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As the spreading of misinformation has become a common practice in our society, it’s important to consider how misinformation affects your research process and in turn, affects the quality of your work. The internet is a vast online space, and it can the number of options for researching can be overwhelming for someone who has little experience. Below you will find a guide to assist you in all of your researching needs, to ensure that all the information you gather is credible and accurate, and tips to help you find the perfect source.
Start, Don’t End, with Wikipedia
Wikipedia has a bad reputation that is centered around the information on the website being inaccurate, and not very credible. However, Wikipedia is a great place to get a general idea of the topic you are researching. I do not recommend citing Wikipedia as a source in your paper. But I do recommend utilizing Wikipedia to find other sources. Wikipedia has hyperlinks throughout many of its articles that will link out to another Wikipedia page to provide more information about a subtopic within your topic. Wikipedia also has a great reference section at the end of its articles that provides the reader with full access to anything that was cited within the article. Even though Wikipedia is a great starting point, it is important to remember that you must consider the information carefully, and keep in mind that you should not use Wikipedia as a fact-checker.
Search Engine Tips
The search engine you use will most likely depend on the requirements of your research. (If you’re allowed to use popular sources or only scholarly) Google Scholar is a great tool for scholarly research because the user can easily see important information before time is wasted delving into an article that can not be used for their research. Before opening an article, Google Scholar shows the name of an author, the date of publication, what database the publication comes from, and how many people cite the article to enhance their own work. The user also has the option to sort the articles by relevance to your search, or by date of publication. Regardless of the search engine you use, using quotation marks in your search will ensure that the entirety of the phrase you type in is considered. Without quotation marks, the search engine may only find information that is involved with one or two of the words in your phrase.
Consider the Websites You Use Carefully
In using a website as a source, it’s important to note that all websites are not created equally. A good rule of thumb is to try and stick with .edu or .gov websites when citing an online page. This is not to say that all .com or .org websites are bad, but they are considered an open domain. Meaning, anyone can register a .com or .org domain. A .edu, .gov, or .mil are considered closed domains. Meaning, people who try to register under these domains must meet specific requirements to do so. While a .org domain may seem safe, there are organizations to display clear bias, which is not acceptable for research purposes. If you know before you start your research what domain you would like to cite, you can add it into the phrase you use to search. For example, if I was doing a research report on World War 1 and I knew I wanted a source from a .edu, I would enter this phrase into my chosen search engine, “World War 1:edu”. Another thing to look for to ensure good information is a website’s “About Us” section. Reading about the viewpoint of the website, and its goals will help to will help you to distinguish bias. Another thing to be aware of is who a website receives its funding from. If a website receives funding from organizations or companies that have a conflict of interest with your research topic, it most likely will affect the information put forth by the website.
Break Your Filter Bubble/Fact Check
For those who don’t know, a filter bubble is when a website’s algorithm assumes what information the viewer would want to see based on their previous browsing history, search history, click behavior, and location. The problem with filter bubbles is that they often do not provide users with contradictory viewpoints, and they reinforce an individual’s views rather than allowing the individual to be challenged by new ideas. Filter bubbles show users what they think the user would want to see, which can lead to people getting varying information about a topic. Popular websites that actively participate in filtering are Google and Facebook. When using these it’s important to consider that what you are viewing is selectively picked for you, and outside perspective is often necessary. Seek information on your topic that covers both sides of an issue. An example is seen by researching anything to do with politics. In order to get a well-rounded, unbiased view, I would research both conservative, liberal, and non-partisan viewpoints on the topic. There are databases that can be utilized in research that do not consider your previous internet history. The best examples are UMGC Library OneSearch, USA.gov, and data.gov. Another helpful internet tool for research is a fact-checking website. A good fact-checking website will use neutral language and provide evidence from unbiased, credible sources. Some examples of trustworthy fact-checking websites include factcheck.org, snopes.com, and politifact.com.
What To Check For In Your Sources
A good rule for sources is to consider accuracy, authority, and timeliness. Accuracy implies that a source has verifiable information. Just because a source is using technical language or jargon of any kind does not mean that the information is correct. Verify the information with your own knowledge around the subject, and additional sources that you already know are trustworthy. Authority alludes to the information being produced by a reliable author and published in an accredited journal or online space. It is important to research your author’s credentials to see if they are informed on the subject or bias for any reason. It is also important to research other areas of a website or journal publisher besides the information you are seeking, to see what is typically posted, and get an idea of the stances that are held. The subject you are researching will impact how timeliness affects your sources. Timeliness refers to when your source was published. Your source should not be over 20 years old if you are researching a topic that evolves, changes, or has recently has a breakthrough of any kind. If you are doing historical research then research that was published a long time ago is acceptable. If you are mainly conducting research through scholarly journals, consider what is the purpose of your source is and if the source has the typical features. Typical features of an in-depth journal include; an abstract, documented research or data in the form of a literature review or conducted experiment, a reference list, and a length of longer than two pages.
