How to Write Clearly: Right-branching Sentences

He replaced the receiver in its cradle without answering her, turned off the ringer, and pressed his face into the doorframe. 
– The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

This is a right-branching sentence, where the subject and the verb are at the beginning. Right-branching sentences are great for guiding a reader through an idea with clarity and narrative energy.  

Check out this 76-word sentence: 

He’d solved the problem of family Christmas gifts on the last possible mailing day, when, in a great rush, he’d pulled old bargains and remainders off his bookshelves and wrapped them in aluminum foil and tied them up with red ribbon and refused to imagine how his nine-year-old nephew Caleb, for example, might react to an Oxford annotated edition of Ivanhoe whose main qualification as a gift was that it was still in its original shrink-wrap. 
– The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (Amazon)

Because it began with the subject and verb, we were able to follow along through all the descriptions and details, without losing track of what the character was doing — solving the problem of family Christmas gifts. 

It’s common to keep the noun and verb separate. Many times, we’d begin by describing the subject and then moving to the verb much later on, but by separating subject and verb we increase the possibility of confusion. This delay in important information can be risky depending on the length and complexity of the sentence. 

However, you should not rely solely on right-branching sentences. By using a structure where the subject and verbs arrive at the end, aka a left-branching sentence, you create suspense. 

Here’s this one for example: 

Earlier in the day, while killing some hours by circling in blue ball-point ink over uppercase M in the front section of a month-old New York Times, Chip had concluded that he was behaving like a depressed person.
– The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

Try putting your subject and verb in different spots in your sentence and see how that changes the clarity, tone, and pace of your writing. Feel free to share it in the comments below! 

This article was inspired by the tip from Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark (Amazon).

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What Is Pejorative Language?

Cynthia was on a work trip. Everyone at the office knew it was an exclusive trip to an International conference with their CEO Lou. This was a big deal for those in the paper clip industry. That’s why her best friend at the office, Emily sent her a message, asking about it as soon the conference started. 

“Well,” wrote Cynthia, “the hotel is in a ghetto. You can tell by the lack of restaurants that it’s a complete wasteland.” 

“Oh my,” replied Emily, “that’s sucks. 😆” 

“On the other hand,” wrote Cynthia, “Lou is consistent: he’s as much a Nazi here as when he’s at the office.” 

“ Heh heh! That’s good lol 😋” 

“Yes,” typed Cynthia, “he keeps insisting that I do the presentation for these foreigners,” 

“Hahahaha well,” replied Emily, “I look forward to you having you back next week.” 

“My husband will be glad too,” wrote Cynthia. “He’s such a loner without me.” 

How did this conversation make you feel about Cynthia? Perhaps you thought she was funny. Perhaps you thought she was cynical. Perhaps you thought she was raw and truthful. 

How did this conversation make you feel about Emily? Maybe you thought she was impressionable. Maybe you thought she was overly polite. Maybe you thought she was completely ignorant. 

Pejorative languages wear many disguises depending on the person speaking those words and the person listening. Sometimes called slurs and sometimes called insults, these derogatory words have the ability to morph between the journey from mouth to ear. But seldom does it leave the story untainted, unbiased, or open for criticism. Pejorative languages are blunt blows of words that carry with them the weight of history. Of course, the past is interpreted by the listener and the impact can be weak or it can be excessive. 

 Pejorative language is not kind. Even when made in jest, it’s designed to give a negative impression of the subject. 

  • The ghetto
  • The wasteland
  • The Nazi 
  • The foreigners 
  • The loner 

Pejorative language acts as a negative filter you can place over your text to criticize, disregard, or slander without going into details. One pejorative word, phrase, or clause is all you need to let the listener or reader know exactly how you feel. 

Calling a place a ghetto gives a certain impression of poverty. Calling a person a Nazi is so much more than just saying the person is bossy or authoritative. Calling a person a foreigner is to exhibit a general disregard for them, saying that they’re the other and are unworthy of being recognized. Calling a person a loner is to say that they are pitiful and pathetic. 

These loaded terms are heavy. They say a lot with little. Like a bullet, they are small but they could do a lot of damage. Depending on who’s aiming these words and whose these words are directed at, it can do more than leave a negative feeling. 

