Home » Posts tagged 'meditative essay'
Tag Archives: meditative essay
July 31 2013
The writer’s voice is everything the writer brings to the experience of writing short fiction, including education, socialization, values, beliefs, religion, opinions, and life experiences. The writer’s writing style is part of voice. This writing style is what makes a writer authentic, original, different from other writers. It is what readers hear when they read the short story. The writer’s voice is their “public persona,” which is revealed on the page. The most important features of writing style are word choice or diction, sentence patterns, literary techniques, and tone.
One of the popular writing styles of fiction is the minimalist style. It was a style popularized by Ernest Hemingway, and also endorsed by Raymond Carver. This style focuses on the belief that “less is more.” Writers use short paragraphs, short sentences, write with the active voice, and use action verbs and concrete verbs. The writer omits or deletes every detail that is not essential to the writing. Subtext plays a strong role in this style of fiction.
You can develop your fiction writing style by reading and analyzing short fiction, and then incorporating the techniques of other writers into your own fiction.
(Note: You will also use these same guidelines and techniques to write poetry, personal essays, and other types of creative nonfiction.)
In this article, I’ll discuss writing style as it applies to fiction writing. The following will be covered:
- How to identify the author’s writing style.
- Define Hemingway’s minimalist style.
- Suggest a writing style to use for writing fiction.
- Learning to write lyrical prose.
- Developing your own writing style.
Analyzing Short Fiction
The writer’s style of writing is expressed through word choice or diction, tone of the writing, the use of imaginative language, such as simile, metaphor, imagery, the types of sentences or syntax , as well as the choice of fictional techniques.
The best short fiction writers use everyday language in a fresh and original way. They also avoid using avoid clichés and jargon. Often they share an interesting word that we’ve never heard—a word that has powerful meaning.
The best short fiction writers use a variety of sentence patterns, such as the use of loose and periodic sentences, sentence fragments, simple, compound, complex, compound-complex sentence.
The best short fiction writers use a variety of literary techniques, such as flashback, suspense, dialogue, showing and telling, and interior monologue.
The best short fiction writers also use the poetic devices of poetry, including simile, metaphor, personification, imagery, alliteration, and allusion. Some writers use similes and metaphors infrequently, such as Carver and Hemingway. Other writers use them a great deal.
The best short fiction writers use a tone that is conversational and respectful. Tone refers to the writer’s attitude to his/her subject and view of the audience. Never use a condescending tone. Learn to write fiction by reading short stories as a writer. Analyze how the writer used the elements of fiction, literary techniques, and poetic devices to constructed the short story. As you read, answer these questions:
- How does the writer begin the short story? With conflict? With setting description? With dialogue? With action? With a memorable event?
- How does the writer develop the setting? What is the time and place of the story? Is it real or fantasy? Does the setting create a mood? Is the setting the antagonist? Does the setting provide a backdrop for the story?
- A short story must include conflict, turning point, and resolution. Identify the conflict, turning point, and resolution of the story.
- Which point of view does the writer use?
- What is the theme? How does the writer reveal theme to the reader?
- Where does the writer use scene and summary? What are the features of each scene?
- where is there dialogue in the story? How does the writer use dialogue? What conventions are used?
- What fictional techniques does the writer use? What poetic devices does the writer use?
- What is the writing style of the writer? Does the writer use simple or fancy words? Does the writer use simple sentences , compound sentences, or fragments?
- How does the writer end the story? Does it include an epiphany? Lesson learned? Is the ending open, closed, or a summary?
One of the popular writing styles of short fiction is minimalism, popularized by Ernest Hemingway. He wrote minimalist short fiction. Years later, short story writer Raymond Carver also embraced this style of storytelling. Minimalist short fiction has these attributes:
- Concrete nouns and action verbs
- Few adverbs and adjectives
- Short sentences
- Short paragraphs
- Short words and everyday language, as well as familiar instead of fancy words.
