As the Spring semester passed its midpoint, the Writing Arts internship planned to have an open mic event where students could attend via Zoom to read or perform their poems, jokes, or their stand-up comedy. Hosted by the energetic Emily Nolan, the event was in full swing on Thursday, April 1st where April Fools Day was celebrated.
Nolan expressed her interest in this event, as it was her idea, as a way to showcase how people could still perform amid the global pandemic. She was adamant in including some comedy in the event due to how dark and bleak the past year has been. “I think everyone would benefit from a good laugh,” she said, explaining why she wanted to host and plan this event.
The process to plan the Laugh or Cry: Open Mic Competition was a bit messy, Nolan confessed. But it was all about brainstorming, getting approved by the department chair, Dr. Kopp, finding the judges and hoping the Improfs would attend and/or co-sponsor the event, making the sign-up forms, and advertising over social media and during class time. Overall, while Nolan believed the process was all over the place, it’s clear that she had a plan before this event could be brought to life.
To find judges, Nolan expressed that she found Aaron Lee’s contact information through Prof Link. Aaron Lee is a part of the Rowan Improfs, an improv comedy group, at Rowan University. She later reached out to see if he was interested in the event, and when he said yes, they spoke through Zoom to talk about the details of the event. Lee also answered some questions and said that they were more than happy to help out with the event because they cared about expression, so of course they were going to support. In the end, Lee was able to judge.
The day of the event came along, and Nolan hosted with great enthusiasm. She went on to introduce the events’ judges, two interns from the Writing Arts department for the poetry section: Diana DeSimine and Anngelie Perez (me), and Aaron Lee and Marissa Stanko for the comedy section. There were a handful of performers for both comedy and poetry, which included Heather Houpt, Michelle Seitz, Laini Parejo, and Stephen Cobb for poetry, and Chris Miller, Maureen Nolan, and Martin Mgidi for comedy. However, there was also a good turnout for audience members just sitting in to enjoy the event.
Performer Heather Houpt went on first, reading a four poem sample of a poetry collection titled “I Could Write It Better Than You Ever Felt It.” She also said that she wanted the opportunity to share her poetry. “Until now it has been a more private thing since I don’t have many opportunities to perform my poetry in a global pandemic and since I tend to write poetry for the ear, it was my belief that it needed to be heard to be experienced effectively.”
Attendee Teddy Markou also spoke of the event, saying they enjoyed the event more than they expected. They talked about how much they laughed and how they enjoyed even the “cry” moments. Finally, Markou said, “Very talented people came to this event and I hope I get the chance to attend one in the future!”
The event went on without a hitch, with everyone excited to see Rowan students perform their poetry and comedy. The winners of Laugh or Cry Open Mic competition were Stephen Cobb for poetry and Chris Miller for comedy. Cobb gave an astounding performance of his poem “European Nooses in the Classrooms” which responded to a student asking him if they could use the word ‘ain’t’ in their paper. Find a performance of his poem here! On the other hand, Miller cracked jokes that had the entire Zoom call laughing.
Many people came to support one another and share a great laugh and a love for poetry. Overall, the Laugh or Cry Open Mic event was a great success!
Photo via: www.slashfilm.com
What’s the easiest way to ruin an otherwise great story? A boring, flat villain! In most stories that feature a villain, the villain is as integral to the story as the hero, taking the spot as the second most important lead character of your writing. If you want your story to be multidimensional and riddled with tension, you need to spend as much time crafting your villain as you do your hero. Especially since, nothing will make your hero more heroic than a worthy rival. (WARNING: There are some spoilers that relate to classic villain and hero pairs, readers beware.)
What is a Villain?
It would be too easy to say that a villain is the “bad guy/girl” of the story. The real role of the villain is to challenge or prevent your hero from progressing by playing the role of an antagonist in your story. Typically a villain’s motivations and actions are in direct opposition with your hero. In most situations, the villain does not even view themselves as the villain. From the villain’s perspective, your hero is the antagonist who is preventing them from accomplishing their goal. The villain views themselves as the protagonist in their version of the story, who is doing what’s right according to themself and their twisted moral code. A good example of this is seen through the Marvel villain Thanos. Thanos is featured in four Marvel movies, but is mainly showcased in Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: End Game. If you haven’t seen these movies or heard anything about them, Thanos wiped out half of all the world's populations by using a powerful weapon. Thanos committed this evil act because he truly believed that he was doing the right thing. He justified this act by believing that there are not enough resources for everyone to exist happily, and that the remaining populations would flourish because of his actions.
Tap into your Dark Side
The best way to get into the mindset to create a memorable villain is to tap into your dark side. I am not suggesting you go out and do villainous activities, but rather some creative thinking. Think of a scenario where you really wanted to explode with rage. It could be anything from simply being cut off while driving, or someone taking credit for the work you did. Most likely, you took a deep breath and moved on from your anger because you're a mature adult who can control themselves. But I want you to linger in your initial reaction. What did you think and feel? Infuriated? Hurt? Perhaps even villainous? Don’t stay in this mindset for too long that you're grumpy and upset the rest of the day, just long enough to figure out what makes a good villain tick.
Take Inspiration From Real People
Taking inspiration from real life is a great way to get your foot in the door of villainy. This could be from someone you know, someone in history, or a famous criminal. Base your character profiles off of your chosen person. Things to focus on include; there motivations, their state of mind before, after, and during crime, their negative and positive qualities, and their physical appearance. Once you’ve completed this, be sure to change around some things in order to avoid being sued by any parties connected to this person.
