Skillshare is a platform where you can watch classes on anything you're interested in and learn a new set of skills. They have four categories: Creative, Business, Technology, and Lifestyle. Within these categories, they have specialized fields for you to choose from. I use the Creative category and click Writing, which gives me countless videos- made by real people from those fields- on how to write characters, pitch stories, plan a plot, etc. This is a great tool for someone who cannot go to a physical classroom. For each class, there is a "project" you do to try out the tips given in the class AND the teacher will give you actual feedback on it. You can explore it for free for two months by clicking this link: http://skl.sh/2pjW1B7
Now, as an example, I will share a project I did for a class called "Brainstorming Your Story" taught by Steve Alcorn. The objective was to write a summary of a new plot you could create a story from. The story I did wasn't new, but I wanted to write a revised summary and incorporate my new ideas. Here it is:
Mai Jenkins moves to New York to pursue her modeling career and faces hardships in this journey that test her character. She grew up with a single father in small town Venolia, Texas. She dreamed of walking down runways since she was five years old. Fifteen years later, she makes those dreams a reality. Mai expects the model life to be luxurious, filled with free fashionable clothes, champagne all day, and jobs coming in hot. Unfortunately, she soon realizes the modeling industry isn't all glitz and glam. Through hardships, lost friends, and expensive rent, Mai tries to stay afloat above the ever churning waters. In this journey Mai learns not to trust everyone who says they want to help her, and she begins to trust in her confidence. Not only does Mai's new life in New York bring hardships of the modelling life, but it causes her to grow as a young woman and find her place in this world.Not all that glitters is gold.
This isn't a finished product, I have always struggled with writing summaries, especially in school. Either I add too much or too little information. The teacher of this class message me and told me to add more of her challenges and how she overcame them. I didn't expect a quick response, but I'm glad he had a chance to look over what I wrote. Skillshare is a really helpful website and my writing is going to grow for sure.
*Photo by Kari Shea
Does it pass, does it cry? Does it sigh when it loses sunlight? We want more when there’s less, and less when there’s more. It gives us context and deadlines. Milestones and headstones. We can waste it or spend it wisely.
But it doesn’t exist.
Time is not real.
Humans created time to document the rays of sunshine. To categorize wake and sleep. Time is an illusion. You cannot run out of something that doesn’t exist. We have built a world around time and now it has authority over our lives. We will never have enough time to do something. It is never enough time to have fun. Each day comes and goes in the blink of an eye, next thing you know it’s 2025. So what’s the solution? Time management they say. But we don’t control the Earth’s tilt or rotation. We cannot bend it to our will and stop it on command. It goes on with or without us in orbit. Everyday is the same. We are living in the past, present, and future at the same time. There are no breaks between. There’s no yesterday or next week. We are floating in space latching on to meaningless words and numbers that elude us.
Remember this the next time you wish the hours could go by faster.
*Photos by Andrik Langfield and Ashley Bean on Unsplash.com
**Edited by me
This past week was Writer's week at UC Riverside. Writers of all kinds -poetry, non-fiction, fiction, essays, and others, came out to speak and share with the rest of us. Due to my busy schedule, I was not able to attend until the very last day. I'm glad I went. It wasn't about what I learned, but how I felt leaving the theater.
Sometimes when I leave workshops or events I don't remember much. Instead, a feeling is embedded within me. A surge of encouragement and inspiration to write better, study harder, laugh longer, or dream bigger. I could take notes all I want, but they'll just end up in the bottom of my bag or in the trash weeks later. The reason I go to these things is to gain something to apply to my life. They help me to stay motivated and remind me why I do what I do. For any career people think there is a secret, a shortcut, or a quick fix to get them ahead. We rely on others as a guide to our own lives, but they can't tell us how to live our lives. These professionals don't know us and everyone's path is different. It's the same with asking people for help. They will recommend the "best" plan without understanding your background. Options that work for someone else may not work for you. Person A may need to take a quarter/semester off school, or get a second job, or move to another state for better opportunities. Person B might take a gap year, delete their social media accounts, or start a new business. I take what they with a grain of salt while acknowledging what I am capable of. Don't limit your aspirations and possibilities based off another person's life. Their limit is not your limit. Their footsteps are not your footsteps.
*Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash.com
Have you ever wondered what personality type your character has? I took a personality test for two of my characters in “Our Father”. These men are brothers and have very different lifestyles. I thought it would be interesting to take the test and see how they would answer them. The link is at the end if anyone wants to try it out.
They described Nathaniel as practical and more logical than emotional. People like him have dedication in their work. They believe honesty and loyalty are most important. This sounds like Nathaniel. He’s a bit of a loner, and has a tough time trusting those around him. It also said they go the extra mile for the people they care about, even if they do not understand their feelings. They also love to acquire new skills and knowledge. The second character I did was his brother, Jason. Reading through the results, I kept saying, “This sounds just like him!”. The results were spot on. It described him as being a kind person that cares for others and their happiness. People with his personality type are sensitive, analytical, and can be social. They are very altruistic and sometimes their accomplishments go unnoticed.
Some of their traits did align with each other and I was kind of surprised. It makes sense though, they are very alike, but use those traits differently. They are both very caring of others and emotional. Nathaniel doesn’t have handle his emotions, while Jason sometimes suppresses them. This is a great tool to use if a writer wants to understand their character personally. I do wish I’d done this last year when I restarted “Our Father”. Recognizing your characters as humans and not just characters in a book makes them well-rounded. Their personalities drive the story. It is about them. Someone who suppresses their emotions is bound to explode at some point and that should show in the story. A reader can relate to them and comprehend their actions, or why they said certain things. Like I said, it's a great tool to use, even to understand yourself more.
*Photo by Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash
**Test used: https://www.16personalities.com/
This is something I wrote in high school about a piece of technology that mattered to me. I wrote about my old I-pod and what music meant to me.
My little blue I-pod has a crack on the top left corner, but it doesn’t take away the sentimental value. Music was introduced many, many years ago, and it has changed from different stages to where it is now. We interpret music in various ways, whether it’s by actual instruments or by using the sounds in your mouth. There are a lot of different genres of music such as Pop, Country, Hip-hop, Electronica, Techno, Rap, and so on. Music is a way to escape, flowing out of reality and into the notes and/or beats of a song. Technology has evolved the way we create and listen to music by making it possible to drag and drop different beats on a computer, or sharing a music video on Facebook.
Getting lost in the story the artist created with a few drum booms here or the strike of a violin is amazing. This piece of technology is something I cherish and use every day. The music inspires me when I’m out of ideas, and cheers me up when I’m down. Without this I-pod, the world would be a very silent and boring place for me. Imagine a world without music. I don’t even think that is possible. It’s everywhere, birds chirping a song high in the air, or whales belting out, deep in the waters. But I think I’m getting off topic.
Once I plug the ear phones into my ears, and the music begins, I’m transported into another world. I am now someone else, in a brand new story each time. I am the song. Experiencing music firsthand is a special thing, feeling the vibes in your body, in your soul, in your mind. It puts you in a mood that is unable to leave you days after you listen to the song. It sounds crazy, but it’s not. Ask any lover of music, they’ll tell you. Using the variety of music production programs makes it possible for you to become the artist. My I-pod is my favorite piece of technology, and it drives me to try and make a song of my own. Now you are the artist with the ability to create a story. You ca include your own adventures and hardships that you went through.
The 21st Century is ever growing in new inventions. Every year it’s a new version, and if you don’t have it, you are not “in”. What is important to me is the music. The outdated I-pod wrapped up in my pocket gives me exactly that. I’m not one to fret over materialistic things, but this has a special place in my heart. It’s not just an out dated, cracked blue I-pod; it’s a big chunk of my life.