Good researching requires a lot of planning and thought. As the internet gets larger by the day, it’s easier for people to put forth incompetent work, that’s passed off as quality content. Trust your intuition, if you have a feeling that a source you’re looking at is not accredited, your probably correct!
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Journaling is exactly what it sounds like. Writing in a journal, or even a diary, is considered journaling. However, not many people focus on all the different types of journaling out there: from letter writing to music to listing what you're grateful for, you can find the best fit for you and one that helps you accomplish your desired goals. The different types of journaling, while all useful in their own right, have differing set outcomes. The main thing about journaling is that it is quite beneficial for one’s mental health. Journaling has been proven to increase cognitive function, enhance one's self-awareness, provide a mood boost, improve memory, and reduce symptoms of depression. (Baikie & Wilhelm, 2005). If you struggle with your mental health, you’re overwhelmed, or just simply need an outlet, journaling is a great way to put your thoughts on the page and let them all out.
While journaling can be helpful, there are many options to choose from. If you’re having trouble finding out which type of journaling is better for you, the best way is to find information about each of them and to not be afraid to step out and try out new methods. You should have an open mind and be prepared to try multiple types of journaling until you find the best fit. Read on to learn more about the different types of journaling and find out what will work for you based on what you're trying to accomplish.
Stream of Consciousness Journaling
Stream of consciousness journaling is a great place to start for people who are new to journaling because it has no set rules. The only thing the writer needs to do is start writing. The point of stream of consciousness journaling is to completely ignore any grammar, style, and format concerns, and write just for the sake of writing. The writer also has nothing they need to specifically write about. They can write anything that pops into their head, and feels right. You could write until you feel a natural stopping point, or set a timer for yourself. It’s important to note that the writer should not be concerned with their writing being unintelligible, there is no need to judge yourself, as long as you're writing freely, you’re doing this style of journaling correctly.
Stream of consciousness journaling is especially helpful for people who tend to overthink, have racing thoughts, or are overwhelmed. Some benefits of this style of journaling include: providing a source of release from tension, helping to sort through thoughts and emotions so the writer can better articulate and come to terms with their feelings, and leaving the writer to feel more centered and calm. The reasoning behind the latter benefit is that the writer is being open and honest with themselves. It takes an enormous effort to continually bury uncomfortable or unwanted feelings, but by expressing these feelings through journaling the result is the weight lifted off of the writer’s shoulders.
This is as simple as writing down everything you’re grateful for. The most basic way to start this type of journaling is to sit down and start off listing five things that you’re grateful for. These things don’t have to be big events in your life, although they can be if you want. But you can write down how good the coffee tasted in the morning, and that’s just a small thing you were grateful for that day. However, you can go the big event route and say that you finally got the job position you’ve been wanting. Either way you want to go is fine. The most important thing about this practice is to remember a good moment in your life and feel those good emotions once again, grateful that you were able to experience them.
Mentor journaling consists of writing about people that have been an inspiration to you. You can choose a personal route, writing about people you personally know, or an impersonal route, writing about people you don’t know but look up to. There are a couple of different approaches you can take in regards to the content of your writing. Your writing can focus on your inspirations, admirable qualities, actions, achievements, or philanthropy. The goal of mentor journaling is to think about how you can apply whatever you find admirable about your mentor into your own life. You want to think about how your mentor accomplished what they did, and how you can follow a similar path. This style of journaling works best for people who feel dissatisfied in their lives, or want inspiration for better living. Mentor journaling can help you to visualize your future and create achievable goals for yourself.
Unsent Letter Journaling
Unsent letter journaling is a style of journaling where the writer composes a letter knowing it will be for their eyes only. This letter can be written for any reason to any person whether you know them personally or not. Some examples of content you may include is: a love letter, a letter to someone who has recently passed, a letter to someone who made you angry, a letter to prepare for a future conversation, a letter of gratitude, a letter of forgiveness, or a letter to apologize.
Since the letter is for your eyes only, there’s no tangible consequence for your words, they are just words on a page. Utilizing this perspective may help you to fearlessly express necessary truths. Composing an unsent letter can provide the writer with clarity around a situation, closure, or release of feelings. Once you write your letter, you may realize that the importance of your thoughts deserve to be spoken directly to the receiver. If not, the experience of composing a letter that is not meant to be sent is cathartic on its own.