It’s no fun to read a story where a villain and a hero are supposed to be at ends with each other, only to have zero faith in the villains abilities. On the other end of the spectrum, your villain shouldn’t be overly powerful that they can only be defeated due to a stroke of luck. The villain and the hero should be pretty evenly matched in wits, and power. This would allude to a great fight, or more than one great fight. An example of evenly matched opponents can be seen through Batman and the Joker. Both of these characters have ample resources available to them, and are wicked smart in their areas of expertise and in general. They are so evenly matched that their fights remain interesting enough for audiences to continue watching through a plethora of adaptations. Say you do want your villain to be all-powerful, practically indestructible. In that case, perhaps he or she has an underlying weakness. Take Dracula for example, an immortal vampire who does not perish in the sun. Seems pretty undefeatable to me. However, his one weakness is that he can die if stabbed in the heart with a wooden stick. The hero uses that information to their advantage, to defeat the otherwise undefeatable.
Backstory for your Villain
In most circumstances, your villain did not wake up one day and decide to be evil. That’s too easy. Something probably happened in their past to mold them into what they are. Think what their motivation is for committing evil acts, and how they formed their current ideology in the first place. This will help you form a three-dimensional villain. Maybe your villain experienced abuse in their early life, or maybe one specific event caused them to continue their life on a wicked path. Your audience should be able to identify with your villain. Not in the sense that your audience is evil but, your audience should be left thinking “If that happened to me, maybe I would have turned out similarly”. Think Sandor “The Hound” Clegane from Game of Thrones. Lovers of Game of Thrones watched The Hound perform gruesome acts on the regular. While he did eventually have a character arc, in the earlier seasons he was brutal for the fun of it. We later learned that as a young child his own older brother pushed his face into a burning fire for asking to play with his toy. This information made the audience sympathize with The Hound, and remember that he is a product of his unfortunate environment. Another element that could be implemented in your villain’s backstory is a connection to the hero. Connected heroes and villains may share a lot of similar traits, but when being utilized appear very different. An example of this can be seen through Lord Voldemort and Harry Potter. This duo is tied through both their minds and souls since Lord Voldemort tried to kill Harry Potter as a baby but, the spell rebounded, leaving them dependent on each other for the entirety of the book series. Due to this, they share a lot of qualities. They are determined, brave, and risk takers. However, these qualities are shown differently since, one has chosen the path of good, and one has chosen the path of destruction.
You Love to Hate a Good Villain
Villains are characters that appeal to audiences because they’re unpredictable, and the important source of tension.They completely defy societal expectations in order to fulfill their agenda. From a young age, we are taught how to behave and act in a way that’s acceptable to common culture so, when you watch someone through all of that out the window, it’s almost liberating and very compelling. It’s the shock value a villain brings to the table that makes us unable to look away. The twisted, wicked nature of a villain also makes the audience root even harder for their downfall. Think Joffrey Baratheon from Game of Thrones. Joffrey is one of the most malicious, cutthroat villains to appear on television. He got under audiences’s skin so easily because of the way he taunts his victims so well. This is what made his death so satisfying to watch since we’ve been rooting for karma to pay him a visit since he first appeared on screen. To create a villain that makes audiences’s skin crawl, think of the worst thing a villain can do to your hero then take it up to the next notch. These scenes can be chilling, but ultimately result in a great pay off.
Consider an Evil Crew
What’s more fun than one villain? A whole team of them! Utilizing a team of villains is a great opportunity to show the audience different facets of your leading villain. How do they interact with people who support them versus outsiders? Does the villain have a weakness for a certain person? The audience can better visualize the scale of the villain’s influence by seeing their unwavering supporters. Implementing an evil crew is also a great opportunity to showcase different types of evil, and perhaps even some comedy to your story. You could have henchmen who are the text book definition of evil, and henchmen who are there in the hopes of making friends. For me, the trope of bumbling evil sidekick is always a win. An example of an evil crew is seen through The Lion King. Scar has two competent sidekicks, and one less than competent sidekick. The two competent hyenas offer ideas, and advice to Scar. While, the third hyena provides comic relief for the audience. Scar is constantly seen talking down to the hyenas which tells the audience he has little respect for creatures he deems beneath him, and he is teetering with a God complex.
Examples of Great Villains to Inspire You
Amy Dunne ("Gone Girl")
Harry Powell ("The Night of the Hunter")
Mrs. Danvers (“Rebecca”)
Uriah Heep (“David Copperfield”)
Cathy Ames (“East of Eden”)
Dr. Frankenstein (“Frankenstein”)
David Melrose (“Never Mind”)
Rufus Weylin (“Kindred”)
Nurse Ratched (“One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”)
Patrick Bateman (“American Psycho”)
Annie Wilkes (“Misery”)
Judge Holden (“Blood Meridian”)
Mr. Hyde (“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”)
Zenia (“The Robber Bride”)
Representation of people that know multiple languages is important to see. There are many people that know more than one language, and it’s incredibly heartwarming to see that represented in fiction. As a bilingual person myself, it’s crucial to represent bilingual and multilingual characters accurately. Unfortunately, I have seen nightmares on print where supposedly bilingual characters act the opposite of how a bilingual person would be. I don’t even need to know the other language to understand that it’s not being portrayed well, simply because it’s obvious when the author doesn’t know the language.
So how can you represent bilingual, or even multilingual characters, accurately and with respect? There are a few steps to take in order to write a nice representation. Before you get into that, you need to be open to the fact that most of what you may know of that language, and even culture, may not be right. Going in with the mentality to learn will help you find the nuances you will want to include in your prose.
