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.