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Last week, I was contacted about submitting my poetry. The publishing company emailed me out of the blue, said they read the poem I’d published in my college lit journal, and they wanted me to submit some poetry for one of their new collections.

I was a little weirded out at first and obviously very wary. I mean, it was exciting, definitely. I never really thought anyone would read my stuff in the Uni’s journal, at least not anyone besides the 30 or so other kids who published in it and their families. Someone read a single poem of mine, and liked it enough they wanted to read more.

After researching the publishing company, they seem legit. I couldn’t find any negative reviews on google (and believe me, I tried). I read through the sample pages of some of their books on Amazon. They weren’t asking me to pay them to publish my work, and the contract allowed me to keep ownership of the poems.

I went ahead and submitted, so hopefully even just one is accepted.

Final thoughts: always research what you are getting into. Know if the company is legit. Take a look at the lists of publishers to stay away from. And understand what is being said in your contract. Good general life advice: never sign a contract you don’t understand.

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The Subversive Copy Editor by Carol Saller

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One of the most interesting and useful books I’ve read recently is The Subversive Copy Editor by Carol Fisher Saller. Saller is an editor for the Chicago Manual of Style (so you know she knows her stuff).

Some of the important things I took from this book:

  1. The editor’s loyalty goes first to the reader. After all, an editor’s main purpose is to make the writing clear to the reader. (Of course, we also have a loyalty to the author and to ourselves.)
  2. It is okay to break so-called “grammar rules” if following them doesn’t make the writing any clearer.
  3. The first rule of editing is “Do no harm.” Don’t introduce new problems into the piece to try to follow a “grammar rule” or because of personal preferences.

There is lots of other useful information in this book (such as the section on carefulness, transparency, and flexibility when working with writers). I highly recommend checking this book out.

Also, here is her website: http://www.subversivecopyeditor.com/

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Sorry I haven’t posted in a while. I was busy trying to win a walking challenge at work. (I did not.) And then I got busy because I landed a freelance writing coach gig! (It’s going great!)

Anyway: Today I listened to my All State audition tape from high school, and I remember thinking I was such a great singer back then, and don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t bad, but I definitely could have used a lot more work. (Still could.)

I have also recently read some of my older pieces from college, and I definitely have an ego about writing (although I am working on being more humble), and while my writing certainly wasn’t bad, with the distance of years, I can now see where the pieces need improvement.

Moral of the story is you are never as bad as you think you are, but there is always room for improvement. So keep at it. 

Planner or Discovery Writer?

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I have always considered myself a planner. I like to be organized, and I like to know exactly every little thing about my story before actually writing my story.

I never write my stories.

So, today, I upped my word count goal to 1000 and decided to write about an idea I had that I had no idea where it was going. I first had this idea the other day, and then I did not think about it since. All I knew was “Classic Monster Speed Dating.”

So, without further ado, here is 1000-ish words about speed dating and monsters.

Speed Dating for Lesbian Monsters

My legs stuck to the plastic of the booth seat as I slid in to my fifth date of the evening. Across the table sat a girl. Her skin was pale, and her hair was dark and hung limply against her round face. She smiled when I looked up at her, and I could see a hint of her fangs. She reached across the table with a plump hand, fingernails painted blood red; they matched her lipstick.

“Nice to meet you,” she said as I took her hand in mine and gave it a shake. Her hand lingered a moment longer than mine. “I’m Jodie.”

“Babs,” I said. “Nice to meet you to.” A curl tickled my cheek, and I pushed my hair back. “So,” I said. “What brings you to a thing like this?”

“Same as you, I guess,” Jodie said. “Just looking for love. It gets lonely up there in the crypt. No one to talk to but the skeletons and ghosts.” She laughed, a big full laugh. I imagined it came from somewhere deep within the soft curves of her belly. “I mean, they’re nice and all, but they don’t quite understand what it’s like to have flesh. After all, most of them have been dead for centuries. Not like you and I.” She gave me a look like we were in on some joke together.

