Tag Archives: creativewriting

Anthropomorphism: An Animal’s Tale

By: John Peebles

“The tale of an animal is one worth telling because it is so vastly different from our own.”

Tell a story about a man, then change the man to an animal, and the story changes dramatically. The main character is not the only thing that has changed, but how the story is written. The reader is constantly aware that the main character is not human, which adds a level of surrealism and fantasy to the story. When writing about anthropomorphic animals, the author needs to consider how the animals’ natural abilities, instinct, and biology affect their development as characters, the setting, and interactions with those around them. An author can imagine and study a specific animal’s behavior but never know firsthand what the experience is genuinely like, that they must project their ideas and characteristics onto the character. The projection of the characteristics of human subjectivity onto animal sentience and behavior is called anthropomorphism.

Animals in literature cannot be written the same as human characters because the story is being told from a different relationship and perspective to the world around them. For example, Watership Down by Richard Adams tells a story through the perspective of the rabbit characters. The story would be much different if told by a human observer who only objectively describes the animal and their actions. To write this story, Adams has to imagine the thoughts and feelings of the rabbits as they struggle and progress through the plot. These elements include their limited knowledge of the world around them, their basic biology, and simple behaviors such as running and eating.

What is Gained by Using Anthropomorphic Animals as the Characters in Literature?

Writer, Juliet Kellogg Markowsky, describes four reasons for anthropomorphic writing: 

  1. Identify. The first is being “to enable young readers to identify with the animals”. Knowing what the animal is feeling and understanding their behaviors in a specific way allows for the reader to empathize and engage with the story, which leads to Markowsky’s second reason, which is escapism.
  2. Escapism. “Escapism must be looked at not only escaping from a reality, but as escaping to a new form of reality which an imaginative author can provide.” . 
  3. Variety. The third reason Markowsky describes is “an author can develop a great variety of characters in a short book with a few words if an animal is used to express attributes commonly assumed to represent the creature” . This can be done in various ways depending on which attributes are taken from the animal including an animal’s natural intelligence, physical ability, and even what they eat. 
  4. Humor. The fourth of Markowsky’s reasons is humor. “Animals who are caricatures of certain types of people are funny to adults and children alike.” This is common in cartoons and movies.

Recognizing the Differences in Animal Characters, Just Like Human Characters

Anthropomorphizing animals creates a problem in literature due to the fact the author cannot know the actual thoughts or feelings of the animal themselves, so they must imagine what they would be like based on pre-existing human thoughts and perceptions. This is important for writers to understand when using anthropomorphic animals or any non-human creature in a story because, just as not all humans are the same, the animals differ even more, especially when considering factors such as species and breed. A larger breed of dogs will act differently from a smaller breed and be treated differently by those who come in contact with it. Each character differs from each other because of the animals’ biology, natural demeanor, and how they are perceived by the other characters they interact with throughout the story. The conflict between those who eat meat and those who are eaten will also be considered when writing a story and how that affects the plot.

How Do You Properly Anthropomorphize an Animal in a Work of Literature? 

As previously stated, the author has to look at what the animal’s real-world biology is and adjust their behaviors and attributes from there to fit the story. While this is not a hard rule, it is important to consider when writing anthropomorphic characters.

There are basic worldbuilding elements that are critical when writing these kinds of stories. A characters’ psychology for instance such as a carnivore’s desire for meat and an herbivore’s fear of death are two popular traits used when telling a story about anthropomorphic animals. How does a wolf’s desire for meat affect them in a world where such actions are considered taboo and murder? What alternatives are there for such cravings or are such actions acceptable such as eating meat?

