Most of us have been reading and writing from an early age, but there’s quite a bit of information out there that may stop you in your tracks regarding the origins and stories behind your favorite words, authors, and novels. Let’s take a look at some of the weird, quirky, and wonderful parts about writing and the people behind the craft.
1) Agatha Christie’s Dysgraphia
The famous British crime writer had dysgraphia, a neurological condition that causes people to have difficulties putting thoughts onto paper. So, Christie dictated while someone else transcribed her work.
Try saying that one ten times fast. Or even once at all. Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis (pronounced [noo-muh-noh-uhl-truh–
mahy-kruh-skop-ik-sil-i-koh-vol-key-noh-koh-nee-oh-sis] in case anyone wants to drop this word at a dinner party) is the longest word in the English language and refers to a type of lung disease caused by silica dust. I don’t know who came up with this word, but I would just like to ask them, from the bottom of my heart, why?
3) Fairytales to Phobias
Hans Christan Andersen, the Danish writer most known for tales such as The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid, was also known for experiencing multiple phobias. He was afraid of dogs, didn’t eat pork for fear of contracting trichinae, and carried a rope around just in case he needed to escape a fire. Andersen was also fearful of being buried alive, so before he went to bed, he’d write a note saying “I only appear to be dead.”
4) The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
Some of you may have already heard the sentence above and know that it’s more than a sentence describing an odd scenario. It is actually a “pangram”, which is a sentence that contains all the letters of the alphabet. Go ahead, check if you don’t believe me.
5) Baseball Inspiration
Haruki Murakami wrote his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, after watching a baseball game at the Meiji Jingu Stadium in Tokyo, Japan. It’s said that after he watched David Hilton hit a double, Murakami knew he could write fiction. And that he has most certainly done.
6) Words that Don’t Exist
Dord. No, that’s not a typo. Ever heard of this word? If not, it may because it’s not actually a word. It appeared in Webster’s Second New International Dictionary of 1934 and only showed up in that one edition. So why was it included in a dictionary? Well, it was due to the misreading of a note from Webster’s chemistry editor, Austin P. Patterson. It was written as “d or D, cont./density” and the d or D became “dord”. This results in a phenomenon known as a ghost word. A ghost word is defined as a word that’s never in established usage and results from errors and misconceptions. Abacot (from a misspelling of “a bycoket”), kimes (“knives”), and morse (“nurse”) are all examples of this.
7) Pieces of the Past
One of the most well-known poets, Sappho, is considered to be in the same arena as fellow Ancient Greek poet, Homer. But did you know that only one of her poems is fully intact? She was prolific and wrote at least nine volumes of poetry, but what remains of her work today are fragments on papyrus scrolls. Nonetheless, generations and even more generations to come will be able to immerse themselves in her work.
8) Pen to Paper Meditation
The act of writing has similar effects on our nervous systems as meditation. So, if you have trouble sitting still for very long but want the benefits of meditation, try mindful journaling! Not everything you write has to be at the polished level of the writers I’ve talked about above. Make a list, write a haiku, invent your own words, do whatever makes you feel more okay than you felt the moment before. Writing is one of the most powerful tools we have, so use it!
Got any other fun facts and interesting tidbits? Let us know!
Meet the blogger:
DANIELLE FRANKE is a Senior at Hamline University studying English with a concentration in Creative Writing. When she’s not studying, reading, or writing, you can find her ogling every single dog she sees while out on walks around Como Lake.
During months of self-isolation and quarantine, it often felt as though we had endless hours to spend on our own. A frequently asked question in the last year was “what quarantine hobby did you pick up?” For many of the book lovers out there, myself included, it was a time to finally catch up on the stack of unread books we own. However, no matter how much you love to read, at some point everyone needs a break. Even when taking a break from reading you don’t want to leave the world of literature, then I have the solution for you: literary podcasts!
Even the most seasoned reader can start to feel their eyes strain after hours upon hours of reading. Literary podcasts are the solution to that, as well as for other book lovers who perhaps have long commutes to their jobs. That is why I have compiled a list of awesome literary podcasts on a variety of genres so every reader can find something they would enjoy.