Reach out to people that speak that language.
The best way to learn more about how people speak a specific language is to ask people who speak that language. They could give you insights on how people switch between languages, how they may mix the languages, and even what common words they may forget from having both languages in their heads. You could even incorporate how the language may differ from English, and depending on how they were brought up, how hard or easy it was to learn their second language.
Not only could they give you information on what it is to be bilingual or multilingual, but they can verify if your portrayal on paper is accurate. They can point out if something isn’t right with your character or the language you used, so you can fix and learn accordingly.
You can find people online that will be more than happy to help you in this area, wherever they may reside in the world. Going on online threads or even hiring bilingual sensitivity readers could make a huge difference in your writing.
Get rid of internet translators.
Internet translators will only get you so far. They can be useful if you forget a specific word. However, if you want to translate full sentences or passages, then things may be a little tricky. Any person that knows more than one language will tell you that they are not accurate. If you find that you rely on internet translators to portray other languages, you might want to go through with the previous tip and find people who speak the language you’re writing about instead.
Don’t tackle a random word at the end of every sentence.
I can only speak from my own experience here, but I always wonder why most Hispanic characters have to end practically every line of dialogue with “hermano”? Sometimes writers will switch it up for an “amigo.” As a native Spanish speaker, I can safely say that we Hispanics don’t add such words to every sentence. I’m going to assume that other languages don’t add similar words to every sentence as well. Plus, it can also look tacky to add words like that to most lines of dialogue. It’s as if it’s a hard effort to show that the character knows more than one language. However, it also screams that the writer doesn’t know the language nor how bilingual or multilingual people switch from language to language.
Don’t write random words in between sentences in front of people who don’t speak the language.
I can assure you that no bilingual person will randomly say words in their native tongue when they are speaking to someone that doesn’t speak that language. They will speak to them in the language they both know, and that is it. There’s almost never a moment like: “Hi! Do you want to go to the tienda?” On that same token, there is also never a scene like: “Hello! ¿Cómo te llamas? Oops, I’m sorry! What’s your name?”
Not to sound bratty or difficult, but I will close your book and never look at it again.
This would never happen in real life. Bilingual people do not speak like that to others. Why portray it like that in writing?
Observe how bilingual people speak to others. They don’t drop random words from their other languages like that. When they do drop a random word, it’s for an entirely different reason: they forgot a specific term. Once I forgot how to say kidneys and stared blankly into nothingness trying to remember the word. I kept repeating the word “riñones” as if that was going to help magically remind me that its translation was kidneys. In a similar way, many bilingual people have those moments where they simply forget how to say a word, and so they grow frustrated. They solve this problem by making up a new translation that has too many words, or they just say the term in their native language.
The reverse of this can also happen. I have a long list of words I forget in Spanish, and it’s my mother tongue. This could also happen to your bilingual characters. It’s not an uncommon occurrence.
The same way a person may forget what word they are looking for to write or say is the same as what happens to bilingual people in those situations. The only difference is that sometimes bilingual people know the term in their other language.
Don’t be afraid to use such examples in your writing. It will flesh out your character even more, and you’ll have a more accurate portrayal of a bilingual character.
Decide on what type of bilingual your character is going to be.
Yes, there are different kinds.
There are bilingual people that know both of their languages from top to bottom with almost to no problems. However, there are also people that have one language that is stronger than the other. These can read and write in both languages, but there’s always that one language that will always be easier. Another type of bilingual is when a person can understand the language but will probably not know how to speak it.
Knowing which type of bilingual you want to incorporate for your character is important, as that decision will determine the kind of research you will do for that character. Referring back to the first point, once you know which type of bilingual, you can find people that are that specific type as well to help you flesh out your character even more.
This may be difficult if your character can only understand the language. If you want personal accounts of this type of bilingual, I suggest reaching out to people that either were like this or have close contact with bilingual people like that.
Know when to incorporate the character’s native language.
One of the biggest things in writing a bilingual character is to want the reader to know they’re bilingual. This is probably why the previous point comes into existence. However, you must know how to incorporate a character’s native language without sounding amateurish.
A great way to incorporate their bilingual-ness is to toss in those words or phrases at a moment of intensity. If your character is frustrated, about to cry, angry, or even in pain, they might string out a few sentences in their native language. It’s also not going to be towards other people either, it’s more like: “oh my gosh,” “I can’t believe this,” “this is stupid,” etc. Words and phrases like these can show that your character is bilingual effortlessly.
Here’s an example: He rubbed at his arm. “Ay Dios mío, why does this happen now?”
By the ay Dios mío, the reader already knows that the character speaks both English and Spanish. It’s not in your face nor does it look amateurish. It looks natural.
Another way to incorporate a second language is to have two or more characters that know the same languages have a conversation. When bilingual people speak in their native language in front of native English speakers, they probably don’t want you to understand what they’re saying. Use that with your imagination. If you want a secret to stay between a few people to further your story, this can be a perfect way to do so. Just remember to stay respectful, and to use accurate language when you do so. Refer back to the first tip.
This may come to fruition depending on the type of bilingual you are writing. First and foremost, don’t transcribe accents. It’s not going to go well. If your character has an accent, you can let your reader know by having others around them notice it. Tell the reader about the accent rather than putting it in with the dialogue. There’s usually no need to do this.
An example of how to incorporate accents would be: “Yes, that sounds nice,” she said. Her Italian accent was prominent.
It can be easy to tell readers that a character has an accent, so there’s no need to try to transcribe the accent to make it more “realistic.” Just say it how it is.