Emily sat there reading Cynthia’s message, influenced by her words. Cynthia became a victim of all the horror and oppression of the world around her. She had propagated Emily’s viewpoints. The city she visited was terrible. Her boss was unfairly demanding. The clients were unworthy. And her husband was inadequate. While this conversation, in the grand scheme of things, won’t affect Emily’s perspective on life. However, it will change her perspective for the convention city, her boss, the overseas clients, and Cynthia’s husband. 

There are no wonderful ghettos. There are no terrific Nazis. There is no genuine basis to call someone a foreigner when you are a foreigner. There is no way to speak of loners without attaching a sense of mental ineptitude. Each of these words lands somewhere upon a scale: some are deeply offensive and some merely ignorant. However, one cannot deny that they always leave you with a certain image

These images rest uniquely within each person. These words can trigger the intensity of these images. We all know derogatory terms for people of different races and we know they are not all equal in weight and firepower. Some barely make dents. Some are explosive. 

So when should you use pejorative words? Simple, when you want to insinuate negativity without any control. When your speech or writing requires an emphasis where a punctuation mark won’t do. When you need to sway a viewpoint in a negative direction. When you need to gain sympathy at all costs. 

How do you feel about pejorative language? Do you use it in your writing and speech? Let me know in the comments below. 

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Be A Collector of Your Own Writings and Other Creative Works

During this pandemic, I got obsessed with the show Hoarders (Amazon). This show is full of tragic people and I related with them. I too have hoarding tendencies. I put sentimental values in inanimate objects and find reasons to keep any piece of old thing regardless of how many I already have or whether I’ll ever actually need it. 

When I was young, I collected things. I would collect cards, coins, toys, and programs for events I attended. I still have boxes of newspapers that I’ve written for as a student journalist. If I’m not careful, I’d get carried away with collecting — and have it become hoarding. 

What’s the difference between collecting and hoarding? When you’re collecting, you’re organizing and you’re presenting. You have some system or inventory in place. You can find a piece and showcase it if you have to. Whereas, hoarding is chaotic and disorganized. Hoarding is piles upon piles of stuff. Hoarding is when you don’t even know how many you have or whether it’s in good condition. 

I believe that collecting is an honourable hobby and a fruitful way to spend one’s free time and hard-earned money. In many cases, collecting is investing. Hoarding, on the other hand, is a disorder. Hoarders are not in control of their possessions, but rather their possessions are in control of them. But how does any of this relate to writing? 

As I mentioned, I have hoarding tendencies. Left to my own devices, I’ll end up accumulating one thing after another. Harnessing that knowledge, I decided to collect only things that benefit my life. I asked myself: What things would I not mind having a lot of? The answer didn’t come right away. I had to filter through some obvious ones first: money, property, delicious food. But after that, I wouldn’t mind having a lot of my own work. 

I want a big collection of my writings. I want a big collection of my videos. I want a big collection of my drawings. I want to be a big collector in my creative self. I could do this. I’m happy to create. I’m merging my passions and my compulsions together. I’m using my compulsions to drive my passions. 

Again, what separates collecting and hoarding is organization and presentation. As a collector of my own work, I must have everything properly labeled and organized whether in a physical or digital folder, a paper or plastic box, or on an external hard drive or cloud storage. Having my collection in a place where I can easily access ensures that my life — even if I have a lot of work created — won’t get cluttered. 

The next thing that makes a collector and not a hoarder is the act of showing off the collection. I find ways to present my work whether it’s through the YouTube channel or on my blog or by submitting my work to a publication, network, or contest. The act of showing my work gives the collection a greater purpose than just occupying my time and taking up my space. 

Whether you consider it a hobby or an investment, there are many things you can collect that will give you a broader reason to live. But when what you collect is something of your own creation, that ensures that you’ll always have one person ready to receive your work regardless of what the rest of the world thinks. 

