5 Rules For Creative Writing (And Life)

5 Rules For Creative Writing (And Life)


Most of who we are and how we view the world was shaped during our years in high school. In most cases, a person is able to pinpoint singular experiences, classes, and teachers that helped mold who they are today.

For me, that class was creative writing and that teacher was Mr. Carboni. Not only was I taught how to write, but I was taught how to live, how to be.

Every year, Mr. Carboni introduces the "5 Rules for Creative Writing." Of course I would silently argue that there shouldn't be any rules because writing is an inherently personal craft, but they were taught for a reason: to make you better, to make your writing stronger, to make your critiques more focused, and to make you more aware of the kinds of things that will affect your readers. And so I came to embrace the rules, utilizing them in my writing during high school and now in college, as well as editing and grading with them echoing in the back of my mind.

Not only did these rules serve to show me the basic foundations of writing, but they became a framework for how I live my life.

1. Great First Sentence

In Writing: If your work doesn't have a great first sentence, the reader isn't going to want to continue. There are exceptions to this rule, obviously. Sometimes a "great" work doesn't have a great first sentence, and sometimes really bad books lure you in with nice ones. And of course, there is debate surrounding what constitutes "great" but it's a "I know it when I see it" kind of thing. The point of this rule is to, essentially, save your work from being put down. You want the reader to feel invested from the very first word, and not like their time is being wasted.

In Life: I've always been an opinionated (and one could say "confrontational") person. My problem is that I either blurt out my opinion because my anger has bubbled up inside of me, or I take a while to actually get to my point. I'm learning the art of being direct, concise, and calm, and I believe this starts with how you open in your discussion/conversation/debate/etc. Make it known that you are confident, educated, and passionate. The "great first sentence" is meant to keep people engaged, to make them want to continue. No one is going to want to continue a conversation if you're either brash or bashful right off the bat.

2. Write with Style

In Writing: Again, this goes back to keeping your reader invested and engaged. You have to make what you write matter. And you have to say it in a way that nobody else has before. No one wants to read the same old generic "Mary Sue fell in love with a vampire" crap anymore. But if that's what you want to write, find a way to separate your story from every one that has come before it.

In Life: It's hard to be original and unique in this world, and everything we do is influenced by something, however minute. But we can still have a distinct style, a distinct way of making people feel. You could have been the push someone needed to pursue an education, you could have been the difference between life and death for a friend on the edge, you could have been the catalyst for bringing two people together, you could have done and influenced a million and three different things because of the distinct way you've chosen to live your life, and that's what living with style means.

3. Tell the Truth

In Writing: This rule doesn't mean that everything has to be realistic fiction and boring, but it does mean that it should be believable. When you place the reader in the middle of a story, in the middle of a world they don't belong in, you have to make it real and whole and abide by the logic dictated by that fictional world. Sometimes this doesn't fit the idea you had when you started out, but stories truly do take on a life of their own, and it is your duty to tell it and to tell it truthfully.

In Life: There's a difference between fact and opinion, but just because something isn't a fact doesn't mean that it isn't true. Everybody has their own "truth," their own set of beliefs that define their perspective on the world. Tell your truth, commit to your convictions, live your life. Live in your truth every single day and don't attempt to imitate a truth that isn't yours. Your truth can change and evolve, but make sure it's still yours, and keep yourself rooted in whatever you choose.

4 The Bigger the Issue, the Smaller You Write

In Writing: The example used to teach this rule is typically death. You don't want to spiral into some philosophical mania about the meaning of life and death and what our purpose is and how to leave a mark on this world. The purpose of writing is to connect with people, to make them feel something. Write about the first time you experienced death, whether it was a grandparent or a pet or a squirrel in the middle of the street that your mom ran over. The goal is to make the writing relatable, even for someone who has never experienced what you're writing about. Writing in circular, superfluous prose does nothing for your reader. Keep the writing grounded; write small.

In Life: Don't try to be an expert in everything just because you took one philosophy class. Solving the world's problems isn't as easy as you might think. Keep things in perspective. Start with yourself. Then your family and friends. Your school, your community. Keep expanding outwards but don't neglect your inner circle and especially don't neglect yourself. Root yourself in your reality and instead of talking a big game, do something within your power and then you'll be able to expand your power. You can't affect change on a large scale until you start with the small scale stuff.