Writing bilingual characters can be quite the journey when you don’t know the language or common customs. It requires great research and an openness to learn. The most important thing is to want to portray bilingual characters respectfully. Try not to fall into common stereotypes and do the work to make a great character.
As always, when in doubt, reach out to actual bilingual people.
Photo by Charlotte May from Pexels
They say one of the keys to becoming a better writer is reading. So, what do members of the Writing Arts community recommend? From biting nonfiction, to heart-stopping thrillers, to heartfelt Young Adult, the answers are diverse and well-rounded. If you’re looking to add something fresh to your To-Read list, here are seven tried-and-true recommendations to consider!
2. Welcome to Night Vale – Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor
4. Every Bright and Broken Thing – Brian McBride
6. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson
Hopefully, your interest has been piqued by at least one of these solid recommendations from fellow Writing Arts majors. As you start to make a list of Summer reads, keep these in mind!
Photo: Darwin Vegher on Unsplash
We all have that one novel we think has prose worth worshiping or a poem with stanzas unmatched by any other. This could be the poignant words of Virginia Woolf, the straight-forward punch of Ernest Hemingway, or the masterful world-building of Renée Ahdieh. Regardless of whichever work of literature you hold as a marker of the highest standard, it has had a lasting impact on your worldview, and just as powerful of an effect on how you view writing. We read it, we absorbed it, and now every time our fingers tap the keyboard we strive to emulate it. Conscious or not, I feel confident in saying that every writer has done this at some point in their career. We have all tried to create something as impactful that contains perfect artistry like the work we admire, but in the end, we are left with a watered-down, soggy piece that would fall apart if compared to the original.
And can you blame writers for trying? After all, one of the constantly-repeated mantras of writing is, “Good writers borrow from other writers. Great writers steal from them outright.” This was originally said by acclaimed screenplay writer, Aaron Sorkin. Well, actually, he stole the quote. T.S. Elliot once said, many years before, “Mediocre writers borrow; great writers steal.” But, even before T.S. Elliot stumbled upon that revelation, François Voltaire had remarked, “Originality is nothing but judicious imitation. The most original writers borrowed one from another.”
Looking at the difference between these quotes is a perfect way to understand voice and inspiration. While you should not steal as plainly as Sorkin did from Elliot, you can still hear the screenwriter's voice and style in word choice and tone. Another writers’ voice is not something you can steal with authenticity. There is a balance between inspiration and personal discovery that you can use to help you find your unique voice and stop sounding like a bad parody of the New York Times Bestseller list.
Remember, there are many organic ways to find a style that fits your writing. This is just one helpful method that you can use to uncover your voice.
Step 1: Collect a Sample
The first step in this process can be the trickiest for a lot of writers because it requires you to stop thinking. Well, it is probably helpful to keep a few thoughts in your head for this exercise, but you have to quiet all the nagging voices in your head about how ‘good’ writing is supposed to sound or which words are academic or anything about writing. Once your head is fully clear, you just write for ten minutes. You can set a timer, or just let yourself ramble on and on for as long as you like. Whatever you choose to write about is up to you, though I do recommend to work outside of your current project. You want this to be as free and as messy as possible, so don’t let the pressure of a work in progress get in the way of that.
Once you’ve completed your free-write, read it over. As you do, have a pen handy so that you can underline anything that sticks out as something intriguing. It can be the choice of a certain verb, a particularly vivid description, or the way you employed dialogue. Whatever you find, take note of it. Make a list of all the aspects within your natural writing style that you would like to keep, or implement more into your writing. And just like that, you’ve already got a voice in the works!
Step 2: Time to Steal
Now, it is finally time to indulge yourself and delve into the works of all your favorite writers. Try to recall what parts of their writing you gravitated toward. Did their use of dialogue bring you to tears (in a good way)? Did they craft images you’ll never forget? After you have a list of techniques and language you adore, mix and match your options. Now is the time to be creative and mix literary devices you would’ve never considered to work together. Take syntax from one, structure from another, descriptions from the classics, personification from the romantics.
Use whatever combination you chose to fill in any of the gaps you identified in your natural style. Be careful, though, you want to do this sparingly. If not, your work will read less as a unique voice influenced by other famous works and more like a style-Frankenstein. Do not just pick an aspect that you think is academic and writerly, consider what tools are best for crafting your story.
Step 3: Blend!
Now that you have identified aspects of your own writing that you adore and of inspiring writers’ work that you admire, it’s time to blend the two through writing. I would recommend doing another burst of free-writing, this time being conscious in your word choice and how different elements of style impact the tone of your writing. Still, don’t put too much thought into it. Your voice should still sound natural and like a reflection of you. The ‘stolen’ literary devices you included should only elevate your work to a level you prefer.
And it may not work out the first time. Maybe you’re struggling with one of the devices you chose, or one of them doesn’t suit the project. That’s alright, you can drop that aspect or maybe even pick a new one. Or, you may even discover that some of the things you loved about other works have been present in your own voice all along. With each trial and error or trial and success, you gain more control and understanding of your voice as a writer.
Finding your voice takes time, patience, and understanding. A single run-through of this exercise may only be the start of your journey. But don’t get discouraged or intimidated. Remember that regardless of whether you like your current writing style or not, you already have one! It is never going to go away; it can only grow stronger.
