Tag Archives: tips

Literature Classes: Pros and Cons

As I’m nearing the end of my undergraduate career, I figured that I would give my own view and take on how some types of classes are and how they can impact you if you’re thinking of becoming an English major, or are one. Let me first talk about literature classes and the pros and cons behind them.

Literature classes are a major art of being an English major, even if you’re concentration is in Professional Writing. The culture, the texts, and even the classroom discussion are integral parts of what it can mean to truly be an English major.

In my university there are two main types of literature classes available to students: British and American. The classes are broken up into time frame, because there are typically a lot of pieces of literature in a given class, and so to be able to break up the amount of time that has to be covered is actually very useful.

There are other types of literature classes, such as African-American, Women’s, World, Children’s, Jewish American, Caribbean, and, of course, Shakespeare. These are just courses offered at my university, but there’s many different types of literature that can be studied if it fits your fancy.

When taking a literature course know that it’s going to be reading intensive. You often won’t find a literature course, no matter the level, that only has one or two books/stories to read. Typically you may only have to get one textbook, but there are many, many stories that have to be read and interpreted and talked about in the classroom. It’s not an easy task, mind you, it’s actually quite difficult.

So, with that in mind, let me list some of the cons of literature classes first.

  1. They’re reading intensive. If you don’t like reading, then don’t take a literature class. If it’s required by your college/university, then suck it up. You may just find that you actually like what you read.
  2. The texts are often very complicated to understand. Many of the novels and stories picked for literature courses were written before 1900, so the language, syntax, grammar, even spelling can be different from what you’ve already grown to know.
  3. A lot of the texts will be boring. Depending on if you have a desire to learn more of the time period you’re studying and the stories made by authors of that time, you may find what you’re reading to be boring. It’s okay; a lot of students feel that way.

Those are just the top three cons of a literature class. If you’re not a big reader or aren’t into a certain time period, then make sure your university offers a diverse amount of literature classes.

But that’s not all literature classes are made of. There are some benefits to taking a literature class, such as:

  1. You learn about different cultures, subgroups, and how certain styles of writing were created. If you haven’t read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein then you most certainly will in some form of British literature. I learned that her novel was a turning point in how the “Gothic” themed literature came to be.
  2. You learn how to critically analyze and break down a text. This can be tricky, but as you further advance in different types of literature classes you will be able to better understand how to break down a sentence in a long paragraph or how to interpret what a certain scene represents within the history and context with which it was written.
  3. You gain a new appreciation for writers before our time. There are many, many rich and engaging stories that were written hundreds of years ago that we can still read and discuss and argue about today. There are still topics to discuss – and that’s major.

Those are the top three pros that I personally gained from taking many literature classes. Though most of my classes consist of writing, given my major, I have still taken several literature courses not only to fill requirements for my major, but also because I am purely fascinated by the text, language, and culture that can be learned about from literature.

It takes a lot of time and patience to be able to get through some works of literature, but if you’re able to make it through you will learn many things you might otherwise have not known, and that’s the point of learning, right?

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Mini-Series Part 3: Developing Content

Placing characters into your setting is the first step of creating the content of your story. But what about the content of the story? You know, the stuff that makes up the meat of it? How do you form that around the characters and the setting you’ve chosen to write about?

Take out a scrap paper or open a new document, but also open the document you put your initial idea about what you wanted to write about on. If you’ve chosen to write about a teenage girl who ends up at an asylum because she hears voices, but she’s really seeing the ghosts of her ancestors, or if you’re writing about an alien planet where you characters have supernatural powers, then start there.

I’ll use the asylum idea as my example for the upcoming tips and advice I’m about to give.

  • Start with a scenario. What’s the main idea of the story? For my example, the girl who is essentially a medium tells her parents about the occurrences and she is thought to be crazy, so she is sent to an asylum.
  • Begin at the end! Sometimes starting at the beginning is more challenging than starting at the end. Think of how you want your character(s) to end up and how you want your plot to end. Will the girl escape the asylum? Will the bad guy get what’s coming to him? Or are you going to have a cliffhanger and make a series out of it?
  • Don’t write the climax too soon. The climax of the story is the “big bang” that happens usually toward the end of the middle half of the book. For my example, the climax could possibly be when the girl in the asylum discovers that the person she had been sharing a room with is actually dead, but she’s been controlling everything around her. What does the main character do? Does she run for help or does she find another means to the end? Or does the person she discovers to be dead help to plan her escape? The climax is typically the most interesting part, so don’t write it too soon in your story!
  • Write the beginning as if you, yourself, were the main character. Typically writing a story is from your perspective through your character, but instead place yourself in your character’s shoes. Take a moment to close your eyes an imagine yourself as the girl with the ability to see and talk to the dead. Imagine the fear she must have of telling her parents, imagine the scenario of telling them and being called a freak. Imagine what happens when she is rolling up to the entrance of the asylum in her parents’ car and how the nurse and doctors are both in white. Think about everything your character is going through and write it down. You might not use all of it, but you’ll get the idea as to how it should begin.
  • Don’t write “filler.” Filler is not fun, not engaging, nor interesting. Filler is just to get something more out of the story, but nothing is really going on. You can write for pages about how white the walls of the asylum are and how white the floor is and how white the hair on the old lady sitting in the corner is. But it’s not interesting, it’s not filler. Don’t get me wrong, you can mention these things, but don’t go on for pages and pages about it. Always have something going on that can further engage your story.

