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Six Lies About Creative Writing You Should Never Believe

Six Lies About Creative Writing You Should Never Believe
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Creative writing is not an easy task. Everybody has a great opinion about how it should be done. Most of these opinions are untested. Figuring out just what makes fiction good, let alone great, is a puzzle that takes decades to figure out.

Coming up with the right answers isn’t always easy. If you’re a fairly new writer, however, avoiding the wrong answers can sometimes be just as beneficial. There are a hundred ways to do things wrong; here are seven of the more common pitfalls for you to take note of.

Adjectives will always help your work stay more creative. This is something that nearly every sixth-grader gets told, way back when everybody is learning the basics of sentence structure. Adjectives = description, and description = creativity; therefore, adjectives = creativity. The only problem is, description really doesn’t create on its own. Knowing how to describe is what really matters, and that can be done using nearly any word out there. Adjectives are fine, of course, but sentences like “The tall, Olympian, bronzed man strode through the wide marble corridor” aren’t creative. They’re descriptive, but they aren’t creative.

In A Study In Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes describes his mind as a room, and tells Watson that his ignoring entire fields of learning isn’t stupidity: it’s taste. By focusing only on what he needs to detect and observe, he becomes an unsurpassed detective. Think of your writing that way: you can put whatever you want to in it. You could cram it full of everything you find, or you could prune out the objects that aren’t necessary.

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You need a great plot/character to tell a great story. Everybody loves a good “Da Vinci Codesque” thriller, just like everybody enjoys a character as charming as Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas. But in the end, what matters about your writing isn’t your characters or your plot. It’s your theme: what you tell with your story and how you tell it.

Themes in stories tend to get bad reputations, as obtuse analytical devices that nobody cares about. Really, though, a theme is anything in a story that conveys a message of any kind. Harry Potter tells us of the value of friendship and openmindedness. The Notebook reminds us that it is never too late for love. These aren’t heavy-handed themes: they’re just the morals to the story.

Ulysses, considered by many to be the greatest novel of the 20th century, has a winding, simplistic, monotonous plot, and manages a stupendously complex and interweaving story. (It’s why, for instance, Wikipedia doesn’t offer a quick plot summary for the novel – but I digress.) Meanwhile, a novel like like The Once And Future King takes old, flat characters, and portrays them in an utterly charming, addictive, hilarious manner. They end up becoming characters in their own right not through character development, but through narrative.

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The longer what you write is, the better it is. This is another of those old myths from childhood, back when every big book was an “adult book” by default. Many of the books considered to be revolutionary and groundbreaking are in fact extremely long and winding. While long stories have more potential due to their length, writing long just to be long doesn’t make any sense. Depending on the story idea, certain ideas just tend to last longer than others.

Take a book like Lolita, one of the most stunning books of all time and still one of the most controversial. It packs a truly harrowing story and a delightfully twisted narrative that travels across several nations, yet manages to be only about three hundred pages long. And people who think that three hundred pages is in fact long should read “The Vane Sisters,” by the same author, a short story that manages to be far cleverer than books a hundred times longer. Size shouldn’t be pushed for the sake of size; if it is, it’s usually immediately noticeable.

The shorter what you write is… And so on. Some people think that because shorter stories are easier to pack content into, shorter becomes better. While this idea is tempting, it’s just as realistic as the claim that long stories are always better by default. While short stories are easier to work with, they can’t be nearly as expansive as longer pieces of work are: there just isn’t enough room.

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Case in point: Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, a book that has attracted a fanatical following in the last few decades. At the heart of Atlas is a fourty-page philosophical treatise that essentially summarizes the themes behind the entire book. Without the rest of the novel, though, that treatise would mean nothing: Rand uses well over a thousand pages to display her philosophy at work, to attempt to clarify her philosophical position further. More space to write means more chances to really create a literary world

In the end, there’s no such thing as the “perfect size” for writing. Short isn’t bad, and neither is long. That is, unless either size is forced.

If you don’t know what to write about, write fantasy: it’s the easiest to work with. Since fantasy really has no rules regarding what’s real and what’s not, the argument goes, there really isn’t any challenge involved in writing it. This argument, mind you, is usually stated by somebody who doesn’t read fantasy often.

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Take even a preliminary glance at any good fantasy world, and you will realize just how involved any form of fantasy is. Anything is possible, yes, but that just makes the process of logically defining a world that much harder. Fantasy writers can’t start off from the real world that every other writer gets to pluck from: they need to define their world before anybody can understand it. Fantasy goes even beyond just writing: oftentimes it takes careful planning before the writing even begins.

If there’s a lesson that can be taken from fantasy assumptions, it would be this: just because something looks easy doesn’t mean it is. No matter what you plan on writing, nothing will come that easy. Everything takes work.

Everything has already been done before. This is perhaps the most obnoxious claim that can be made about writing: oddly, it also tends to be the most believed. There really can’t be much of an argument about this one, though: critics have written many papers explaining just why there is no more for literature to truly achieve.

While their arguments make sense, given enough arguing back and forth, never assume that everything has been done. There is always some sort of new grounds to explore. Take the experimental novel House of Leaves, written in 2000, which features telling a story through the positioning of words on a page rather than the content of the words themselves. If you ever start believing that there is nothing else to do, you’ll never get anything truly new done. And if somebody else comes out with the next big new thing, you’ll be pretty upset if you didn’t get there first.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

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