A Farewell

Today marks my seventh post in Concerning Stories. I’ve talked about my random tidbits of insight into reading and writing, shared advice I’m sure people didn’t want to know, and told stories I’m completely positive people didn’t want to know. But I shared them anyway and I enjoyed doing it. I appreciate you “listening”. Unfortunately, today also marks my final post. Here, a few choice pieces of opera come to mind, farewell pieces I might serenade you with. OR, perhaps Dvorak’s Going Home. But I’ll resist the temptation, don’t worry. 😉 I was struggling what to use as a writing topic for my final piece, as I’ve been struggling to do for a while now, and finally, I decided to do a quick ramble, keeping with tradition.

 
My best friend—who also happens to be my cousin—and I have been close since we were little kids. “Close” doesn’t necessarily mean we liked each other (hint: we didn’t), but we were constantly around each other and the mutual dislike slowly changed. 🙂 Her mom died when we were six, unexpectedly and quite suddenly. The family didn’t talk about her death—still don’t—but instead, we opted to bury the memories away somewhere and try to move on with our lives. For me, it was difficult but possible. For my best friend, it was practically impossible and for quite a few of her early teenage years, she especially struggled. *Note: this won’t be some epic sob story, so please continue. Deaths are really no longer mentioned from here on out, I believe.* Fast forwarding quite a few years, my dad very suddenly was diagnosed with stage four cancer. He nearly died himself a time or three. It was, by far, the worst experience of my life. Seeing someone you love in the MICU without a single clue of what was going to happen can be completely traumatic. My best friend pulled me aside a few months into chemo round #1 and handed me an old book, tattered around the edges and frayed with sticky notes. I took a look at the inside cover, curious as to what it could be. It was Oliver Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. –Note: an apology to some of my fellow bloggers who may have heard this story before— “It’s funny,” she said with a shrug. “It makes me laugh when I can’t stop thinking about her.”

 
I tried it. I read it, drove to the nearest Barnes and Nobles, and bought myself a copy to reread that same day. The book sits on my shelf now, looking tired and well-loved, with a really wrinkly cover and a few pages crumpled from where I’ve highlighted my favorite sections. It made me laugh. It still does. And that, my dear reader, is the very power of literature.

 
I know that my fellow bloggers talk often about their faith. I don’t, as a habit. I come from an unusual family dynamic and talking about Bibles and Jesus and Christianity as a whole on a regular basis isn’t something I’m often very comfortable doing. But imagine, if you are religious, your devotion to the Bible: it’s just a book, some might argue. Just words printed on a page, telling a story. It can be puzzling to some how there exist people who would willingly die for that book, for those stories and words and messages. One might say it is the power of those words that can first touch the life of the reader.

 
Now, don’t misinterpret me. I’m not suggesting that the Bible and Wilde’s plays should be compared in such a way. I simply marvel at the power of words…of literature, of books, of stories. That’s what our blog is called, isn’t it? Concerning stories…sometimes we get caught up in the ‘how-to’ blogs and the rants about plays and Shakespeare because we can never seem to stop talking about him and all this reading and writing advice. But here’s a quick thought: just because some dude wrote a play doesn’t mean the whole world has to love it. They don’t even have to appreciate it. Because the point is, for some people, his stories touched them. His stories had an impact on their life, allowing them a chance to live and experience life differently. For me, it was Wilde. Wilde, who can capture humanity in a way I’ve never before seen on the page, who can create the most astonishing scenes displaying complex human emotions and relationships using a train station and an old leather purse. It was that story that made the next two years of my life not-quite-so crappy.

 
I’m getting ready to go to college now. Nursing is in my future, it would seem, after spending far too many days in a chemotherapy office or a hospital waiting room or the MICU. When I first met with my advisor to go over my schedule, I made sure a literature class was added in. She gave me a strange look. ‘What? A nursing student with a passion for literature?’ It didn’t seem quite right to her and my excitement for the class made her laugh. When I pointed out that an in-depth analysis of Wilde’s plays was a large part of the schedule, she laughed even more. “I love Oscar Wilde,” she said. “When I got a divorce, I read all his plays—he makes me laugh.”

 

Point made.

 
A very great, very remarkable man once said that “to live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” May you discover that literature allows you the chance to live, not just exist…just as I also discovered not so long ago.

 
Best of luck in your literary escapades,
-Emma

The Thoughts of a Bookworm-Traveler

(Despite having been back in the States for a few weeks, my heart is still back home in Essex and thus, I couldn’t resist posting this—which I’d written while we were there.  And since I was unfortunate enough to miss meeting my incredible friends, former classmates, and bloggers, I thought I’d share a picture or two as an excuse as to what I was doing while they were square dancing, making pancakes with that awesome homemade syrup, and having what looks like loads and loads of fun.)