So we have the bones, the blood, and now we have the vital organs of a story. The content is what makes the story, well, a story! It can turn a one page paper into a novel and it can turn an idea into something great. Without the content of the story, you really have nothing. Take the time to think about how you want to write this story and how you want to connect your plot together while placing the characters into the plot.

You’re well on your way to having a completed story! If you haven’t already, just continue to write about what is going on in your story and try to complete it within a year’s time. Yes, it takes time, and when you do finish just remember to breathe and pat yourself on the back for completing such a fete.

But there’s just one thing I want and need to cover: audience. It’s an important aspect to writing a story and is probably the most important aspect of story writing next to actually writing the story itself. So tune in next time for the last part of my mini-series on development!

Mini-Series Part 1: Character Development

Characters are the heart and soul of your writing piece. Not only do they take on a life of their own, but they also bring the story’s environment, nature, and more to life. They can make you smile, laugh, cry, rage, and throw your cat across the room. They are powerful and they’re all from your own mind.

In the first part of this four part mini-series, I will be discussing what characters are, how to make them, and why they are so important to your story.

Well, for starters, why are characters so important to your writing? Without characters in a story, there really is no story. It’s just a bunch of happenings and goings-on that are taking place for no reason whatsoever. That’s a boring story, to say the least.

Also, readers want to be able to grasp the concept of what is going on in the surrounding area: why someone is reacting a certain way, what smells weird, and more.

Without characters, you don’t have a story. So, let’s take a look at how to start developing a character:

  • Think of personality. Personality is what makes the character unique and separates the main character from the supporting and background characters. It can make a character a protagonist or an antagonist, and it can also make the reader either cheer for that character in dire situations, or cheer for another who is more tragic or epic in some way. *Warning! Watch our for Mary Sues and Gary Sues! You don’t want a cliche character – those are boring!
  • Physical appearance. Yes, even though your character is just words on a page, they still need to look like a person (or a monster or alien or what have you, depending on the genre you’re writing for)! Try starting out by jotting down simple physical appearance details: eye color, hair color and length, skin color, male or female, etc. Then go back and start filling in smaller details: does he/she have freckles, an elongated nose, a broken wrist, etc.
  • Likes and Dislikes, we all have them. So should your character if you want to make them believable. Give them an insatiable desire for chocolate, or a hatred for the color green. Anything! List them out for your own reference – your reader will be able to discern their likes and dislikes through the story itself.
  • A back story is just the beginning. A character needs to have some sort of back story or history to know who they are, where they came from, who raised them, etc. Make it tragic or make it happy, it’s up to you.

You can use these few simple tips for creating any kind of character, no matter if they’re the hero or the villain, the supporting or background character. Each tip will apply to each character, so take the time to write them out for each character.

Characters are the backbone of your story. They help to create the world around them through their language, their appearance, their likes and dislikes, and more. Without them, you’d be up the creak with no paddle. If you take them away you lose the backbone to your story and it would just fall apart, and that might make it difficult to salvage.

So take the time to write out your character’s, well, everything! You should know your characters inside and out before you get going anywhere with them. Yes, sometimes it works out before you get to really know your character, but unless you start with the basics you aren’t going to have a clue as to where your story is going and it might turn into a mess.

Of course characters are just one of the many important factors in creating a story. Next time I’ll be discussing setting development and how to place those characters you just created into a setting. Stay tuned!

Optional: Leave comments about characters you have created or are creating and how you went about creating them!

Creating a Story 101

Creating a story is like creating a baby: you have to love the idea before pursuing it.

Okay, well that sounded like an odd example, but it’s true! If you don’t love your plot or idea for a story, then what’s the point in even writing it?

If your objective is to reach out to an audience of high school girls, write a book about teen love or paranormal romance (are vampires still in?). If you’re writing to an audience of students in college, then make it sound more formal, but relatable. If you’re writing for a broad scope of sci-fi/fantasy fanatics, include awesome details about your setting so the person can imagine themselves walking inside of that world.