Biology

Biology is also critical when using animals as characters because the author must remind the reader that the character is something other than human through the use of behaviors and terms associated with the animal. Examples of this would be wagging tails, flapping ears, rising and falling fur, clacking of hooves, and scratching with claws. An animal’s enhanced sense of smell, sight, and hearing are ways of developing the plot and allowing feats to be accomplished that normally couldn’t be done with human characters. How often and how these traits are used is a good way to demonstrate that the character is something other than human and how they fit into the setting. An animal’s strength or size is a good way of adding tension to a story such as a bear’s large size making them harder to interact with smaller more delicate animals. This brings in the subject of prejudice against certain species or animals because of their biology which is commonly seen in stories, the most famous example being George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Society

The animals’ society is the final point when dealing with anthropomorphism and this gets back to the world building mechanics and setting. This can be summarized into one question, who is in charge? Are the strongest on top or is there a system of equality for all species? Are those who are the most intelligent in charge like in Animal Farm? Orwell’s novel is a good example of using an animal’s distinctive and natural traits to build a miniature society. Dogs are loyal to their master; some animals are more intelligent than others while the larger ones are tasked with doing the heavier work. Then you have to consider humans and how they fit in with this animal society? Are they friend or foe? In my opinion, it is important to have both humans and animal characters coexisting together whether it be as enemies or friends. Having a human element in these types of stories adds a level of realism and allows for the reader to latch onto something within the story.  

Some Things to Avoid When Writing Anthropomorphic Characters

There are pitfalls when using anthropomorphic characters in literature. Relying on cliches and stereotypes can become a crutch as well as r the reader’s engagement with a particular character. Simply telling the reader what type of animal a character is but not using any of their traits defeats the purpose of using the animal as a character in the first place. While there is no rule that says an animal character needs to act or exhibit animal behaviors to be a character, not having those traits takes away the animals’ unique qualities and lessens their role. Another pitfall I will mention is simply stating an animal’s traits inaccurately. When using animals as characters, it is crucial to have an understanding of their biology so not to make simple mistakes that a quick internet search could point out.

Why Should You Use Anthropomorphic Characters in a Story?

Is it worth going through the trouble of ensuring that you as a writer are portraying each animal accurately and respectively? In my opinion, it is worth it. I already stated Markowsky’s reasons for using anthropomorphic animals in stories, but now I want to state mine. Having animal characters allows for a way to tell a story through an artistic lens that simply cannot be told with human characters or aren’t as engaging. The struggles of characters with problems that humans cannot begin to understand because of our different biology. Anthropomorphism allows for an entirely different method of storytelling.hile it is a common practice in literature, it is not as well known or appreciated as many other genres and writing styles. The tale of an animal is one worth telling because it is so vastly different from our own.

Works Cited

Markowsky, Juliet Kellogg. Why Anthropomorphism in Children’s Literature? Elementary

English, vol. 52, no. 4, 1975, pp. 460-466.

 

 

John Peebles received his MAW from Coastal Carolina university and is pursuing a MFA in Creative Writing at Converse College.

 

Feature Photo by Daniel Tuttle

Always Having Something to Say, But Never Having Time to Write It

By: Shanta Brown

” Writing was and still is my calm and happy place.”

As an undergrad at Converse College, I wrote a lot outside of my regular homework assignments. Nothing would come between me and my writing, not even my roommate begging me to come hang out. Writing came so natural to me, like breathing. Whether I was having a good or bad day, I would write. Writing was and still is my calm and happy place. All of my family and friends should be thankful for this! 

Fast forward to almost 20 years, I have a husband, 3 kids, and a dog. I was like: Writing? Who, what, when, why and how? 

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

I must pay homage to all the wives and mothers who have mastered the art of living and writing! At first, I didn’t know how. Honestly, I’m still trying to figure it out, but I’m learning. Slowly, I had allowed my happy and calm place to disappear. Of course, it didn’t happen overnight nor was it intentional on my part. However, it happened and by the time I noticed, it was too late, or so I thought.

Professors. They Do More Than Teach. 

Thankfully, Professors Rick Mulkey and Susan Tekulve kept their eyes on me. Even though I was no longer their student, they invited me into their friendship circle. I’m forever grateful for that. They always made sure to invite me to reading and writing events. Along with them and my forever writing friend, Kathryn, writing remains a part of me. Even though I neglected it, the talent I have for writing never left me. I continued going to readings, but not writing; or editing someone else’s work; but not writing. At the time, I didn’t realize writing was slowly wooing me back. Even while attending readings and editing others’ work, my mind was full of poems that were not yet written – I just didn’t know it.  