There was silence as she stared at me with those eyes that had more life in them than they should have. I stared back.

The bell rang. “It was nice to meet you, Babs,” Jodie said.

“You, too.” I peeled me legs off the vinyl and slid.

My next date was sitting at a table with chairs upholstered in the same red vinyl as the booths. Some of them had rips in them as if someone had sliced them with a knife. Dirty yellow fluff peeped through. I sat.

My date was covered in hair, delicately combed away from her eyes and mouth. A pink bow was clipped just above each ear.

She glanced at me as I sat down, but not for long. The bell rang again, indicating the start of our next three-minute date. I watched the girl, but she would not make eye contact.

“I’m Birdie,” I said, quietly.

She looked up at that. “No you’re not,” she said.

I smiled. “Yes I am. I just told you so.”

She shook her head. “But you told Jodie your name was Babs.”

I shrugged and leaned back in my chair. “What’s in a name?”

She stared at me again. Silent, again.

“And you are?” I asked.

After a moment she said, “You know, secrecy and lies isn’t a good way to start off a relationship.”

“I agree.” I reached for one of the cookies on the plate between us. Pink and heart-shaped. Each table had a plate of the exact same cookies.

“So what’s your name?”

“I told you,” I said. “I go by Birdie.”

She crossed her arms.

The bell rang.

“See ya.” I shot her a finger gun and clicked out of the side of my mouth as I promptly escaped my chair.

Back to a booth. Three deep slashes across the back of my seat were covered with a fabric tape that was slightly darker than the actual color of the seat.

The bell rang.

“Barbie,” I tell my date right off. “My friends call me Barbie. And you are?”

Her skin was a sick shade of yellow with green splotches, and there were stitches across her neck. The tips of her hair were blacked, as if burned.

She smiled gingerly and stretched forth her hand. “Mary Elizabeth,” she said as she gently shook my hand, gripping with only her fingertips. She pursed her lips.

“I suppose,” she said quietly, “that this date is pointless.”

I tilted my head and squinted. “Why do you say that?”

“You’re alive. The living and the dead never date.”

I laughed. “Well, you should tell that to [insert reference here.]”

Mary Elizabeth laughed, too, but she quickly covered her mouth with her hand.

I looked at the cookies, pretending to examine them to find just the right one. When I looked back up, Mary Elizabeth had lowered her hand again and her mouth was back to it amused purse.

“So you’re dead, huh?” I said. “I never would have guessed. You look just as lively to me…” I lowered my voice, leaned in, and pointed. “…Wolf-girl over there. She is definitely alive. Let me tell you.” [Need more proof of that from the Wolf-girl date.]

Mary Elizabeth glanced at Wolf-girl, then looked back at me and grinned. “Well, she is cute,” she said.

I nodded. “Agreed. And Jodie, the vampire over there,” I pointed again, “She is just downright adorable. I went on a date with Mandy the mummy earlier. I wish I knew how to wrap linen’s like she does. Damn. Absolute skill, right there. And the lady from the Lagoon. Never before have I seen so many colors of green, and with such shine, too.” I reached across the table and took her hand in mine. “Not as lovely as the green in your skin, though.” I looked up at her through my lashes, and could tell that, had she not been dead, she would have been blushing. Nailed it.

The bell rang.

“You wanna go on a real date, Mary Elizabeth?” I asked.

She began gathering her coat, still holding onto my hand. “You’ll tell me your real name on the way, right?” She asked.

“Of course.” [Wow, okay, so I don’t have a back story for why the main character doesn’t tell anyone her real name. Maybe she’s a fairy? I don’t know. But as it stands, without having a reason to withhold her name, she comes across kind of sketchy. Come up with a valid reason for that, and make her seem more genuine, and I could have some decent Lesbian Monster Fluff. And what is with Wolf-girl? She is not meant to be a bad guy here. It’s reasonable to not trust someone giving a false name. Flesh her out. Also, don’t quite understand the main character’s personality, but once I understand her back story, I’m sure I’ll be able to revise that. Why does she choose Mary Elizabeth over all the other monster girls? None of them seemed particularly bad. Maybe Mary Elizabeth should be more confident, too. Why do the living and the dead never date? What’s that all about? Where is this story even going?]