I’m sitting on a bench looking out onto a scene of Kent.  The beautiful masterpiece that makes up Chilham Castle lies behind me…and the gardens that make Kent one of the best places in England to visit lies before me.  My aunt and uncle are deep in conversation over their evening program, my sister snapping pictures, and yet I sit still, the solitary introvert within me more than willing to lie curled in this comfortable chair with a glass of Pimms in one hand and a digestive biscuit in the other.  This, right here, is heaven.  The home I’ve missed, the world I could never forget.

It’s one thing to read literature set in England and allow your imagination to run wild.   It’s something else entirely to be there in person.  The scene I looked at could have come from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  Looking up at the main house, I could almost picture Mr. Darcy coming down to meet Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle—Colin Firth starring, of course!—and looking around me, I could almost imagine myself a character in her great novels.  The very atmosphere was so beautiful and peaceful and so…perfect.  As a writer, I am ashamed to say it was almost indescribable.  As someone who has read, loved, memorized, and so greatly admired Jane Austen for so many years, to experience such incredible sensations and to be able to connect with a writer’s works in such a way was flabbergasting.  I wish I could have brought along a friend who did not enjoy Austen—just to see if they walked away with a different approach to her novels.

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Moving on…

I was originally planning to talk a little about Shakespeare, as we watched an outdoor production of his Two Gentlemen of Verona while we were at Chilham, but I see Lucie got to him first and thus, I won’t bore you with the same subject.  I will say, however, that my trip to the Globe opened my eyes to a different perspective of Shakespeare.  I’ve never been very fond of Shakespeare.  The language has never confused me, nor the events of the plays, but rather the characters.  For me, they seem flat and lifeless.  Call me silly perhaps—and I can hear my fellow bloggers gasping in distress over my words—but he just has never seemed to live up to the hype that people put on his name…

Until the Globe.

Leaning on the railing with the breeze blowing through my hair and the rain pattering on my face, I can see where he might have gotten his inspiration.  I’m standing in front of the Globe, overlooking the Thames.  Of course, the city view and Tower Bridge did not exist in Shakespeare’s day, but the river was the same and the people too.  And as I stand in front of what is considered the most famous theatre in England, I find myself remembering segments of the Shakespeare I’ve read: a choice poem in Othello, a romantic section of Romeo and Juliet, a quip from Two Gentlemen…yes, I decide.  Perhaps Shakespeare isn’t so bad after all.

Since I’ve gotten home, I’ve since opened the covers of both an Austen and a Shakespeare.  Lady Susan and The Tempest were both read—or rather, re-read—and I thoroughly enjoyed reading both of them.  Suddenly, my imagination seems pale and weak in contrast to what I have now seen.  As a child, I took the English countryside for granted.  As an adult, I no longer do.  I enter that somehow mystical realm and I see the novels I have read spring to life and gather all new meaning.

The point to this post—well, to be honest, I suppose there really isn’t one.  I simply wished to accomplish a few tasks.  First, explain my absence from all those awesome photos—very jealous, guys!!—that the girls posted a few weeks ago.  Second, to brag about my trip back home, because let’s be honest people, it was amazing.  And finally, to explain something that could perhaps be simply nodded off as fact, but yet can occasionally be overlooked.  The fact of the matter is, a book is a book.  We may not like Shakespeare or Austen or Joyce or Hugo, but when you’re standing in the place where that inspiration grew, where those characters were born and those moments were made.  In places like that, your dislikes can simply…disappear.

~Emma

Why Shakespeare Matters

I read my first real Shakespeare play when I was 13. The Tempest. I don’t remember much of it, but I do remember being awed by Prospero, tickled by Trinculo, and sunk head-over-heels in love with Ariel. When I saw it performed later that summer, it was an adventure of the highest order: noble mariners, desperate monsters, powerful sorcerers, beautiful maidens. I missed out on all the nuances of rhetorical devices and thematic motifs, but what I got was even more important: a good story and a lasting appreciation for the works of the Bard.

Now, nearly five years and one amazing AP Lit class later, I read The Tempest again. It’s the same story, but I’m viewing it very differently. This time around, instead of a rollicking adventure story, The Tempest seems to me to be about death and sleep and letting go, passing the torch on from the older generation to the new. I’m still in love with Ariel (especially his Colin Morgan incarnation), but I’m also playing Ariel as I read Shakespeare’s words aloud with my friends, finding a deeper pain and significance in his power struggle with a loved but controlling master. My copy of the play is no longer the No Fear Shakespeare version I used at thirteen; instead, it’s a Signet Classics edition with critical essays in the back, scribbled throughout with notes about my dream to direct the play someday.

