The Create-Your-Own-Journey Website Genre – Inside the Mind of a Website Designer

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?

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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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.

How to Write an Open Letter

My origin piece was originally an academic research argument that examined racial bias effects the way people differentiate between graffiti and street art. Although the paper briefly touched upon gentrification and it’s impact on the development of street art, it did not dive deeply into the concept of gentrification (that could be a whole separate research paper and I tried to stay on topic and not exceed the 20 page limit). For this experiment cycle I aim to study gentrification, what it means, how it is effecting our cities and different view points on gentrification. Currently I do not have a strong opinion on the topic (because I feel I do not know enough to form one), but hopefully my research will enable me to form an educated opinion. For this cycle I am going to write an open letter from a teen growing up in Harlem.

According to my good friend Merriam-Webster, an open letter is a published letter of protest or appeal usually addressed to an individual but intended for the general public.

How to write an Open Letter: 

Dear People Reading My Blog,

If you are not a member of the Sweetland Writing Program, thanks for checking this out and being interested in what a bunch of college students minoring in writing have to say. If you are a member, Hi! Anyway here’s my letter on how to write an open letter. Here are a few things I learned from “An Open Letter To Anyone Thinking About Writing An Open Letter”. First I’m sorry you’re pissed off, upset, mad, or emotionally charged, but take that energy and turn it into passionate energy – get it all down on the paper because you can. This isn’t addressed to anyone specifically, but oh it is. All though my “Dear _________” is a general population, I know exactly who I am talking to and although I may or may not know you personality I want you to hear what I say loud and clear. My introduction of you may be harsh and objective but I am passionate and I do not mean to beat around the bush and be careful to offend anyone. I am going to say exactly what I want how I want (with all the emotions that come with it). When writing an open letter, be careful because you have just become subject to possible open letters. If you are going to ignite the flame be ready to fight the fire. Here’s some more things I learned from reading open letters. 

Open letters use a lot of “I” and “you” because although I may or may not know you. I am not going to explicitly say your name, or else the letter isn’t very open. Open letters can be numbered to organize thoughts like this or they can be a series of paragraphs, or one long one. Open letters often use bold or underlined words to emphasize their strongest points. Although not all have a valediction at the closing, or are signed by the name of the author, I believe the strongest most powerful open letters have an ambiguous targeted valediction (like the one used to sign this letter). Good luck writing an open letter in the future and I hope this helped.

Sincerely,

A girl attempting to write and open letter

How To Write an Investigation Essay

I have decided to take a college essay about what running means to me and turn it into an experiment for stage 2: a test of how running affects me and relates to various realms of my life, from my mood to writing to my outlook and general happiness. I want to reconnect with my body and mind through this experiment by challenging myself to run a little more for seven days straight, probably going from 1 to 7 miles. Through this experiment, I expect to find old feelings reemerge: nostalgia, an ache in the calves, frustration when I don’t feel as strong as I might like to, relief. I will set up a journal format and answer several specific pre-written questions each day along with free writing. I want to investigate what running means to me on a physical, spiritual, historical and deeply personal level, and connect that back to a larger idea of why people run and what the physical act, sport and cultural relevance of running says about us in the world.

How to Write An Investigation Essay

         Last semester in my English 325 class, I was tasked with writing a so-called “Investigation” essay. After reading several experimental essays, like one by Ann Hodgman where she tries eating different types of dog food and reflects on our relationship with our pets, and one by George Plimpton about pressure and talent while briefly playing in the New York Philharmonic, I still could not come up with an experiment of my own that felt profound.

What did I want to test about my world? What questions lay unanswered before me? I couldn’t figure it out.

Long story short, I sort of copped out and wrote about college parties — which wasn’t really an investigation at all. Meanwhile, during our peer review workshops, it occurred to me how to conduct an experiment. I could investigate running. I could test how it places me into a greater family, local and world community. I could question what it does to my body.

Here is how to write an investigation essay, courtesy of my rubric from 325, and the internet:

From my 325 rubric, courtesy of Patricia Khleif:

“Your experiment need not be quite so elaborate as those of the published authors. As long as your experiment is safe, legal, and feasible within the timeframe and constraints of the class, you have a lot of room to explore.”