I think maybe I should continue with this discovery writing, if only to get me started.

Are you a discovery writer or do you like to plan?

Favorite Poems

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It is April 30, which means it is the last day of National Poetry Month. I shared some poems I’ve written, and now I’d like to share some of my favorite poems by other people.

“This Be the Verse” by Phillip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

This poem is exceedingly relevant in my life.

“maggie and milly and molly and may” by ee cummings

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

I really love the rhythm and rhyme in this poem.

“Afternoon on a Hill” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I will be the gladdest thing
   Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
   And not pick one.
 
I will look at cliffs and clouds
   With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
   And the grass rise.
 
And when lights begin to show
   Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,
   And then start down!
Here is this poem in choral form: Afternoon on a Hill I performed this piece many years ago, and it still holds a dear place in my heart. I love the poem’s simplicity and its concrete images.
I do not read nearly as much poetry as I should. I might start doing a “Poem of the Month” kind of thing where I present one poem each month to talk about. We’ll see.

Fighter’s Block: My first 500 words after 3 dry years

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Writer friends! You should check out this website: Fighter’s Block (http://cerey.github.io/fighters-block/).

Basically, the idea is that you have an avatar and you set a word goal and then your avatar fights a monster as you type, and if you slow down the monster attacks. I thought it was a cool idea, so I tried it, and I actually wrote 500 words for the first time in 3 years.

I’m including it because I’m just happy to have actually written something, and, although it is garbage and I hate it and it would definitely need a LOT of editing and some serious fine tuning on style/characterization/voice if I planned to publish it, it only took like ten minutes to write and it is not the worst thing I have ever seen. Which to me just means that it’s not going to be as hard as I thought to get back into writing and to get better.

(Side note: Part of why it doesn’t seem to really have a direction is because I had nothing when I started. I just started typing and went one word at a type. It stopped abruptly because I reached my goal and still had no idea where I was going.)

I know I should have told them the house was haunted when I rented it to them. I know. But I didn’t. People don’t like to hear that their house is haunted. If I had told them the house was haunted upfront, they would have taken their money and left, and I reeeeeally needed the money.

Why do I need the money? Well, why does anyone need money? To live, of course. They need to pay the rent and buy food and buy clothes and pay off credit card bills and go on vacation to the Bahamas. You know. The essentials. (Get a better reason here.) I just need the money and, honestly, working at a feed store in the middle of nowhere doesn’t really make you enough to put away any money.

It’s just hand-to-mouth living is what it is. I have not had a day off in like six years. Six YEARS, man. No holidays (seriously, every guy just has to get his mother a pair of cowboy boots on Christmas day because he forgot to get her anything until the day before). No paid time off. No sick days. Well, one sick day. I once ate an undercooked chicken leg at my niece’s high school graduation barbecue because my brother dared me to. Got food poisoning and ending up shitting myself for the next two days straight. I definitely did NOT go to work that Monday. Aside from that day, I have worked every Monday through Friday from seven in the morning until five in the evening. Loading hay into flatbeds with the mudflaps with the naked ladies on them, stacking Stetsons, folding Levi’s, doing donuts with the forklift in the parking lot. Every day for six straight years.

And it is time for a break, I think. So, last week I rented out the bottom two floors of my house to this nice Midwest couple, their dog, and their two-point-five children. (They don’t really have two-point-five children, but how cool would that be? Half a kid. How would that work?)