I’ve matured. And Shakespeare has matured with me.

Recently, I found myself defending my love for Shakespeare to my younger sister, a highly intelligent reader and writer who’s still never quite realized why the Bard is so important to me. Her main argument was that Shakespeare’s language is too complicated to make it worthwhile — why read something that it’s difficult even to comprehend when there are so many worthwhile AND clearly written books out there? My main argument, to her surprise,  was the exact same thing. Shakespeare IS difficult — it’s old, it’s convoluted. The characters’ motivations are confusing at times, and the language is an overgrown maze of words that was probably difficult to navigate even in Shakespeare’s day.

And that’s exactly why we should read it.

The difficulty inherent in reading Shakespeare means that you can’t just sit back and let the words wash over you. You have to be active. You have to fight for meaning. And, most importantly, you have to interpret. More than any other works I know of, Shakespeare’s plays are created not in a drafty theatre in Renaissance England, but in the here and now, when actors, directors, critics, and readers sit down and plunge into the words of the Bard on their own individual quests for meaning.

With limited stage direction, no traditional description like you would find in a novel, and virtually no knowledge of how the plays were originally performed, we’ve been given the unprecedented gift of having some of the most beautiful passages in the English language handed to us with no strings attached. So edit. Alter. Change the setting. Change the mood. Let your imagination run wild. There’s no copyright to worry about and no original production to live up to. Shakespeare, at its simplest, means creative freedom. All we need to do is “screw our courage to the sticking place” and give ourselves the freedom to create.

Ambiguous Characters — Featuring Hamilton

Now that summer is here, the AP Party is over and gone, and school is pretty much wrapped up, we can return you to pretty normal programming.
Today: ambiguous characters.

Audience tend to embrace ambiguous characters. Take Loki, for example. Loki alternates between being a villain and an anti-hero and you’re not always sure which part he’s playing. Despite the fact that he’s rather a psychopath, the writers have shown his intense capacity for caring, causing the Marvel fans (your bloggers included) to pretty much adopted him as a sad puppy who just needs love. Other famous ambiguous characters include Jay Gatsby, Victor Frankenstein (and his monster), and Gollum/Smeagol (can’t make a list without including LotR ;)) — all of these characters may be less than admirable, but they each have redeeming qualities.

Ambiguous characters may be my favorites to read and certainly to write about. Not only are they complex and thought-provoking, but they’re extremely entertaining because you never know what they will do next.

Today let’s use your bloggers most recent obsession as a case study: Hamilton. (** THERE BE SPOILERS HERE **)

(Brief interim where I will instruct everyone who hasn’t listened to Hamilton to go listen to the original cast album on YouTube and let the obsession commence. (Brief interim within the interim where I warn people about mild language throughout and brief strong language in Hamilton. Also there is one song (“Say No To This”) that I always skip due to explicit lyrics.)

At first glance, Burr is the obviously ambiguous character in the musical, but to me, Hamilton is also ambiguous, and has many less-than-admirable characteristics. They are both bring out qualities of each other, highlighting both their good and bad characteristics. The writer, Lin-Manuel Miranda, establishes this clearly by making one of Hamilton’s “mottos,” if you will “just you wait,” while Burr’s is “wait for it.” But time and time again we see Hamilton being too reckless because he won’t wait for time to run its course, but has to take control of the situation. On the other side of the spectrum, Aaron Burr sees opportunities pass him by because he won’t take action. Ultimately and ironically, this is reversed in their final duel, when Hamilton does what he repeatedly insisted he wouldn’t do: he throws away his shot. And as Burr realizes this, he resumes his “motto,” screaming “waaaiit!” but too late.

So both Hamilton and Burr share the same stage, if you will. Both of them are so obsessed with one thing (Hamilton with not throwing away his shot, and Burr with waiting), that they sacrifice other things for that. Hamilton ignores Eliza’s pleas to stay because he won’t throw away his shot. Burr refuses to help Hamilton defend the Constitution because he says he will “keep all of my plans close to my chest / I will wait here and see which way the wind will blow.”

One of the key things about ambiguous characters is that often times they mean well, but their good intentions result in rather disastrous outcomes (we’re looking at you again, Loki…). They also both have complex backstories that drive them and show how they became the way that they are. Burr is by no means a villain (and I will personally fight anyone who contends otherwise), but certainly neither is Hamilton. Nonetheless, their paths lead them to face off in a duel, in which Burr assumes the role of a villain, killing Hamilton who does not shoot. I think one of the keys for ambiguous characters is understanding and empathizing with that path.

