Recently, I was able to get my hands on a series of creative writing craft books that have tips on writing setting and characters, which are some of the most important parts of a story besides plot. Here are some of my favorite books from the series, and a little bit on how they help writers.
The Emotional Wound Thesaurus This is one of my favorite books in the series because I like to write stories and characters with emotional depth. This book mentions many emotional traumas that you might not have thought of, such as family issues and financial struggles. This book shows the signs or reactions when someone has these traumas but remember that everyone acts differently. I’ve been experimenting with this book in the series for writing stories.
The Negative Trait Thesaurus This is my second favorite book in the series because it shows how to balance positive characteristics out with imperfect traits to make the character’s more realistic. It gives examples of negative these traits from other stories in literature and gives you multiple ways to convey them in your own story. There is a partner to this book, “The Positive Trait Thesaurus,” which like this book gives personality traits, but focuses on the positive side.
Urban Settings Thesaurus– This is my final favorite book of the series because of all the possible settings that the book gives you that you may not have thought of. The book gives you sensory details for each of those places and tips on how to make your setting more unique. This book also gives you ideas on how to have conflict in the different types of settings.
All of these books come with worksheets and valuable information in the front and back of the book, such as tips and advice on how to make your writing better or stronger. This is how I learned tips and tricks for writing my characters and setting. You can get these books in a hard copy format or the pdf versions.
Showing and not telling is a tip every writer has heard. But how do you show emotions through characters without telling? Here are four helpful tips!
1. Vocal Cues– Shifts in the character’s voice can show/hint at their emotional state. This can be especially good for secondary characters as the story is not in their point of view. You can use hesitations, a change in tone, or pitch to show these signs when writing a character’s dialogue.
2. Body Language– How our body responds to events can be a hint of how we feel. The stronger the emotion the more our body reacts uncontrollably. When a character is angry, they may shake their leg without noticing, or when a character is disgusted, they may scrunch their face up or gag. These show your character’s emotions without having to tell the reader explicitly.
3. Thoughts– Mental responses can be how someone shows emotion. It can also show how a character sees the world. Showing a character’s thoughts on a situation is a powerful way to show the character’s feelings. If a character is depressed, has anxiety, anger issues, or is simply happy this can show be portrayed through internal monologue or thoughts. This can also help show the voice of a character.
4. Visceral Reactions– These are reactions inside of the body: faster heart rate, adrenaline, etc. These are triggered by certain things that can happen in the character’s world. If a character in your story is kidnapped and they are in the middle of an escape plan and they hear footsteps, their heart rate may go up in fear or adrenaline may course through their body. Everybody feels these types of internal sensations so the readers will be able to connect to the character.
These are some ways that you can show your emotions through characters without having to tell how your character feels.
When we write settings there are a lot of things to consider, such as location and time. But what if you want to use setting to bring more life to your story in and make it seem more then just a place? Here are three tips that I learned for writing setting.
When writing setting think about how your descriptions appeal to the five senses. What does the character taste, see, smell, hear, and feel? Maybe your character is in the park enjoying some fresh air. Does your character hear birds chirping or dogs barking? Are the seasons changing and they can see patches of snow that are still on the grass? Is your character stopping to get ice cream or maybe chewing gum? Appealing to the five senses gives life to your writing, which makes you and your readers feel connected with your characters
Does the setting provide background information to your story that is crucial for the plot? Maybe your character grew up in the same village in the story. What kind of memories does it trigger? Setting can trigger flashbacks for your character that can provide information to drive your story forward or about a character’s past or present. Maybe your character isn’t in a neighborhood they grew up in. Your setting can have similar surroundings, statues, or any other physical element that can spark a trigger for backstory whether it be a hidden backstory or a visible backstory
Setting can also characterize people in your story. Is your character in a dangerous situation and they must stay strong to survive? Does your character act a certain way because of the backstory and/or things that happen in your setting? Maybe your setting gives the character an idea, or a sudden change of heart that changes the direction of your story. Setting allows us to reveal attitudes, beliefs, and emotions about the character. Setting also can be a way to express what is happening to other characters in your story that may not be able to be seen through your character’s point of view. For example, if your character is at a gathering you can use the setting to show other character’s perspectives or actions.