Like a collector of baseball cards or sneakers, when the latest of your work is released, you must have it. This attitude towards your writings, videos, or designs will send positive vibes through you — a rush of adrenaline that collectors feel when they find a rare item. This type of reinforcement will encourage you to show off what you have to the world. You can pick the best and curate those. Who knows, maybe you’ll convince others to collect your work in the future as well. 

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Making A Video As Quickly As I Can

This is a timelapse of me making a video from beginning to end. I love behind-the-scenes content — even if it’s just someone sitting at a desk. Seeing how something is made is such an essential part of learning how to do it yourself, so I thought I’d share my process. 

Also, I’ve been pretty busy recently, so I thought making a video of me making a video would be a good way to kill two birds. 

Writing Script

Writing a script is all about taking an idea and running with it. Don’t overthink, just write. Sometimes I’ll take a break to do some research, but the goal is to get a page and a half of written material. The more — the better. I can always cut what I won’t use. It’s easier to cut during the editing phase than create during the editing phase. So the more you have, the easier the next step will be. 

Editing Script

I realize that each step is all about making the following step easier. Editing can determine whether recording the audio will be a regular painful process or a terribly excruciating process. The editing phase is where you can set yourself up for success and sound smarter than you actually are. Knowing that I’m recording the voice-over after, I make it a habit of reading out loud when editing, which I’m guilty of not always doing. 

Recording Audio

Recording audio is the most draining part. Mainly because there’s nobody around to direct me. Sometimes I don’t know if I’ve said a word wrong or if my tone is off. However, I try to perform the section three times solidly and move on. You must move on at some point, if you’re not careful you can end up working on one paragraph for way too long with no guarantee you’re making it better. Get three good runs and go onto the next part. 

Audio Editing

To be as efficient as possible when audio editing, I’d skip ahead and listen to the last take first and then I compare it with the second last. If one is better than the other, I choose that one. If they’re both the same, I choose the last one. If both are bad, I’d go and listen to the third last and so on towards the first take. The first take is often the shittiest. After I’m done with the voice-over, I then get the music. I’m currently using Upbeat for my music. They offer 10 free downloads every month and that’s more than I need. Give it a shot!

Video Editing

Recording only an audio voice-over instead of a video of my face in full talking-head shot is about 20 times easier. Maybe 40 times because I won’t have to watch myself. Instead I get to scroll through stock footage to fill in the visual content. I use Storyblocks. It’s fine. They can use more footage with people writing, in my opinion. 

Polish and Upload

Lastly, I polish up the edit. This part is all about making minor adjustments and cleaning up the cut. If text is needed, I’ll add that here. If colour correction is needed I do that here. I’d watch it a few times to make sure there are no embarrassing mistakes. I don’t always catch them. Especially if I pronounced something wrong. After I give the imperfectionist’s seal of approval, I export, create the thumbnail, and upload to my YouTube channel

That’s it! That’s my current process for creating a video as quickly as I can. What was the video I made about? It was about editing. You can watch it here!

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Word Counts Don’t Count When You Should Be Editing

I used to joke that the worst thing in my life was that George RR Martin still hadn’t published The Winds of Winter. I have this theory that the last two books in the Song of Ice and Fire series are all finished and he’s holding back the releases because the expectations would kill him. He’d rather spend the rest of his life editing, and he certainly could, because editing is an infinite process, and theoretically the longer you spend editing the better the piece will get. Writing a great book, especially when you have enormous distractions like wealth and fame, or a regular full-time job, takes a long time. 

Some lucky writers churn out books after books, series after series like it’s an annual event, while other writers struggle to get one great short story published in their lifetime. This makes me wonder: what’s happening? Isn’t writing consistently the key? The higher your word count, the more books you’ll write, right? Getting the word count up may be easy for some and hard for others, but regardless of how challenging it is to get the words on the paper, the next part — editing — will be twice as challenging.

When we think of writers, we often think of them in the act of typing, creating the words. But what writers are as well are editors. They need to take what they’ve written, all the words they’ve typed, and polish them up so all together it becomes a cohesive story worth reading. Depending on the project this could mean more research or it could mean rewriting the whole story from a different perspective or it could mean restructuring the plot so it’s no longer in a linear timeline. Whatever editing requirements are necessary — and there always are some — this is where the work truly begins. 