*Photo by Sai Kiran Anagani on Unsplash
In my sociology class, we are going over classical theory and the "founders" of sociology. Each thinker has formed their definition of society, interactions, and how to study it. One person in particular is Auguste Comte who lived during the time of the French Revolution. Don't worry, this isn't a history lesson. I am going to talk about bias and conflicting beliefs between people and how they work together to shape society, not break it. In Comte's view, society was in need of order and progress. Again, he lived during the French Revolution and saw this event as chaotic without understanding the implications of the revolution. People did not protest, yell and fight, because of boredom. They wanted change. Sometimes with change comes conflict because of those differing beliefs everyone has about authority, the economy, or human rights.
Comte didn't take into account the benefit or function of other ideas and groups he saw as inferior. His narrow-minded view of a future society also did not account for conflict or the role they play in a society. He foresaw humans as living in harmony in a deterministic world where humans are rational and make the "right" decisions. He fails to realize how other beliefs function in and create society. He claimed the French revolution was chaotic, but doesn't address the reasoning. In fact, contrary to his thinking, there was order and progress within that movement.
Comte also refused to read other thinker's writings because he thought they would taint his view. It's important to stay open-minded and embrace difference of ideas. Analyzing situations from another point of view gives you insight. Fills in the gaps even. You can agree to disagree and hold on to your opinions, but don't invalidate others. Don't allow bias to cloud your judgment. Consider everyone's truths. Realize there are so many different lives that are being lived which means billions of different experiences. How can your one view of the world be the ONLY valid view? It's not possible. Embrace difference. There is nothing wrong with conflicting beliefs. It becomes an issue when people allow those beliefs to clog their ears and not hear others. It's not about getting someone on your side. It's about respecting each other's differences. That's how society works!
*1st photo by Kyle Glenn and 2nd photo by Ethan Weil on Unsplash.com
Reference: Ritzer, George, and Jeffrey Stepnisky. Classical Sociological Theory. SAGE, 2018.
You made it to the end of the How-to series! Today’s topic is how to write a great story. I’m going to cover specific points that are important to flesh out.
Plot: The plot of a story is ultimately the most important… well plot and characters. They ride on the backs of each other. Characters can drive a plot and a plot can create well rounded characters. Now, the plot is your idea, the story line, the GPS, It informs readers about what the story is and what direction it’s going into. Some writers will encourage others to work their way backwards and think of the ending first. Others will say start from the middle. It depends on your thought process, but the way my stories formulate is usually from the characters’ background story. I create a story based on a character’s relationship to another character. In my book “Our Father”, the idea was about a girl who is being stalked by her childhood best and somehow mixed in the mess is her estranged father. I didn’t have a solid plot, just a cool idea. My other story, “Being a Model”, began with an idea about a girl looking for her mother. The plot with her becoming a model was not in my mind initially. Your plot is a road. It needs a beginning, middle, and end. Everything that happens in the story should follow each other to the end. In other words, scenes – as I like to call them- or chapters are stepping stones further into the main plot. It’s not a promising idea to start writing a story without formulating a solid plot and I say this from experience. I get excited and start writing then I end up with plot holes, and things going in the wrong direction. I recently started outlining and it has helped. With an outline, you can write snippets of what need to happen in each chapter. This way, you can have a visual account of your plot, read through it, and see if the story progresses to the end.
Characters: My favorite part about writing! Character development is what keeps readers going. I have read books with a fascinating plot, but not so fascinating characters. It’s a challenging task. You, as the writer, are creating people. Human beings! And they need to be realistic. Writers give them names, birthdays, families, backstories, trials, and triumphs. We create an entire population. A beneficial tool to use is a character interview sheet. There are various versions online. They ask the character’s name, family life, favorite color, food, if they have birthmarks, or what their fear is. These things to help build a well-rounded person. It’s also important to get in tune with your characters, at least the main character. You must delve deep within their mind, feel them as an extension of you.
