Writer’s Log—December 6, 2017

Whew! December is already here, and I’m back to this blog at last. I’ve been on a hiatus during the past two weeks to wrap up the final requirements for my graduate school program. While defending my thesis project—a metafictional narrative—back in early November was a major milestone, submitting it to the university library was also an important part of the overall process. I’m unsure what the guidelines are for other graduate programs, but for the Kellogg Library at Cal State San Marcos, every thesis project must adhere to strict ADA-compliance standards; and that took a while to get just right.

What is ADA-compliance, exactly? Well, the acronym—according to the Office of Disabled Student Students at CSUSM—stands for “Americans with Disability Act.” And as it pertains to thesis projects submitted at the university library, the compliance is mostly there to aid students with visual impairments to access those types of academic materials online. The Kellogg Library only accepts thesis projects in electronic form now, which is probably true for most universities now (if not, I’d love to know in the comment section below).

Of course I was glad to help make accessing my thesis easier for students in need. But I also hadn’t realized that the methods used for ADA-compliance basically meant learning to set up a screen reader to function properly with your document. Screen readers are handy little tools. You can basically push a button and get the computer to read your entire document aloud, albeit in a monotone, for your needs and enjoyment. In addition, setting up a document for ADA-compliance or a screen reader to access has two major benefits for general use:

  1. Easier navigation of documents, which is very useful for lengthy texts. One important aspect of setting up ADA-compliance is working with the “Navigation Pane” found under the “View” tab in Microsoft Word. Using a combination of the “Navigation Pane” and types of headings found under the “Home” tab, you can basically create a detailed Table of Contents. So when accessing the document in the future, it is then possible to click on specific parts of it and get taken there.
  2. Smoother transition to a .pdf format. As much as ADA-compliance benefits documents that remain as Microsoft Word documents, it becomes even nicer when those documents get converted into .pdf files. Readers, such as Adobe Acrobat, will be able to recognize the organization of the text. It makes searching for specific terms much easier to do, and plus it is in the .pdf format where the screen reader function is the most prevalent.

As you can imagine, I wound up learning several new things about how Microsoft Word as a program handled documents.

Does anyone else have interesting experiences related to formatting a document for ADA-compliance, or even just comments on how the thesis project submission process works at other universities? I’d love to know!

Also, as a secondary yet also important note, because I’m officially done with my graduate program, Literary Serenity: The Grad Edition will henceforth become Literary Serenity: A Writing Blog.

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Writerly Tips: Listening to Sentences

The musicality of prose sounds like a term found woven in a fanciful poem, right alongside imagery such as valley streams or sun-kissed forest canopies. Truly, natural or organic imagery should come to mind easily in its case—because the musicality of prose refers to the sounds and inflections a written piece suggests, down to individual sentences. It is like listening to the chords on a stringed instrument. Each note has a certain sound that adds to the overall experience, enhanced based on the feeling placed into it.

I could make the point here that poor grammar or other sentence errors can distract readers, which is very much true, but my real point is the need to pay attention to how musicality can add to the meaning of a sentence.

For instance, consider the below two sentences. They are the same, save for two subtle differences:

  1. “Appearing from among the crowd of party-goers, a musician came and offered me his hand.”
  2. “Appearing from among the crowd of party-goers, the musician came and offered me his hand.”

The first sentence has a musician who comes to offer the speaker his hand, possibly for a dance. Depending on what happened right before or afterwards, this fact might come across as a nice gesture. It is also even possible to see the whole matter as something viewed casually. Having “a musician” offer a hand also hints at some distance between him and the speaker; the musician could be anyone that the speaker knows is a musician.

In contrast, having “the musician” come to offer his hand implies the speaker has paid more attention to the musician in question. Maybe the speaker recognized him from across the room of party-goers, or someone specifically introduced the musician. “The musician” singles him out. Furthermore, placing “me” in italics is a clever little way of emphasizing the fact that, of all the other party-goers, the musician comes to offer the speaker his hand. It is as if the speaker is saying, “The musician could have chosen anyone else, but he chose me!” And based on how the speaker otherwise perceives the musician, it can help add to the speaker’s characterization and sense of voice.

The above is only a sampling of what musicality in prose can encompass, but I hope it’ll offer something helpful to think about!

Writer’s Log (26 October 2017): Tells of Academic Strides

Goodness! Almost three weeks have passed, and in that time I haven’t posted anything of note here on Literary Serenity: The Grad Edition. I’ve gotten warned, by more than one person now, how easy it is to lose visitors to a blog due to inactivity—which is completely understandable. It is easy to lose patience with a site on which nothing has happened for a while. But I’m back to keeping up with this blog once again.