There are days where you will stare at the screen and debate whether you should cut a word or the whole sentence. There are days where you won’t add to your word count. There are days where you’ll be losing words. There are days where you’ll feel as though you are undoing all you’ve created, reversing the time and effort you spent writing. There are many phases where a story can die and from the first to second draft is a common place for a work-in-progress to remain in that status forever. You’ve written yourself into a place where it is futile to even edit. Quitting is the natural solution. 

How do you get yourself out of this hell, save your project, and salvage all the work you’ve done? There is no simple answer to this question. A lot of it will depend on you, but be sure of this, the likelihood of you starting a new project and getting it past this phase is unlikely if you can’t get past this phase this time. Yes, it might be a whole new project and you might be able to write yourself clear of any plot holes, but how can you steer clear of these hazards if you can’t identify and resolve them this time? 

Starting a new project and tracking your growing word count is enticing, especially after you’ve been trapped in your current story, and you’re not seeing any progress or movement. But the time you spend struggling to repair your work whether it be by conducting interviews or participating in a writing workshop or just staring at the screen, it doesn’t matter, these experiences are qualitative. It makes you a better writer by examination. The better you become at reviewing your work and not only composing, but you’ll also become a better storyteller all around. 

Counting words on a page may feel great. Seeing the giant document saved onto your hard drive is something to be proud of. However, your dedication to making it better. Your patience to sit in front of the words you’ve written and look at all of it objectively and not get overly emotional or discouraged will be the greatest power you wield going forward into your writing career. 

Are you failing to see any progress in your work? Check out this article about how to stay motivated.

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How to Write a Scene When You Can’t Picture Everything

A shattered vase lies on the floor. Once beautiful pieces are now sharp and dangerous. The barefooted woman dares not move. 

When writing a story, you don’t need to have the whole scene figured out. To begin, start with an image, something that can ground your reader in a physical place: a shattered vase on the floor. Set the tone: Beautiful. Sharp. Dangerous. Finally, ask a question: Is the barefooted woman okay? 

From that point on, you have everything you need to keep going. You have a space to work in, a tone to follow, and a question to answer. 

There are two types of writers: Plotters and Pantsers. 

Plotters are writers who create a plan before starting. They have an outline, a blueprint, a set of characters, and a clear ending to reach. Plotters are architects. They want to know where every nail fits. Being a Plotter is great. They have a clear direction for their stories and tend to be less burdened by writer’s block. 

Pantsers, on the other hand, are those who write by the seat of their pants. Because there is no plan for the Pantsers to follow they can take their characters in any direction and with this flexibility, they encounter creative surprises and unexpected revelations. 

I find that a balance of both can be the most beneficial. These are the Plantsers. Someone who has an outline to get unstuck, while embracing surprises. 

So, while I may have an outline to tell me what to start writing about, how to actually start the scene is open to possibilities. Sometimes, I’ll have a scene that appears clearly in my head. I could close my eyes, do a three-sixty, and see every detail. All I have to do is pick a place — a description of the furniture, a smell in the air, a sound coming from the floor below — the choice is up to me. 

Other times, the scene is unclear. I know I need the characters to interact in this way to get the plot to the point where I need it to go, but the setting, the tone, the atmosphere, the lighting, the fragrance of the season, all that is unclear. If none of those details are coming to the surface, don’t worry. Focus on the one thing you see, because all you need is one thing to start. It could be the clenching of a character’s fist. Or it could be the words “I hate you!” coming from a character’s mouth. Whatever’s the first image you have, go with it. 

Once you have that first image that’s where the writing fun begins. Like a seed, your story will grow roots below, sprout upward, and blossom out. Your first image will put you on course to creating the tone. Fist clenched. “I Hate You!” This story is starting in an angry place and the question sparks: Who’s fighting? 

No matter how much you prepare, there will always come a scene where the details may be a bit blurry or the character’s motivations aren’t completely clear. What you do then is find that image. This image can be as small as a crack on the floor or as big as a collapsing star. Once you focus on a singular point, your imagination can expand out from there.

