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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What Your Hogwarts House Says About You

Get yourself sorted and find out where you belong in the world of witchcraft and wizardry.

Sorting at Hogwarts is a big deal. Being sorted into a house is essentially being placed into a family while you are away from home learning about witchcraft and wizardry. Your house is made up of the people you will live with, go to classes with, play Quidditch with and everything in between. You basically spend 24/7 with them. Your Hogwarts house is your home away from home.

When you get sorted into a house, it is based on your personality traits. The people in your house are typically like-minded people who display the same characteristics as you.

When you’re a first year at Hogwarts, the minute you set foot in the castle you are swept into the Great Hall to have the ancient Sorting Hat placed on your head. This Sorting Hat decides which “family” you’ll be spending your seven years with.

For some, it is very obvious which house they will be in, due to certain personality traits they possess. For others, they may exemplify traits that fit a multitude of houses and are uncertain where they may end up.

To find out where you belong, you can take the official "Harry Potter" Sorting Hat quiz at Pottermore.com. For all you muggles out there, these are the characteristics that the houses possess and what your house says about you:

Gryffindor: The house of the brave, loyal, courageous, adventurous, daring and chivalrous. Those who stand up for others are typically Gryffindors. Brave-hearted is the most well-known Gryffindor characteristic, and Gryffindors are also known for having a lot of nerve.

Gryffindors are people who hold a multitude of qualities alongside the ones listed, making them a very well-rounded house. People who are Gryffindors are often people who could fit nicely into another house but choose to tell the sorting hat they want Gryffindor (there's that bravery). "Do what is right" is the motto Gryffindors go by.

Being a Gryffindor means that you're probably the adventurous and courageous friend, and you are usually known for doing what is right.

Ravenclaw: The house is known for their wisdom, intelligence, creativity, cleverness and knowledge. Those who value brains over brawn can be found here. Ravenclaws often tend to be quite quirky as well. "Do what is wise" is the motto they strive to follow.

Though Ravenclaws can be know-it-alls sometimes, they most likely do know what the wisest decision is.

If you are known for being the quirky friend, the smartest in the group or just great at making wise decisions, you're definitely a Ravenclaw.

Hufflepuff: This house values hard work, dedication, fair play, patience, and loyalty. Hufflepuff’s are known for being just and true. "Do what is nice" is their motto.

Hufflepuff is known as the “nice house” and believes strongly in sparing peoples feelings and being kind. This is not to say that Hufflepuffs aren't smart or courageous. Hufflepuffs just enjoy making others happy and tend to be more patient towards people.

If you ever find that you are too nice for your own good and cannot bear to hurt someone’s feelings, congratulations, you are a Hufflepuff.

Slytherin: This is the house of the cunning, prideful, resourceful, ambitious, intelligent, and determined. Slytherin's love to be in charge and crave leadership. "Do what is necessary" is the motto of this house.

Slytherin is a fairly well-rounded house, similar to the other houses. They are loyal to those that are loyal to them just as Gryffindors are and are intelligent as Ravenclaws.

Slytherin house as a whole is not evil, despite how many dark wizards come out of this house. That is merely based on the choices of those wizards (so if your friend is a Slytherin, don’t judge, it doesn’t mean they are mean people). Slytherins do, however, have a tendency to be arrogant or prideful. This is most likely due to the fact that everyone in Slytherin is exceedingly proud to be there.

What Hogwarts house you’re in says a lot about the person you are, the traits you possess and how you may act in some situations. But in the end, your house is really just your home that is always there for you. Always.

Cover Image Credit: Warner Bros Pictures

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How Art Can Help You Take Care Of Yourself

It's time to go on a date with yourself.


Art is a quintessential part of the human experience: it has something that has been present in human culture beginning from prehistoric times, from when human consciousness first entered the world. It is also something that transcends definition and intertwines with our play of life and the meaning of humanity. Art is an expression of feeling in its most ethereal meaning and "for fun" at its most basic.

Personally, as an Art History minor, art has been a dimension of life for me that I have explored deeply and holds a lot of meaning. Painting is a huge outlet and way to deal with stress for me, and appreciating fine art teaches me about the aspect of history and how all of history is tied together throughout paintings, sculptures, and photographs. It helps me center myself and remind me of the place I hold in this world and the curious aspect personal experience of history. However, art doesn't need to be the stereotypical idea of art: it can be expressed through dance, the learning of a new language, or the coloring of mandalas to ease stress.

The exploration of art and the artistic side of human nature is something that everyone has in them: it's written in our psychology. We have an entire side of our brain that is inclined toward feeling and abstract interpretation, so it's natural to assume that emotion and expression of art are intrinsically intertwined. Thus, experiencing art is a way to personally develop yourself, and can be an unfound way of finding out things about yourself.

Different ways to explore your artistic side can be very easy: as easy as 3rd-grade coloring books, coloring mandalas, or finger-painting. Recently, I participated in a lantern festival and being able to paint a small lantern was an amazing outlet from a stress-filled week and allowed me to express myself through something besides just communication. Writing is also another good way to express emotion and create art: many books are just art pieces, and can be another way to further develop yourself. Additionally, other small fun things like carving pumpkins (spooky season!) or even curating the perfect Instagram profile can be another way to express yourself.

Appreciating the small things in your life as art and self-expression help put you more in touch with yourself, which is easy to lose throughout the mundane cycles of college, work, and life in general. Keeping yourself in harmony and balance might seem like an earthy-crunchy concept, but self-care and self-love are vital in keeping the rest of your life ordered. Being mindful of yourself and your goals is something that I have always have had difficulty with, but working toward learning more about yourself is taking the first step.

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