Dear Me…

I’ve always had something to say. My husband will totally vouch for this. Looking back on this journey, I’m inspired to write a note to my 20-year old self and to my future self. 

Dear Poet Shanta,

Yes, you are, and are going to be. I know right now that it doesn’t look like it, but you are going to write your heart’s desire on paper. The change you wish you to see, you will write about. Writing loves you, and you love it. However, you two will break up for some years before reuniting. Please know that this time apart will be necessary. You will need to grow into your many roles: adulthood, womanhood, and motherhood. These roles will be your rearview mirror, your connector – linking your upbringing to your future. I know that you can’t see it, but I can. Whatever you do, just keep internally speaking. I promise you that when it’s time, you’ll be ready. Writing will come back to you, and you’ll get that same flutter in your stomach, and even in your soul, to grab that paper and pen, and you’ll start to write; because you know that you have a lot to say!

The Takeaway

So, for those of you who were bitten by the writing bug like me, I want to leave you with a small token of encouragement. Be satisfied with each stage of life that you live, and when writing makes its reappearance in your life, HOLD ON and WRITE ON!

 

 

Shanta Brown is a poet who writes about her strong southern family roots. She is an MFA candidate at Converse College. She’s also a Junior Poetry Editor at South 85 Literary Magazine. She was also recently selected for a Converse College MFA Graduate Teaching Assistantship to begin Spring 2021. She resides in Spartanburg, SC with her husband and three children.

 

 

Feature Photo by Andrea Piacquadio.

The Practice of Prompt Writing

By: Hannah Marshall

“A prompt delivers a nice, packaged “triggering subject” from which to write…”

I used to hate prompts, their artificial sentiments bullying their way into my writing. Before I enrolled in the Converse College MFA in Creative Writing, I almost never used a prompt to jumpstart my writing. I believed in order for my writing to be pure, it needed to emerge organically. I wanted to freely write poems from my life experience, the words falling from the ether and onto the page. But you know what? Even back then, I used a prompt for pretty much every poem I wrote. I just didn’t know it.

The Magic of the Naturally Occurring Prompt

I used to always spend the beginning of my writing time reading a book of poetry, whatever was on my list at the time. I’d read maybe one poem, maybe ten or twenty, and then I’d have the sudden urge to write a poem of my own. These poems were responses to what I’d read, and though I didn’t have a written prompt, it was the words on the page that prompted me. I’d read something like these lines from “The Mother’s Apple” by Li Young Lee: “The blossoms give themselves to the wind. / Who will I be given to?” and I’d need to speak into the subject myself.

Sometimes, I’d be out in the world, doing life: walking by Lake Mendota, shopping for groceries at the local co-op, or changing my infant’s diaper, and I’d have that URGE to write a poem. These prompts were situational, brought on by events, but they were still prompts. Perhaps I’d see a Norway maple so yellow I could taste its brightness. Write it down! Or my baby would look at me in a way that I’d never been looked at by anyone before, her helplessness, her complete trust. Write about it!

The thing is, these situations take time and space to develop. I don’t have epiphanic moments every day, not even every week. And I don’t always get sparked to write when I’m reading someone else’s poems. I like to be in conversation with other poets, but sometimes it comes out in more subtle ways than, I must write about this same topic right away!

When the Magic of the Muse Is Not Enough

When I started writing more frequently during my time as an MFA student, I realized these occasional “natural prompts” were not numerous enough to sustain the number of poems I needed to be writing. I knew I needed to get over my illogical disdain of the writing prompt.

Sometimes, writers have dry spells. For me, however, I’ve discovered “dry spells” are simply times when I’m not being externally stimulated to write. These times, more than ever, I need prompts.