Keywords: Safe, legal and feasible. Make sure your experiment can occur without major consequences including harm to yourself, harm to others, prison time, a million dollar budget, etc. Sometimes the riskiest experiments seem exciting, but realistically you can make a small change in your life and see big results — minus the risk of jail time or a hospital visit.

“This essay, then, ”integrates the personal with the journalistic:
each writer has a distinctive voice and presence, along with a question that clearly preoccupies him, as he explores a broader social or cultural phenomenon.”

While you investigate this subject on a personal level, in terms of writing, it is important to weave two types of voice together. There is a poet in me, and a journalist in me. The cross product of this is often the personal essay, this time the experiment. I seek to place myself in a greater social picture while also focusing on the nuances of my own actions and thoughts.

From the article “What makes a successful personal experiment” by Matthew Cornell:

“Taking action. Finally, each experiment is a manifestation of personal empowerment, which is a major success factor in life. While health comes to mind (do difficult patients have better results?), I think generally the more we take charge of our lives, the closer we get to happiness”.

Designing for surprise. If the product of your experiment was not very surprising, then maybe you should question your choice of what you tried. Exciting experiments probe the unknown, which ideally means novelty is in store. Fill in the blank: “If you’re not surprised at the end of your experiment, then __.”

In terms of personal experimentation in general, Cornell says it is important to take charge of our lives, literally by taking action. This is required in an experiment. Instead of sitting at our computers and musing, we must do something and then sit at our computers and muse. It is important to generate content by actually setting guidelines for yourself and completing them, even if they must vary a little due to circumstance, which you should include in your explanation of your experiment.

Cornell also says to design for surprise. Like any and all experiments, it is important to write a hypothesis before hand to imagine what might happen. But if you already know what is going to happen, what is the point? Set yourself up to be surprised, try something new, go the extra mile (ha ha get it). If you don’t walk away with a new perspective on anything then the musing will be difficult.

From Wikipedia page on self-experimentation: 

“Examples in classic fiction include the tales of The Invisible Man and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In each case the scientist’s unorthodox theories lead to permanent change and ultimately to self-destruction.”

Re: safe, legal, and feasible. But even so, testing things out can be scary. I personally hate change. So listen to yourself and take it slow; no need to uproot everything you’ve known in a day and completely alter your life.

From the article “4 Ways to Mix up your running routine” by Jeff Galloway:

“Get off autopilot.”

This applies to running and to life.

Experiment 1, Stage 2: how to write a short story

My origin piece is a paper I wrote about Bruce Springsteen and his role in American culture and politics. For my first experiment, I want to turn the paper into a short story. Obviously, I can’t turn the whole paper into a short story, because there are many different sections and trying to shove them all into one short story would be way too chaotic.

For my research about how to write a short story, I came across a lot of similar advice. From a website called
“The Write Practice”, I found this infographic (https://thewritepractice.com/how-to-write-a-short-story/):

 

 

So, there’s that. I don’t know, that timeline ( and basically all of the stuff I found) seemed super unhelpful. I think part of this is because I’m in two classes where we’re reading metafiction, and so regular short stories just seem boring to me right now. Like, where is the self-consciousness about the construction of a narrator?? Anyway, there are still some aspects of the short story genre that I think I need to take into consideration, even if I do attempt to make some sort of metafiction-y and unconventional short story inspired by what I’ve been reading in my other classes.

So, how do you write a short story?

  1. character: most short stories have characters, and Springsteen’s songs, while they are about places, are also really about the people to whom certain places have value. Creating fictional characters is an important aspect of the writing process, and one that might happen before a writer begins or emerge organically as the story unfolds.
  2. create a mood: a good short story will use characters and setting to create a world that has a particular emotional landscape. This is particularly important in short stories, because there is limited space (compared to a novel) to develop themes.
  3. story arc: generally, a short story will have a beginning, a period of rising action, a climax, and period of falling action, and a conclusion. However, authors often play with this basic setup in order to emphasize narrative tension.
  4. simplicity: short stories are usually pretty simple in terms of number of characters, plot, and themes. This is mostly because of the limited length of a short story (although there is not set length). Obviously, simple doesn’t mean bad or not complex, but the type of multiplicity that you can often see in novels is just not feasible in most short stories.