- Minimal character and setting description
- Minimal background details
- Very little use of figurative language, such as simile, metaphor, personification
- Insufficient resolution or ending to the story
Popular Fiction Writing Style
To write short fiction, develop a writing style that includes:
- Concrete nouns
- Action verbs
- Active voice
- Sentence variety
- Figurative language, such as simile, metaphor, symbolism, personification, allusion
- Lyrical prose, using alliteration, assonance, repetition, parallel structure
Develop a writing style that is friendly and conversational. Learn to show and tell readers. Use sensory detail, language that appeals to the reader’s sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing. Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly. As well, read and master the advice in Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.”
Learning to Writer Lyrical Prose
Author Constance Hale, in “Sin and Syntax,” explains how you can learn to write literary prose. There are found components: voice, lyricism, melody, and rhythm.
The writer must consider the literary meaning and implied meaning of words, as well as avoid using clichés and jargon. The writer should also use a variety of sentence patterns, such as a fragment, simple, and compound sentences.
The writer can create prose that sound musical by using the following:
- Imagery-Use of sensory details.
- Metaphor-Making a comparison between unlike things, without using “like” or “as.”
- Simile-Making a comparison between unlike things, using “like” or “as.”
- Personification. Describing things and objects and ideas by using human attributes. Example: The bible preaches its wisdom to anyone who takes the time.
- Description. Using concrete, significant, and particular description. Example: He pressed the shutter on his black Nikon, full-frame camera, using a wide-angle lens, capturing a fleeting moment in time, a man being shot by police, for all the world to see.
- Repetition. Repeating words and phrases in a sentence or sentences that are close to each other.
Streets and highway filled with an avalanche of snow. The plows bulldoze it away. Icicles hang from the eaves like a work of installation art. Cars stuck, spinning their wheels. The Maple leaf, stands, watches, as the neighborhood shovels. Kids frolic, build snow forts, toboggan down hills of snow in the park behind the school. The storm has interrupted daily routines and rituals.
The writer can create prose that have a melody by using the poetic devices of:
- Assonance-Positioning two or more words with the same vowel sounds close together in a sentence.
- Alliteration- Positing two or more words with the same initial consonant sounds in a sentence.
- Internal rhyme Selecting words that rhyme and using them in the middle of a sentence.
- Onomatopoeia -Using words that sound what they describe. Example: The fire crackled.
The writer should strive to create sentences that have rhythm. It refers to pattern, pace, repetition, and parallel structure of a sentence. A simple way to create rhythm is to count the stressed syllables in a sentence. The writer can slow down the pace with long sentences, and speed up the pace with short sentence. Create rhythm in your prose by developing sentences with a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. Learn to use repetition and parallel structure. Example: He smoked, drank, womanized, and died one day, lounging on the beach in the sunshine with a smile. ( Slow pace)
Developing Your Writing Style
Part of learning to write is developing your own writing voice. How do you do this? There are several ways. The most important advice I have read was written by Elizabeth Berg, the author of “Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True.” She suggests that you can develop your writing voice by putting down on to paper the words you are hearing in your mind. In other words, be yourself as you write. Use your own words, and don’t imagine you are someone else as you write. Write honestly—share your thoughts, feelings, opinions, impressions, stories that are important to you. And share them by using your own language–how you speak. She also suggests that you should not write about what you know but that you should write about what you love, what you are passionate about.
Next, you should write often and regularly. Start by keeping a journal. Write everyday in this journal, recording observations, interesting quotations, memorable lyrics, overheard conversation, lines of poetry. Write poetry, anecdotes, short, short essays. Try using the technique of stream of consciousness. Write by freewriting. Record “small, fleeting moments.”Ask a question to yourself, and then write an answer. Include interesting photograph, news stories, advice columns. Write about your emotional truth—how you felt about something. In your journal, you can write about anything. Journal writing helps you develop the habit of writing and your writing skills. It can also be a place where you record “possible ideas” for a poem, short story, and personal essay.
Also, learn all about writing style. The best and easiest book to read is “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White. It provides the rules and guidelines of a good writing style. If you intend to write essays or other creative nonfiction, you should also read “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser. Both of these books are classics, are used in university and college writing courses, and are recommended by most writers. Every writer should have copies of these inexpensive paperbacks on their bookshelf for reference. As well, read Constance Hale’s “Sin and Syntax.”