Much the time I’ve been away has gotten taken up with anxiety, mostly because the professors on my thesis committee were reading over the latest draft of my project. Then came the thrill of each professor approving it to defend, intensified by them setting a definite date in November for me to appear before them.

In other words, I will have to make an adjustment to the title of this WordPress blog, as I’ll have finished up grad school. ^_^ It’s been quite a journey, and some of the oncoming posts will relate to my thesis research, among other things.

Happy Early Halloween, everyone!

Writerly Tips: Finding Creative Inspiration

While still an undergraduate student, I took a class that explored the intricacies of essay-writing. It wasn’t, and was indeed much different, than the GEW courses many first-year students take to help them build a strong foundation for crafting essays throughout their college careers. And in fact, I had transferred over to a four-year university after completing my general education requirements elsewhere.

I benefited a great deal from taking an essay course, as a student and as a writer. But strangely enough, what continues to make me think from it, even years later, was a single moment. It was when my Literature & Writing Studies professor for the class confessed to sometimes going out of her way to have an adventure, as a means to stock up on creative material The odder or wilder the experience, she stressed, the more possibilities got generated for various types of works (from short stories to whole novels).

Of course, right afterwards my professor asked everyone to write a mock essay within the next 1o minutes. I cannot remember what the essay was about. Its topic has gotten lost in the stream of the countless written assignments.

But my professor’s words regarding her means of looking for creative material stuck with me. I’ve reflected on them over the past few years, almost as if they were fragile seashells or baby birds. As things of beauty with some inherent truth for me to grasp. At the bare minimum, they are solid advice for any writer—because first-hand experience often makes for the most realistic writing, particularly for writers who are just starting out in the field.

Yet one thing did bother me. It could easily get misinterpreted that a writer must venture to somewhere far away, to somewhere exotic or unusual perhaps, to find creative material. That wasn’t want my professor had meant, I know, and so I want to elaborate on it a bit here.

I believe writers must be inherently curious. We have a whole world around us, and in our heads, which we want to understand or reveal from fresh angles for readers. Those fresh angles are possible in even the most ordinary-seeming places that can easily get taken for granted. We need curiosity mixed with thoughtful observation.

For example, while attending Palomar College back in 2007, I took to wandering around campus between classes. Back then the campus was much smaller (condensed might be the better term). But it still made for good exercise, and I soon discovered that any number of events or festivities took place there on any given day. Many of these activities were things it would have been easy to miss if someone always stuck to the library, the student union, or one of the other buildings (even though things did happen in each one of those places as well).

One such event was the Concert Hour offered on Thursday afternoons, something I found out about when I happened to walk past a sign advertising for it amid Palomar’s maze of buildings. The first show I got to see featured songs from China, complete with past music students dressed in the traditional attire and playing the appropriate instruments. It was beautiful, and I wound up coming back many times afterwards.

Another place I would frequent was the arboretum. Some students, it surprised me to hear, didn’t even realize that place existed right there behind the library. They might pass the forested area each day while walking to campus, yet they missed its vine-covered archway. However, the arboretum was, and only continues to be, a wonder to walk around and behold. It has yellow-bamboo, numerous types of palm trees, and a perfect vantage point from which to gaze out across the campus and all of San Marcos. Ah, I can remember sitting up at the first top, having my bagged lunch, and imagining what San Marcos must have looked like without all the roads and buildings. It was peaceful up there. I even got to volunteer for the arboretum for a while (an experience I would recommend for anyone).

One other place desires mentioning, however. At one point the observatory—which now currently stands beside the library—had more of a central location on campus. Just by chance, one day I was wandering around campus when I happened to see the observatory doors open. A sign posted nearby was advertising for a Halloween-themed show, the very last before the observatory closed down at that location for good. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity to go. Instead of stars, the picture stretched across the dome ceiling was that of a sketched haunted house, and the few of us who knew to come got to enjoy both a haunted house and graveyard walkthrough. The whole event became a special memory.

All of the above experiences took place within easy reach of me at the time. I didn’t have to go far, and indeed I couldn’t go too far due to mobility issues (no car and tight finances). However, they each offered wonderful adventures, and as evidenced in this posting, they provided memories to share with readers. The saying is true that stories can come from anywhere. They can come from a quiet moments spent with family members reflected upon later by a writer, or by the writer’s personal experience in fulfilling a sense of curiosity.