Photo via: Manpower
Does the phrase “So, tell me a little bit about yourself”make you forget everything you’ve ever known, including your own name, like it does for me? Then this is the perfect read for you! A vital skill that doesn’t always get comprehensively taught in college, is how to sell yourself. As many of us are soon to be young professionals, this aspect of the job market can be one of the scariest, and most difficult to navigate. Regardless of where you believe your career path will take you, being able to leave a lasting impression is a tool that could benefit everyone. Whether you're presenting an idea, networking, or interviewing for a job, a well thought out elevator pitch could save you from being tongue-tied in a professional environment.
What Is An Elevator Pitch?
An elevator pitch is a brief persuasive speech that informs the listener who you are, what you do, and what you are looking to accomplish, either by speaking to them, or in general. Elevator pitches should be no longer than 90 seconds in length, which equates to no longer than a paragraph when written down. The name elevator pitch was coined because the idea behind your speech is that it should be as long as a ride in an elevator from the bottom floor to the top floor. Think executive summary, not full memoir of your entire work career, and personal life. Your elevator pitch should keep the person listening engaged, leave room for an open conversation, and hopefully leave the listener hungry for more information.
How To Create Your Elevator Pitch:
As mentioned, elevator pitches have a variety of purposes, so the content of your elevator pitch would vary depending on what you are looking to accomplish. It may take a couple of different versions of your pitch before you land on one that is simultaneously compelling and natural. Make sure to write out your pitch before practicing it verbally, that way you can continue to reference it, and you won’t forget it. Follow these steps to create an elevator pitch that is perfect for what you're looking to achieve.
Step 1: Set Your Goal
Before beginning to draft your elevator pitch, you need to think about what your intention is. Are you pitching your novel to a publisher? Are you talking with potential future clients about your company? Are you introducing a new product to potential investors? Or, are you trying to promote yourself to potential employers? Identifying your goal will have a major impact on how you write your elevator pitch, so take time to think about it!
Step 2: Introduce Yourself
Though this may sound self-explanatory, the beginning of your elevator pitch should start by simply stating your name. We must remember that giving an elevator pitch is a human interaction, you don’t want to come across as a memorized robot. Take a moment to say something along the lines of “Hello, my name is …. It’s nice to meet you! I’d love to tell you about myself, is that okay with you?” Don’t forget that the other person is there! Give them the opportunity to respond to you. Do not say your name then immediately dominate the whole conversation with your pitch.
Step 3: Describe What You Do
If applicable, take time to explain your current work situation. This is the perfect time to talk about what sets you apart from others. Instead of speaking in broad terms, focus on what exactly you do that makes you valuable, and unique. How do you solve problems, and make the lives of the people you work with easier? This portion of your elevator pitch is the ideal opportunity to show off your skillset, and speciality. Be sure to include any statistics that emphasize your expertise.
Step 4: Explain What You Want
Why are you pitching to this person in the first place? Do you want them to invest money into a project you're working on, or get a job from them? Be honest about what you’re looking for, and how the listener plays a role in your vision. Keep in mind that when asking people for something, they may have questions for you in return. Be prepared to answer any questions that could possibly be thrown at you.
Step 5: Include A Call To Action
This portion of your pitch will set up what will be done with the information you just shared. Will you be contacting them to continue talking further? Will they be contacting you when a position opens up? Don’t leave anything up in the air, or up to the other person's discretion. Create a concrete plan of how you will move forward from here with the listener in the moment. That way you leave actually accomplishing something, instead of just leaving a good impression. This is the perfect time to exchange contact information, and to thank the other person for listening to you.
Step 6: Consider What Your Body Language Conveys
How you say your pitch is just as crucial as the content. You don’t want to appear pre-planned, even though you are. An important aspect to consider is what your body language says about you. Body language is the way you communicate your feelings through your posture, gestures, facial expressions, and movements. You may think that body language is not noticeable or important but, it’s a significant indicator for your comfort, confidence, and interest. If you're feeling extremely nervous, it will convey in how you stand, and speak. With practice, you can control your body language to project assurance, and calmness. Some tips to maintain effective body language include; considering your posture, restlessness, and expression. Make sure to stand up straight, keep your chin up, and shoulders down. Keep in mind that nervous habits, like leg tapping, show the other person you are anxious. Try your best to avoid these by taking deep slow breaths. Be cognizant of your facial expressions. You should maintain eye contact, smile, and nod your head to show that you are attentive to what the other person is saying. You want your enthusiasm to be noticeable! Even if the listener of your pitch doesn’t remember all of what you said, passion is hard to forget.
Step 7: Practice, Practice, Practice!
The only way you will improve is by practicing. Critically edit your drafts of your elevator pitch. Cut any unnecessary information, broad information, repetition, and complicated jargon. The goal is to be understood easily, not to confuse. When you feel satisfied with your draft, practice your speech out loud in front of your mirror. When you feel like you’ve memorized your pitch verbatim, try it out on some family and friends. Then when you feel confident, and comfortable ask for an objective third party opinion. Even though family and friends can provide some great insights, their bias may be too strong to criticize you, even if you really need to hear it. Practicing can also help you subdue your nerves, to avoid talking too fast.
Unfortunately, the old saying “You only have one chance to make a good impression”, is very accurate so let’s make every opportunity count!
Diversity is all the rage right now. People are now trying to fit in different types of people everywhere, whether that be in the media, jobs, institutions, and more. When it comes to writing, there is a resurgence of introducing characters that belong in a minority group.
These are all good things. We desperately need representation everywhere. If we want to showcase the world, we should represent the world, and the world contains a multitude of differences that should be celebrated. However, there is also a problem: people are plugging in representation just to have it there, just so they could say it is “diverse.”
