Monday, October 26, 2015

Leaving the Comfort Zone: Creative Writing Major Explores the Writing Process

By Maria Cardona, Creative Writing major

As the blank page stares back at me, I once more exit out of the program in frustration. Millions of bits and pieces of ideas float around in my head, but I can’t even pin one down on the page. I struggle to find the right words, to find the right place to start, to paint a picture with my words. Many times writer’s block has gotten to me, and it wasn’t until my sophomore year here at AU that I figured out what my problem was. I was stuck wanting to do the same thing over and over again, and that’s why everything felt so generic. Yet, when I began trying new things, sometimes writing came much easier to me.

My first attempt at breaking away from my usual first person fiction tales came during my Fiction/Nonfiction workshop. I had a story, 52 pages long so far, but I hated it. My characters felt flat and the plot was beyond generic. Two high schoolers, one boy and one girl, best friends since they were little. One of them falls in love but the other doesn’t feel the same way until the end. Possibly one of the least creative things I’ve ever written in my life. Don’t get me wrong—that formula can work great, but if your heart’s not in it, it’ll be a fantastic flop like those 52 pages were.

I ditched the draft and went in a completely different, new and unexpected direction. For starters, I cast my first person safety net aside and went for third person, I know scary! It felt strange to leave I behind, to refer to every characters by their name, to be in multiple minds at once. But then I realized something wonderful! I could be in multiple minds at the same time! This gave my story much more life and different perspectives, and I could do more with my characters because I could leave one of my main characters, go to another, and have a different story line that would soon connect.

Perhaps my favorite discovery while writing in third person was the freedom I had with description. No more was I constricted by the first-person descriptions of setting that always felt vague and superficial. A third-person narrator gave me the freedom to fully paint the landscape—to show the sky, the shops, the streets, the people. To explore with sounds and smell that the I might have never known. Needless to say, I fell in love with writing in third person because the descriptive language gave my story life, a breath of fresh air, and a beauty that I could have never achieved with first person.

However, using third person was not the big adventure. I had gone from a coming of age, slightly romantic novel to a piece of historical fiction. Never had I thought that I’d be writing a piece of historical fiction, but here I was, 45 pages in. While it involved a lot of research and I had to watch my words, scenery, and props for accuracy, living through this historical period along with my characters allowed me to travel back and really understand what happened. However, I did not completely stray from the idea of romance. Yes, there’s a couple who will end up together in the story, but there’s so much more to it. It’s a story about a revolution, about a struggling writer, but more importantly, about the awakening of a strong female lead who goes from a daydreamer to a revolutionary leader.

Needless to say, I fell in love with this story and I would have never met these characters or traveled to this time if I’d played it safe and “stuck with what I knew.” While playing around with point of view and time led me to this story, it was completely switching genres that led me to find my biggest passion in writing.

While I knew that screenwriting was part of creative writing and I thought the craft was incredibly interesting, I would have never thought that it would be what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. However, it wasn’t until I experienced the screenwriting workshop with Dr. Grady that I fell in love with it.

Bear in mind that I had never written or read a film script before this class, I was coming in as an innocent sophomore, completely oblivious to the world of screenwriting. A few days of class had gone by before we had to choose a genre for our script. That’s when I originally came up with my historical fiction idea that ended up being my fiction/nonfiction piece. After careful consideration and immense stress over the fact that I had no clue what to write about I chose to go with a horror screenplay.

While I love anything related to horror, be it books, movies, etc. I had never thought about writing horror. Writing this screenplay was a challenge, I had to tap into a very dark side of myself while still having some normalcy in the scenes and trying to make it believable. At the same time, I was learning about screenwriting and playing around with the genre. I learned rather quickly how much I liked this form of storytelling and the almost-finished product gave me chills. I literally had to stop writing one day and walk away from my piece because it got a little too creepy for me and I was not ready to explore such places in my mind.

Playing around with genres, points of view, time and other things may seem terrifying at first. I get it, change is difficult and it’s much easier to stay in our comfort zone, but the truth is that if we always do the same thing we’ll get stuck, we’ll get monotonous and one day we’ll be sick of our own work because it will all seem the same. Dare to try new things; you just might find your newest story where you least expect it.