, simply because of its subject, but they still told it, and they told it in its rawest form. The point of storytelling, I realize, is not necessarily to gain an audience’s approval, but to bring something personal into the open and to reflect.

 

The other stories I listened to were much more lighthearted, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to them. One of them was about a young man’s experiences with his family in an airport, and I laughed aloud for a few moments — he describes how his family always forces him to carry baggage, and to take advantage of certain airport loopholes to bring as many bags onto the plane without paying for carry-on as possible. The story didn’t necessarily have a deeply stirring message for the audience — it was more of a reflection than anything else. In the very end of the story, he states his realization that he had inaugurated into adulthood in his family’s eyes because of the latest airport incident. The story was refreshing because it didn’t try to bring me into the light or elicit any particular emotions from me — it was just one individual’s story, and it allowed a listener to glean their own shared experiences from it.

 

I think that throughout my academic writing career, I’ve always been taught that my pieces must have some particular meaning, that they must persuade a reader, or come to some clever conclusion. I realized that I hadn’t made sure to check this attitude at the door when beginning to listen to the Moth — the entire time I listened to the stories, my mind was perpetually trying to gather evidence on the piece’s essayistic qualities. By the end, I realized that there were little to none essay characteristics in all of the pieces, and that this was intentional. Stories are not essays. Essays can be told in stories, but to boil a story down to simply an essay is to do it a great injustice.

 

I think I’m going to listen to an episode again this weekend, and this time listen solely for the sake of listening. Reactions, however negative, aren’t bad — essays may require some objectivity, but stories do not, which is something I’ve picked up on from listening to the audience’s reactions.

The How-to on How-tos

Wondering how to create the next big how-to guide on the topic of your most knowledgeable passions? Welcome to the how-to How-To, where one can follow along to the very simple yet comprehensive steps on achieving a great how-to manual. Let this guide help you help others!

 

Step 1: Address the ‘Why?’

Any literary piece must have a reason for being written. Why do you feel the need to write your how-to guide? The production of a how-to guide is a lot like an entrepreneurial endeavor, in that it needs a little bit of market research beforehand. Does there already exist a how-to guide on the topic you’re interested in writing about? If so, what would make your how-to different?

 

Consider the example of how GoodYear wrote their guide on changing a tire. Before launching into the steps necessary, the article takes a moment to address the importance of knowing how to change a tire, setting themselves apart from other bland tire-fixing guides.

 

Step 2: Identify the Issue

Image result for person thinking while writing clipart

The purpose of a how-to guide is to adequately respond to a specific problem. Without knowing the exact root cause of an issue, a how-to guide cannot be specific, rendering it virtually useless in doing anything other than covering a broad range. Wikihow, in their article on “How to Break Up With a Friend” splits up the guide into three separate parts. The first part is all about the ‘before’ — what led up to the issue, and is the issue really a deep seated dilemma that requires more than an honest conversation? A how-to guide may not even be necessary, depending on the issue at hand. Know your enemies before you attack them.

 

Step 3: Accumulate the Tools

Image result for toolkit clipart

 

If I may reference GoodYear again, and every single cooking recipe on the internet, knowing what tools should be used throughout the how-to guide will be necessary. List the tools clearly, and if possible, where one may attain them.

 

Step 4: The Actual How-to Part

Image result for map clipart

Now is what a reader is usually waiting for! Launch into those steps. Clearly label them and add substeps if appropriate to each step. This is not the area to be decorative — trim down the steps and their descriptions so that although they are effective and thorough, they aren’t excessive. A reader wants to get through a how-to guide generally as fast as possible, and they shouldn’t be distracted from the task at hand.

 

Take a note from Wikihow and add pictures on occasion — visual cues can help in explaining, sometimes more than sole text can.

 

Ensure that the steps cover the post-process as well. In cases such as a friend breakup, steps can be taken to officially break up, but one of the trickiest parts is maintaining distance from the ex-friend after the breakup. Just as NBC’s Better mentions, a breakup isn’t the end of the relationship, oftentimes. The other person, or even the breaker-upper may be upset enough to try to revive the friendship, which doesn’t usually go well.

 

Hopefully this how-to guide helps! Happy how-to-ing!

 

The Science and the Fiction

Genre Exploration Notes

 

Writing in science fiction is not the most straightforward task. Unlike other genres like poetry or a personal narrative, the work that goes into a piece of science fiction can be disproportional; there may be a lot more work in one part of the process that wouldn’t be as high priority as it would be in the process of writing a piece of poetry.

 

That being said, here are a few hints as to this process to writing sci-fi.