For the Classics Lover:
- The Great Book Podcast: John J. Miller, director of the journalism program at Hillsdale College, hosts this podcast about literary classics of the Western World. Each podcast explores a different book from western literary canon with experts of the genre. New podcasts are released every Tuesday.
For the Romantic:
- Smart Podcast, Trashy Books: Blogger, Sarah Wendell, hosts this podcast all about the Romance genre. In each episode, she interviews a guest from a variety of literary backgrounds, from authors to bloggers, editors to reviewers, and even the occasional librarian. In each interview, they cover different subjects from within the Romance genre, also included in each episode are book recommendations from within the genre. New podcasts are released every Friday.
For the YA Fans:
- Hey YA: In this podcast, the hosts discuss the latest happenings within the Young Adult genre. From book recommendations to current issues within the genre, this podcast covers it all. They are even always on the lookout for the latest film adaptations. New episodes of the podcast are released every Wednesday.
For the Sci-Fi & Fantasy Enthusiast:
- Sword & Laser: This podcast is a digital book club hosted by Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt. Each month the hosts pick a book to discuss and read along with the listeners. Topics also included on the podcast are interviews with authors and other experts of the genre, and news on the latest happenings within the world of Sci-Fi and Fantasy writing, New episodes are posted on a bi-weekly basis on Thursdays.
The last entry on this list is an upcoming genre that is just starting to get more mainstream approval, and because of the recent renaissance, it is having thanks to social media apps like TikTok it had to be included on the list.
For the Fanfiction Followers:
- Fine Pairings: In each episode of this podcast the host reads and discusses a different piece of fanfiction. They cover fanfiction from a wide variety of source materials and offer insights from their own experience of writing within the genre. For the 21+ listeners, there is also the bonus that in each episode they provide the recipe for a cocktail inspired by the fanfiction they will be covering in that episode. New episodes are released every Thursday.
Hopefully from this list, you will be able to find a podcast to enjoy and maybe even get some new book recommendations. All of the hosts of these podcasts are great to listen to and this can be a safe way of inviting some new voices into your space. Happy listening and be sure to share any other great literary podcasts you find with us on Twitter!
Meet the blogger:
ABBIGAIL PRATT was a senior at Hamline University where she majored in English and minored in Philosophy. She graduated in the winter of 2020. Writing for Runestone is her first experience with being published.
Cringe? In MY fairy tales?
It’s more likely than you might think. After all, very few stories age gracefully, I’d go so far as to say hardly any of them do. Fagin is referred to as “the Jew” several times throughout Oliver Twist, there are maybe three female characters in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and don’t even get me started on H.P. Lovecraft.
Okay, fine, I get it. But why should I care about all this Disney crap?
Fairy tales are a serious part of popular culture, and the things that they teach us sometimes have merit, like true beauty includes kindness and if your friends don’t value your labor, you’re allowed to eat them. However, fairy tales also teach us racial stereotypes and harmful gender roles.
I’m not saying that kids will believe anything just because it’s in a fairy tale. Upon finishing the tale of Giselle as a child I had a very quick and illuminating conversation with my mom, in which I posited that the titular character committing suicide “over a boy” was “dumb.”
I was four. Out of the mouths of babes, as they say. Mom agreed wholeheartedly with my position, and we quickly moved on to the next installation in the book of ballet stories. That being said, not everyone has my innate inclination to question authority.
That begs the question, what the folk can we do about it?
Are you one of those splintery fairy tale people, ya weirdo?
As a matter of fact, I am very much a fractured fairy tale person. And why shouldn’t I be? They’re neat. I was always a big fan of Jane Yolen (How to Fracture A Fairy Tale) and Vivian Vande Velde (Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird), so I love a good fractured fairy tale.
But I also love a good retelling. From the gut wrenchingly disturbing (Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples) to the charmingly adventurous (Shannon Hale’s Rapunzel’s Revenge), a complete retelling of a fairy tale is always something I can get behind.
Wait a minute. I thought your whole thing was that kids are more astute than people give them credit for. So why again should I part ways with a rodent’s tucchus for better folk and fairy tales?