I read some short stories to see how well these conventions apply to actual examples in the genre. The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry seems to fit pretty well (characters, mood, story arc, simplicity). However, some more recent short stories were less clearly attuned to these conventions. The Yardman by Bonnie Jo Campbell is way less interested in a story arc. Instead, Campbell focuses on language to create a mood and develop characters. Lastly, Cat Person by Kristen Roupenian has all of these conventions. I found that it was not the adherence to or divergence from convention that made a short story appealing, but rather the author’s use of language to create a self-contained and absorbing world in a short space.

This makes me think that the challenge of creating a short story will be to render my created world in a way that resonates with the reader. In another class I’m taking right now (English 317), we are reading a lot of Rust Belt literature, which I think has some similar ideas/themes as Bruce Springsteen’s music (relationship between work and identity, loss of employment, etc). I think that looking deeper into how those writers struggle with these topics will be a major part of my next step (the annotated bibliography).

 

Making a podcast seems kind of scary (revised)

Last weekend, I spent a great deal of time searching through the depths of my Google drive. This led me to rediscover all of my college application essays; I had nearly forgotten about the one I wrote for the Michigan “community” prompt (a fact that would probably torture 17-year-old me, who spent so many hours agonizing over the 250 word blurb). It was about my identity as a member of the “community of oldest children,” and I knew this would fit all the origin piece boxes I had drawn up for myself. As I reread the essay, I decided, somewhat radically, that my first experiment cycle had to be converting this idea into a podcast.

Okay, if I’m being honest here, I didn’t just decide to go with a podcast for this experiment cycle because “it would allow me to bring together the voices of many different people who identify as part of this community” or because I thought “having people actually talk about their lived experiences will add a certain personal aspect to the piece.” Those are real goals that I have for this project, but the primary reason was simply that I have always loved podcasts. My dad got me hooked on This American Life when I was in elementary school, and I’ve been a fan of many others for nearly as long.

And I suppose this is also a personal endeavor in another sense. I recently joined the team that is jumpstarting The Michigan Daily’s news podcast, so I’m eager to figure out what makes a good podcast. Perfect timing!

Before I learned about what makes a good podcast, I wanted to understand what makes me so attracted to the genre. What’s so interesting about them, and why do I instinctively feel like they would be a good mode for this experiment? Well, an article from Vanity Fair describes the rise of podcasts as an “audio renaissance,” and the genre’s rise akin to that of blogs about 10 years ago. They are “a return to the intimacy, wombed shadows, and pregnant implications of words, sounds, and silences in the theater of the mind… Podcasts can induce [an] immersive, time-suspended float.” Right. That’s a beautiful way of saying audio is a unique manner to use to tell someone’s story, and sometimes it feels more personal to hear someone talk about themselves than it does to read words about them on a page.

So what did I find? Well, according to Mashable, the first step is picking a topic you’re passionate about. Easy enough. Next they suggest choosing between a video and audio podcast. According to the Mashable writer, video podcasts are more personal, and make it easier for the audience to connect with the subject. Personal, emotional appeal is definitely something I’m going for here, so that will be something I’ll have to put more thought into. The article also suggests planning content beforehand. This includes breaking the overarching theme up into segments, finding people to interview, and preparing an intro script.

A Forbes article instructs readers to make sure the show is consistent over episodes (which makes me realize that this isn’t just a one time thing— podcasts usually produce new episodes weekly, which is another important thing to consider). The article also talks about getting good equipment to ensure the best possible audio or video quality. I’ll have to look into renting out microphones from ISS or going to the recording studio on North Campus if I actually want to produce this.

Ok, so how am I going to incorporate these tips into my own project? Well, I have some initial ideas.