Writing is a mindful craft. It helps to make anyone who takes up the pen seriously to pay more attention to the wonders of the world, and I’ve learned that sometimes what is nearest and easiest to reach can off the most abundant and heartfelt material for creative writing. It’s something to think about, certainly.

 

Writerly Tips: Using an Implied Narrative

Several weeks ago, I got introduced to a series on Youtube focused around decorative statues. The mainstay for the reviewer in question—whose name I will not mention in case of copyright issues—was to purchase and critique statues in the shapes of characters from various video and board games. He would examine the craftsmanship of the statue, the paint job, its durability, and so on.

Among the most important points the reviewer would make involved the implied narrative of the piece. In other words, he would point out what the body language and overall design for the statute suggested about the modeled character, or perhaps even the world of the character.

Interested in the reviewer’s approach, I did a quick Google search—conducted afterwards—and found that implied narrative was a term often associated with critiquing visual art. It made sense and was appropriate for decorative statutes. In fact, by viewing them through the lens of the implied narrative, I have consequentially come to appreciate statues of all kinds in a whole new way, as more than simple art pieces that might look great on display somewhere.

But implied narratives are a powerful lesson for creative writers to learn as well. They are a basic strategy to keep in mind, alongside the rule of “show, don’t tell.”

Consider the classic story of Cinderella, and more specifically a description of Cinderella scrubbing the floor beside a burnt out hearth fire. The details in a scene, the actions a character performs, and their dialogue should come together into a united picture, much like visual art but on paper. If Cinderella is dirty with soot stains all over her clothing, and then her stepsisters prance past in new dresses, the difference between them implies their different lifestyles. And if one of those stepsisters kicks over Cinderella’s bucket of water across the floor, it reveals them as wicked.

In other words, the elements of a scene and character—the texture, appearance, and actions taken there—can make all the difference.

Simply incredible.

 

What are your thoughts on implied narrative? Is implied narrative a technique that you, dear visitor, believe should get special focus in a creative writing classroom? Feel free to comment!

Short Book Review: Myths and Legends retold by Anthony Horowitz

Myths and legends, in many ways, are reflections on past cultures presented as fiction. They offer valuable insights into the communities that first spun them—including their beliefs, moral values, and even geography. For instance, Grecian tales abound in gods said to live atop Mount Olympus and support the belief the people in Greece had in physical gods watching them from afar, and who often visited distinct areas in the known world.

With the above said, Myths and Legends (a self-proclaimed “legendary collection from around the world”) bears the proud yet heavy burden of introducing older tales to a new generation of readers. Anthony Horowitz must certainly have felt that pressure in selecting the 35 tales for his anthology, and he does have an impressive range of choices, from better known stories such as “Narcissus (Greek)” to lesser-found inclusions like “Death and the Boy (West African).”

More impressive still is the clear, painstaking care Horowitz put into his retellings of each story. His prose flows along smoothly, and it is easy to follow at all times. Many of the tales are also relatively short and appropriate for children, which makes Myths and Legends a fine myth collection for families to read together.

Other selections from Myths and Legends include:

  • “The Spinning Contest” (Greek)-The story of the young woman who challenges Athena to a weaving contest.
  • “The Wishes of Savitri” (Indian)-A woman stalks Death after her husband passes away, asking for wishes as recompense for her lost (with a surprise twist).
  • “The Stolen Hammer of Thor” (Norse)-Thor and Loki come up with an unconventional plan to retrieve Thor’s hammer from giants.
  • “Given to the Sun” (Inca)-A young boy learns why the Inca people worship the sun.
  • “The First Eclipse” (Japanese)-Includes the Japanese creation myth and gives an explanation as to the first solar eclipse.

Other information:

Publisher—Kingfisher

Copyright—1994

Illustrated by—Francis Mosley

Collections of Stories

I enjoy browsing archives of stories, and thankfully they are in abundant supply on the internet (although nothing beats a visit to a nice physical library). However, below are a few fun and notable places to find a good read:

Folktales and Fairytales:

Horror Stories:

Fantasy and Science Fiction:

General Fiction and Non-Fiction:

 

Want to add to the list above? Please make a comment below!

 

A Call for Submissions to Literary Serenity: The Grad Edition

Hello, CSUSM students and faculty!

Literary Serenity: The Grad Edition welcomes submissions from any writers or artists who would like to share their work. Here is your chance to showcase pieces online for potential employers to see, build your working portfolio and/or resume, and get encouragement or advice from peers. While this site has only been recently launched and is a non-paying publication, you can get free publicity and share your ideas.

Submissions from CSUSM grad students and faculty members in the Literature & Writing Studies department are especially welcome!