I kept the top floor for myself, of course. I still needed a place to live. The plan is to continue working at the feed store for the basics, and then I can just thro the money from the rent into a jar and once I have enough to cover the time I’ll have to take off work as well as the cost of the vacation, then I’ll buy myself a ticket to…I don’t know. Fiji, maybe? Someplace tropical. Someplace that is not this podunk little town I was born and raised in.

So I show the place to this couple, right, and they want to sign the lease right away. Of course, I forgot to even write up a lease, so I tell them I have another prospective renter coming in after them and tell them I’ll make my decision soon, and I push them out the door.

National Poetry Month

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Since it is National Poetry Month, here are some poems I wrote myself, since I don’t normally post my own work here. (I figured I’ll want to officially publish them some day or enter them into contests, but do you know how many contests I have entered in the last three years? Zero. So I figure maybe posting my work here will motivate me to write more. And, as much as I love my work and would like to publish it, if I actually sit down and start writing again, then I can guarantee that I will write something better. Not write away, but eventually, I will.)

“Salamander”

I make my home in fire.
I sleep where others cannot tread.
I swallow flames,
red tongue licking lips,
and spit out the bones,
charred, cracked.

Your blazing breath does not burn me.
I’ve been to Hell to bathe in the gift of the gods,
but the flames did not consume me
the way you do.

This poem I wrote in my…second? year of college and it was published in our literary journal The Manastash.

“To That Narrow Bed”

I really want to go to sleep.
I close my eyes but try to keep
from drifting off while I’m in class.
Once work is done, I’ll sleep at last.

I wrote this brief poem as an exercise in class. Iambic tetrameter, I believe was the assignment. This one actually caused a bit of argument because my professor believed that “but try” is a trochee, not an iamb, with “but” taking rhetorical stress. I argued that no, it is an iamb because, while “but” is usually a pretty important word and often would take rhetorical stress, the important word is actually “try” which would take not only rhetorical stress, but also metrical stress. Of course, this led to a conversation about “Once the writer releases the work, it becomes subject to the interpretation of the readers, and writer intent means nothing.” Morals of the story: Don’t argue with your professor; he probably knows more than you do. And readers will always interpret your work in different ways, not all of them the way you intended. Don’t get too worked up about it. Just keep learning and keep writing.

October

It’s late October,
and as I follow my parents
up the steps and through
the Great Doors of the chapel,
perspiration builds between my breasts,
and I know I’ve entered
Hell.

It’s October,
and the devil behind the pulpit,
in a voice that wobbles
like my knees after a night of
vodka and coke and Premarital Fucking,
tries to seduce the congregation.

It’s October,
and though I know this will all be
on the final exam for Salvation,
I lay my head down on the pew in front of me
and dream of Graduation.

Guys…guys…I was so burnt out in college. The only thing I could compare college to was being in Hell. And the only thing I could compare Hell to was being in church. Also, some guy in my class thought I missed a “prime opportunity” to say “sweating like a whore in church.” I thought the point was to be original?

“Baby Blue”
based on Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” 

 Gonna get you, baby, says the stranger in the golden jalopy, wagging a crooked finger at Connie and grinning, his white lower lip drooping like he’d pinched it with a clothespin and it had gotten stuck that way. Gonna get you, baby.  It’s 1966, and Connie is fifteen. Her sister June is the perfect daughter. She cooks, she cleans, she doesn’t fill her mind with trashy daydreams or buy burgers with boys she barely knows. Gonna get you get you get you, baby. Connie repeats the words in her head over and over, again and again until they sting, a sore in her mouth that she can’t stop running her tongue over, praying she could make it go away. Gonna get you, baby. Left alone at home by her family, Connie blasts Bob Dylan and paints her nails–fingers and toes, electric blue. As she dances around her bedroom, shaking the paint dry, a car pulls up. Gonna get you, baby.  The devil steps from his golden Pontiac, calls Connie to the door. Flirts and flatters and smooth talks. But Connie’s smart, knows not to get into cars with creeps in dirty white tees and tight jeans. Gonna get you, baby. The lecher lurches toward her, wobbles in his boots. He promises in his honey voice not to come inside; he’ll wait for her out here. But if she tries to calls the cops, all promises are off. Gonna get you, baby. Her daddy, her mommy, and June, all at Aunt Tillie’s barbeque, are all gonna get it, he tells Connie, unless she runs to his arms like she knew he was her lover. She locks the screen door and grabs for the phone, but her fingers grow too weak to dial three numbers. When the wailing that fills her ears dies and her stabbing breaths begin to calm, Connie watches herself walk out to the old fiend and join him in his car. I told you I’d get you, my sweet, little blue-eyed girl, he says, and kisses her hand like a gentleman, a gentleman who doesn’t know his lover’s eyes are brown.