  1. Sourcing: my ultimate goal for this experience is to show how a wide variety of people have experienced being an oldest child, so I’m going to need to figure out how to reach out to people and convince them it’s a good idea to talk about their experiences on this podcast. I might be able to achieve this through posting on class Facebook pages, or finding friends of friends.
  2. Planning: I think the most effective way to get these stories across will be to let my interviewees drive the narrative. This will likely lead to a minimalist interview format, where I ask a few questions but let the interviewee do most of the talking. I’ll also want to segment the podcast, so the finished project is more like several different vignettes per episode (or one story per episode) than one big conversation.
  3. Recording: We recorded our News podcast at the Duderstadt Center last weekend, and the sound quality was fantastic (but I’ll need to figure out how to work the equipment—  and convince the interviewees to come to North Campus)
  4. Editing: I’ll want this to sound good, so I’ll have to figure out how to edit audio (probably my biggest challenge going into this project). For this, I’ll look to online sources and the audio editor of the Daily’s podcasts.

Excited to look exactly like this dog as I embark on an adventure into the unknown world of podcasting!

Looking Out For Yourself

During my sophomore year at Ross, we were forced to go to 10 guest speakers during the first semester. It was a hassle to say the least, and some of the speeches were even quite dry. However, somewhere in the middle was a man named Marcus Collins. He was able to captivate an audience like I have never seen before. His story was incredible and his physical delivery was impeccable. To this day, whenever I give a speech I try to speak with the confidence and energy that he portrayed. Following in this inspiration, I have decided that the genre that I will be working with for experiment three is speeches; specifically speeches that are framed as Ted Talks, the way Marcus’ was.

Pictured Above: Marcus Collins.

After evaluating multiple speeches, one of which being Marcus’, I have come to decide that this way of giving speeches is by far the most effective to hit the audience I am trying to hit (high school and college age students). There were very large discrepancies between the “Ted Talk” speech and the commencement speeches that I evaluated. The former being infinitely more lively as the speaker worked his way across the stage, towards and back from the audience, and utilized emotion to have so much more of an effect than the commencement speakers. I feel that this is a direct result of the setting in which the speeches occurred as Denzel Washington and J.K. Rowling (two of the commencement speakers) are nothing short of spectacular people, they just seemingly had to tame themselves in the situation.

 

I hope that the following “How To Give an Engaging Speech” guide will benefit you and lead you in a way that helps you to captivate audiences.

  1. Find Your Passion
  • What do you want to talk about? This is not a guide to give a classroom speech, for this guide to be effective, you need to have a passion for what you are discussing.
  1. Know Your Passion Inside, Outside, and In Between
  • In order to have flow and to be able to use the next step, it is critical to know your topic inside and out. Knowing as much as possible about your topic allows you to just get up there and talk. I know that sounds easier than it is, but if you think about your favorite thing in the world (say… football) you can get up there and just talk football. That’s because you know football, you know teams, you know players, you know stadiums, you know the rules, you know everything.
  1. Create a Minimalist Script
  • Most people assume that to give a good speech, you need a thorough script. However, I disagree, I believe that taking a minimalist mindset when preparing a script for a speech is a much more beneficial strategy. Writing out just the main ideas that you want to cover will afford you the ability to be yourself and show your true self when speaking. It also creates better flow as you aren’t struggling to remember all of a potentially hour long speech.
  1. Practice!
  • How do you practice a speech that doesn’t have a script? You just talk, the same way you’ll just talk when you’re on stage. You know the main points, you know the order of those main points, and you know as much as there is to know about your topic. So…. Just go talk about it! To your friends, your family, anyone who will listen.

 

 

Now, I know there is more to giving a good speech than that but that’s the beauty of this kind of speech…. It’s your speech and it’s your passion. In this subsection of speeches, there is no right way, your way is the right way because this “Ted Talk” is yours and if you are lively and engaging and you know your topic, it will be successful.

 

 

With my “Ted Talk” speech, I hope to reach an audience of high school and college aged students. For them I hope to pose and begin to answer the question, “What does it mean to look out for yourself?” Within this question I will be exploring the selfish/selflessness involved in the situation (specifically, considering when it is time to let some of your friends go that may be holding you back from your true potential – similar to Gordie Lachance in “The Body”). This is a great genre to enter this conversation as a lively discussion is one of, if not the best, way to engage and communicate to high school and college students. It far surpasses a long article or an essay, and a blog post just won’t do it justice. This conversation is one that needs to be had face to face and with the spoken word.