Benefits of Using Prompts to Write

Prompts are a way to artificially stimulate the writing process. And it’s okay that it’s artificial! I don’t need to know where I’m going when I start a poem, but I do need an inciting idea. Prompts provide that for me. I’ve found this quote from Richard Hugo’s book The Triggering Town to be very true in my own writing: “A poem can be said to have two subjects, the initiating or triggering subject, which starts the poem or ‘causes’ the poem to be written, and the real or generated subject, which the poem comes to say or mean, and which is generated or discovered in the poem during the writing.” A prompt delivers a nice, packaged “triggering subject” from which to write towards a “generated subject.” When the poem is finished, it’s impossible to distinguish between a poem I wrote from an artificial prompt and one I wrote from a natural prompt, because in both cases the prompt gave me a triggering subject. Once I got going, the generated subject revealed itself and might have little or no clear relation to the triggering subject. Thus, in edits, the lines about the triggering subject are often deleted, and the prompt disappears altogether.

Where to Find Good Writing Prompts

Now, post-graduation, I have not given up the practice of using prompts for my poems. I have books full of prompts, which I would recommend to any poet needing help: The Practice of Poetry, edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell is pretty much 100% prompts and writing exercises. The Poet’s Companion, by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux, has excellent writing advice as well as great chapter-end prompts. Poets & Writers posts prompts for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry on their website weekly. The latter recommendations are especially good for days when you really want to immerse yourself in a prompt and maybe learn something along the way!

This time of the year is my favorite for writing prompts. Two years ago, I began participating in NaPoWriMo—National Poetry Writing Month—which happens, of course, in April, National Poetry Month. The “official” NaPoWriMo website posts a prompt each day for the entire month. I write a poem each day all through April, and I find that the constant production is great for my poetic muscles. It also forces me to move out of my usual subjects and write about unexpected things. I turn to researched poems about historical and biblical figures, or to bits of interesting scientific or medical news. I discover new tools available on the internet to spark interesting triggering subjects. My poems become more experimental because, since I’m writing a poem every day, I don’t feel pressured to have each one be good.

I have embarked on my third year of writing a poem each day for the month of April, and I’ve been looking forward to this since February. It’s now become a ritual of spring for me, a time of growth that coincides with the waking of the natural world. And I’m a prompt lover now, fully converted to the practice of using whatever works to write myself toward the next good poem.

 

 

Hannah Marshall, Poet

Hannah Marshall lives in south-central Illinois, where she works as the advising editor for the literary journal The Scriblerus. Her poems have appeared in Poetry Daily, New Ohio Review, The Madison Review, Anglican Theological Review, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Converse College.

 

Feature Photo by Tyler Nix.

Businesses Need Poets and They Don’t Even Know It

By: Zorina E. Frey

“Poetry and business writing are the Capulets and Montagues…”

Poetry is under appreciated by the business industry. It is not recognized as the staple of rhetoric its serves in our language. It’s overlooked as a hobby and not as the true literary artform it is.

Working as a copywriter, I can’t tell you how many interoffice pings I received from digital marketers and even C-level executives asking me to brainstorm some catch phrase for one of our clients. Being the poet I am, I didn’t hesitate to quickly ping back a list of options for them. It wasn’t until I joined a writing team for another company did I realize when writers aren’t strong poets, coming up with catchphrases doesn’t come naturally.

The Business of Writing Poetry

There is a disconnection between poetry and business writing. So many marketing agencies don’t realize they need a poet to be part of their writing team. Likewise, many poets may not realize their talents are needed outside of academia. Poetry’s carpe diems rhetoric breaks the rules of traditional business writing. On the other hand, business writing’s formal rules seem as though it quells poetry’s creative rhetoric.

Star-Crossed Rhetoric. If That Isn’t Poetry, I Don’t Know What Is.

Poetry and business writing are like two people who hate each other but are secretly in love and neither one of them wants to admit it. It’s as if these two writing artforms come from separate worlds but are essentially one in the same. Poetry and business writing are the Capulets and Montagues—star-crossed lovers destined to be together even though the world wants to keep them apart.

Are we good on the similes and metaphors?