Next, read short stories to learn how the writer constructed the story. If you are not sure, read “How to Read Like a Writer” by Francine Prose.
Fourthly, make sure you understand the rules and guidelines of grammar, such as for use of verbs, adjectives, nouns, pronouns, and more. If you don’t know these rules or guidelines, pick up a copy of “Woe Is I:The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English” by Patricia T. O’Connor. Another great book that presents grammar in with a humorous tone is “The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed” by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. I also recommend “The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magical and Mystery of Practical English” by Roy Peter Clark.
Learn the rules of punctuation. How to use the comma, exclamation mark, question mark, quotation marks, semi colon, colon. Essentially, you must memorize the rules. To learn the rules of punctuation, I suggest you read “The Glamour of Grammar” by Roy Peter Clark.
Learn to the major types of sentence patterns and then to write poetry, short fiction, and personal essays. The syntax of a sentence is an important feature of the writer’s voice. To develop your own voice, learn to write simple, compound, complex, compound-complex sentences. Learn when to use a sentence fragment and how to write using parallel construction. Learn how to use items in a series. Learn how to write both periodic or cumulative sentences. Where can you go for advice?
Language choices contribute to writer style. Therefore, you should own a dictionary and thesaurus. Use them for enjoyment and to improve your language skills. Develop your language skills by looking up the meaning of words you don’t understand in a dictionary. Find the precise word by checking your thesaurus, which includes synonyms. To expand your vocabulary, begin learning a word a day. Use the words you learn in your writing. Don’t write to impress. Instead, use language to express yourself, to communicate meaning, to entertain, to share important ideas, knowledge, and wisdom with your audience.
If you aspire to become a creative writer, learn how to write imaginatively. Imaginative writing involves learning how to show and tell the reader, writing vivid descriptions of sensory imagery–language that appeals to the reader’s sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing. It involves using literary devices of simile, metaphor, personification, symbolism, and other devices that you find in fiction and poetry and creative nonfiction. There are countless books on the market that you can purchase. For a good overview on how to write creatively and imaginatively, I suggest you purchase “Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft” by writer/instructor Janet Burroway. It’s a superb text that will help you.
Another way to develop your voice is to share emotional truth in your writing. It means telling others how you feel. For instance, if you lost your job–tell your readers how it felt. If you were diagnosed with a serious disease, share your thoughts and feelings with your readers. If you split up with a girlfriend or marital partner, tell the audience how you felt by expressing the emotional truth. Keep in mind that two people can have different emotional views on a situation. And so , there is no right or wrong “emotional truth.” Emotional truth has to do with how you felt about a person, about an experience , about an event.
It takes time to develop your writing voice, providing you write on a regular basis. Many writing instructors suggest you keep a journal and experiment in it. In part, developing your voice is an unconscious effort–you learn by reading and writing, without making a conscious effort. In part, you can make a conscious decision to develop your voice. For instance, you can learn to read like a writer. You can learn grammar, spelling, punctuation. You can experiment with language and sentence variety. You can make a conscious choice about what sort of tone to use. The easiest way to develop your voice is to “put down on paper” what is on your mind.
Your writing voice is what a reader hears when they read your words. Your writing voice is your “public persona,” which is expressed in your writing. It is revealed in the language that you use, the types of sentences that you use, and your tone–your attitude toward the reader and the topic or idea you are writing about.
To learn more about how to develop your developing and polishing your writer’s voice, read the following superb books:
- The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser
- Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale
- The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English by Roy Peter Clark
- The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed” by Karen Elizabeth Gordon
- Woe is I: the Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Connor
- Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft by Janet Burroway
November 26, 2012
by Dave Hood
How do you end a poem, short story, novel, personal essay—or any other type of creative writing? Writing a good ending is as important as writing a compelling opening…You should give as much thought to your ending as your opening.” This is the advice William Zinsser shares in “On Writing Well.
There are many ways to end a piece of creative writing, such as with a relevant quotation, with a recommendation, with a call to action, by referring back to the beginning. Often the genre you are writing and the idea you are writing about will dictate how to end.