But let me take a moment to warn you against slapping tragic backstory on your villain — because that on its own does not make them ambiguous. I recently watched X-Men: First Class, and I think this is a great example of how not to write an ambiguous villain. (Note that this is solely based on First Class — the other movies are a different story.) (**SPOILERS FOR SAID MOVIE BELOW**) It probably goes without saying that I’m talking about Magneto here, but just in case: I’m going to be talking about Magneto (aka Erik Lehnsherr). So Erik’s parents are killed in the holocaust (his mother because he failed to be able to use his powers), Erik is experimented on and has probably one of the worst childhoods imaginable. Erik is consumed by a desire for revenge, hunting down the man who killed his mother and experimented on him, eventually killing him against the urging of Charles Xavier. So where exactly did the writers go wrong here? There was a great, relevant backstory connected to his powers and to the rest of society, but rather than let Erik struggle with this, making him work himself tirelessly to strengthen his powers so that no one dies because he couldn’t use his powers again, or having him struggle to confront his guilt about his mother’s death, the writers made him flatly consumed by revenge, killing many people before he even gets to the man he was after in the first place. In short, we see he’s a bad man before his fall at the end of the movie. While he may have been good at heart, and we see his great capacity for love as a child, he was never ambiguous because we saw him completely unaffected by brutally killing men in the beginning. There is no real struggle for him. Yes, we see hope for him when Charles urges him down a different path, but he doesn’t change much throughout the movie.

A compellingly ambiguous character should struggle with their ambiguity. Burr definitely does this. You see him striving to fight his passive personality, changing political parties to try to seize an opportunity, something that begins to drive a rift between him and Hamilton. He watches Hamilton surpass him and wonders what it’s like “in his shoes.” Miranda paints Burr so complexly and compellingly that in some ways he’s more endearing and admirable than the protagonist. Hamilton and Burr are reflections of each other, and we see them both struggle to come to terms with each other and with themselves, culminating in their duel.

So learn your ambiguous characters’ path — how they got where they are and where they are in their journey. One of the most important parts of reading and writing is empathy, and having empathy for an ambiguous or villainous character shows a deep humanity. And listen to the character struggle with themselves, embracing the ambiguity of human nature.

And now… go listen to Hamilton and become obsessed. 😉

~Katherine

THEY’RE REAL!

(Picture order left to right: Noelle, Katherine, Jenna, Abby, Clara, and Lucie.)

Hey Everyone!

So, I know this is a writing blog. You guys expect stories, and tips, and reviews. However, when 6 amazing friends with a common love of literature and writing get to meet each other in person for the first time, you have to expect something a little different.

As we mayyy have mentioned in previous posts, this past Memorial Day Weekend was spent at an AP party where Abby, Clara, Katherine, Lucie, Noelle, and I were able to actually see each other in person! We may or may not be a lottle overly excited about it. 😄 Honestly, it was an amazing experience. I know we’ve had posts about how our reading and writing community has been so important to us. You’ve even heard parts of our Skype Shakespeare readings. But let me just tell you that it is 1000 times better to do Much Ado About Nothing in person. 😉 We had an amazing group of actors. MAAN

But that’s not all! This amazing group of waffles got actual waffles, laughed a whole lot, and went crazy for the literature we all love.

Honestly, this turned into a different kind of post. This is just an appreciation post to show how much I appreciate these amazing friends of mine. Abby was my adorable Shakespeare fanatic. Clara was my laughing buddy. Katherine was the hair-braiding genius. Lucie was my amazing fellow redheaded Luciago. And Noelle was the bestest singer ever. ❤ Here are a couple more pics for good measure. We’ll get back to regular blog posts soon. Excuse us as we enjoy these memories and hope for many, MANY more to come. 😀

Girls, thanks for being such great fellow english, writing, and literature nerds, for laughing and crying with each other, and for showing the light of Christ wherever you go. ❤

A short, short, short ode to literature

In response to the question: what matters to you, and why?
Literature matters. My love of it has grown into a towering oak. The seeds were read-alouds, the roots were library visits, and now a canopy of branches reaches out to explore in many directions. Books have shaped my imagination and comprehension, taught me to empathize with the unknown, and, eventually, brought forth my own stories.
Literature describes us. It bridges fiction and reality, teaching lessons that transcend time. Perhaps we are not Paul Bäumer, whose conscience teetered between patriotism and morality. But we all navigate our own minefields where choices are not black and white. Through characters, we better understand the nature of humanity. It inspires us to grow within, to learn from metaphor, and ultimately, to share.
Literature bears children. It inspires subsequent authors, plots, and insights by opening the door and giving permission to enter. An editor once told me, “If reading is the inhale, writing is the exhale.” In Greek times, the purpose of the theater was “catharsis,” meaning “a purification and purgation of emotions.” The emotions of the stage draw out our own emotions that we must then express. Literature does the same thing. That’s why I can’t help but scribble notes while I read.
Literature incites change. Provocateurs live in my bag, my phone, and the unwritten book in my head. They hold up a two-way funhouse mirror in which we see the world and we see ourselves, but in a sort of distorted way. We see, and we respond.