Next time you are writing setting, try to include one of these elements in your story.
Writing is meant to be read and what better place to read your work then an open mic. Last week, Wideners Creative fiction class hosted a virtual open mic on zoom. One may worry about the awkwardness of staring a screen, wifi acting weird, or nerves from having to read their work to a bunch of alumni, current students, and faculty. No matter the problems one could have on a virtual open mic, it didn’t stop the community of Widener creatives to share their love for the arts as they kept the encouragement alive with the zoom chat and reactions features. Even though quarantine kept us away from being at Widener, the hospitality of our MC Stefan Cozza made us feel like we were back home at our Widener Pride. Below our host Stefan Cozza shares his experience about Wideners open mic event. – Ciana Bowers
Considering I am an English/Creative Writing Major, one might assume I have been to many open mics before, but this is actually not the case. Honestly, the introverted part of myself was surprised when the words “I’ll do it,” came out of my mouth in response to the question “Would anyone like to volunteer as the MC of the event?” Nonetheless, once they were out, they were out, and there was no turning back. Being that we’ve all been in Quarantine together for months now, simply being part of an event was enough to unleash the butterflies in my stomach. This wasn’t a bad thing; it was beneficial more than anything. Now more than ever, we have to create meaning in the small things.
There’s extra anxiety associated with hosting an open mic over screens; a plethora of issues can arise and the whole thing can descend downhill in a matter of seconds. Magically, the event could not have gone better. Perhaps it’s the loneliness, but the support encouragement was palpable from the audience. In a traditional open mic setting, applause is held until the end of a reader’s piece, and comments and questions are left until everyone has had their opportunity to present. In a virtual environment, if the host allows it, the chat is available the whole way through, allowing audience members to hype up the speaker as they are reading. I was pleasantly surprised by just how lively the chat was, and how easily the spectators lent their kind words.
As the voluntary MC of the event (MC, for those unaware, means Master of Ceremonies), my duties were to introduce upcoming readers and hand the event back over to the host after everyone had presented. While these were simple enough responsibilities, I felt I needed to personally address each reader after they presented. Maybe I was getting too big a head, but I kept imagining I was hosting the Academy Awards and needed to throw in my two cents here and there. I was up to my shoulders in anxiety, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from trying to make the most out of my job for the night.
Luckily for me, the words slipped out of mouth before I had the chance to overthink what I was going to say. Every single reader took command of the stage and had such an assertive poetic voice; it was wonderful to hear so many people be vulnerable and open with the audience. For those who have never attended an open mic event, this may sound melodramatic, but it really was the case. Poetry and creative writing are very personal crafts, they’re an up-close representation of the author’s psyche, and that in and of itself carries an important emotional component. I did my best to send each reader off with my own praise, trying to highlight what parts I found specifically endearing or effective. Hopefully, no one felt their response was lacking in comparison to anyone else’s.
Apart from being the MC, I was nudged to present a poem of my own. On top of this, I was pinned to perform first, a request which I happily (as well as nervously) accepted. Amazingly, reciting your own poem, while nerve-wracking, is a very cathartic experience. Even though my poem was amongst the shortest of the night, it still felt substantial. As I said, poetry is personal, and that is what makes it such a growing experience. With an open mic event, the audience is there to hear your work; they want to hear what you have to say. Presenting your voice to a respectful and accepting environment is an incredible experience. It not only gives the reader experience on how to act and perform, but it makes them feel that what they are speaking is valid and important. And at the end of the day, that is all anyone wants to feel.