Whoever your audience is, creating the first words to a story can be hard. I, myself, find the hardest part of writing a story, whether it be flash fiction or a full out novel, it is always the middle of the story that’s the hardest. Beginning it is easy – continuing with it is hard.

I’m going to give a few tips as to what I think are helpful ways to creating a story. These have worked for me in the past, but they don’t always work for everyone.

  1. Start with the title. I know, sounds crazy, right? Most people add the title last to their piece of work, but I’ve found it to be the leading cause to starting the first sentence of my story.
  2. Start by writing, “Once upon a time…” Yeah, yeah, it’s corny, but it’s a good segue into starting a story. You don’t necessarily have to keep it once you’ve got your gears turning, but it can help in the process.
  3. Start with the end. It can feel weird to start with the end of your story, but if you know where your story is eventually going to end up you can then plot and think about what you want to happen that leads up to that moment.

Those are just a few simple tips to get you going. I’m sure you can think of, and find, many more ways to start a story, but I figure that this will at least help get the juices flowing and the gears turning.

Now I want you to actually write the beginning (or end) of your story. Go on, do it right now. I want this to be an interactive experience, so start writing by using one of my three tips above. If you find that you’ve gotten stuck, don’t worry, just stop and come back to this once you’re done.

Okay, you’ve got some things written up? Great!

Now that you have the beginning (or end) of your story, look at what you’ve written. Read over it and see if there’s anything you want to change or add just to the piece you have.

Sometimes the easy part is writing the beginning, but figuring out if you have an idea that’s viable or that’s entertaining and will keep the reader on the edge of their seat is the really hard part. Don’t worry so much about whether or not someone else is going to like it right now – do you like it? If you don’t like it, then there’s no point in writing it.

Now that you have the beginning of your story, think more in depth about what you’re writing. Maybe even before you begin a story you want to make an outline of who your characters are, the setting, the time period, the main plot, the climax, etc. There are different methods that work for everyone.

Think about your characters for a second. Who are they? Are they you? Are they your best friend from elementary school? Are they the bullies from your neighborhood? Or are they even your pet? Whoever they are, you have to come up with a personality for them. Don’t make them into average Mary and Gary Sues. No, you want them to be different and creative! Here’s a few tips to think about how you can think about your characters as you’re writing them:

  1. Create their own separate folder with all personality and appearance traits and ideas. Not only will this help to organize your thoughts, but seeing them in front of you will help you to realize whether or not your character is too ordinary and overused, or if you think you’ve found a keeper.
  2. Don’t make too many characters at once; just stick with the main character and maybe one supporting character for now. You’ve only just begun, so don’t throw in all ten characters (or more or less) at once at the very beginning. You need to get a feel for the character who’s going to be your main hero/heroine in the story before you add in the supporting cast.
  3. Think about how they would react, feel, think, etc in the environment you’re placing them in. If you’re going to have a young cyborg adult living in the Amazon Jungle with no real reason as to why he/she is there, then you might want to either rethink your character or your setting.
  4. Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and make the main character a little “messed up” in the head or have a super traumatic (or lack thereof) backstory. Or even make your main character the villain and make some awesome twists throughout. Don’t be afraid to take big leaps that may be “out of the norm” for a lot of popular story ideas today.

Characters are the heart and meat of your story, so think carefully when creating them.

If you haven’t done so already (especially since I made you write the beginning of your story), create some characters. But first, just start with one main character. Is it male or female? What is his/her sexual orientation? What does he/she believe? What kind of education does this person (is it a person?) have? Who can he/she trust? Did he/she have a tragic backstory or did he/she lived a charmed life? Is he/she tall and lean or short and pudgy? Is he/she the villain or the hero/heroine? Write down your main characters from appearance to the inner workings of their mind (and if you can’t figure it all out, don’t worry, your characters usually come to life on the page on their own without your knowing).

Now that you’ve got your main character figured out, do the same for your first supporting character.

When you’ve got all of that figured out, try thinking about your plot and your setting. These are entirely up to you and you can base them on either real life situations or you can make them totally out of this world. Try your hand at both and maybe you’ll find that you like one over the other, or that you want to somehow combine the two. Either way, think about what you’ve read in the past and what has struck you as really cool or really fascinating.

Story writing has a lot of elements to it, and though I’ve barely scratched the surface, I’m sure that if you start writing and are able to work through getting to know your characters, your setting, and more, that you will find yourself successfully writing a masterpiece (in your eyes or in the eyes of a publisher). Get to work and start writing your story!