Writing with Passion About Something you Dislike

Hi, everyone! Today I’m posting on behalf of Emma who is off in England! Also, I should mention (mostly because I can’t help but talk about it to anyone when I get the chance) that next Saturday, we will all be out of town — but get this: we will all be together! Abby, Clara, Noelle, Lucie, Jenna, and I (sadly, Emma can’t join us, being in England and all) will be attending the PA homeschoolers AP Party, which means we all get to meet each other! EEP! But, that also means you probably won’t get a blog post on Saturday. If you’re lucky, however, we might be able to make up for the lack of a post on Saturday with some footage of Shakespearean performing or Hamilton singing from the AP party. No promises though. 😉 And with that, I’ll hand it over to Emma!

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Writing Well About Something You Dislike

 

We all have that problem, I’m sure.  If you can honestly tell me that you enjoyed writing essays on the Biblical symbolic references in Tolstoy’s short stories, or how setting affects characters in Hugo’s Les Miserables, I don’t believe you.  Who likes writing boring, formulaic work that every sophomore, junior, and senior in the country is writing too?  You want something fresh, something exciting, something new…

That can be a bit tricky to find, you know.  And chances are, if you have a high school/college education, then you already understand that the chances to write about something you yourself love are pretty slim.  So slim that a piece of computer paper probably couldn’t fit through that gap.

So that brings me to the main topic of my piece.  How do you write with passion for something you really dislike?  How does that actually work?  And what’s more, how do I even know about this?  That’s a question I’m asking myself as I type.

Well, as a senior, writing essays and long analysis papers on topics I dislike is something of an understatement.  I’m more the type of senior who writes essays and long analysis papers on topics I despise.  But right there is my first point:

 

I: Write with the right mindset.

 

If you start writing your paper chanting the words “I hate this book, I hate this book, and I hate the prompt too”, then you’re in trouble my friend.  Because chances are, I’m going to hate reading your paper.  The hatred you feel for the book or the author or the protagonist or whatever about this book that you despise is going to be completely obvious in your paper and it will be A.W.F.U.L.  No offense.

Allow me to give you a short example.

Sophomore year of high school.  I’m sitting in my room, the house empty and quiet.  I have an essay due in two days and I haven’t even started it.  My family is in the ICU for reasons I honestly don’t want to go into, so I have nobody to bounce ideas off and a stressful load of school things to be done by about three hours ago.  In front of me is James Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man.  I hate this book—I hated it in my sophomore year and I hate it now just as much.  Who in their right mind thought it was a good idea to write in that style?  *Author’s note: it’s actually worse to write an essay in that style, let me tell you…* It’s short and disruptive and…ugh, it’s just awful.

But as I’m sitting there, getting ready to write this essay on some nonsense about rhythm and meter and how that applies to Joyce’s mental state (my point was that he was insane), I just kept thinking how much I couldn’t stand the book.  My paper: an 85%.  While definitely not a terrible grade, it was the lowest grade I’ve ever received on a paper and I couldn’t understand why.  The paper itself was really rather well-written.  But it was the fact that I just couldn’t bring across the passion that I would have for, let’s say…, Emma or A Study in Scarlet.  See what I’m getting at?

 

2: Write positively…

 

I can’t actually repeat this one enough.  It has served me very well over my educational career thus far.  As you write, try to find one thing about your topic that interests you…even if you can find one tiny, miniscule, remote detail that you find interesting, desperately hold onto that emotion and try to expand it to cover your whole paper.  Another thing I practice often is mind tricks—as a runner (who hates running so much that I physically can’t explain the extent of my hatred), I keep telling myself that I’m just running to the next tree, just listening to one more song, just moving around one more curve in the path.  And it works!  Here’s a tidbit for you: the same thing works when you’re writing, to some extent.  Tell yourself that you like this book. “I love Dickens!  He has such creative characters!  He explains so much of the Victorian social system in such a creative way!  He rocks!”  I personally disagree with all of the above statements.  Dickens is not my cup of tea.  But when I had to write a midterm paper on his novel, A Tale of Two Cities, in my freshman year of high school, I just repeated that statement in a mantra.  Final grade: 98%.