Writing “Being a Model” is difficult sometimes because I am not in tune with my main character, Mai. It goes in and out. I don’t know who she is sometimes. This can peek through a story. You don’t need to become the characters, you need to understand them . They need to become three-dimensional wait, no- four dimensional. Give them real fears and challenges. Every character included in the story needs to have purpose, an objective. Try not to include random characters. Some characters’ main purpose is to support the main characters and make them more realistic or offer a different view into that person’s life. They could also be that person’s voice of reason. Allow characters to tell the story. Switching from person to person, their voice and experiences should flow out. Ask yourself, “What would this person say in response to that?” “How would they handle grief?” “Does she trust this new person into her life?” This is why writer’s need to be in tune with their characters, so they can answer these questions.
Setting: Okay this may be tricky, but also fun. The setting includes time and place. Is it set in the future, Wisconsin, France, the Medieval period, or the present? I like choosing places I’ve never been to like New York or Madagascar. I use google maps as a tool because they show real streets. You can go down roads and such. Describing the scene sets the tone and provides imagery for the reader. Find locations you want to use in your story and make sure to describe them enough to create a picture. Be careful not to have a sensory overload. If it’s the first time describing a location in the story, you can go into detail. If it’s the second or third time, only focus on changes. For example, describing a character’s home. In the first mention, you may go into detail about the structure, color, window shape, how they organize furniture, or what colors the walls are. But because this will be a frequently used location, there is no need to describe everything again. The vase that was there before is gone. Note that. Maybe the home looks different at night. Note that. Go on google images and find pictures of places that look like what you’re envisioning. Readers will envision their own version, but having some detail helps. If it’s set in another time period, do a lot of research for accurate information. What type of technology did they use? What did the clothing look like? For fantasy stories, setting is important because the writer is formulating an entire world. Drawing a map of your world is beneficial as well.
Major points in plot: I added this part because writing down or highlighting key parts in your plot keeps you focused. These points are things in the story that NEED to happen. I see them as bookmarks. For “Our Father”, I had those major points and all the other scenes were supporting roles to get there. For example, I have a kidnapping scene in “Our Father” which was a major point. For the kidnapping to happen, I had to write other scenes that led up to it and allowed it to happen. A certain character needed to not be at the house, another character had to forgive the main character, things of that nature.
Dialogue: Conversations between characters also drive the plot. It can reveal certain information withheld from readers. This a way for characters to be themselves, you can really hear their voice. Having too much or too little dialogue can divert the reader. Conversations that don’t support the plot are unnecessary. There is an objective in every piece of dialogue. It needs to lead to something, expose someone, uncover information. Two characters having a long discussion about racecars when it has nothing to do with the story is a waste of space. I’ve had to cut pieces of dialogue out because they didn’t offer anything. Here’s an exercise. Try removing a piece of dialogue and see if the story goes well without it. If the story flows, then you know it wasn’t helpful. Sometimes dialogue is there to understand a character more, that’s fine. Making a character more well-rounded still benefits the plot.
Motivation and Inspiration: This may be last, it’s very crucial. You can’t write a great story without the passion to do so. I watched runway videos, photo shoot videos and looked at many fashion photos for “Being a Model”. It inspired me to write Mai’s story and convey the true life of a model. I made a Pinterest board for “16 years ago” for each of my main characters. Prayer and meditation clears your mind and enriches you. Explaining your stories to others gets you excited to keep writing. Find a nice cozy place in your home, at a park, or maybe a coffee shop that will motivate your senses to write. Make a playlist and listen to songs related to your story or unrelated. It does get tough especially when you get writer’s block or feel discouraged about the story. Don’t let discouragement end the journey. Even if you don’t believe in yourself, believe in the story. Believe in the characters and trust the process.
*Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
Dividing an essay into manageable chunks makes it a straightforward task. I don’t write papers in one day. In fact, it takes me three days to a week to complete one paper. Why? I write a couple hundred words a day. For the example I am using today, that paper was 3,487 words and some days I wrote 500 words, other days I wrote a thousand. Some people can crank out thousands of words and finish a whole paper in two hours. Unfortunately, my brain doesn’t operate that way. I l enjoy creative writing, but I have a strong dislike for essays. Whether you can crank out those words or not, my method can be a viable alternative to use.
As an example, I will refer to a paper I wrote for my Popular Music of the world class. We had to analyze at least two non-western songs and connect it to the topics we covered in class. I copied the Paper prompt and pasted it into Microsoft Word to create an outline. Here are four key things to successfully plan out your essay for easy writing.
1. Answer specific questions/directions in the prompt. By doing this, you won’t miss adding something important for your topic. I recommend copying and pasting the prompt in Word or Google docs.
2. Find sources to include and organize it under questions/directions from the prompt that correspond with it.
a. The bold parts are what were necessary to include in the paper. I used bullet points underneath each piece of direction for the research aka websites and scholarly journals.
3. Organize everything you have into an outline
4. Proofread! As you finish each section, proofread it before you move on.
Extra tips: Once you have a strong outline, assign each paragraph topic a day. Example
Sunday: Country background for Ghana;
Monday: Country background for Nigeria;
Tuesday: Genre background for Highlife;
Wednesday: Genre background for Afrobeats;
Thursday: Highlife song analysis;
Friday: Afrobeat song analysis and conclusion
Once you've finished, send a draft to a friend or if your school offers tutoring, use that option. Another pair of eyes may detect an issue with the topic or a grammatical error.
Using this method has improved my grades when it comes to essays and I hope it does the same for you!
*Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash.com
Poetry is not about words sounding pretty. It’s not about depression. It’s not about love. Your creativity, experiences, emotions, and your words define poetry. A poem does not only consist of stanzas with four lines each in ABAB format. Poetry exists as a method to express. Poetry speaks the words you cannot say. Illustrates a feeling you cannot draw. Poetry releases those things and creates a story that embodies everything you want it to. I’ll give you some tips on how to do that.
Let’s begin with imagery. Imagine a setting. Smell the air. See the scene. Close your eyes and immerse yourself in it. Allow your senses to deliver words of description. The thing about poetry it’s all about experiencing your words and a lot of patience. For me, I can’t interrupt myself or the flow will stop. Once you feel that, don’t take a break yet. Start by describing what you hear or what’s outside your window.
Next, is using a thesaurus. Have a page open either on a phone or computer. Sometimes our vocabulary is not expansive enough to give us proper words to use. “Walk” may work, but “stroll” is better. I constantly look up synonyms to everyday words. It’s not about it sounding fancy. You as the writer want to convey a message. Specific words relay that message better than others.
Next, is structure. I tend to leave this until the very end. After reading through the whole poem I create line breaks. The way it's broken up can change a poem. If there are many situations going on, breaking it up in the right parts is important. If the top part speaks about mistakes and the bottom is about redemption, finding the right place to separate those two helps a reader. Organization in poetry helps the flow. Poetry has guidelines, but don’t feel confined to them. It can have stanzas, or it could be a paragraph. It can be half a page or several pages.
Now for the poem itself. I like to start with feelings. Am I cold, upset, stuck (metaphorically), etc. With writing about another person, you can begin with their physical description, their personality, how they make you feel, or an action. If your poem is referring to a memory, describe the scene and why that memory has stuck with you for so long. If you have absolutely no idea what to write about, look around the room. Pick a color and a couple random things or do I what I do and write random sentences. Something will spark an interest and your mind will get creative. It’s like bait. A sentence will stand out and an entire poem can come out of it. Here’s an example of mine:
I turned around to find a friend
I turned around to the end
As solid ground flew away
I called out to the sky
Because she never said bye
Cancel the dreams
Undo the seams
She has gone and left me here
Unraveled and unclothed without my friend
Is this truly the end?
