An 11th Grader Whose Poetry Is Inspiring the Internet

Anyone who says no one likes poetry should talk to 17-year-old Chanie Gorkin.

This 11th-grader from Brooklyn turned a school assignment into a poem that challenges not only how we write but also how we think. The message and the creativity of her poem has made it a viral success. You may have seen it on Facebook or reddit.

“Worst Day Ever?”

Today was the absolute worst day ever
And don’t try to convince me that
There’s something good in every day
Because, when you take a closer look,
This world is a pretty evil place.
Even if
Some goodness does shine through once in a while
Satisfaction and happiness don’t last.
And it’s not true that
It’s all in the mind and heart
Because
True happiness can be attained
Only if one’s surroundings are good
It’s not true that good exists
I’m sure you can agree that
The reality
Creates
My attitude
It’s all beyond my control
And you’ll never in a million years hear me say
Today was a very good day

Now read it from bottom to top, the other way,
And see what I really feel about my day.

If you’d like to read more about Ms. Gorkin, check out “Brooklyn Girl Behind Viral ‘Worst Day Ever’ Poem Speaks Exclusively With 1010 WINS” from CBS New York.

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A Book Festival Sounds Dangerous and Wonderful

Alasdair Peoples’ Are You Going To The Edinburgh Book Festival 15-31 August 2015 ? makes me want to shape my vacations around book festivals and author tours. Not that I needed much encouragement. Anyone want to go to Edinburgh?

But I Love That Scene!

Sometimes you’re writing or editing, and you realize that a scene you’ve written isn’t driving the plot or helping with characterization. It’s not building the setting. It’s not even comic relief. In fact, it’s not doing much of anything except slowing the story down (One might even call it a tangent.).

So take that bit out. What’s the problem?

Well, the problem is that you really like that scene. You’re pleased with the dialogue, you’re proud of the imagery, and you like reading it. You don’t want to let it go.

I’m about to sound like a mother talking to a kid about a broken toy: if you can find a way to fix it, you can keep it. If there’s a way to link it to the plot later or to add some important characterization or even to move it so that it doesn’t feel like it’s slowing the story, then, it’s fine. My only caution is don’t weaken the rest of your story to fit one scene in.

If your story is strong, and it works together, it’s usually best to remove the scene that isn’t working. Especially if you found the problem in a finished book. If you can fix the problem by taking the scene out, take the scene out (Remember – that’s only if it’s not important to the plot, characterization, or setting!).

Now, that doesn’t mean that you delete this scene that you really like. Dialogue, imagery, fun to read – if it’s got all that going for it, why not turn it into a short story? You can send it to a magazine, use it on your website, or put it in a book of short stories involving the same world or characters. You might even write a spin-off novel/novella with one of the minor characters as the new protagonist.

Think of it like a 2 for 1 deal: your story gets fixed, AND you get a new short story to use. Win-win, right?

Deep Dark Public Secrets

As someone writing 3 very different rough drafts in a public forum (twytte), I couldn’t help but laugh (in a good way) when I read Kharis Courtney’s “Writing Scared” article, featuring an Erica Jong quote: “All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you’ll never write a line. That’s why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.”

Oops.

The best part is that one of these three rough drafts is a horror novel about something I don’t know much about (yet), which is the Kharis Courtney’s prompt for today in that same article. Spooky, right?

The Drama of Play-writing

So you have this great idea for a play. You’ve never written one before, but you’ve been to see them. You’ve read them in English Lit. You’ve got the format. All you have to do is reformat your usual description and dialogue. Instead of this:

Prose

You turn the description into stage directions and turn the dialogue into lines. Like this:

Play

Voilà! A simple reformatting, and you know exactly what you’re doing. You’re ready to write a play.

Well, yes and no.

Yes, that is the basic formatting for a play; however, there are 2 facts you should know and accept before deciding to be a playwright.

  1. The stage directions are suggestions.
  2. It will never be performed the way it is in your head.

So… let’s talk about these.

  1. The stage directions are suggestions.

Let’s say that a theatre decides to perform your play. Or maybe you won a competition where your play was chosen to be performed. However it happened, someone is going to be doing your play.

The only parts they have to be true to are the lines.

It doesn’t matter how many detailed stage directions you write. They do not have to follow them.

You see, theatre is all about individual interpretation. The director chosen is going to read the script and get a picture in her head for what the performance is going to be like. If she decides to put your Colonial U.S.A. play on Mars, she can do it. So long as her interpretation makes general sense with the lines the characters say, she more or less has carte blanche.