5. Show Don't Tell

In Writing: This is perhaps the hardest rule to learn, and the hardest to teach. To me, showing has always been a facet of inserting the reader more wholly into the story. It's about making the world and the people and the experiences real for them, to take a piece of your soul and nestle it between the pages for the reader to find, and for the reader to in turn leave a piece of their soul next to yours, because they went on an adventure with the characters you conjured up from the depths of your brain that didn't exist until you made them real. Telling is boring; telling is when you list actions and reactions, where each sentence could be given its own line because it's not a story, it's a to-do list, a how to. We're told things all day long, how to dress, how to act, what to eat, when to show up. We want to be shown a world of magic, a world of adventure. Sell me on your writing, on the reality that's only real because you made it so. Don't tell me, "He swung his sword." Show me how the sword glints in the sunlight as he wields it in an arc above his head. Don't tell me "She loved him." Show me how her stomach was in knots but her head was finally clear when he spoke to her. Telling is a summary; showing is an experience.

In Life: This one distills into an "actions speak louder than words" lesson. Don't tell me you're kind and loving and caring, show me. Live your life as an example. It does no good to preach to me if you don't take your own words to heart and live your life by them. I don't want empty promises and half-baked proposals; I want to be shown what you and the world have to offer. And I will show the world what kind of person I am by living up to what I claim to be, instead of begging you to take my word for it. Take me on an adventure, don't just tell me that they exist.

I've written and lived by these rules for six years, since I was a tiny, quiet freshman in high school, unsure about her talent or what she stood for. Now, I know I'm not the best but I know I'm good, and I'm talking about myself both as a writer and a person. Through these rules, my writing became stronger, as did my heart. I grew into a leader, a teacher, and was no longer the shy freshman but eventually the knowledgeable senior, and now a sophomore in college bent on learning and teaching as much as I can. And when I teach my students the Five Rules, I hope they take as much away from them as I did.

Cover Image Credit: Right Nerve

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Dear Shondaland, You Made A Mistake Because April Kepner Deserves Better

"April Kepner... you're not average"

I'll admit from the first time we were introduced to April in Season 6, I didn't like her so much. I mean we hated the "Mercy Westers" in the first place, so how could we see the potential in the annoying, know-it-all resident that was trying to compete with our beloved Lexie Grey.

But then, we saw her come face-to-face with a killer and thought maybe she had potential.

We then saw her surprise everyone when she proved to be the next trauma surgeon in the making and we were intrigued.

Notice how none of these stories had anything to do with Jackson Avery. Not that we didn't love her with Jackson, but for whatever reason you've chosen to end their very popular relationship. Suddenly, you think that April is not worth further exploration but you've forgotten one simple thing. We fell in love with her before "Japril" was ever in the picture.

We love her because her story was unlike the others and she had one of the best character developments on the show. She wasn't damaged like Meredith Grey or Alex Karev who have been on their journey to become all whole and healed, but she still had to fight hard to be taken seriously. Her story has so much potential for future development, but you've decided to throw it all away for "creative reasons."

I'm sorry, but there's nothing creative about doing the exact same thing you've done to all the other characters who have left the show. We've endured the loss of many beloved characters when you chose to write off George, Henry, Mark, and Lexie. We even took it when you did the unthinkable and wrote McDreamy out of the show - killing off one half of the leading couple. (WHO DOES THAT???)

But April Kepner? Are you kidding me?

She may no longer be with Jackson, but she was so much more than half of Japril. While most of us hate that Jackson and April are over, we probably could have dealt with it if April was still on the show. Now they're done and you think there aren't any more stories to tell about her character. Why? Because she'll just get in the way of Jackson and Maggie?

How could you not see that she was way more than Jackson's love interest?

She's so much more than you imagined her to be. April is the headstrong, talented trauma surgeon no one saw coming. The farmer's daughter started off an ugly duckling who became a soldier because she needed to be one and turned into one big beautiful swan who constantly has to fight for her coworkers and family to see her as such.

She's proven to be a soldier and swan on many occasions. Just take giving birth to her daughter in a storm on a kitchen table during an emergency c-section without any numbing or pain medication as an example. If she wasn't a soldier or a swan before, how could she not be after that?

Yet, you - the ones who created her - still see her as the ugly duckling of a character because she always had to take the backseat to everyone else's story and was never allowed to really be seen.

But we see her.

She's the youngest of her sisters who still think of her as the embarrassing little Ducky no matter how much she's grown.

This swan of a resident got fired for one mistake but came back fighting to prove she belongs. Not only did April Kepner belong there, but it was her talent, her kindness, her strength that made her Chief Resident. This simply wasn't enough for Dr. Bailey or her other residents so she fought harder.

She endured the pressure but always ended up being a joke to the others. When she was fired yet again, your girl came back a little shaken. She doubted herself, but how could she not when everyone was against her.

Despite everyone telling her she couldn't, she did rise and no one saw her coming because she remained in the background. She went off to Jordan broken and came back a pretty risky trauma surgeon.

We've watched for years as she was handed promising stories that we never got to see fully develop because she was in the background. We never got to see her rise. We get the beginning and the end, but hardly ever the middle.