I wrote several lines after the first two, but didn’t like the way it sounded. I kept the first two and took off from there. I created a pattern of two lines of rhyme, a break, and two more lines of rhyme. I almost deleted the first draft, but those two lines stuck out to me. It’s not the greatest, but gives you an idea. Poetry comes from within and as with any art, it is difficult to “teach”. Keep sharpening the tool. Never let the mind dull. Everyday brings new inspiration. You need to stay alert and grab at it when the opportunity arises. Keep a notebook with you at all times or download a notebook app. Challenge yourself to writing a poem at the end of the week for a month. Practice, progress, and perfect.
*Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash.com
Have you ever picked up a book, opened it to the first page and read the first line? Yes? Well have you ever put the book back because you didn’t like the first line or paragraph? First impressions whether on paper or in person can be crucial. The most important work history goes on top in a resume to catch a potential employer’s eye. It’s the same with the beginning of a book. Something needs to grab the reader and make them want to continue reading. They say the beginning of a book should give readers an insight on what the story will be about. Yet, it could be a quote, dialogue, or a foreshadowing. The plot is what will entice someone to read your piece of writing. Nonetheless, I’m going to share some of my first lines/paragraphs and comment on why they work. By the end of this, you will have an idea on how to create an enticing beginning for your story.
These lines are from my book “Down to the Chase”. “My body convulses at the sight of the dead man lying in the middle of the alley. Blood pools around his abdomen, as his life slowly trickles out of him. Shallow breathes kill the silent night. The cold knife slips out of my hand and clangs to the ground.” These lines are my favorite openers. I wrote this book during Nanowrimo 2014 and I don’t know what type of creative juices were flowing that day. The whole first page is spectacular in fact. The story starts off with the end of a fight. Main character Deonte, stabbed not just anyone, but his girlfriend’s ex. Yep. I wanted to catch the aura of this scene. I wanted readers to be there, feel Deonte’s desperation and the weight of killing a man.
My novel “Our Father”, begins with a poem and the first lines are, “The man staring back at me is not the same man they remember. I’m renewed. Life has breathed itself back into me. I am new. I am stronger.”
This is a thought by my character Nathaniel, who is stalking his former best friend. These lines express how Nathaniel strives to become better while also distancing himself from the past. When I started this story five years ago it opened with Robyn -his old best friend- waking up at her friend’s house. It was more interesting to begin with Nathaniel and let readers see the mystery beforehand and wonder who this person is. As the chapters goes on, readers will understand Nathaniel is someone “scary”, “cunning”, a dear friend and brother. This beginning's purpose is to introduce a character and his motives.
· Next story is “Being a Model”. The first two lines are, “I breathe in the unique New York scent. A little wet and salty.”
This beginning opens with scenery. My character is coming in from a small town in Texas to the Big Apple, a dream of hers. My idea was to start with her coming in from the airport and get her reaction to New York. My initial idea was to have her already established in NYC, but this beginning made more sense. This is the crucial element in writing a great beginning. Write something that helps the story move along. It paves a way for the rest of the story. The way you start it could change the plot in several ways.
Finally, “The Other Side of the Mirror”. “In Madagascar, we don’t look the same. We are one people. We are the Malagasy people.” I begin with this quote and then a prologue, “We watched as the car rumbled away from our humble home. The home that couldn’t take care of our baby girl.”
The quote is important for the Malagasy culture. It doesn’t explain what it means. The people of Madagascar have great diversity ancestry and culture. Their ancestors come from East Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. As for the prologue, this sets up the rest of the story. It has a background explanation and a foreshadowing. My main character Volana, has Alopecia Areata and is adopted. In this prologue both of those things are expressed with an ending scene of her biological mother’s hair falling out. The beginning of a book is a road map for the rest of the story. Hopefully from reading my first liners it gave you inspiration on how to start your masterpiece.
It's How-to January! Each Saturday this month I'm talking about how to write different things. Next week's topic is about poetry.
*Photo by Matthew Sleeper on Unsplash.com
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