I don’t think you guys understand just how much I love Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” I love it, you guys. LOVE it. Anyway, the prompt was to write a prose poem. I tried to emulate Oates’s style. She uses a lot of complex sentences.

“Hollow-y”

When Dorothy was just nine years old and
Timmy was only seven,

he told her he was scared of pumpkins.
He was sure, in October,
when the fog rolls in and the sky dims—
pumpkin bins in every store—
the pumpkins would rise and steal his head,
and replace it with a gourd.
Then with tiny carving knives and spoons,
the pumpkins would scoop out his
seeds for brains and cut holes for his eyes,
and though he’d try to get free,
they’d slice him a grin of jagged teeth,
and that’s why he hates All Hallows’ Eve.

I just love Halloween and wanted to try telling a story in poem form.

“Petting Zoo”

Do not ride the llamas. Do not even try.
They have not yet been trained.
They’ll step on your feet and spit cud in your eye.

We, the professionals, must always be nearby.
Should the llamas attack when you pet them, they’ll have to be restrained.
Don’t EVER ride the llamas. Do NOT even try.

Sometimes it calms them if you sing lully-bies.
but beware their hooves. Though they’re detained,
they’ll step on your feet and spit cud in your eyes.

The special saddle we’d need costs WAY too much to buy.
Even gently used ones often come bloodstained.
So do not ride the llamas. PleeEEEEeeease don’t EV-en try.

If you try to ride the llamas, you’ll most assuredly DIE,
and llamas, you know, are really hard to sue, even rightly blamed.
And they’ll step on your feet and spit cud in your eye.

Llamas are e-vil-er than parking-spot stealers and people who cut in line.
For everyone’s safety keep all of them chained.
And absolutely never ever ever ride the llamas. Don’t even try.
They’ll step on your feet and spit cud in your eye.

Villanelle. I used to own llamas. Someone in the class tried to argue that “eviler” in not a word and so I shouldn’t use it. As though this poem is 100% serious and people don’t make up words all the time.

This next poem is actually more of a parody. It is to the tune of “I’m Through with Love.”

I’m through with class
I’ll never go again
Bid adieu to class
I cannot stand it when
I am forced to write six papers
All at the same damn time.

My brain’s shut down
It really hurts to think
My stomach aches
I must be on the brink
Of complete psychotic breakdown
And so I’m through with class.

Why did you lead me
To think I’d be fine?

“This class is easy”
“You’ve got the time
To spend your evenings
Cramming and crying
For hours on end for English class.”

Goodbye to life and all it meant to me.
It will never be the thing it used to be.
For I spent my whole life studying
Now life has passed me by.

I was so burnt out, you guys.

Anyway, those are some of the poems I have written. Maybe next post, I’ll post some of my favorite poems that I didn’t write. Hell, maybe eventually I’ll post some prose. I’ve got one piece I think you’ll like.

Until next time.

Stories that Fucked Me Up

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Here is an incomplete list of stories that disturbed me as a child, teen, and/or adult. I recommend you check them out.

“The Green Ribbon” by Alvin Schwartz–A girl always wears a green ribbon around her neck. Why? The ending of this fucked me up as a child because it was so abrupt and I wasn’t expecting it.