The ending should provide a sense of closure to your writing. To write an ending, you should know when to end and how to end a piece of writing. Different genres, such as a short story, personal essay, or poetry, have different suggestions for writing an ending.
In this article, I’ll explain what an ending must accomplish and provide some general suggestions on how to end a narrative or poem.
What Must Your Ending Accomplish
In the “Handbook of Magazine Article Writing,” it is suggested that the ending of an article should do one of the following:
- Leave readers with the idea that they have learned something.
- Leave readers with the idea that they have gained some insight.
- Show reader how the information in the article impacts or relates to their lives
- Encourage readers to conduct research or additional investigation.
In “On Writing Well,” William Zinsser makes a few suggestions about ending a piece of creative nonfiction:
- “When you are ready to stop, stop. In other words, don’t write too much.”
- “The positive reason for ending well is that a good last sentence–or last paragraph, is a joy in itself. It gives the reader a lift, and it lingers when the article is over.”
- “What usually works best is a quotation.”
Zinsser also tells readers not to end by summarizing. For instance: “In summary…or “To conclude…”
Why? A summary is repeating yourself by compressing details that were already shared with the reader. Instead, you ought to make one final point that resonates in the mind of the reader.
When you end, you must have answered all questions posed in the story or article or personal essay. Otherwise, the reader is left wondering, and feels your writing is incomplete. As well, the essay or narrative should be brought to a close. In other words, the reader knows that the narrative is complete. For instance, if you are writing about a journey, the end might be when the character reaches his/her destination. If you are writing a meditative essay, you might leave the reader with some final point to ponder. If you are writing an opinion essay, you might end with a final point. Writer Elizabeth Anderson, in her essay “IF God is Dead, Is Everything Permitted?” (The Portable Atheist, selected and introduced by the late Christopher Hitchens), ends her essay with the following judgement: “The moralist argument, far from threatening atheism, is a critical wedge that should open morally sensitive theists to the evidence against the existence of God.”
A great ending, in my view, leaves the reader with something to ponder or meditate about after he puts down the piece of writing. Sometimes the writer shares an epiphany or a lesson learned or words of wisdom.
There are no rules on how to end a piece of creative writing, only suggestions. It is up to the writer to decide how to begin and how best to end a piece of writing. Your end should make some important final point. A good final point is like a knockout punch.
How to Write An Ending
There are several ways to end. It all depends on the genre. A personal-narrative essay usually ends when the story ends, often with some epiphany. In a poem, the last line often makes some emphatic final point, some idea the writer can take away and ponder. In a short story or novel, the ending can be closed or open. In a closed ending, the story ends, and nothing else happens. In an open ending, the reader is left to imagine what might happen in the future. Trilogies end with an open ending. A popular technique for ending a story is to use a “cliff hanger.” Sometimes the writer ends a short story or novel ends with dialogue from the protagonist. Some writer’s end articles or personal essays or meditative essays by referring back to the beginning. Other writers begin with a question, explore the question, then you can end with one final answer. Many writer’s end with a final quotation.
Check out most literary journalism essays in the New Yorker, and you’ll discover that most writers end their writing with a final quotation from someone they’ve interviewed. In the essay, “Slackers” (July 30th, 2012), writer, Malcolm Gladwell, ends with the following quote: “None of the doctors who treated me, and none of the experts I’ve consulted since the day I collapsed, have ever heard of anybody being gone for than long and coming back to full health,” he writes.” He was back on the track nine days later.” Clearly, there are many methods you can use to end a piece of creative writing. The decision is yours to make. It is a creative choice of the writer.
David Remnick, author of “We Are Alive”, ends with the following quote: Springsteen glanced at the step and stepped into the spotlight. “Hola, Barcelona!” he cried out to a sea of forty-five thousand people. “Hola, Catalunya!”
You often read true and fictional stories about a calamity or disaster. The writer opens the story by describing a setting of normalcy. And then, the bomb is dropped, or the hurricane destroys the quiet life of the living, or the earthquake obliterates a town. The writer describes the cause and effects, and the struggles to survive and cleanup. In this sort of narrative, writers often end by “returning to the state of normalcy.”