When it comes to creative writing tips and resources, Reedsy has been a recent obsession for me. Reedys offers a variety of free (and some paid) resources for creative writers. Below are my two favorite parts of the website.
Ready’s blog feature is my favorite tool from the website. The blog feature has many ‘how-to’ articles and tips that help writers that want to know how to make their writing more effective. These blog posts come with free templates and outlines that you can download and keep in your creative writing stash. One of the recent templates I’ve downloaded is the ultimate world-building template which allows you to build you story’s history, setting, and characteristics. This template is perfect for science fiction writers!
Another favorite of mine from the Reedsy website are its writing prompts. It gives various writing prompts in case you need a boost of inspiration for your next story or if you just want a prompt to free write to. If you do decide to write a story based on their prompts, you can send in the story for free for a chance to win a cash prize!
While Reedsy has many other resources that I love, like a book editor, character name generator, and more, I’ll leave the exploring to you. Next time you’re searching the web, click the link below and check out the free resources they have for writers.
October is a month for spooky fun, costumes, tricks and treats. Want a treat? Writers Helping Writers is hosting a free zoom webinar to celebrate their fifth anniversary.
One Stop for Writers is a website that holds many creative writing tools for writers, such as character generators, plot starters, setting builders and so much more. This month, in honor of their anniversary, they are hosting a free zoom webinar about character building on October 14 at 7 pm. They will show viewers how to use the character building template on their website and give all viewers a free one month subscription instead of their usual two week free trial.
Unable to attend? Your sign up won’t go to waste as they will send the video recording of the webinar to your email.
Issue 24 (September 2020) features undergraduate writers from Central Michigan University, John Carroll University, The Ohio State University, SUNY Geneseo, University of Central Florida, and University of Oregon, plus an interview with poet/musician Sadie Dupuis. Thanks to all contributors for your patience during the Covid19 delay!
Dear readers and contributors: Thanks very much for your patience. We are putting the finishing touches on Issue 24, which has been delayed due to the Coronavirus. We plan to have it out in the next week or so. We are currently reading for Issue 25, which will come out in Spring 2021. Submit your best poetry and prose by March 1, 2021.
Due to circumstances related to the Coronavirus, we need to push back the release of Issue 24 to the Fall of 2020. Our hope is to have it up by the beginning of September. We sincerely apologize for the delay.
Widener University had the pleasure of hosting local poet Sadie Dupuis as our visiting writer earlier this semester. Not only is Dupuis a passionate poet, she is also the self-described “frontdemon” for the popular indie rock band Speedy Ortiz, serving as the band’s lyricist, guitarist, and lead vocalist. She also released a solo musical project in 2016 named SAD13. In her most recent collection of poetry, Mouthguard, Dupuis expresses a consuming desire to understand the world around her and the place she occupies within it. Referred to in an interview with Rolling Stone as “a sly cycle of loss and renewal” and in Marie Claire as “nostalgic and familiar,” Mouthguard seems to be the meeting point of humor and self-exploration. Dupuis uses imagery that stretches the boundaries of language. Her poem “Move in with Me” opens with the lines: “And my underwater sculptures / made out of brain / the cold of the blue ocean.” The startling truths featured in her poems comprise just a fraction of the wealth of perspective available to Dupuis. In the titular poem “Mouthguard,” Dupuis writes: “I am very qualified / to discuss myself / in my wrongness / if personal mythology / is interesting to anyone.” In that, Dupuis harnesses the root of why all writers should write: because perspective is subjective and unique, and there is always someone who benefits from hearing it. Her poem “This Message Is for Sadie,” opens on the line: “Who is looking slash feeling / And never remotely understands / Messages she leaves herself.” To me, this perfectly summarizes the hopefulness that pairs with self-doubt, and reflects the courage Dupuis puts into her poems and subsequently, into her readers.
If you’d like to learn more about this Philadelphia-based artist, check her out on social media @sad13, or at her website sadthirteen.com. Her most recent publications can be found in Blush Lit.