Diversity shouldn’t be an item to check off from a list.
There is a widespread of tokenism in writing, where many writers will plug in the one “diverse” character that has no development nor true importance to the story. The character is just there to show: “This story is diverse. See?”
Tokenism is the act of plugging in representation just to have it. It isn’t a conscious effort to represent different groups, it’s an effort to not be pointed out as to have favoritism towards a specific group. It’s like pushing the bigger issue under the rug in hopes that people won’t notice, but the rug has huge lumps.
So how can we avoid tokenism in writing?
Research your character’s background
If you want to write a diverse character and you’re not from that group, extensive research is needed. There’s so much that needs to be unpacked from a character’s culture, religion, sexuality, and more. Simply going in with the overall knowledge you may have is probably not going to cut it. Writing a diverse character without research is the easiest way to fall into tokenism.
Go online and read people’s experiences in that group. Talk to people in those communities. Read text posts, watch videos, and learn more about what it is to live in that group. Chances are your character will spring out from between the lines of your research and beg to be written in your manuscript of any kind.
The best part is that you’ll compile a list of real experiences that you can reference in a graceful way in your writing, which will make your character much more realistic.
Don’t center your character’s entire identity around the fact that they’re a minority.
It’s also easy to fall into writing a character who’s entire identity depends on the struggles their minority group faces. While it is a big part of who they are, centering a character’s identity on only that can lead to tokenism. You should also not ignore the problem. Striking a balance is the best way to go. Remember that a person is not their struggles. The same applies to a character.
Using stereotypes is common for tokenism. Avoid them altogether. Stereotypes are harmful, and they perpetuate a false idea surrounding different groups of people. Instead of creating characters around these stereotypes, go completely against them and create positive role models for different diverse characters.
Give them importance
If your diverse character(s) is flat and does nothing for the story, they are most likely a token. Giving the character importance to the story is a great way to ensure that you are not diving into tokenism. A great way to make sure your character is important to the story is to imagine the story without that character, and if the story has a gaping hole because of their absence, then they’re important. That is a good sign. Try to steer away from flat characters and make them well-developed for readers to enjoy.
Use sensitivity readers
This is a great way to make sure that what you’re writing is okay to put out. Sensitivity readers will read your writing and let you know where you fall short and help you write a character that is not a token and serves as representation for others like them.
This doesn’t even have to be about characters, it can be about the writing in general. If there is a phrase or saying that is wrong, your sensitivity reader will point it out and you will learn from that experience while also making sure that your writing is a fair representation for readers out there.
You can find sensitivity readers online for hire. There are many directories available to find people that will read your piece and let you know if there is anything to fix or address before it goes out into the public.
Writing diversity in your works shouldn’t have to be a hard thing to do. As long as you look at it through the lens of giving stories the depth and celebration they deserve, everything should be fine. If you don’t write a character or a story depicting harmful stereotypes and keeping characters one-dimensional and flat, then your writing will be good to go.
Always remember: if you look at diversity as something to check off a list, then you’re slipping into tokenism. Write diversity because you want to. Writer diversity because you want readers to see themselves in your writing. Write diversity so people in the world can feel seen.
Throw tokenism to the trash, not under the rug.
When I go to thrift stores, I always make sure to snoop around the used book section. Thousands and thousands of pages full of writing, lying there to collect dust. What overlooked insight might they contain?
Often, unfortunately for me, not anything particularly interesting. Dr. Phil’s advice on how to lose weight; a wrinkled, old, lurid romance novel featuring its authoress, Joan Collins, on the cover in full Dynasty garb; kiddy books given away once their readers have grown too old. It’s the thrift store, not the Library of Alexandria, and I know not to expect much. Instead, I know to walk the aisle like its a graveyard, ruminating over the stories these dead books contain, paying my respects to the Halo novel whose cover is completely torn off, and appears to have suffered water damage.
Every so often, however, I come across something mildly interesting, at the very least.
It was a journal with Anne Gedde photographs of babies in flowers interspersed between its blank, snow-white pages, waiting to be written in—all but one, that is. A single page was fully tattooed with blue ink. I felt a thrill when I saw that on February 29th, 1996, a teenage girl decided to take a brief snapshot of her life:
“I feel that I have no one to tell my thoughts and feelings. Today was a good day, but then again I try to make every day a good day. My parents always hold these standards that I have to meet up to and sometimes I wish I could just forget them. I can’t, so I work hard in school, but it always seems that I don’t work hard enough. I’m a little worried of what’s gonna happen to me, but I guess I’ll just have to wait and see. I’m gonna try to keep this journal and write in it periodically. Besides, I need somewhere to keep my thoughts and this is just the thing I can keep them in.”
Needless to say, her experiment in keeping a journal failed after that one day. So, what of it?
Maybe I’m a nut, but writing, as a way to put a hold on and process our complex emotions and experiences, absolutely fascinates me. Here is the brief, inconsequential rambling of a random, worried teenager from two decades ago, and here I am, sympathizing with a stranger who I’ll likely never meet.
Hopefully, the author is still alive and well, and doesn’t even remember scribbling her thoughts onto that page. Whatever troubles she faced at the time, may have faded, or more likely evolved into different, more complex struggles. I can reflect on the times I have felt the same way as she did, and I recognize ways I have both moved on and fell back into those feelings. The fact that she never wrote in that journal again tells a story in itself. Perhaps that leap day in 1996 was just one bad day where she couldn’t contain her thoughts. Maybe she got too busy living to dedicate time to writing. Maybe she questioned her choice of a journal, and didn’t want photos of babies mixed in with her confessions. It was just a little page of messy thoughts, and yet, it made me feel nostalgic for a life I’ve never lived. In fact, it has me thinking of the strange times I’m living in now, and the others living it beside me.