Some writers end with a telling anecdote, or by pointing to what will happen next in the story, or tell readers where to find additional information. Other writers end with an epilogue, which tells what happens to the characters later and how their stories continue.
Other ways to end a piece of creative writing include:
- With a judgement
- With recommendation
- With a prediction
- With an insight
- With a hope or wish
There are no rules for ending a piece of writing, only suggestions. And every form of writing–whether a personal essay, poem, short story, article—has its own suggestions for ending. The final decision about how to end a piece of writing is the writer’s. It is one of the creative decisions of writing. Often the writer relies on a “gut feeling” or “intuition” or “sixth sense.” The worst thing a writer can do is overwrite or write a double ending. The best way to end is to leave your reader satisfied while giving the reader a sense of closure. William Zinsser writes, “The perfect ending should take your readers slightly by surprise and seem exactly right.”
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser
- The Story Within: New Insights and Inspirations for Writers by Laura Oliver
- The Elements of Story: Field Notes on Nonfiction by Francis Flaherty
- Handbook of Magazine Article Writing, edited by Michelle Ruberg and Ben Yagoda
- The New Yorker, “Slackers: Alberto Salazar and the Art of Exhaustion” by Malcolm Gladwell (July 30, 2012)
By Dave Hood
What is a meditative or contemplative essay? It is a subgenre of the personal essay, which is one of the pillars of creative nonfiction. A short meditative essay is typically 500 to 1200 words. For many who teach creative writing, the writer of a contemplative or meditative essay asks or poses a question and then answers it in the form of an essay.
For others, the writer can build a meditative essay by examining an idea or emotion— by referring to objects that embody that emotion or idea. Or the writing can explore a particular object, uncovering what is inside the particular object, uncovering the symbolic meaning, uncovering the associations of the object. It’s like opening a present to discover what’s inside, often a surprise, something unexpected.
In this article, I’ll discuss how to write a meditative or contemplative essay. The following will be covered:
- Definition of a meditative essay
- Approaches to writing a meditative essay
- Creative writing techniques to use
Definition of a Meditative Essay
For many, a meditative essay explores an idea or topic. Typically, the writer asks an open-ended question—and then attempts to answer it in the body of the essay. There is no definite answer to the question. Instead, the writer thinks out loud, pondering the question, writing down possible answers.
For others, a meditative essay requires that the writer examine an object or emotion, seeking understanding through similes, metaphors, associations. The intent of the writer is to turn the abstract idea or the generalization of an emotion into an essay of concrete details that readers will understand and relate to.
The meditative essay is not a narrative, and so there is no true or fictional story shared with the reader. Nor does the meditation focus on the self. And so it is not a personal narrative essay, which is based on a personal experience that results in an epiphany, and a universal truth. Instead the writer focuses outward on some idea, emotion, object—exploring possible answers. But there is no single, definitive answer.
The aspiring writer can write about any topic. For instance:
- What is cruel and unusual punishment? Why do you support the death penalty?
- Is war ever just? Is killing ever justified?
- Why or why don’t you believe in abortion?
- Does God exist?
- Does life have meaning and purpose? Or do we live existential lives?
- Should a citizen have the legal right to carry a gun?
- Is stem cell research ethical?
This topic is developed organically, and so there is no single structure on how to write a meditative essay. Each meditation can unfold in a different way. The key points to remember are to 1)Select a topic and then 2) pose a question.
The writer adds details from observation, learning, personal experience, personal reflections—- to answer the question, explore an idea or object.
Often writers move from particular facts, observations, experiences to a general answer. In other words, the writer applies the tools of inductive reasoning to discover the possible answers to the question. Facts, observations, life experiences provide the support for a general conclusion. For instance, does life have meaning ? A writer might identify several sources of meaning–a rewarding career, stimulating reading, uplifting music, pop culture, a significant other who is a kindred spirit, supportive and loyal friendships, loving children, faith in God—and then expand on each of these points. And so the question is turned into a meditative essay or contemplative essay, writing based on the musings or contemplations of the writer. Every writer might have a different answer to the question. That is why there`s no single right answer to a meditative essay.