 

3: Whatever you do, don’t lie.

 

Now you’re probably thinking that I’ve gone insane.  I just told you to write positively and trick your brain into liking books that you dislike *ahem, despise*, but now I’m telling you to not lie?  Emma, you’re a freak.  Allow me to explain the difference between tricking your mind and downright lying.

I have no qualms with pretending to like a book while I’m writing a paper.  I had to read Frankenstein for the billionth time this past semester; it was torture.  I have the greatest respect for Mary Shelley writing such a great book in a time of literature dominated by men and she was a great role model for future science fiction writers…blah, blah, blah, the bottom line is, I hate that book so much.  I can’t help it!  I crack open the cover, read a page or two, and start weeping into my enormous mug of coffee.  It’s unbearable!  But when I write a paper about it, I just repeat a mantra similar to one above used for my Dickens example.  However, here is the crucial difference between tricking your mind and lying: I don’t actually state that I love the book.  I just pretend to love the book while I’m writing.  See the difference?  If I read someone’s paper and they go on and on about how much they love a certain book, only for me to find out that they actually hate it?  That’s weird, man.  Seriously weird.  If you don’t like a book, be honest. Why?  What don’t you find awesome about this?  What makes you different than all the other people who’ve read and adored this book?  Final example before I finally shut up and wrap this thing up: I really don’t like The Hunger Games.  Why, my peers gasp in an outrage?  These books are actually so popular that they’ve made about ten billion movies out of just three books!!!  (?!??!?!?!)  Answer: I find the main character—whose name is just too weird for me to truly connect with—too emotionless.  She’s the most “blah”, blank character I’ve ever experienced in the hundreds of books I’ve read over my remarkably short lifetime.  I’ve read the series and I still can’t figure out why?  Even at the beginning of the series, when she hasn’t experienced too much PTSD, she still acts like a marble statue!

Notice how I just spent way too long explaining why I loathe this book: this is good!  There’s nothing wrong with voicing an opinion—of course, being kind is ideal, but people—and especially teachers—appreciate honesty.  In fact, for a literature scholarship competition I just attended, one of my English professors had all the contestants rattle off the title of one book they didn’t like *quick note: she used the word ‘despised’ too!! :-D* and the reason why we didn’t like it.

To finally finish this remarkably boring post, I’ll give some final “wrap-up” thoughts.  First, while having the right mindset and avoid negativity in your writing (which often requires mind tricks, I’ll be the first to admit) is absolutely essential in crafting a great essay, it’s also really good to be yourself.  Not everybody has to love Dickens or Shelley or whoever the heck wrote the Hunger Games books.  That’s okay…in fact, teachers would probably find it suspicious if you absolutely adored every book you read.  The most important rule, though, is to be yourself.  If you let your own thoughts and impressions and opinions and words shine through your paper, you’re bound to get an incredible grade.

~Emma

Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone

I recently started writing a book. Now, this is nothing new: I’ve probably started at least five or six books in my high school years alone. However, my most recent one has been flowing far better than any writing has for me in about a year. The reason? As far as I can tell, it’s a change in my writing process — and not one that, a year ago, I would ever have imagined I’d be making.

I’ve ditched my outline, and I’m loving it.

I know, I know. Outlining helps with plotting, it’s recommended by quite a few brilliant authors, and it’s an absolute requirement to pull off something on the scale of Harry Potter without slipping up. All that is fabulous; and if it works for you, by all means outline! The problem I had with outlining, though, was that I liked it too much.

I’ve always been a planner: I make lists, I stay on top of assignments, I have a daily schedule. The thousand different facets of book planning, then, were a positive joy to my organization-happy mind. I wrote lengthy character biographies, figured out the different stages of each character’s arc, planned out the placement of each scene and its role in the plot. And, somewhere along the way, I lost the joy and wonder that brought me to writing in the first place. Invariably, I got bogged down when it came time to write the actual book, stuck somewhere in the mire of motivations and plot points. By writing in the style that came the most naturally to me, I sacrificed what chances I had of finishing my project at all.

Some of my writing friends have reported equally positive results when it comes to changing their natural writing styles. Katherine (yes, THAT Katherine), who’s not usually much of a planner, recently started doing detailed outlines for her novel and has been making great progress! (Although, I may be biased…I happen to think her novel is completely amazing. xD) Abby (yes, THAT Abby…the writers of this blog tend to know all of each other’s writing business) came up with a title before writing her most recent book and has found that to be helpful; I’m writing my first untitled novel in a long time and loving the freedom it gives me!