Everyone has their own story to tell. Everyone has their own unique lens through which they view the world. And yet, our stories are all intertwined.
Writing opens our hearts and minds to feeling understanding and connection towards ourselves, others, and life itself. Whether we, as writers, are exploring unanswerable questions, or we, as readers, are sympathizing with them, there is something universal and miraculous about this very human invention. Writing—even as a completely private endeavor—encourages us to understand and explore the ways that we and others view the world. Writing can be like a mirror to our own humanity.
Sei Shōnagon, a noblewoman who lived in 10th-century Japan, is one of the world’s most famous diarists. Although her diary, “The Pillow Book,” was intended for her eyes only, for centuries, it has offered colorful insight into classical Japanese high society. It has also enthralled its readers with a vibrant capture of the author’s wit, perception, and personality.
“I love the way, when the sun has risen higher, the bush clover, all bowed down beneath the weight of the drops, will shed its dew, and a branch will suddenly spring up though no hand has touched it. And I also find it fascinating that things like this can utterly fail to delight others.”
The fact that, through writing, I am able to read the thoughts and experiences of a person I will never meet—that we, as humans, invented this form of communication—fascinates me to no end. Despite time and distance, I can almost see what she saw. I can almost feel how she feels. Writing, like a photograph, can almost capture our complex societies, feelings, and souls.
Even when we are only writing for ourselves, there is value in making sense of our experiences. Even if it’s trivial. Even if we’ll burn it after. Even if it will end up collecting dust in the back corner of a thrift store. And as we navigate this busy world, often foregoing any reflection at all, I, also, find it fascinating that things like this can utterly fail to delight others.
Photo: Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash
Putting your writing, or any kind of art for that matter, out into the world is a daunting act of vulnerability. There is so much to consider when publishing a piece, whether you’re pitching a novel to agents, submitting your short story to an online platform, or uploading some poetry to your personal social media. One big question many writers eventually face is, how will anyone find this? For many creatives, the only thing worse than putting out the art they spent hours laboring over only to get terrible feedback, is to get no feedback at all. One way you can quell this sort of dread is to take matters into your own hands and promote yourself. By starting a writing platform, you have the potential to gain an audience before you even finish that first draft.
What is a Writing Platform?
Essentially, a writing platform is any kind of self promotion or marketing that attempts to reach your target audience. Writing platforms can come in many forms from websites to social media to podcasts. Anywhere you can get your name out into the world is a good place to start.
Beyond that, having a strong writing platform can make all the difference in how commercially successful your work becomes. Having some sort of following paves the way for many opportunities in your writing career. Publishers are more likely to take on authors who have pre-established followers. This is because it is a smaller business gamble to take on a writer who already has a dedicated audience. Publishing houses can use the size of a writing platform’s following in order to make essential estimates such as how many copies of the book to print and which styles of promotion will be the best to reach new readers. Even if you are considering indie publishing, having a pre-existing fan-base basically ensures that you’ll have people excited to read your book when it releases.
The backbone of any online platform is the website. Though it may not be the most alluring part of the process, it is essential to have a well-designed website that people can rely on for information about you and your work. A website that will promote you and your writing in the best way possible should include a short biography explaining who you are and the genre/style you predominantly write in, contact information, some of your strongest writing samples, and a professional-looking photo of yourself. Beyond that, feel free to get creative with how you deck out your website. You want your online presence to reflect you and your writing, so emphasize your personality through other aspects of your site. You can have an entire page dedicated to blogging about your favorite tropes, including some deleted scenes from your current manuscript, character art, anything.
Beside your website, you will also want to have a few social media accounts where you can promote your work and link out to your website. Most social media experts encourage that new brands start with two social sites that you can post to regularly before venturing out to other platforms. When picking the social media you want to focus on, you should consider your target audience. For instance, if your writing is geared towards adults, you would want to look into creating a Facebook page. However, if your audience is on the younger side, something like Instagram would be a great place to gain traction.
It’s also important to consider which social media sites would be best suited for your work. This means finding a website whose interface and algorithm would be most beneficial to the content of your book as well as the content you plan on creating. If you’re not sure which of the many sites are right for your marketing approach, you can look at writers who produce work similar to yours and take inspiration from their writing platforms. If you write poetry, you can model your social strategy after Rupi Kaur, whose instagram presence helped her to find success. Youtube, while slightly more time consuming than other social media, is a hotspot for writers and readers. If you write any form of YA or New Adult books, Youtube would be a perfect place to start researching for your platform.
What to Post
Now that you’ve narrowed down the social media sites you plan to tackle, It’s time to consider what kind of content you want to put out for your potential readers. When making this decision, you’ll want to tap into your creative mind. While taking inspiration from other writing platforms is a good way to start, you don’t want your content to look like a knock off or blend in with anyone else’s work. So, take some time to think about how your writing stands out from the rest, and use that to create a unique platform.
Regardless of what you chose to post, it should be engaging for other users. There are many ways to build up a following on social media. The most crucial thing to keep in mind is consistency. Having a schedule and a list of pre-planned ideas can help you stay on top of your posts. And, if you do ever happen to skip a few days (or even a few weeks), don’t get discouraged, just pick up right where you left off.