These two literary forms can’t play nice together because of disapproving outside influences in their respected genre. Business writing has its traditional writing rules and poetry has a bohemian existence that thrives in academia. “Both academia and bohemians are perceived to live outside the economic and social systems…” (Gioia 107). However, every television commercial, radio podcast, company social media post, ecommerce product, and even electoral slogans signify a poetic voice.

There is a give and take on both sides. The poet must conform his or her work to traditional styles of writing and business writers need to make room in their rhetoric for the bohemian artform. The payoff—especially for the poet will result in a broader spectrum of professional writing options while businesses benefit from more insightful and rich content that can better appeal to a person’s senses.

Infomercial: Got Poetry?

When I worked as the lead copywriter for a digital marketing agency in Miami, our staff met twice a week for client updates and to discuss creative ideas. In a nutshell, the ideas involved searching for the right string of words to convey a client’s message that had to be clear, concise, and witty. What they were asking for is poetry.

When I worked as a content writer for a restaurant supply company, the team would spend up to 45 minutes agreeing on the right type of wording for an Instagram post. When it came to writing product descriptions for the company’s website and Amazon, the type of verbiage we were expected to produce had to complement the visually appealing product photo. This is also poetry.

When You Find That Writer, You’ll Know

Wouldn’t it then, make sense for employers to take a second look at their writing team, recognize the poets and give them the credit they deserve? Not every writer is a trained poet, and not every poet is a trained writer. There are writers whose skillset is strong with grammar. Another writer might be good at monologue and scriptwriting. Another writer may be strong at research, collecting facts, and reporting them. Then you have the poet who is pretty damn good at descriptive storytelling. For businesses that are lucky enough to have a writer who’s good at all these things, hold on to that writer. Hold on to that writer tight, and never let that person go.

 

Works Cited

Gioia, Dana Gioia. Ways of Living. Can Poetry Matter? Graywolf Press, 1992

 

 

Zorina E. Frey

Zorina Frey is an MFA candidate at Converse College from Miami, Florida. She’s published in the forthcoming Chicken Soup for the Soul: I’m Speaking Now, Shondaland, Writing Class Radio, Filter, and Michiana Monologues. Zorina holds a BA in Journalism and a certificate in web design from Indiana University. She also has a literary publishing certificate from Emerson College.

Zoom

Writers’ Conferences in the Age of Zoom

By: Russell Carr

“The online conference surpassed my expectations.”

Writers need community. We read each other’s work, give feedback, and help each other grow. It’s also nice to know there’s someone else out there struggling alone at a desk, holding you in mind. Many people find such communities at writers’ conferences, so much so that there are hundreds throughout the country. I enjoy them because I usually receive the best feedback on my short stories and personal essays within conference workshops, and I also gain friendships with fellow writers. Even though I’m usually shy around people I don’t know, I always enjoy mingling with a crowd of writers. They get what I love to do. Conferences also give me the opportunity to hear lectures from leading writers and educators. By the end of a long weekend or week, I leave tired but motivated. At the beginning of 2020, I planned to attend at least two writers’ conferences during the upcoming year. But by late February, COVID-19 changed my plans. I’d like to share my experiences with a few conferences, without naming names, during this time of social distancing and cancelled gatherings, and offer some lessons learned that might help you decide whether to attend one in the age of Zoom.

In the before times, 2019, one of my friends attended a writers’ conference and loved it. She encouraged all of our mutual writer friends to apply for the conference in 2020. Most, if not all, of us who applied were accepted into it. We joked about a conference takeover, but our goals were really so see each other in person again and to learn from other writers.

Then the pandemic hit. The conference was to be in the May. In March, the organizers held out hope to still have it, but soon many states were shutting down. They cancelled the conference, with the plan to return in 2021. Of course, we were all disappointed, but understood. At that same time, schools that had shut down were scrambling to figure out how to continue. Zoom was just beginning to be used for classes. Understandably, the conference didn’t want to enter that experiment so soon after the pandemic struck. We all hoped to attend next year.