So, my writing advice for today? If you keep getting bogged down in a project, try changing your novel prep style. You might find that what feels most natural to you is actually what’s most likely to get you bored, stuck, or simply off-track. And if nothing else, there’s something inspiration-boosting about change that just might get those creative juices flowing again.

Continuing

Over the past few days, I’ve been dealing with the realization that AP Lit is officially over. This sounds petty and ridiculously overwrought, I know. Still, with the end of this class, I’ve been asking myself, So what’s next? I’ve come to the end of my time living and breathing essays and analysis and poetry and fiction in this class. I am being melodramatic here – after all, I’m going into two very English-centered majors next year in college. It’s not as though I’m never going to debate motives of Shakespearean characters or write ten page papers again! However, there is a strong sense of loss in finishing this class. I loved the people I met, our teacher was better than any English teacher I’ve ever had, and I felt like I truly grasped English in a way I never had before. I’m inclined to wallow in sentimentality  whenever something the least bit tragic happens, but this time I decided to be brisk and productive. Enter my Summer English Plan.

This summer is the last sliver of time I’m going to have before officially entering college and adulthood where I’ll lack the time to read for fun for hours on end. While I will always be an academic to the very core, I’m excited about reading for fun. I also want to write with the intensity that I’ve written with this year in AP Lit. Being a good INFJ, I’ve made a  firm list of goals and aspirations for this summer. Here’s some of what I want to do:

1.) I want to explore new authors and new stories. I think it would be easy to slip into reading more of the same (another Jane Austen, maybe re-reading some old favorites). Instead, I want to find and delight in new authors the way I did when I discovered all my childhood favorites.

2.) And, in contrast with this, I really want to pull out some of my childhood literature. This will serve as a vehicle for me to revel in nostalgia this last summer before college, but I also want to remember those intense, enthusiastic days where I would plough through a chapter book in one afternoon.

3.) I also want to stretch myself. I read a lot of things this year that I never would have touched with a ten foot pole if it had been up to me. Just look at Never Let Me Go! The old me would have been horrified at the thought of reading a novel that reduced her to sobs. I’m determined to read some Hemingway this year. I read A Farewell to Arms far too young and decided that I despised Hemingway. I still dislike him, but I want to give his writing another try.

4.) This is the big one. I want to write a novel. Well, it might be a novella. A novel in a summer is a lot, so I’m not going to be too hard on myself if I don’t actually accomplish this. I’m not planning on producing something publishable, but I want a piece of work that represents what I learned, both in AP Lit and this summer.

I’ve never really thought about planning my summer in this way, but I’m hoping that, with some loose goals, I can keep some of what I loved so much about AP Lit. And I’m definitely counting on my fellow bloggers to provide the lovely community aspect of AP Lit that I so appreciated.

My Writing Process and Environment

Unfortunately, Noelle’s taking her APCS exam today, so you’ll just have to wait to get her short story. It will be worth the wait, though, I promise you. So you get me posting instead!

Today’s post is going to be a little different because of time constraints. All of us are dealing with stress from AP exams these two weeks and are doing a lot of frantic last-minute review. But I thought it would be nice to get a break from studying and take you guys on a little tour of my writing environment and share a little bit about my writing process.

I have a pretty scattered writing process. I don’t have a schedule, and unfortunately I don’t write with as much consistency as I would like, but I’ve found a way of writing that I think works well for me. That said, it won’t work for everyone, but hopefully you can find a little bit of inspiration for writing in this post.

I’ll do this in three parts. First I’ll talk about the actual writing and how I organize my documents and drafts. Then I’ll talk about my writing environment (featuring my beautiful writing boards). (Edited note — I was going to talk about another thing but it completely slipped my mind to do so. And now, as I’m off to bed to get some sleep before the exam tomorrow, I can’t add it in, but hopefully soon!)

Right.

So first let’s talk about how I organize my writing and keep all my stories in order. I use Evernote for all of my stories. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Evernote, it’s a free software that you can download for either Mac or PC. It syncs through the cloud so you can access it when you’re away from home, and it lets you organize your notes into notebooks and then those notebooks into stacks of notebooks. I’ve found it very helpful to keep all my work in one place and I appreciate the fact that it feels very informal and allows me to work with manageable pieces.