I thought we were finally going to have an amazing story arc in season 11 when she loses Samuel, but what did we really get? Two or three episodes of her coming to terms with the loss of her baby and then April's disappearance from the show while she's grieving off screen so that Dr. Amelia Shepherd can shine her first season on the show. Where is April's life-changing surgeries? What does April get? She's background music.

Now what?

It's season 14 and we finally get the story we've been waiting 9 years for! We get Dark April and her crisis of faith. A story arc all Christians can appreciate. Here's the chance for real character development in the foreground, but wait...

Before her story is even wrapped up, you announce that this season will be her last. So we're forced to realize that the only reason we're getting this story now is that you're writing her off.

No matter how you end it, it's not going to do her story justice. If you kill her off to end her crisis of faith story, you're not reaching the many Christians who watch the show. If you have her leaving Seattle and taking Harriet with her, you didn't know April. If you have her leaving Seattle and abandoning Harriet, you really didn't know April. So anyway you choose to end her story, you lost out on one great character.

You messed up.

Both April Kepner and Sarah Drew deserved better.

Cover Image Credit: YouTube

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The Gaslight Anthem Is Getting Back Together, At Least Temporarily

After being on hiatus for nearly 3 years, the New Jersey punk rock band is reuniting for a summer tour.

In 2005, four edgy Garden State-based musicians collaborated to form The Gaslight Anthem. The following year, The Gaslight Anthem had its first gig at a small collectibles store in Somerville, New Jersey, performing mainly covers and unmastered originals.

Despite failing to gain notoriety during its first two years of existence, The Gaslight Anthem weathered the storm, hoping that its first full-length album, “Sink or Swim", would capture the attention of punk fanatics and critics alike.

“Sink or Swim” served as the band’s breakthrough in New Jersey’s highly competitive punk rock scene. Independent music critics embraced “Sink or Swim” for its gritty lyrics and unwavering fluidity. Drawing comparisons to Hot Water Music frontman Chuck Ragan and legendary rock and roll icon Bruce Springsteen, TGA lead-guitarist Brian Fallon exhibits maturity on this album, showcasing boundless energy track in and track out.

Unfortunately, I was only eight years old when “Sink or Swim” was released. Even worse, I didn’t find out about The Gaslight Anthem until SIX YEARS LATER.

Yup. I remember playing NHL 13 on the XBOX 360 for the first time and coming across a catchy, fast-paced tune as part of the game’s soundtrack that I couldn’t help but bob my head to. “Hey, turn the record over. Hey, I’ll see you on the flip side.” The singer’s voice was grizzled yet melodic, dark yet optimistic.

After falling in love with “45", I decided to delve into some of Gaslight’s older projects. “Sink or Swim” is a rollercoaster ride saturated with emphatic backing vocals and strumming guitars, while “The ‘59 Sound” allows listeners to view adolescence from Fallon’s perspective as he reminisces through a series of nostalgia-induced tracks.

It didn’t take long for these guys to become my favorite band.

The first and only time I ever saw The Gaslight Anthem live in concert was at the PNC Bank Arts Center in September 2014. I’m not exaggerating when I say that was one of the best nights of my life. Headlining one of the largest venues in New Jersey for the first time, TGA did not disappoint.

I am forever grateful for Brian Fallon who, in front of his hometown fans, went above and beyond in his performance. It was like I was stuck in time; I never wanted that concert to end.

Nearly a year later, however, TGA announced its indefinite hiatus. I hate to say it, but I kind of saw it coming. “Get Hurt", the band’s most recent studio album, lacks crucial elements that previous albums contain. The songs on “Get Hurt” are slow and do not possess the lyrical content necessary to make up for their sluggishness.

Nevertheless, I was devastated by this news. My favorite band, EVER, was breaking up. This was a nightmare I’d never wake up from.

As time progressed, I gave up any hope on a potential TGA reunion. Each member of the band was off working on other projects, and none of them seemed determined to get the band back together in the near future.

Then something happened.

It was early January of this year. I was home for winter break and had slept until 2 PM, which seems about normal for me. I read through the notifications on my phone in a groggy daze. Hmmmmm. My brother mentioned me in a Facebook post. What could it be?



I couldn’t contain my excitement. I was like a little kid on Christmas morning. The Gaslight Anthem, the Dimestore Saints, Bruce Springsteen’s children. They’ve returned!

Days later, TGA also announced that it would be conducting a summer tour to celebrate the ten year anniversary of “The ‘59 Sound”. Miracles do come true.

As I sit at my laptop writing these words, all I can think about is Brian Fallon and his love for Maria and classic cars and movie screens.

Don’t bother me on June 2, 2018. I’ll be too busy basking in the presence of tattoed punk deities, also known as The Gaslight Freaking Anthem.

Cover Image Credit: bdcwire.com

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