It’s hard to translate what seems so picture-perfect in our brain onto paper. But hey — we might not need to. To do so may hurt our story. Even if a Plotter has every detail figured out, putting it all in words can lead to a story being unnecessarily weighed down. That’s why I like to blur the focus of my imagination as I start writing. I know enough to know where I need to take the story, but how I get there, what details of the scene I choose to focus on, that’ll only become clear as I write. 

The image, the tone, and a question to be answered, everything else will surprise you. 

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Who to Write For When You Have No Audience or Readership

At the beginning of your writing journey, you won’t have a following. No audience. No readers. Nobody knows who you are. It’s almost impossible for them to find you. It can be an awfully lonely place at the start, and in this solitude, you’ll ask, “Why am I even writing this? Nobody will read it.” 

Writing is more than putting words on pages. Writing is communicating. To solve the problem of not having a readership, all you have to ask is “Who am I communicating with?” Now, at this point, you might have an epiphany and discover your audience are the children of Mexico or all the pregnant women in their second trimester. If that’s you. Great! All you have to do then is direct your writing efforts towards schools in Mexico or building a pregnancy blog, and in a matter of time, you’ll have an audience. 

But then again, maybe you’re starting out and you don’t have a specific audience in mind. No worries. You don’t need a niche to be a writer. You’ll always have two audience members that you can focus your writing towards. Those two people are You from the Past and You in the Future. 

You from the past: 

Wouldn’t it be great if you could give advice and share your wisdom with yourself when you were ten, thirteen, or eighteen years old? There is so much you can teach the younger version of yourself. 

Think about all you know now that you didn’t know before. There is so much to tell that kid. Your experiences with school, work, and friendships, for example.  

The thing is, there are ten, thirteen, and eighteen-year-olds everywhere. And while some of your stories may come across as a curmudgeon complaining about how things worked “back in my days…”, experiences are also a part of being a human and your personal approach to surviving those moments may help someone else who’s going through something similar today. 

By writing for yourself in the past, you identify which moments and ideas impacted your life. It’s an effort to tell your younger self what really stuck with you after all this time. 

Yourself in the future: 

Memory is a funny, fleeting thing and if you don’t capture it, it fades away or morphs into something that is not what it once was. 

While we can take pictures of ourselves to capture what we physically look like, photography fails in recording what is on our minds. Writing offers that solution. Like time travelling, writing allows you to communicate with the person you’ll become in the future. 

Getting old sucks! However, when you write for the future, you’re passing on a little bit of yourself, allowing your thoughts to travel a little further down the line. The ideas have more mileage. Writing gives memories physical presence in the world for you to revisit when the time is right. 

When you write for yourself, whether it’s yourself from the past or yourself in the future, the act becomes a protest against time. While you’re writing, your memories, stories, and ideas are immortalized. When you’re uncertain who will be reading your work, turn the target inward, and you’ll find two audience members eager to know what the current version of you has to say. So don’t hold back! Let them know what’s on your mind. 

Who would you rather write for? Yourself from the past or yourself in the future? Let me know in the comments below. 

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How to Start a Side Project… And Keep Going

Starting a side project, whether it’s for personal development, creativity, or business, is one of the most rewarding ways to spend your free time. Free time, a funny concept. In a day there’s not much of it, but added up over the course of a year and there is a lot you can do. In a day, you won’t notice much, but in a year, you can look back and see spectacular progress. In a year… that is if you start now. 

Many think starting is the hardest part, I disagree. Starting is exciting! Starting is full of hope. Starting is fun. Starting is the second hardest part. The first hardest part is continuing after things get tough. A month in and you may tire of staying up an extra hour or waking up early to make the most of your free time. Free time isn’t free after all, it comes with a price, and paying that regularly will make quitting something you constantly debate. Winning that debate; that’s the hardest part. 

In the past year, I embraced the side project. In doing so, I’ve learned a few things, some hard skills like narrating an audiobook or drawing in Photoshop, but also some soft skills, such as time management and burnout prevention. These soft skills have enabled me to find time and stay motivated, making my side project a key part of my life, a habit ingrained into my very being. 