Because we can always be better, Subtitle Antagonist Nincompoop. I’m not saying it all has to be smiles and sunshine. After all the practice I did in grade school so that I could kill off my own characters, I would never say that.
I’m saying that lessons can always be taught better. The bad guy doesn’t have to be an anti-semitic caricature. The heroine doesn’t have to be pliant and voiceless. The witch doesn’t have to be ugly. The prince doesn’t have to be handsome.
In fact, I think I prefer it my way. Wacky and upside down, but maybe just a little bit more real.
Alright fine, you’ve convinced me. But that’s not really all that impressive given that I am a figment of your imagination.
Meet the blogger:
ARI STEMPLE is a creative writing student at Hamline. They enjoy drawing, Jane Austen, and Studio Ghibli films. This is their final year at Hamline.
Poetry can feel restricted. Like most styles of writing, it is deeply personal and blooms in solitude. It’s often viewed among the arts as a cold and lonely craft. Musicians can jam, singers can belt, painters can thrash buckets at a canvas, dancers can sweat and sweat as they leap and spin. There are so many ways to express emotion through passion and movement. This cathartic release can be hard to spot in the world of writing.
It would be a joy to see poets wield a similar recklessness and spontaneity. Wouldn’t it be nice to allow ourselves to be angry or ecstatic without worrying about our voices crumbling? Writing receives a wrap as a sport of carefulness and refinement. Long hours hunched over on the keyboard, sharpening phrases on the whet of your mind. For the most part, that is true: and it’s all good and well. But what about when we want to scream? Poetry cannot be uncoupled from emotion, nor emotion from an eventual passionate burst of release.
How can we allow our form of art to be visceral and spontaneous, to release? Is it possible to coax this state into such a careful form? I argue that writing can be as reckless as anything else, if we let it. Writing itself can be figured to be a form of very slow improvisation. Creating sentences out of narratives out of nothing: shaping a language. The process is often tedious and mentally demanding, even if the writing isn’t good. Speeding it up will cause mistakes, to be sure. Writing from some passionate trance might not produce the cleanest syntax, but it might just be interesting. I implore you to leave the tedium for tomorrow and just get some thoughts and (more importantly) feelings onto the page. Write recklessly once in a while! It might not be the optimal practice for blog posts or essays, but as a poet you will be surprised what pieces of language will come leaping out if you do not stop yourself. To aide in this theory, I have gathered some writing exercises to help you channel your ravenous writing beast and let loose:
Most people have played this game at some point. It’s as simple as sounds. Look at something in the room and think of the word that represents it. Then write down the first next word that you associate it with. Just daisy-chain those puppies together, the more tenuous the connection between the two words, the better. This may not get you any award-winning poems, unfortunately, but it can prime your mind to quicker, more spontaneous thoughts. Sort of like those weird warm up games they do in theatre. This lesson plan from Visual Thesaurus goes into depth on how a word association poem might turn out.
Emotion to Object
As a disclaimer, this method comes with certain risks. If I were to continue the theatre metaphor, this would be akin to method acting. So proceed with caution. The goal is to get in touch with your emotions. Which ones are you feeling, or have you felt recently? Concentrate on one clear, strong emotion and whatever makes you feel that way. Once you are certifiably in your feelings, describe an unrelated object or subject in a way that implies said emotion. This exercise is good for making sure we are in touch with our emotional side while writing, as it is an essential tool for expressive writing and can make the creative process more interesting.
This is a very similar exercise as Emotion to Object, but this time thinking in terms of colors and the emotional baggage that they carry for you. Colors are powerful symbols. What does a blue word look like? How about crimson? How can we charge a random object or subject with the emotional content of the color grey? Thinking about colors can help you develop a consistent emotional tone.
This one is scary. But if you have someone you trust to write with, ask them to play a writing game with you. One that I’ve played since I was little is to simply pass words back and forth to form sentences. It seems silly, but if two like minded artists are really attempting to create interesting language, it can yield eye-opening results. Having half of your poem written for you forces you to make choices that you would not otherwise make, to get out of your own mind for once. If you’re curious about writing with friends, the poetry blog Little Infinite goes into more depth on “Collaborative Poetry” and its benefits.