I’d also signed up for a summer writers’ conference separate from the one with my friends. I’d discovered it the prior summer. Then, it had been a nice adventure.  It was about an eight-hour drive from my home, so that meant ten days without the usual work and home responsibilities, which my wife supported (Thanks again, Liza!). Being there without any friends meant I made many new ones. There were the conference regulars, some of them having attended ten or more summers and joked that it was their adult summer camp. There were other first-timers like myself and those in between. And then there were the faculty and staff who were very friendly and approachable. What I liked about it was just how laid back everyone who attended or taught at it was. I ate with different people every day. I stayed in a dorm, single room, and within a few days, I was having scotch every evening with a new friend there. During the day, I attended great lectures and readings, discussed them with new friends, and received great feedback on my own writing in workshops. By the end of the ten days, I knew I would return for more in 2020.

After the first conference I’d planned to attend with my friends was cancelled, I feared my summer plans were lost also. But even as the early struggles with transitioning to online meetings and school continued across the country, the summer conference organizers announced that they wanted to try an online version. Watching the troubles my son was having with online school, I was skeptical. But I decided it was worth trying, at least to get the workshop experience and lectures. I was nervous as the first day it approached. I didn’t like the idea of my experience depending upon my technology skills or the whims of my broadband.

The online conference surpassed my expectations, but it wasn’t the same as in person. The organizers did a great job getting the technology set up and sending out explanations about accessing each activity. My workshop was outstanding, among the best I’ve participated in. All of us did accidentally interrupt each other at times, but we were sensitive to that risk with Zoom and allowed for it. Occasionally, connections froze, but that didn’t stop the overall momentum that the workshop leader established and continued through hours of discussion. She told us that she’d led a workshop with Zoom through an MFA program’s summer residency a few weeks earlier, and her experience showed. The lectures were also great, and there was the added perk that I could turn off my camera. Then I could stand up, walk around, check my phone, but still listen and not distract anyone.

But there were some limits that no one could change. The conference tried to encourage participants and staff to hang out after hours in Zoom meeting rooms. People did, but, with the limits of online technology, only one person could speak at a time. If there was someone I wanted to talk with individually, I could reach out through private chat, or leave the group meeting room and call him or her directly. Also, I missed the meals with random participants and instructors. So, outside of workshop, it was difficult to make new friends. And because of limited ability to have individual conversations, I don’t know nearly as much about the people I did meet: their opinions they won’t share in a group, how they stand while they talk, what they like to drink or eat, or even their heights. All the body language. We connected, but didn’t.

As the pandemic continues, we all have to take what we can get when it comes to social interactions. Fortunately, everyone is learning more about using online opportunities and how to adapt them to our expectations and needs. I encourage you to continue to seek out connections through those writers’ conferences that are still happening, even if you don’t leave your desk to attend them. Online conferences also offer new opportunities. With so many of them moving to an online format, this can be an excellent time to attend ones that have been too far away, such as overseas or ones on the opposite coast of America from you. Their online versions are also cheaper, since they don’t have to include room and board.

Some things to look for, in my opinion, are how the organizers plan to conduct online workshops and lectures. Will the groups for workshops be smaller than their prior in person ones, for instance, so all participants can talk more easily in them? Do the organizers have experience with online programs, such as also participating in MFA programs? Lectures can still happen in large groups, but beware of ones that are described as large discussion groups, panels, or question and answer sessions. Those can prove very difficult to participate in. Will the times fit with your schedule, including a difference in time zones? The conference might start late or early to accommodate time zone differences. Will there be breaks between events? I found that I needed more time away from the computer screen than I needed between in-person sessions. If the conferences is still meeting in person, which I don’t recommend, how do they plan to implement safety precautions? How does that change room and board for the conference?

While we all wait as the vaccines are being distributed, I hope to meet you at an online conference!

 

Russell Carr

Russell Carr is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in private practice in Maryland. He has a BA in Russian Literature from UNC at Chapel Hill, an MD from the University of Tennessee, and an MFA from Converse College. He recently retired from the United States Navy after twenty years of service. He was the review editor for South 85 Journal for two years, and currently serves as the journal’s fiction editor.