General Guidelines:

-Please keep in mind that visitors to this site might range widely in their ages and backgrounds. So please be sensitive with what you choose to submit. For instance, try to avoid explicit graphic material and pieces with a great deal of swearing. Hate speech against any groups or people is strictly prohibited!

-Send all text-based submissions as a single Microsoft Word document (with each piece on a new page).

-Include titles, or working titles, as doing so will make highlighting your work easier.

– Provide a short biography attached as a separate Microsoft Word (either .doc or .docx) file with your submissions to LiterarySerenity@gmail.com. Place “Submission to The Literary Serenity Blog” in the subject line.

Content Formatting:

-Up to 2,000 words for fiction and nonfiction pieces (excerpts and multiple submissions accepted).

-Up to three poems at a time (must be less than 3,000 words in total).

-Photographs and artwork (please send as .png and .jpg files).

[Note]: If you have creative pieces that fall outside of the above parameters, please feel free to ask by commenting below or sending an email to LiterarySerenity@gmail.com.

 

Since this blog is just getting started, there is much room for growth and the shaping of a unique identity. So you if you have suggestions for helpful articles, links, etc. The Literary Serenity Blog might provide, feel free to comment.

In addition, here is a question for possible consideration: How would visitors to this site feel about me setting up an informal, online creative writing workshop on this blog? In other words, writers might submit pieces for the purpose of getting constructive feedback from other people.

Happy writing!

Undertale as Digital Literature: Initial Thoughts

Yesterday I finished a run-through of the Steam platform game Undertale, created by Toby Fox. Of course, even before then I’d heard of and fallen in love with the characters and story—thanks to friends, and then numerous fan animations/comics online. Going into my full experience thus far with Undertale would take a great deal of explanation and digress from the topic hinted at in the title for this piece. For truly, what struck me the most while playing Undertale was that it had all the features of digital literature.

I got introduced to the emerging area of digital literature during a creative writing workshop in graduate school. Our professor there strove to help us understand recent developments in literary studies, on top of the usual feedback and group discussions on our creative pieces as writers. For one of our sessions, he gave us links to the “Electronic Literature Collection,” hosted by the Electronic Literature Organization (http://collection.eliterature.org/), and told us to have fun reading through the texts provided in those archives. In other words, our professor asked us to get a taste of what digital literature included, in its various shapes and forms.

Digital Literature, I found, meant more than placing written narratives online. They were works born from our digital era, which often combined video clips, photographs, music, or other media to tell a coherent narrative. In the “Electronic Literature Collection,” I came across examples of digital literature sweet and simple as Robert Kendall’s Faith—a poem that got revealed bit by bit as you kept clicking the screen—to very complex adventurous narratives like Kate Pullinger’s Inanimate Alice (which deserves its own blog post sometime in the near future). All these texts counted as digital literature, working to tell narratives in unique ways and placing their readers in more of an active role within narrative.

Undertale provides a narrative experience that has all the appearance of a conventional game, at least on the surface. The player (or reader) controls a child character who falls into an underground realm of monsters—sealed behind a barrier there after a war with humans—and must then journey to the monster king’s castle to find a way out. Along the way, the child character encounters various monsters, and must choose how to handle them. But the player gets encouragement almost right away (by a motherly goat monster) to Act or communicate with each monster, rather than Fight them. Choosing to Act often involves reading the dialogue of the monsters in the encounter, learning their motivations (reading comprehension), and choosing appropriate actions to take in order to appease or befriend them. And when the monsters no longer consider the child a threat, they allow the player to Spare them (which is different than simply running away or fleeing from the confrontation; you even still get money from it). By befriending each monster in such a fashion, known as the “Pacifist Run,” the narrative plays out very much like a fairytale.

Treating Undertale like a convention RPG game, however, where the player fights monsters to earn experience points and levels, provokes a “Genocide Run” and a much different narrative. Characters who would have been your best friends in the Pacifist Run turn into often unwilling enemies. Meanwhile, your own child character gradually transforms into a serial killer figure. Rather than simply tell a different narrative about the child triumphing over scary monsters if you choose to fight them, the narrative stresses the player as a destructive force in the underground. An awful creature that the main monster characters (in either run) must defend against. Thus the narrative for player who completes a full Genocide Run quickly spirals into a tragedy.

The focus on narrative that Undertale takes, in the semblance of a conventional RPG game, only scratches the surface of its many layers as a text. But it is one of many features that marks Undertale out as an example of digital literature.

 

What does everyone think? Do you agree with me?

Please feel free to comment below!