If you’re thinking of starting a side project, here are a few tips in developing a process so when the excitement fades, and the going gets tough, it’ll catch you and keep you moving forward. 

Develop a Schedule: 

From March 28 to November 14, 2020, I published 34 videos documenting myself Typing The Great Gatsby. 

Before I started the project, I knew the possibility of me giving up was very high. For the first few episodes, I was looking forward to typing and recording my process, but after the fifth episode (with many more to go), I couldn’t wait for it to be over. 

In order to avoid collapsing and giving up on the project, I decided to publish weekly, every Saturday. The weekly schedule made it sacred. I’m not a religious person, but this was as close as I got to attending church. I had to show up once a week. 

By having a weekly schedule, I could plan for the future. Once you plan for the future, you can anticipate how your week is going to go and ask yourself, “When am I going to do it?” The time for me was often after work on Friday. 

Starting a side project is all about how you manage your time. And one of the easiest ways to manage time is to set a schedule. Whether it’s a daily or a weekly mark, make sure you have one. This can be as simple as something you can track in your calendar. Over the course of many months, you can scroll back and see every time you showed up. 

Little by Little: 

When I was recording the narration of The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, I did a little bit every night to avoid burnout. 

Starting a side project can be exciting and you might get obsessed. However, if you don’t pace yourself, you could end up draining all your energy and interest. If your side project is going to be worth anything, odds are, it’ll take more than a few days to complete. Therefore, doing little by little, bit by bit, day by day, you can get the project to the finish line. 

Spreading your project out over the course of time also allows you to develop a relationship with it. It becomes a phase you go through, a season you can reflect on. 

When I was working on The Metamorphosis, I knew I could find a day, hunker down and record the whole book. If I did that, I would only have one recording session, and that would only be one chance to learn, try, and do. 

Instead, I chose to record a couple of paragraphs each day, and edit them in batches. Each recording session was a whole new experience, with its own challenges, and by overcoming new challenges each time, I learned more. The more times I did it, the more I learned. This experience was the real metamorphosis.

Use a List:

With scheduling milestones and doing a little consistently, working on side projects became a part of my everyday life. Once something becomes a part of your everyday life, you’ll find that you may not have the same amount of free time every day. There are some days where you just need to do — less thinking, less brainstorming — just do. My advice when anticipating busy or tiring days is to have a list prepared. Work off of a list, so that you know what you need to get done today, tomorrow, and maybe even a week from now. 

Earlier this year, I wanted to improve my digital illustration. This was an extracurricular activity that I might not have ample time for every day, yet, it was something I wanted to do daily. Drawing Pokemon allowed me to follow a list, which enabled me to practice without having to be inspired. I didn’t need a muse, I only needed to know which Pokemon was next on the list to draw. 

Pokemon is an easy choice because all those critters are numbered. If you aren’t pursuing anything that involves Pokemon, you’ll have to develop a long list of your own and work your way through it. Little by little. Once the list is done, evaluate your experience. Ask yourself: is this something you want to keep doing? If the answer is yes, make a bigger list. If the answer is no, you finished it, you can hold your head up high and pursue another side project. That’s the beautiful thing about a list, eventually, if you’re disciplined with your scheduling and your little by little, you’ll get to the end. 

In life, we only have so much time, and we shouldn’t waste it dreaming. If there is a project you want to tackle, don’t wait. There won’t be a perfect time. You’ll have to squeeze it into your real life, your main project. 

As I mentioned, consistency is the key — not getting started — however, in order to remain consistent when things get hard, how you start and how you prepare will make all the difference. So remember, make a schedule, pace yourself, and follow your list. Before you know it, time will pass and your side project will be done. 

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20 Great Quotes on Writing From Aldous Huxley & George Orwell

We are currently living in a dystopian reality, where it seems that fact is stranger than fiction. It’s gotten so weird that many writers have thrown up their arms in defeat, saying, why bother?  

In these strange moments, there are two writers we can turn to for inspiration as we attempt to navigate through these rocky days. 

Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World (Amazon), and George Orwell, the author of 1984 (Amazon), lived through their own troubling times. And in their experiences, they’ve created works that eerily predicted scenarios that we are living through today. While one saw a future where we are consumed by pleasure, the other saw a world imposed by fear. 