In the stack of notebooks, for my current novel (which is as of yet untitled), I have the following notebooks:
Development:
This notebook is all the important stuff that doesn’t fall into the other categories. In this notebook I put all of the questions I need to answer, all the themes I need to develop, all the problems I need to work out, and any new ideas I want to explore.
Plotting:
This notebook has all my outlines in it. I jot down plot points and work on structure here. This is where I unfold all of the events of the story.
Scenes/Drabbles:
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Any snippets of actual writing from the story can be found here. This is my biggest notebook — my notes range from a few pages long to only a couple paragraphs.
Charries:
The only reason this notebook is called “Charries” and not “Characters” is because I already had another notebook called “Characters” for another of my novels, and Evernote wouldn’t let me name this notebook the same thing. This notebook is for general notes about all of the characters, or about their character arcs. It’s different from the next few notebooks in that it’s objective notes on character traits, backstories, etc.
Cadence’s Memories:
Cadence (or Caddie), my MC, is the narrator of the story — or at least will be the primary narrator. In this notebook I’ll have many drabbles from Caddie’s POV. There are usually in memory form with her looking back at events, because that best suits her voice. And that’s the main purpose of this (and the next three) notebook — to try and really explore and grow comfortable with the voices of my characters.
Ben’s Notes:
Because Ben is very analytically-minded, these are mostly notes about his projects and research, but I try to explore personal meaning for him through these notes. I doubt many of these notes will every make it into the story, but that’s not the point. As someone who hates taking notes during science experiments, it helps me to try figure out how Ben thinks and sounds.
Sonja’s Recordings:
This is the same deal as the previous two notebooks, except that Sonja doesn’t really like writing. So I try to capture her voice through drawings and recordings. She loves long phone calls with people and is a graphic artist, so for this I talk into a recorder (also a handy feature of Evernote) or post little sketches that I image she’d draw. I’ll talk more about about this later.
And Then There’s Isaac:
Ah, Isaac. Isaac’s probably my favorite, though it’s very strange that he is, as he’s really everything that annoys me. Anyway, that’s a topic for another blog post. Isaac’s notes in this notebooks (again, all from his POV) are mostly angry rants or cryptic notes. He’s the most fun to play with, but his voice is also the hardest to lock down. He’s the most inconsistent in that he often does very unexpected things, so it’s hard to pin down his exact personality.

Aside from Evernote, my novel grows on Pinterest. I have boards for each of the main characters and also a board for the novel in general. (Novel: https://www.pinterest.com/kathricorn/novel-rose-tinted-melody/ Cadence: https://www.pinterest.com/kathricorn/character-cadence/ Ben: https://www.pinterest.com/kathricorn/character-ben/ Isaac: https://www.pinterest.com/kathricorn/character-isaac/ Sonja: https://www.pinterest.com/kathricorn/character-sonja-sunny/ ) Pinterest can be a very valuable tool for novelling. But it can also be a distraction, so be warned. How to use Pinterest effectively is another topic for another blog post though, so let’s move on.

Up next: my writing environment.
I tend to have a pretty eclectic writing environment. I actually have two writing environments. One is my desk downstairs in what I call my hobbit hole. And the other is my writing wall up in my room. Both of these environments are good for different purposes. I prefer going to my room and working on my writing walls when I’m stuck and need to get the creative juices flowing. My desk is best for when I’m in the mood to get some actual material written. Not much special goes on at my desk — it’s the pretty standard setup. Notebooks and sketchbooks on a nearby shelf and my trusty laptop open in front of me. That’s where most of the actual writing happens, but let me take you upstairs to where the development and a good deal of the inspiration happens.
Behold! The writing wall:
IMG_2181

These writing boards were a birthday present from my family for my last birthday, and they’ve seen plenty of use even though I haven’t even had them for a year. (Yes, that is the tree of Gondor in the middle.)

I don’t spend a ton of time in my room outside of sleeping and working on my writing board, so it helps that there are few distractions and when I walk into my room, I’m in the writing mindset.

The way these writing boards work is pretty simple. I have a basket of index cards, a decorated mason jar full of pens and pencils, and a motivational picture sitting on my antique desk. The board on the left is my development board — on it I have my character profiles, character backstories, worldbuilding, and more. The board on the right is the outline — you’ll notice the index cards are much emptier on that board than my development board. I think it’s obvious that plot isn’t my strong suit.
That said, having the plot laid out on a pretty board really helps me visualize where the story’s going and what parts of the story will drag and what parts I might need to spend more time on.
Of course, what works for me in my writing won’t work for everyone. But hopefully you can find some inspiration from my way of going about the writing process. Let me know if you have any questions!
I apologize for the slightly less interesting post today. I’m sure we’ll all get our creativity back when we can breathe after AP exams are over. Good luck to anyone else out there taking AP exams or bracing for finals week. You got this!
~Katherine