 

  1. Get creative

 

The very first thing that spurs a piece of sci-fi is considering a whole new world in which a story may take place. This is the fiction part of ‘science fiction’, and the process of brainstorming and creating can be very fun. The world cannot be totally chaotic in its order — according to Hollow in Writing Science Fiction: a beginner’s guide for historians, the divide between science fiction and fantasy is that sci-fi presents some logic in their worlds. There is some element of cause-and-effect, and it’s not just a free-for-all in terms of events that can occur and characters that can exist.

These worlds are allowed to be based in reality. Although creativity is essential to adding a sense of mystique and fascination for the reader’s sake, reality is very easy to tweak for a good sci-fi story. Take Star Trek. Humans are still main characters and people’s institutions exist in the universe — such as the Starfleet Academy, a post-grad vocational institution — but the universe isn’t restricted to just Earth and just humans. We have aliens and are able to travel all throughout space.

 

  1. Background information and logistics

 

Again, there must be some sort of structure to the universe and to the story of a sci-fi piece. Before jumping into the writing process, taking the time to jot some notes down about exactly what you want to have happen and what is allowed to happen in the created universe can help with the entire writing process. Characters are particularly important, as stated by Hollow. They are the agents through which a reader experiences exactly what is happening in the universe. Thus, knowing exactly who the characters are before beginning to write can help in understanding why certain characters to the things they do.

 

  1. The actual writing process

 

While writing, refer back to the notes taken on what is allowed in the universe and who exists and what they do. Feel free to bluntly put across any messages you may want to send — in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, there is some heavy-handed commentary on the role of government in private citizens’ lives, but its presence in a sci-fi novel makes it enjoyable to read and think on. Also, continue to create. Although you may have a certain structure for the universe and a certain list of characters that are intended to exist, that isn’t necessarily ground in stone. Hitchhiker’s plotline is a snowballing premise, picking up new characters and plot points all along the way. The insertion of an important character or deletion of an event can and should occur in the writing process.

How-to Poetry

The genre of poetry is very broad, encapsulating various structures and types of content. Poetry can be written using different modes such as aural and visual, but it is primarily presented in the linguistic mode. Although poetry is very much intended for individual expression and thus lends itself to many creative and unique results, there are several guidelines that poets universally seem to follow, and I’ll highlight the ones that I’ve observed in my short research period below:

 

  • Structure

A decision a writer has to make when writing poetry is what structure to write in. Quite a few pieces in 20th century American poetry are in free form and free verse, with no particular consistency in number of stanzas, number of lines, or number of words per line to span across all pieces. For instance, although Jan Beatty’s Grabbing at Beauty and Debra Allberry’s Forgiveness are both about relationships and love (though both aren’t necessarily romantic), their approach to structure is very different. Whereas Forgiveness is set up in ordered stanzas with a certain number of lines per stanza, Grabbing at Beauty is 23 lines and a single stanza. Their structures are appropriate for their respective poems; Grabbing at Beauty is a monologue of narration and is meant to come across as a large, blurry moment with some highlights, and Forgiveness’s stanzas each cover a different part of the relationship that is the subject of the essay.

  • Diction

Diction also proved significant in the outcome of the poem. Although poetry tends to come with a stereotype of flowery language complete with heavy handed metaphors and other literary devices, a poem’s success does not depend on this. I found this in my own poetry – with Wave 2 of Experiment 1, I ended up writing bluntly to describe moments and it remained poetic. Elena Byrne’s Blue Floral Dress is very much reminiscent of flowery language, per se: “…cars like collarbones broken behind you…” among other similar sentences are ever present throughout the piece. Her poem requires some further analysis by a reader to understand exactly what she was going for. In contrast, Grabbing at Beauty is what I ultimately modeled my diction after most. It’s a short narrative that describes several moments in straightforward terminology.

  • Rhetorical situation

Although rhetorical situation is not the same for every single poem, there is one similarity between all rhetorical situations I’ve found in exploring the genre of poetry: there is some sort of situation that makes the author feel a certain way or emotion, and poetry is way in which to describe this emotion and briefly where it stems from. All three of the poems I reference above discuss emotion above all else. Blue Floral Dress details a chaotic sort of anger that buds from loneliness, Grabbing at Beauty is desperation, and Forgiveness is about that state that comes just after breaking up a relationship.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed this genre, and if I were to continue writing in it, I think I would utilize some strategies that are almost exclusively accessible to writers of poetry. For example, reading poetry aloud. Slam poetry is a hit because poetry is often meant to be expressed in a songlike manner. It’s an intense bout of personal expression, and an aural mode only complements the written portion. I think that if I were to write more poetry, I would edit my drafts by reading them aloud in the style of a slam poet.