Yet, we are somewhere in between now, rolling from one end — our addictions to the other end our phobias. Writing allows us to recognize these temptations — these traumas — and how we respond to them. While we might not be able to write something that will honestly capture the moment or even rival it in uniqueness, we can write to understand our own perception of these crazy times. 

Today, we are going to look at 10 quotes each from these iconic authors and find insights into their creative process.

Aldous Huxley:

  1. Writers write to influence their readers, their preachers, their auditors, but always, at bottom, to be more themselves.
  1. Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.
  1. To write fiction, one needs a whole series of inspirations about people in an actual environment, and then a whole lot of work on the basis of those inspirations.
  1. A bad book is as much of a labor to write as a good one, it comes as sincerely from the author’s soul.
  1. I met, not long ago, a young man who aspired to become a novelist. Knowing that I was in the profession, he asked me to tell him how he should set to work to realize his ambition. I did my best to explain. ‘The first thing,’ I said, ‘is to buy quite a lot of paper, a bottle of ink, and a pen. After that you merely have to write.’
  1. I believe one would write better if the climate were bad. If there were a lot of wind and storms for example.
  1. I write everything many times over. All my thoughts are second thoughts.
  1. I’ve never discussed my writing with others much, but I don’t believe it can do any harm. I don’t think that there’s any risk that ideas or materials will evaporate.
  1. Perhaps it’s good for one to suffer. Can an artist do anything if he’s happy? Would he ever want to do anything? What is art, after all, but a protest against the horrible inclemency of life?
  2. Every man who knows how to read has it in his power to magnify himself, to multiply the ways in which he exists, to make his life full, significant and interesting.

George Orwell:

  1.  If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.
  1. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.
  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
  1. I do not wish to comment on the work; if it does not speak for itself, it is a failure.
  1. Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. 
  1. I do not think one can assess a writer’s motives without knowing something of his early development. His subject matter will be determined by the age he lives in … but before he ever begins to write he will have acquired an emotional attitude from which he will never completely escape.
  1. To write or even speak English is not a science but an art. There are no reliable words. Whoever writes English is involved in a struggle that never lets up even for a sentence. He is struggling against vagueness, against obscurity, against the lure of the decorative adjective, against the encroachment of Latin and Greek, and, above all, against the worn-out phrases and dead metaphors with which the language is cluttered up.
  1. The actual writing would be easy. All he had to do was to transfer to paper the interminable restless monologue that had been running inside his head, literally for years.
  1. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
  1. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

Interested in more writing quotes? Check out what Kurt Vonnegut or Haruki Murakami has to share.

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How to Write a Tragic Character: Frank Grimes

Today we’ll be exploring one of the most tragic characters in the Simpsons canon, Homer’s Enemy, Frank Grimes. Frank Grimes or Grimey appeared in what many consider to be one of the darkest episodes in all of The Simpsons. What made episode 23 of season 8 so unique and unforgettable was that the Frank Grimes character actually represented a normal person (a hardworking, persevering American everyman) stepping into The Simpsons Universe. Frank Grimes is most of us. 

But what was it that made Frank Grimes so relatable yet so tragic? It was the shape of his story.

Charting characters’ journeys through a story is a good way to ensure they don’t stay stagnant.  This can be done by monitoring how the character moves up and down the rankings of fortune. What happens to this character? What does he or she do from beginning to end? And do those events and actions yield something good or something bad? 

In a 2004 lecture, the author of Slaughter-House Five, Kurt Vonnegut showed the variety of shapes a story can take on a graph he drew on a chalkboard. On the vertical axis (The G-I axis) top represents good fortune for the character (they get a promotion, they get married, or they win a championship) and at the bottom ill fortune (they get sick, they get fired, or they lose everything in a hurricane). On the horizontal axis (The B-E axis) the left is the beginning and the right is the end of the story. 

Using this graph we can see the story of Frank Grimes unfold more clearly and recognize how to use triumphs and failures to build a character. 