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson–A small town has an annual lottery where they choose someone to sacrifice in order to ensure a good harvest.

“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin–Omelas is this absolutely perfect town where everyone is happy. What is the dark secret that makes it so happy?

“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates (This is my all time favorite short story.)–A young girl is visited by an old fiend. Implications of rape and/or murder. Inspired by serial killer Charles Schmid, aka the Pied Piper of Tucson.

Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac–I don’t remember this one much, but I remember a scene about a guy who went camping and burned his finger and put it in his mouth to cool it down, tasted his flesh, and then promptly began eating all the flesh off his body.

“High Beams” from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz–A girl is followed by a guy who keeps flashing his high beams at her, but is he the real threat? (This is one of the only stories I remember from Scary Stories that I clearly remember and know for certain it came from Scary Stories.)

“The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs–A magical monkey’s paw grants wishes, but wishes always come with a price.

“Borrasca” by CK Walker and “Penpal” by Dathan Auerbach are two stories originally published on Reddit that, while they could probably use some good editing, are very unsettling. “Borrasca” is about a small town where young girls tend to disappear. When one girl disappears, her friends decide to go looking for her and they uncover…a lot of weird shit, let me tell you. “Penpal” is a collection of various strange stories that happen to the protagonist from like kindergarten through sometime as a young adult that chronicle him being stalked. For both of these stories, it’s the endings that are really fucked up.

The urban legend of Bloody Mary (The first time I heard this story was in the middle of the woods with a bunch of other preteen girls.)

I am also currently reading The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and let me tell you, I haven’t gotten very far and I am already fucked up. This is not to say that the beginning is particularly scary. But I it is uncanny how Shirley Jackson was able to capture my inner turmoil in the character of Eleanor. I’m scared to read on, knowing this is a horror novel and it’s not going to work out for Eleanor.

I also really want to read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This one might be a little too  relevant for today, though.

Acts and Outlining

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When I was in elementary school, they taught us that the shape of a story was a triangle, with Exposition at the beginning, the first slope up being Rising Action, the apex being the Climax, the declining slope being Falling Action, and the end being the Resolution or Denouement. Exposition was meant to set up the story, Rising Action established the stakes and the actors first moves until the story exploded at the Climax, winded down with the Falling Action, and was finally all resolved with the Resolution.

This story form followed me up through high school. However, I believe it is too simplistic and even misleading. This story arc was always drawn as an equilateral triangle with the climax as the midpoint of the story.

It wasn’t until I starting taking creative writing courses in college that I was introduced to the idea of putting the climax much closer to the end of the story. This placement can be seen in both the three-act structure and the five-act structure. While acts are most commonly associated with plays, stories can also be broken down into acts, or segments defined by a main part of a story.

The three-act structure is, coincidentally, broken into three main parts: Set-Up, Confrontation, and Resolution.

Act one you introduce your characters and their desires and goals. You introduce us to the problem, and you end act one with a “turn” or a plot point that changes things. My writing instructor, Professor H., described a turn as “A stranger comes to town or a woman goes on a trip.” Of course, this is to be taken completely metaphorically. The stranger coming to town could be a letter arriving. The woman going on a trip could be the loss of a child. Writers interpret it as you will. Something happens that changes the game.

Act two your characters go on a journey and experience obstacles. The act ends with another turning point.

Act three, according to John Yorke’s Into the Woods, begins with the crisis, or “the moment when [the hero is] faced with the most important question of the story – just what kind of person are they?” It is the moment when all hope is lost. This is followed by the climax, the scene where the protagonist applies the skills their learned over their journey and engages in the final battle. And then the resolution. All the necessary threads get tied up.