Similar to gratitude journaling, what is going well journaling is dedicated to focusing on the positive elements of your life. The main difference between the two styles is that gratitude journaling focuses on past experiences, while what is going well journaling focuses on your current daily life. In what is going well journaling, unsurprisingly, the writer would write about what has gone well throughout their day. As humans naturally tend to focus on what is going wrong in their day, this style of journaling can help an individual see the positive parts of their life, and realize how much they have to be thankful for. This version of journaling has no format requirements and can be done however the author would like to, whether that is writing paragraphs or bullet points. The overall benefits of what is going well journaling is leading people to live a more appreciative life, helping people to leave unimportant annoyances in their past, and providing people with a written record for the future of the positives in their life.
Contrary to popular belief, visual journaling does not require any artistic ability or talent. Visual journaling involves exploring different concepts, ideas, and your own thoughts in a visual way. Rather than drawing or using other visuals to demonstrate a piece of art, this type of journaling is meant to make you gain a deeper understanding of your own thoughts, and even feelings. One of the main benefits of visual journaling is that it allows you to understand yourself. People who practice this type of journaling regularly express that they’re able to find out what obstacles are in their way fairly quickly. Because this practice is so freeing, it can help you understand your deeper thoughts and center yourself.
The best way to do this type of journaling is to get a piece of paper or a journal, and either start drawing, doodling, painting, or anything that is visual. You might even argue that making collages with different images you’ve collected or scrapbooking can be visual journaling. As long as you put visual ideas onto the page freely, then you’re going for a visual journaling approach.
Exploration is at the heart of this type of journaling. In order to practice intuition journaling, you must detach yourself and activate your creative mind. You need to let your intuitive inner self take control and transcribe everything that this buried voice says. When you tap into that inner voice, you will be able to learn and explore your thoughts and feelings. With regular practice, you can get to know yourself on a deeper level.
As with visual journaling, you do not need to be a music expert to practice musical journaling. The simple way to go around this practice is to sit down and journal through sound. If you have any instruments lying around, this may be easier for you. However, you don’t necessarily need instruments to make music. You can turn basically anything into drums, you can make rhythms with your hands on any surface and create sounds with everything around you. When you sit down to do this type of journaling, record yourself so you can go back later and review it. Think of it as reading a diary entry, but you’ll be listening to the way you created those sounds and understanding how you were feeling in the moment.
Trauma Narrative Journaling
It is important to note that this type of journaling can evoke painful feelings and memories for a person. Do not try trauma narrative journaling if you are not adequately prepared to deal with what may come to the surface for you. If you’re interested in trauma narrative journaling but do not want to do so without support, talk to a therapist about programs or people who offer this as a service. It’s best done in a controlled setting with a trained professional acting as your guide.
A trauma narrative is a style of journaling used to help victims of trauma find closure in their experience. The word trauma can allude to many scenarios and is not explicitly defined as life-altering situations. Whatever you think is a trauma for you, is trauma, no matter how trivial it may seem to you in comparison with other’s experiences. Trauma narratives will take more than one sitting to complete. They are designed in three parts and should have significant time between the different drafts.
The first part of a trauma narrative is to strictly write down the facts of your situation, without any personal thoughts or feelings. Think about the who, what, where, when, and why, but nothing further than that. After some necessary time away from your first draft, the second part is to begin incorporating your thoughts and feelings. You don’t need to incorporate every detail, but you should be able to see a length difference between your first and second draft. The third draft, which is often the most difficult to complete, is dedicated to writing out the ugly, uncomfortable details of your situation. This draft is where you dive into the worst parts of your experience. Add as much detail as possible, and keep in mind that everything should be on the page at this point, so don’t hold yourself back. Once the third draft is complete, then your narrative should be all-encompassing and released from your body.
Trauma narratives provide closure, relief, and inner peace for victims. Having to repeatedly tell the origin story of trauma causes the memories to be more manageable and helps diminish triggers associated with this event. Trauma narratives help to make sense of trauma by making our memory of the event organized in a narrative that’s easily followed.
Journaling has many avenues to choose from. They all have something good to offer to the table, but there’s usually one or more that are more favorable to you. Take time to get to know which ones work best for you and stick to them. With regular practice, you can reap mental health benefits and experience great catharsis.
Baikie, Karen & Wilhelm, Kay. (2005). Emotional and physical benefits of expressive writing. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. 11. 338-346. 10.1192/apt.11.5.338.
