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Why All Writing Is (Essentially) The Same

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As I meander my way through the writing community, I have come to discover that the discourse around fiction writing mirrors that of religion vs. spirituality – “spirituality”, in this case, being the craft and storytelling elements that make up fiction, such as tone or dialogue, while religion, or interpretation of spirituality, mirrors genre (ex. most monotheistic religions believe in a God, but a Christian’s interpretation of God may be different from someone who is Muslim.) Though two works of fiction may differ in genre, fundamentally they share the same elements.

For example, take conflict. In Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End, the characters are presented with a conflict of character vs. fate. Given less than twenty-four hours to live, both find themselves trying to navigate the five stages of grief, all while trying to determine how to leave a legacy in the hours they have left. Rufus questions his fate in a phone call with Death – Cast: “How do you know? The End Days. How do you know? Some list? Crystal ball? Calendar from the future? (19)” Conflict plays out differently in Roselle Lim’s Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune. The antagonist’s battle to find herself outside Chinese cultural norms comes to pass once she required to return home after her mother’s untimely death. I argue that the title character’s conflict is character vs. society – she wants to live out her dreams but is tasked with to do this within the confines of a community she resents.

In both works, the parallelisms to reality, whether that be the looming thought of our own demise or deviating from what we are taught is “normal”,  are what make the premises not only relatable, but perfect foundations for world-building. In They Both Die, their world is centered around death. From Death Cast phone operators unsympathetically informing “deckers” they are living their final twenty-four hours. To television commercials using the dreaded ringtone in their advertisements. To social media streams of people documenting their last days. Unfortunately, this is not too far off from current events. In a time where is not uncommon to see someone’s demise on Facebook Live or YouTube, the Death Cast world is becoming less fictitious. In Luck and Fortune, Natalie escapes the grasp of her traditionalist mother, but must return to her siloed culture to truly thrive.

The environments we are born into shape us. This is ever present in the way we communicate, aka dialogue/dialect. Originally being from a small town nestled in coastal Georgia, home of the Geechee people, and being of Caribbean heritage (Barbados), I can relate. Regional shortened language, coupled with dialects spoken within a certain community (ex. African American Vernacular English) make for a plethora of “nations within nations.” I have recently started working with domestic fiction, so dialogue is an important factor. Given my cultural background, I do like to incorporate different dialects in my work. I tend to stick with dialects I am familiar with, as I do not want to stereotype or misinterpret ones that are foreign to me.  Natalie use of words like “paifang”, “calligraphy”, and “Sono andati?”, are indicative of her Chinese heritage.

Still, Natalie’s reluctance to return home did not surprise me – her tone displayed an ethos of resentment coupled with regret from the first few pages. Lim’s bird symbolism (symbolic of human life), the rain that followed its departure, and the description of the turbulent relationship between Natalie and her mother confirmed the melancholy nature. Tone, though sometimes hard to detect, I believe is important to establish. Admittedly, my works tend to be “dark”, so I use diction that is a little more formal, but I do like to incorporate voice to add variety. Silvera does a great job of mixing tone and voice in They Both Die. While both Mateo and Rufus exhibit tones of distress (ex. “I’m freaking out already, a hundred thoughts immediately drowning out everything around me. (3)”), Silvera does add some comic relief, while also giving insight into some of the flatter characters. Take the scene when Rufus learns he has less than twenty-four hours to live and his friends will not leave him:

“You two are straight up shadows,” [Rufus] says.

“That because we’re Black?” Malcolm asks.

The situation, though serious in nature, has a moment of normalcy, and reminds the reader that the characters are still young adults.

Although they have varying degrees of importance, based on genre, mastery of craft and storytelling elements prove imperative for any type of writing. This requirement supersedes type: genre, literary, creative, or professional writing alike. Just as a building requires the support of a solid structure, or doctors need fundamental knowledge of the human body, all writers would take pleasure in being privy to the elements that form the discipline that’s afforded them so much joy.

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Blogs

Writers, Here’s How to Give Constructive Criticism (How Not to be A Literary A**hole)

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Writers, you know the kind of feedback you would want to receive, yeah? So, make sure you are giving it.

It is no secret that we writers tend to be sensitive about the perception of our work. Audiences only see the finished product – not the late nights, pounding of the backspace key, countless drafts, and the various experiences that influence the births of our literary brainchildren.

Since we know how it feels to be the subject of criticism, let’s practice the highest degree of professionalism and tactfulness when the shoe is on the other foot.

Here are a few best practices for giving constructive criticism:

DO: Focus on the craft elements, not the content. Every story is comprised of basic craft elements. These include character, setting, plot, point-of-view, etc. When drafting your critique, focus on the author’s use of the elements. What traits made the character stand out? Did the narrator effectively describe the work’s setting? How did the POV contribute to the tone of the work?

AVOID personal opinions! Your personal opinion does not matter here – your professional one does! You do not have to the like the character’s name. You do not have to like romance novels. You do not have to like stories set in the 1900s. Remember, you are critiquing the effectiveness of various craft and writing elements. Don’t like detective fiction? Doesn’t matter. Try this – analyze the work as if you are the intended audience – what would they look for?

DO: Include examples from the text. Use quotes from the text to support whatever observations you make. For example, if you get a sense that a character has strong, domineering personality, perhaps cite examples of dialogue or visual imagery that helped you come to that conclusion.

DO: List the things that worked well FIRST, then include improvements. People tend to want the good news first. When structuring you critique, try separating your feedback into two sections: What’s Working and What’s Not Yet Working. Under the second heading, be sure to include suggestions for improvements (remember, these are just suggestions – the author has the autonomy to use them or not.)

AVOID Overcomplimenting or Over criticizing. Constructive criticism is a balancing act. The goal is to ensure the writer produces the most effective and engaging work for their audience.  Try to find at least three elements that worked well and two areas for improvements.

Great writers need even better editors. Follow these tips to make sure you’re both!

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Author's Spotlight Blogs

Author’s Spotlight: Justine Torres


For this week’s Author’s Spotlight , meet the incredible Justine Torres, an up-and-coming novelist:

1. What’s your favorite genre to write and why?

Currently, my favorite genre to write is epic fantasy. I have so much fun with it. I absolutely love this genre because we are world builders. And growing up those were my favorite kind of stories to get lost in for hours on end. It was a place where I could escape from day-to-day life; still do to this day! And for anyone who knows me, I have a slightly overactive imagination and can be a little bit dramatic, so the sky is the limit for me!

2. What influenced you to become a writer?

My reading teacher in the third grade Miss Terrino. She made me fall in love with reading, and she always told me my imagination was going to take me far. Even though I started out struggling with reading and writing, she made me feel like I could do anything I set my mind to. She passed away the year she started teaching me; I never forgot her or her words of encouragement. I owe her everything when it comes to my writing. Every time I feel like giving up, I think of her and keep pushing forward.

3. Do you have any tips or suggestions for up – and – coming writers?

This one took me a while to think of, not going to lie because I am still going through the ups and downs of what it takes to be a writer. So I will share with you what I have learned so far. Don’t give up. Even when it feels like everything is going against you, hold on. I am sure this is something many people have heard before, but every mistake you make, every failure you experience is a lesson learned, so learn it. And don’t let the rejection you receive hold you back, because unfortunately, in this industry, you will receive rejection. Not everyone is going to see your story the way you see it. Find the people who see your vision, and want you to succeed. Keep fighting, and always remember why you fell in love with writing. Hold on to that why and never lose sight of it.

Check out Justine’s first book, Imperium!