Meet the blogger:
GEORGE HUBBARD is a creative writing student focusing on poetry who is set to graduate with the class of 2022. He is a transplant from small town Iowa, and spends his time exploring the Twin Cities’ record stores, restaurants, and breweries when he’s not studying or in the pool practicing for Hamline Swim and Dive.
We all remember a cinematic moment from our favorite movie, recounting it scene by scene for our friends around the lunch table in high school, but when does anyone talk about their favorite cinematic moment from a book? Hardly ever it seems. Much of this is due to movies being a more prolific medium for having these shareable moments, though as a writer you can also do more to make your engaging story moments stand out even more.
Every aspect of cinematic moments is found in the setup and the presentation. In Marvel’s Iron Man, for example, Tony Stark’s missile unveiling scene in the first five minutes of the film is memorable in its scope and scale. It tells an aspect of the story that could have been done more subtly, but chooses to present it in a dramatically bombastic fashion. This is what good writers can build into their writing through drama, purpose, and most importantly, presentation.
Tension is brought about through conflict, either during or between it. Nothing will have your audience remembering the scene more than having a build-up to conflict. Often it is not the fight scenes in movies and novels we store in our minds, but what precedes them. In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the uneasy and grueling minutes before the last stand at Helm’s Deep is what gives us the excitement for the battle to come. Without Aragorn’s leadership to rally them in those moments, the battle thereafter would be less impactful to the reader. Knowing the stakes of your current conflict, be it major or minor, can help you determine what kind of tension to use for a scene and how much.
Moments with purpose
Having a direction for a cinematic moment in your story can ratchet up the momentum of the plot that your audience has invested in. Every cinematic moment in film tends to have a start and end that emphasizes a point in the narrative. Books can use this technique too, even more so than films in certain aspects as the extra space for exposition can really mold a plot point to the writer’s whim. Using Lord of the Rings as a further example, when Frodo decides to keep the ring instead of throwing it into the fires of Mount Doom from whence it came, it displays a narrative turn for the reader that provides us with an unexpected question. Before, the question was always “will the hero succeed in his quest?”, but now a new question with greater purpose has undermined the first very dramatically; “will our hero actually choose to do the deed and complete the quest at all?”. Changing or further emphasizing the direction of a narrative is part of what creates cinematic moments that feel weighted and meaningful.
It’s one thing to write a cinematic scene, it’s another thing to make it memorable. Knowing how to present your scenes so they match the weight of your narrative is crucial to having your readers, your audience, remember how impactful that moment is for the story. As an example, for a graphic novel series like Brian Lee O’malley’s Scott Pilgrim versus the World, this is done through a lot of tonal setting and organic dialogue. The pages where Scott talks to his sister about his struggles with his love interest and what it means to learn from his mistakes demonstrates great presentation, as the lonely park swing set in the middle of a cold winter evening underscores an already somber conversation. The weight of the narrative is displayed to the reader in a way that emphasizes its importance without being overly heavy-handed or too subtle. Presentation is that stylized layer that makes your cinematic moments truly picturesque.
One last thing…
Before you undertake a cinematic moment of your very own in your writing, be it on a page or a screen, remember that an organic and unique scene will most often pack more of a punch than a recycled story beat. Although they are sometimes needed and writers shouldn’t feel ashamed for using them, coming up with something that you think really gets to the heart of the story you want to tell should be your first priority. At the end of the day, as long as it gives you and your readers that connection you are looking for, you’ve got a great cinematic moment in the making on your hands.
Meet the blogger:
When he’s not bingeing every Marvel movie or finally getting to read an actual book for a change, EVAN HULICK is wrapping up his degree in Creative Writing for Visual Adaptation and Novelization. Bringing printed works like novels and comic books to the big screen or vice versa is his passion, followed closely by heavy bouts of PC gaming and playing DnD with his friends on the weekends. He also pronounces gif with a “j”, puts pineapple on his pizza, and still uses Facebook regularly despite being only 22.