 

Multimodal Texts Over a Weekend

Over the weekend, I jotted down a few of the multimodal texts I came across and a brief description of each of them. In this blog post, I expanded upon the descriptions to include commentary on the similarities and differences between the various texts.

 

  • Trevor Noah YouTube video – Trump 8-Ball skit: https://youtu.be/qdn50yqOVFY

 

This is a YouTube video in which Trevor Noah’s team creates a short clip mimicking a TV commercial. The clip advertises the “Trump Magic 8-Ball”, an 8-Ball that when shaken, plays a short clip of Donald Trump speaking vaguely, such as “We will see.” The entire video combines all modes – visual, linguistic, aural, spatial, and gestural.

In regards to the visual mode, the skit presented in the video includes a clearly diverse cast of children, which is one of the many elements set up to contrast Trump and what he generally stands for. An element of linguistic mode is in the form of the dialogue between the children, and from Noah himself as he introduces the video with current events and the general context. Aural and spatial modes come into play with the cheery music added to the background of the mock advertisement and with how the children are placed in a semi-circle for full viewing and the 8-Ball passed around them being a focal point. The children hug each other and don’t have qualms about sitting close to each other; gesturally speaking, they represent what – again – the opposite of what Trump stands for.

 

  • Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman

 

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite reads from this past year, and although I didn’t read it recently, I was in the library and I saw it so I picked it up and flipped through. I had nearly forgotten its beautiful illustrations, and how it adds to the written story.

Formally, this book combines linguistic with visual modes. The linguistic mode is simply the written story, and the visual mode is the illustrated component. What’s most interesting about Neverwhere’s text and illustration duo is that Neverwhere is very much from the fantasy genre, and so the illustrations would supposedly give some idea as to what the magical creatures and fictional environments would look like. However, this is not the case; the illustrations are at most pointers in the right direction – some of the illustrations are of the back of character’s heads. Ultimately, the illustrations somehow simultaneously add another layer of mystery and a layer of clarity to the story; they give visual evidence that this fantasy world exists, but the reader still cannot see it perfectly because they don’t live in that world.

 

  • Facebook invite to BYX event 

 

One of my friends is in BYX, a Christian fraternity on campus, and he often invites me to their (dry) parties. I really enjoy their Facebook invites, because like the above, they typically combine linguistic and visual modes: a photo to represent the theme of the party (last Friday’s was a USA themed party so the picture had red, blue, and white hues stamped over an image of a rager) and a text describing the event. One of my favorite parts of the linguistic mode is that they frequently refer to the beverages offered at their parties as ‘Jesus Juice’; zesty and non-alcoholic. It adds to the appeal of the event; it’s a fun, brief description coupled with an image that conveys the vibe of the party without being too flashy or too simplistic.

This multimodal piece is most different from the Trevor Noah video. Although the two texts have overlapping modes used, the ways in which they use the modes are very different. Noah’s visuals are within a video, and feature subjects (the kids and the 8-Ball), while the Facebook invite has a single still image that does not feature any one thing in particular but rather depicts colors and a vague picture. Noah’s linguistic mode comes through in the spoken dialogue between the children and his own comments; the invite has an ambiguously authored paragraph that reaches a wide audience.

Interestingly enough, they are similar in where they come from – both pieces are digitally distributed and published within the same month.

 

  • Poster in the Duderstadt to join a club

 

In the Duderstadt, there’s a long cork board just inside the entrance that’s just for student organizations, programs, and events to put up flyers. The other day, I saw a poster for a new college class that would combine engineering with music. The gist was that people interested in computer programming and music theory would enjoy the class, and not that much more information was provided. In regards to spatial mode, the name of the course was the largest and boldest font and it was placed in the center of the poster. Underneath and in second largest font was a question surveying interest: “Do you love coding? Do you love music?” Something like that.

This is very similar to the Facebook invitation; not necessarily because they use the exact same modes, but the overlapping modes are used in a very specific way. Both use linguistic modes for brief, succinct descriptions and use visuals simply to complement the text rather than take attention away. Their place of origin is not necessarily the same – the Facebook invite is digital and can reach specific individuals and the poster is in a physical location that is available for passerby to glance over. This, coupled with the origins of the Trevor Noah video and the Facebook invite leads to the conclusion that similarity between multimodal texts must not strictly depend on when and where two pieces are published.