Not only does the writer include factual evidence based on personal experience or observation or learning, the writer also engages in personal reflection, then writes down his or her thoughts on paper or types them out on the keyboard.
Approaches for Writing the Meditative Essay
There is no single way to write a meditative essay. Many writers select a question related to a topic that they are curious about. Here are three approaches:
Write down a Question and then Answer It
A popular approach to writing a meditative essay is to pose a question and then answer it. Here’s how:
- Find a topic, and then select an open ended question.
- Jot down a list of possible answers that pop into your mind.
- Take some time to ponder the question. Jot down any additional points to explore.
- For each possible answer, write out an explanation. Be sure to use the elements of fiction, such as scene building and the poetic devices of simile, metaphor, alliteration and assonance.
- Take a break from writing for a few days. This will give you time to reflect and develop a new perspective on your essay.
- After your break, reread and revise your meditative essay. Delete any redundant or irrelevant details. Add any other details that you feel are important.
Write about an Emotion or Idea with Objects
Other writers examine an idea or emotion by writing about particular objects that embody the emotion or idea. For instance, suppose you want to write about sadness, you would explore the abstract topic by writing about particular objects that embody sadness, such as job loss, death, marriage breakdown, mental illness. Essentially, you are explaining an abstract idea with particular details, concrete and specific descriptions, similes, and metaphors.
Write about a Particular Object Itself
The second way to approach a meditative essay is to begin with the object itself. But to consider a physical object you must uncover hidden attributes or associations of the object. It’s like opening a present to see what’s inside. For instance, suppose you want to explore a found object, such as a wallet. You could begin by describing the outside of the wallet. Then you could describe its contents. Then you could describe something suggested by the wallet. Then you could expand further, describe something existential, social, cultural, political about the wallet.
Keep in mind that there is no single answer. It all depends on how use your imagination to uncover possible answers. It is all about creative thinking–brainstorming, mind-mapping, asking “what if questions”, changing your perspective, seeking the alternatives, asking “why?”
If you are interested in reading meditative essays, read “The Art of the Personal Essay“, edited by Phillip Lopate. This text contains several examples along with many other types of personal essays.
Creative Writing Techniques to Deploy
What techniques should the writer take from his or her tool box of creative writing to construct a meditative essay? The writer applies the techniques of writing short fiction, a personal essay, and poetry, such as showing and telling, use of metaphor and simile, rhythm, assonance, alliteration.
Here are a few techniques to help you write a meditative essay:
- Find a topic you are curious about, and then ask an open-ended question. For instance, you could respond to the statement: ” The only bad job is no job” by posing the following question: Are there any jobs that a person should not have to do, if they lose their job? Another questions to consider, “What is the meaning of life?”, Do we have free will?
- Explore the question by freewriting. Begin by asking a question, then jot down the thoughts that pop into your mind, and begin to write your essay.
- Show the reader, don’t tell them. You can do this by writing down significant details and vivid descriptions.
- Use similes and metaphors to explain abstract ideas.
- Write in the first person point of view “I” or the third person “he/she.”
- Seek out symbolic meaning, which is meaning other than literal meaning.
- Seek out associations, related ideas. For instance, when you think of studying , what associations come to mind? When you think of learning, what associations pop into your thought process?
- Include your personal opinion and personal reflections.
In summary, the purpose of the meditative essay is to explore a question about an idea, topic, object, or emotion. The writer puts to use vivid descriptions, significant details, simile, metaphor to answer the question. There is no single answer to the question, and the meditative essay is developed organically, without a particular structure. The writer can write from the first person or third person perspective. The writer jots down his/her thoughts on paper or types them out as they arrive in the mind. Writing is subjective, based on personal experience, personal reflections. the writer can construct a meditative essay by answering a philosophical question or by writing about ideas that embody the emotion or idea. Revision is important. In short, the writer records his or her thoughts or meditations using the devices and tools of creative nonfiction in the form of an essay. That is why it’s called a meditative or contemplative essay.
- The Art of the Personal Essay, selected and with introduction by Phillip Lopate
- Creative Nonfiction: A Guide to Form, Content, and Style, with Readings by Eileen Pollack