Back in March of this semester, the Writing Arts Department hosted a week-long event filled with workshops and information sessions tailored to help writing arts students advance their career opportunities. The line-up for Writing Arts Career Week consisted of seven distinct events which were open to students.
This is the first time in Rowan history that any sort of event like this had been put on for Writing Arts students. Career weeks have always occurred at Rowan, including one devoted to the College of Communication. However, the introduction of a Writing Arts Career Week allowed students to gain information that they never could’ve had access to during the more generally disciplined events. When asked what inspired the department to create their own career week, one of the event’s coordinators, Amanda Haruch, said, “We often hear from our undergraduates that they're unaware of what positions are available to them once they graduate from college”. She went on to express that the department wanted to give students the resources they would need to identify their talents to future employers and get a good grasp of all the opportunities that are available to them as writing arts students.
To kick off the week of writing-themed workshops, the career week began on Monday the 15th of March with a Resume Workshop. Here, students had the opportunity to learn what makes a strong resume. At this hands-on workshop, students could either add more flare to their existing resumes, or complete one from scratch, all while being advised by faculty members.
Following the theme of resumes, another event was held on Tuesday, Resume Reviews. During the allotted hours, students could bring their resumes to designated faculty members and have a one-on-one session which lasted 30 minutes. Faculty members noted the strengths of each resume, while also offering advice on how to make it even more impressive to potential employers.
Also on Tuesday, a session was held called Finding a Mentor. Networking can be a daunting task for many college students, especially when discussing something as personal as writing. This hands-on workshop presented students with three skills that would jump-start their approach to finding a mentor that will guide them and their writing career.
Tuesday’s events were rounded out by the Long Night Against Procrastination. Starting at 6:30 pm, writing tutors and research librarians were present to aid students with whatever work they needed to complete. At such a challenging time in the semester, participants were able to have a designated time to focus on writing assignments, cover letters, job applications, or anything!
On Wednesday, the Writing Arts department hosted Leveraging LinkedIn For Your Future Career Goals. The college was able to bring in a guest speaker, Megan Zakrewsky, who told attendees how Linkedin allowed her to advance in her career. Beyond that, students were given time to create their own Linkedin profiles using tips and tricks that would help them to stand out on the platform.
Gaining Writing Experience: Internships and More, took place on Thursday. At this event, faculty and students discussed internships both on an off campus that are available to writing arts majors.
Another event that occurred on Thursday was #LevelUp: Leveraging Your Personal & Professional Brand. During this session, participants learned about the importance of crafting and maintaining a personal brand online. Using these tools will help separate them from the crowd and hopefully allow them to attract the right attention from future employers.
The final event of the week, a Publishing and Writing Panel, occurred on Friday. Presenters who are active in the publishing industry shared their insight and experience into the world of publishing and all the exciting challenges that come with it.
Haruch expressed her excitement about the Career Week’s success. The turnout for all events was great, with the Linkedin and Publishing Panels getting the largest attendance. About 6o participants (counting those who attended multiple events) showed up throughout the week to gain valuable insight. With such a successful event, we hope that the Writing Arts Career Week will return next year!
Before the pandemic, the Writing Arts Club was a flourishing in-person club, with weekly meetings taking place in Bunce Hall. This photo was taken at one of their last in-person meetings. Via @rowanwritingartsclub
It goes without saying how quickly the lives of Rowan students changed in March 2020. The rejuvenating Spring Break we were looking forward to turned into a lonely period of confusion and uncertainty. We came to learn that for the remainder of the year, there would be no more in-person classes, let alone in-person events or readings. Our expectations of what our college lives could be were suddenly uprooted.
And yet, the Writing Arts Club has remained afloat.
This past year’s Writing Arts Club e-board, comprising of President Eric Uhorchuk, VP Adam Goskowsky, Secretary Paige Stressman, Treasurer Madi Cook, Senators Bryan Best and Cole Goetz, and graduate advisor Thomas LaPorte, were faced with converting a once bustling in-person club into a fully virtual hang out. As students and professors alike learned to navigate the new normal of “Zoom University” over the rocky Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters, the Writing Arts Club reinvented itself, taking to a chat platform named Discord.
In the past, the club met weekly in Bunce Hall, focusing on collaborative story-telling and creating one big zine. Instead, for the Fall 2020 semester, members met for weekly voice chats. Shifting focus from the hard work of creating a zine, the e-board helped members develop their skills individually by shining a spotlight on new genres to play with each week.