Other ways to grow your audience would be to vary the kind of content you post. If you only post self-promos, it’s not very likely that your audience will stick around. Try mixing up your profiles by posting snippets of your work, updates on your writing progress, fun world-building details, anything that will generate excitement for your upcoming works.
Once you have an established following on a platform, you should focus on engagement and continued growth. There are many ways authors interact with their audience through social media. Some of the more common and successful approaches are going live to answer follower-submitted questions or offer advice, learning more about your audience through poll questions and responses, writing contests, and giveaways. No matter what you do, interacting with your followers will help you connect with your audience in a fulfilling way.
While the idea of starting a writing platform may seem intimidating, the best way to deal with those nerves is by getting started. As you build your platform, remember that patience is important. No matter how engaging and groundbreaking your content is, it will take people time to find it. Staying consistent and persistent is the best way to go about creating public interest for your work. Your writing deserves an audience, and a writing platform can give it the opportunity to reach the perfect readers.
Very little has managed to remain untouched by the impact of quarantine. As many writers know, the publishing industry along with the writing community as a whole have taken some severe blows as a result of the pandemic. However, amidst the chaos of change that we have all experienced at some point, one integral part of the writing world has managed to stay intact. In fact, it has even flourished during lockdown. Zine production amongst Gen Z creators blossomed during the early months of quarantine. And, unlike the many fleeting trends that surfaced in the past year, zines continue to grow in popularity.
A zine, also known as a fanzine or a webzine, is a form of self-publishing where an individual or group creates a magazine-structured work of art filled with whatever they desire. Though there are some disagreements about when this style of publication began, many point to the 1930s as the birth of zines as science fiction fanzines were popularized. From there, zines took on different forms and roles in subcultures. Some of the most notorious eras of zines stem from 1970s punk and 1990s riot grrrl movements. With many subcultures and scenes utilizing zines as a mode of creativity and expression, one thing has remained the same: that they are a staple for alternative communities.
In 2020, indie and ‘alt’ teens found their place within the internet, allowing them to quickly develop similar fashion styles, music tastes, and interests. They have created their own community connected by social sites. However, with the abundance of free time created by lockdown last spring, a few teens took on the task of self publishing. Slowly, promotional pages for indie zines started to pop up on the Instagram ‘explore page’ and Tik Tok’s ‘for you page’. And then, it caught traction. Just by liking one post from these accounts, you could find yourself falling down the rabbit hole of Gen Z zines. Hundreds of accounts with followers ranging from the hundreds to hundred thousands exist, and for the most part, all of them have open submissions. In the matter of a few months, alternative internet communities have managed to move beyond pixels. Using social media, they have gathered photography, articles, short stories, poems, fashion advice, short films, and practically any form of media you can create from people around the world and turned it into a tangible zine.
With this renewed interest in zines, Gen Z is also changing the production process. Prior to the internet, zines were more of a local venture. Often, someone would come up with an idea for a zine and create it themselves, sometimes as a solo mission, and other times with a team of close friends. These were the sole contributors. Distribution looked different as well. Zines were traded, sold, or simply given out at practically any and all places including book stores, record shops, zine fests, and concerts.
Rowan University professor and zine enthusiast, Jason Luther, recounts zine production when he first got involved in the culture during the mid-90s, “My parents had a basic DOS-based computer which had both pre-AOL internet service called Prodigy…. I basically remember writing terrible essays, record reviews, and type up interviews with bands I reached out to and then print them out on a dot-matrix printer.” As for the means of distribution, he comments, “I’d assemble these in my kitchen and mostly sell copies at shows by just going up to strangers (which I absolutely hated). Eventually I would drop some at local record stores in Buffalo”.
As for these new-age zines, things function a bit differently. Instead of having one or a few contributors, most of them utilize submissions from across the world. This allows them to have a more diverse outlook as they include many distinct voices. Still, they can face the issue of continuity. With so many contributors, it can be difficult to get a cohesive voice and tone across articles. Distribution is also extremely changed. Especially with social distancing mandates temporarily closing venues where zines were traditionally sold, publications are mostly reliant on online orders. Aside from that, zines are also slowly sneaking into the corporate world that they once rallied against. As Luther mentions, “They also circulate there [social media], blurring distinctions between print and digital, and are sold via places like Etsy and Urban Outfitters, which are corporately controlled spaces”.
While this change may not seem that substantial to people outside of the zine production, it means a lot to potential contributors and their submissions. Younger writers now have an entire different side of the publication world to explore. Most professors and writing mentors will suggest that newer writers focus on sending their work to literary magazines. Of course, there are many benefits to submitting to more traditional magazines, however, there is a certain freedom that only zines possess.
“Zines are raw,” remarks Luther. “Zines today are much more focused on identity…”. Zines offer contributors and readers alike a way to see a reflection of themselves in print where they otherwise wouldn’t within the confines of mainstream media. Which is why having a wide variety of voices in contemporary zines is so important. Without diverse perspectives and alternative outlooks, zines would not have the charm that has allowed them to maintain vital parts of subcultures for so long.
So, submit your work to a zine! Let your most honest and truthful writing be seen. “Submit to one, sure!” Luther suggests, “but also, make your own! That’s how communities develop and how you’ll create writing that is specific to your audience.” Creating zines is a great way to express yourself and highlight your interests without any limitations. There are no word counts, no prompts, and no rules.
If you attend Rowan and are fascinated by zines and the world surrounding them, make sure to check out Jason Luther’s course offered Spring 2021 semester, Self Publishing. Beyond learning the ins and outs of self publishing, students will also have the opportunity to create their own zines with guidance from Luther himself.