So why bother writing stage directions?

Not all playwrights do. Oftentimes, when a play is first printed, the stage directions printed with it are a description of what the first production did. It’s there to help other productions get ideas and so that the play is easier to read.

You can still choose to write them. The most important idea to take from this is that if something is important or there’s something you really want to happen in the play put it in the lines. Have someone mention it. Have someone state it clearly. Have it be a question. If Character A says that Character B has a mustache and top hat, Character B pretty much has to have a mustache and top hat.

They have to use what the lines tell them. They can’t ignore the lines the way they can the stage directions (at least, they’re not supposed to).

  1. It will never be performed the way it is in your head.

I hate to say, “never.” Let’s just say that odds are against it.

Many writers have a very specific vision in their head of what happens in the story. What this character looks like, how so-in-so reacted emotionally in this scene, etc. It’s natural – it’s part of how we write the stories.

In theatre, there will be changes.

The actor picked for the lead may not match your vision. That action may be driven by rage rather than sadness. The setting may change completely (more likely in later performances than the original, but you never know). If the timing of something isn’t working, the director may even ask you to change some lines or add a small scene.

Here’s the conflict: the business side of you says, “Sure! Change whatever you want so long as you perform it!” The artist side of you says, “Are you kidding! Stop messing up my masterpiece!”

The old adage, “Pick your battles,” applies here. You have to decide what is important and cannot be changed. My best advice is to defend the parts that are integral to the plot and character integrity and let the little details that aren’t go. If you fight every change, your insistence that it is important to the story will have less power than if you only argue about stuff that truly is vital.

I can’t say these are the two most important facts you need to know about writing a play. For people who aren’t very close to the theatre world, however, these tend to be big shockers. It’s better to know and adjust to them ahead of time so that you’re prepared when the time comes. You may get lucky. The director’s vision may match yours. In case it doesn’t, well, now you know.

Danger! Danger! Homophone Misuse!

A fabulous way to turn off educated readers (and editors) is consistently using the wrong homophone. It’s a simple misunderstanding that could cost big time.

Homophones are words that sound alike but have different meaning. They may be spelled the same or have different spellings. To get started, we are going to focus on two homophone problems that are all too common in English.

I just used one set of them: “to,” “too,” and “two.”

These words are all homophones of each other, and they get misused all the time. “Two” is probably the least misused because it’s the number 2 (think “it has to have 2 to ‘double u’ (w)”).

People switch the other two all the time, but a simple memory device can help.

  • Too” means “excessively” (too much work!) or “also” (let me come, too!)

You can remember this with a memory device: “Too” has too many o’s.

  • To” is a preposition (to the bat cave!) or an infinitive (to fix).

Basically, it starts a verb or noun phrase; however, if you don’t want to focus on verbs and nouns, use process of elimination – if the meaning isn’t “2,” “excessively,” or “also,” you want to use “to.

Another terribly problematic homophone group is “your” and “you’re.”

  • Your” is possessive. The word after “your” belongs to “you (your pen).
  • You’re” is a contraction. It means “you are” (you’re getting better at this!).

These are switched all the time. When they are, people who know the difference either are not going to take you seriously, or they are going to get turned off and stop reading because every time the switch happens, you lose a little credit as a writer. That’s not good in a blog, and it’s even worse in a novel.

To clarify, I’m not saying you can’t make mistakes sometimes. Everyone does, and if you’re posting regularly, you may not have time to proofread too closely. In a novel, you can read it a million times and still find errors. You’re going to mistype words sometimes no matter what. That’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about regularly misusing them – to the point where the reader has to assume you don’t know which is right. That’s an impression you do not want to give. When you mess up a big, complicated grammar rule, people are more forgiving than when you confuse words that are used all the time. If your plan is to succeed without too much trouble, you’re better off learning these two homophone sets.

50 Word Stories: Another Way to Challenge Yourself

Whenever you restrict yourself to a specific form or word count, you’re going to have to work your brain and flex your writing muscles. One of the most famous examples in writing legend (true or not) is the story of Ernest Hemingway writing a short story in 6 words as a bet.

The result?

For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.

How can 6 words convey so much information and evoke such strong emotion?

If you’re not quite ready for 6-word stories, 50 words makes a much more reasonable start. Here’s an example by Richard Ankers: “50 Word Stories: King of Fools.”