According to Yorke, the five-act structure is “merely a detailed refinement of [the three-act structure].” Professor H. taught the five-act structure in great detail. He went so far as to tell us the exact point of when something should happen in a story (eg. if your story is 250 pages long, on page 7, a character should say the theme to another character.) Now, I don’t think I agree that everything needs to happen at a precise place (or even if the theme ever needs to be explicitly stated), but the structure made a lot of sense to me.

Act one is the introduction where you get the main character on stage, introduce some other characters, clue us in to the time and place. We need to know what drives the character and the complication to that drive. The rest of act one is resistance to the complication, but in the end, the character realizes resistance is futile.

Act two is the intensification. The complication worsens at first. Then things start to look up. A plot point happens that catapults us into act three.

Act three is the separation. The crisis happens. The characters respond to the crisis and a plot points catapults them into act four.

Act four is the re-evaluation. According to my notes from my class, this is where the darkest hour occurs. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how that is different from the crisis, so take that as you will. According to Yorke, the crisis happens at the end of act four. He later goes on to talk about the midpoint, which happens in act three and “marks a massive escalation in jeopardy” or “the moment something profoundly significant happens.” So, let’s just say that in act three the midpoint happens, and in act four the crisis happens. In this act, the hero gets a new insight into the problem of not getting what they want. Final plot point catapults us into act five.

Act five is the resolution. Here, the climax and resolution occur. We gather all the characters and settle the scores.

Now, here is where I find the act structures to be useful. They are already set up as an outline of how a story is structured, so why not use it as a guide for your own outlines?

Take the five-act structure (or three-act, I prefer five because it is more detailed). In five sentences you can outline an entire story. Act one, introduce. Act two, set up the complication. Act three, a significant event occurs. Act four, the darkest hour occurs. Act five, the final battle and resolution occurs. Write one sentence for each act describing what happens in your story. 

If that is too much for you right now, try this: Complete the sentence “It’s about a [man/woman/dog/alien/whatever] who…” Keep in mind what do they want, why can’t they get it, and what are they going to do?

Of course, there are many ways to outline. What’s your favorite way to outline?

Write what you know

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If I had to list the three writing tips I heard most often, they would be 1. Read all the time, 2. Write every day, and 3. Write what you know.

Now, while not all writing advice works for everyone, for me, this is pretty solid advice. (I hadn’t meant to talk about tips 1 & 2, but let me touch on those briefly anyway.) The best way to not just understand writing and story structure but to internalize it is to read. 2. I don’t actually think you have to write every single day, but the gist of the tip is that if you want to actually finish something you need to actually write. It could be every day, every other day, just on the weekends, once a month. Whatever works for you and your writing goals.

I think there is a lot more to be said about writing what you know. A lot of people take it at face value. They get hung up because they don’t want to write about growing up in the middle of nowhere with four siblings, 3 cats, and 6 dogs. They want to write about ghosts and monsters, magic…murder. Now, obviously, (hopefully?) we don’t know about monsters and murder. Some of us have never seen a ghost or don’t believe in magic. I’m pretty sure that Patricia C. Wrede has never talked to dragons.

Now, we can take “write what you know” two ways: literally and figuratively.

Literally: if you want to write about something you don’t know about, then research it. Google it, find some academic articles (honestly, depending on the story, wikipedia isn’t a bad source. Wanna write about fairies? Probably not too many academic articles on that. Taxidermy, on the other hand…), talk to an expert. Seriously, pick up the phone and call your local taxidermist or whatever. Research it and then it is something that you know. Write what you know.

Figuratively: what it comes down to is emotions. You’re human, you have presumably had some experiences and felt some emotions. Make your piece relatable by helping us to feel what you have felt. 

I would say that stories are best taking a combination of these. Make sure you do enough research to know what you’re talking about, but don’t forget to add the emotion. That’s where you really hook a reader. 

This is not to say you shouldn’t write about what you know. By all means, if you love to ride horses and you want to write about a girl taming an unruly horse and winning a race with it, go for it. Just remember to make us feel.

As a final note, if you do want to write about your life, maybe consider creative nonfiction?