Frank Grimes’ life begins like any other somewhere just above good fortune for having been born. Yet early in his story, he is stricken with bad luck. At the age of four, Frank Grimes was abandoned by his family. Orphaned at such a young age, this set his life into a downward trend. 

At least he gets a job, but he doesn’t rise up far, for it’s a job as a delivery boy, delivering toys to richer more fortunate children. Fortune continues going down for many years until his 18th birthday, when Frank Grimes is blown up in a silo explosion. The bottom falls out and we find our character as low as he’s ever been. 

Grimes recovers, slowly rising upward, and begins learning to hear and feel pain again. Gradually he climbs using his leisure time to study science by mail. Seventeen years past since his accident, working hard and persisting, Frank Grimes finally crosses the line from ill fortune into good fortune. At 35 years old, he received his correspondence school diploma in Nuclear Physics, with a minor in determination. He experiences a blimp immediately after this as a bird tries to steal his diploma. 

A week after, Frank Grimes’ fortune soared higher, when his segment in Kent’s People aired and Mr. Burns sought to hire him as the Executive Vice President of the Power Plant. Now, if Frank Grimes’ story was to end here, it would be a true underdog story, a man starting at zero and rising to the top. However, in this episode, this is where the story really begins. The story begins with Frank Grimes at his peak and we see how quickly his fortune reverses. 

Grimes spent no more than one full day at the pinnacle of his fortune. The next day Mr. Burns watched another segment of Kent’s People, this time about a heroic dog, and had already forgotten about the self-made-man. 

Having been put out of the way, Grimes begins a slow decline into madness. First with Homer touching his pencils, then calling him Stretch and eating his special dietetic lunch, then destroying his pencils, and finally being annoying and shirking his job, especially when there’s a Five-Thirteen,  

Even as annoying as Homer is, Grimes doesn’t fall below origin, that is until he saves Homer’s life, knocking a haphazardly placed beaker of sulphuric acid out of his hand into the wall, melting it completely. This just so happens as Mr. Burns is walking by. Things drop significantly, when Mr. Burns doesn’t terminate Grimes, but gives him one more chance, at a reduced salary. Grimes is not at rock bottom, things aren’t worse than when he was caught in the silo explosion, but it’s a dramatic turning point for Grimes, who wants nothing more to do with Homer. 

As bad as Grimes’ life is living in a single room above a bowling alley below another bowling alley and working a second job at the foundry, things don’t get any worse, until Homer tricks him to come over to his palace for an extravagant lobster dinner and to show off his perfect family. After seeing all of Homer’s achievements, going to space and winning a Grammy, the floor falls away and Grimes nosedives, but catches himself when he storms out after calling Homer a fraud. 

In an effort to get even, expose and disgrace Homer, and get some positive fortune, Grimes fools Homer into participating in the Children’s Nuclear Design Contest. Things were looking good for a short moment, but then, Homer hit his car on his way home to work on his design. All of that would be fine, if Homer is embarrassed on stage, but his plan fails and Homer wins the competition. This time, Grimes is unable to catch himself. Losing his mind, he mimics Homer self destructively, causing a scene and eventually electrocuting himself to death. Grimes’ life ends at a new low point. To accomplish all he had and to end up so disrespected, Frank Grimes’ character journey truly represents the tragedy of the American working class. How hard working people can overcome so much and still implode upon themselves. 

Yes, Homer’s Enemy is a dark episode, but it’s also one of the most memorable ones, because when we watch The Simpsons, in reality, more often than not, we are in Frank Grimes’ shoes. We all face good and ill fortune, that is what makes a character relatable. If you want to create your own character that experiences profound change, I recommend plotting their life on a story shape graph. Make sure they face good and ill fortune through their lives. Then choose a starting point. In the case of Frank Grimes, the story starts while he’s most fortunate. Maybe that’s a good place to start the story of your tragic character as well. 

Do you want to see the shape of a story for another famous character? Let me know in the comments. It can be from a movie, television show or literature. I’ll do my best to make it possible.

My favourite episode of The Simpsons is Lemon of Troy. It’s arguably the best written 22 minute of television. Allow me to explain. Read the article here.

For more writing and editing inspiration and stories, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only works that I’m most proud of.