Just like old times, members had a chance to share their work, share praise, and share laughs. Even though members were separated by distance, there were still plenty of chances to collaborate and ask for help using different voice chat channels and texting. Plus, to de-stress from our scholarly burdens, the Writing Arts Club held occasional game nights, generating roars of laughter with games like Cards Against Humanity, Among Us, and Skribbl.io.
During Fall 2020’s virtual finals week, the Writing Arts Club took time to de-stress with a hilarious game of Skribbl.io.
For Spring 2021, however, the club has reinvented itself once again. With “Zoom fatigue” a growing concern among virtual learners, the Writing Arts Club set its sights towards larger, occasional events rather than weekly meetings. These have included a Romance Night in February featuring workshops on the romance genre, and a Story Battle where members took part in a hilarious and flurried competition of who could write the best original story. The Story Battle was a smash hit, with Tara Grier coming in first place with a wistful story of the relationship between a singer and a strange fan.
Their last big event of Spring 2021? A fully virtual Open Mic Night held on Zoom, co-sponsored by both Avant Literary Magazine and the Communication Studies Club!
The Open Mic, generating a large turn-out from members of all three clubs, was a heartwarming affair despite the virtual setting, featuring passionate performances from e-board members Eric and Madi, as well as from Avant leaders Hannah Tran and Dina Folgia. This is not to mention the awesome work that students Matthew Berrian, Joanna Flynn, Gunnar Griggs, Kelli Hughes, Daria Husni, Kaitlyn Kratz, and Michelle Seitz had the courage to share that night – so moving that even my painfully shy self felt inspired to share a poem of mine.
Defying this past year’s difficulties, the Writing Arts Club has continued to act as a positive space at Rowan University, fostering a community grounded in creativity, encouragement, and support. Students of all majors and backgrounds are welcome to join in the fun of creative writing with the Rowan Writing Arts Club – and in spite of Zoom fatigue and distance, this writerly community is still going strong.
Photo: Laura Chouette on Unsplash
It won’t take long for any new writer to come into contact with the coveted term of ‘successful’. There is this set standard and it feels like we’re all grasping toward it: becoming a successful writer. There is an underlying pressure of fear that if a writer does not become ‘successful’, then they have failed. They will never be able to support themselves and now, they’ve wasted all this time on their silly projects when they could’ve been focusing on something else.
But, this line of thinking, for lack of a better word, sucks. First off, the term ‘successful’ is ridiculously ambiguous. What defines success to one person may be extremely different to another. Is a successful writer someone who has had their work published? Is it a New York Times Bestselling author? Is it the author of a book series that’s being made into a movie? With so many variables, the only way to decide if you have become a successful writer is to make your own terms.
Beyond the lack of consensus behind the term, ‘successful’, this idea can create a huge mental obstacle for many young writers. For most, the concept of success is something they do not believe they can reach. Whether they doubt their talent, their skills, or their love for writing entirely, any kind of questioning can stunt your creativity. And, in the most extreme cases, make people give up on writing entirely. Secondly, there is also the possibility of exasperating the burnout that writes face on a normal basis. While it may be a common issue, the amount of time spent feeling ‘burnt out’ only increases when reaching for success. A lot of writers will push themselves too far too fast, sacrificing their mental health just to get their daily word-count in. There are plenty of other harmful repercussions when it comes to perpetuating the myth of the successful writer, but none of them are worth clinging to this idea.
So, in lieu of reaching for this undefined idea of success, writers should try setting success on their own terms.
Regardless of how small or insignificant your successes may seem at first, any progress and any goal is worthy of achievement and recognition. Creating writing goals for yourself is a great way to keep yourself motivated. By breaking the long-term process of writing into smaller, more manageable goals, finishing your project will seem significantly less daunting. Also, it prevents you from comparing yourself to others. You can’t exactly judge your writing based on another writer’s piece when you both have completely different goals and expectations for your work. It keeps you laser-focused on your own achievements and what you need to get done to satisfy yourself.
Beyond that, writing can be a stressful process. Writers have to be prepared to experience some disappointments in the form of rejection and criticism. One way to offset this, however, is to preserve your optimism by allowing yourself to recognize when you have done a good job. Often, writers will meet a deadline or finish their novel with the mindset of, ‘now that I’m done with that, it’s on to the next goal’, without giving themselves time for enjoyment. But at the same time, a single bad review or minor misstep will have writers feeling dejected for a few days. By forcing yourself to acknowledge and celebrate the small wins in your writing life, you are setting a better mindset and practicing self-love.
If you’re still struggling with breaking your writing goals down into bite-sized bits, here are some suggestions offered by Rowan University’s Writing Arts students and staff.
“How do you measure your success as a writer?”
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.