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.
No matter when we’ve begun in our writing careers, we are bound to leave unfulfilled and unfinished works in our wake. Some of them we’ve discarded so long ago that they are nearly forgotten, unless they’ve been unearthed from an old notebook in your childhood bedroom or deep in the files on your computer. Either way, there they are, and now you have the urge to do something with them.
Before making any decisions about what to do with your previous work, read through each one. What parts did you enjoy? Which ones make you cringe? Is there anything that’s hard to understand? Take notes while reading, but don’t change anything yet. If you’re up for it, share with friends or fellow writers and see what they think. From there, you can do some of these four things:
Pick Up Where You Left Off
If you have an incomplete piece, what stopped you from writing it? Disinterest, difficulty writing, and distractions are all valid reasons to leave a story behind, but they can also be resolved.
- Start at a new point of the story, even if it’s just rewriting the whole thing from the beginning.
- Take note of where you grew disinterested. How can you make the story more refreshing?
- Free write or build plot and character design outside of the piece itself.
- Write down how you want the story to end and what it’ll take to get there. Then fill in the gaps of your story.
Destroy the Evidence
Maybe the story came from your middle school vampire obsession phase. Maybe you don’t want to be reminded about the time you wrote a poem about that cute stranger on the bus you were too afraid to talk to. Understandable. You can just move these works to the trash icon on your computer, or throw them in the recycling. Or have a little bit of fun.
- If it’s not already a hard copy, print it out. Make it into a hat. You are the captain now.
- Post it somewhere anonymously, like txt.fyi, before deleting it from your computer.
- Burn it, bury it, or turn it into a message in a bottle. Where you leave it last is up to you.
- Open up the word document and backspace the entire piece until you’re left with an empty page. Then start fresh.
- Cut up the pages into pieces. Use the scraps as confetti or make your own paper.
Reuse and Recycle
Ideas and prose don’t have to be lost in a piece that will never see the light of day. Even if it doesn’t work, you’re closer to a solution than you were before.
- Try an old idea in a new format. Would this fiction piece read better as a play? Can your prose be broken up into poetry?
- Use a notebook or file to keep all your bits and pieces of old writing in. Add to and draw from it when the timing is right.
- Mix and match your works. Try swapping characters and plots of stories, or play around with genres.
- Sort them—chronologically, alphabetically, by genre, or least favorite to favorite. Any exercise that can bring your old works to the front of your mind again will do.
It’s okay not to do anything with your old works. You can ignore every piece of advice this article gives you and start fresh without having second thoughts about your previous works. Just know that there is strength in learning from the past, and it’s nice to reflect on where you’ve started and how you’ve grown as a writer.
Meet the blogger:
EMILY POUPART is a senior at Hamline from Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin. She hopes to go into publishing after she graduates, and enjoys plants, reading, and being indoors.
How My Writer’s Journal Exposed the Toxic Mentality that Almost Made Me Stop Writing for Good [A Personal Testimonial]
I think of myself as a poet and a writer. Well, that’s what I thought pre-pandemic.
In March, when the world reeled back and sank to its knees, I couldn’t find that part of myself among the scattered pieces that had been my life. Suddenly, I couldn’t engage with creative writing. Not my own, and not anyone else’s. Words faded, and the comfort they had given me became dread. Doomscrolling through Facebook took precedent, other reading became unbearable.
Eventually I forced myself to write in freshly empty word documents, but it wasn’t satisfying. Nothing I wrote was worthy of any molding. I often ended up deleting everything. Why couldn’t I just sit down and write even one piece? I felt the phantom of ability skirting every attempt of recapture.
I questioned if I was meant to write. During my struggle, I watched people brag on Facebook about their brand-new pandemic manuscripts, all of them so thankful to finally have the time to give life to their words. I became envious and angry.
Finding poetry, it was like my voice was given purpose. Now, in speechlessness, I was bereft of that purpose. I became unmade, unsure of who I was, this new loss of a core element of character enough to cause distress; in just months I would be in school. How could I continue with my cw major? Could I still be a writer if I didn’t write?
Someone suggested journaling. At first, I discounted it. I had journaled before, but it hadn’t done anything for me. I would dive into it for a few days then leave the sullied notebook abandoned, with only the four journal entries to keep it company. Forcing myself to sit down and write about my “feelings” seemed disingenuous and pedestrian. But I hadn’t tried to keep a *writer’s journal* before. I thought critically about what that was, what it could be.
I decided that a writer’s journal’s definition was my own to create. There were no rules to follow except my own. I think Anita Trimbur’s “3 Things A Writer’s Journal Isn’t” sums it up perfectly; we can do whatever we want.
I decided to buy a fresh notebook and try journaling like a writer.
I asked myself what I wanted this journal to do. I needed a grounded idea that I could turn back to. On July 20th, on the second page, (It’s bad luck to write on the first page) I wrote:
“It is my hope that I can utilize this journal by filling it with scratch thoughts free from the ridged inflexibility of my computer. I’d really like to write more. So maybe a few days a week I’ll crack this baby open and write about whatever. Hopefully, those writings will lead to more writings.”
Over the past few months I wrote in my journal more than 30 times.
Some of those entries are a few sentences long, others more than three pages. What makes my writer’s journal different from a regular journal is the distinct “writer’s lens” I use. Of course, I made up this lens, but it helps anchor me.
I only write about things that are relevant to my writing. I found out that’s anything I want to write about.
I’ve been told many times that as a writer, you need to fall in love with the process, and not the final draft, but until my writing journal, I never felt that way. I realized, by writing through my fears and insecurities about my sudden inability to produce what I considered to be “creative writing”, that I hadn’t had my priorities in order.
When the pandemic hit full force, the bleeding edges of this harmful mentality became exposed. I don’t owe anyone, not even myself, “finished” work. Whatever I write, be it a deep psychological exploration of my developing imposter syndrome, or Taylor Swift lyrics, is valid.
I have drafted more than one piece of work from notes and scribbles, but the key difference between how I used to focus on my writing verses how I currently do, is that I finally understand that even the things that don’t “go anywhere” are still beneficial, simply for the time, expression, and creativity involved in the process.
If I had never started my writing journal or learned from it, I would be a different writer today. If you also use a writer’s journal, I’d love to hear what it’s taught you!
Meet the blogger:
JESSICA ETTA ZICK (they/she) is a poet, essayist, and libra. They hold an AFA in creative writing from Normandale Community College, and they are currently pursuing their BFA in creative writing from Hamline University. They live in Northfield, Minnesota, the town that always smells like cereal, with their partner and two cats, Huckleberry and Valerie.