The Writer's Den

UCLA's creative writing student group


Enormous Activities Fair!

photoThank you to everyone who came out to the Enormous Activities Fair! Can’t wait to see you all at the first general meeting on Tuesday, October 1st at 8pm in Ackerman 2412! : D 

If you have any questions until then, e-mail us at or check out our Facebook page!

While we were meeting all of you, we were also working on a quick pass-along story, which you can read by clicking through to the full post.

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Tunnel Vision

By Tiffany Esmailian

There’s a clear-cut fork in the winding road,
The left —  illuminated and lit, the right —  dark and shadowed.
The tunnel on the right obscures most of the way.
The open road on the left lets you do anything you may.
I, a wanderer, creeped into the tunnel with care,
But lost my sense of direction immediately as I entered there.
All I see is a small light at the end of the path,
And that is all I need to proceed – a guaranteed good aftermath.
But beware, things are not always as they seem,
When your reality is clouded by a fantasy or dream.
The small light I noticed coming from afar
Were actually the headlights of an oncoming car.
So instead of reaching the end, the end reached me,
Knocked me down to the ground so rapidly,
But I’m still alive – only a few major wounds and pains,
So I can possibly turn these losses into gains.
If I get back up I may find what I seek,
In this tunnel that seems so gloomy and bleak.
The choice is mine, to get up and get going,
To see if behind the car, there was actually another light glowing.

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I’ve decided to make “In Pursuit of Productivity” a biweekly series because it gives me more time to effectively observe and analyze each strategy in order to capture the essence of each…uh…

Okay, so I didn’t write last week.

But–but–I was busy with roommates moving in and out and then cleaning out the apartment and then there’s this giant project for a summer class and it’s too hot in LA to do anything and I hosted a summer Writer’s Den event and there were these really good books I couldn’t put down and…and…and I really meant to get writing done! It’s the thought that counts, right?

I can make all the excuses I want, but the reality is I didn’t write because it wasn’t a priority.

Maybe I could have gotten up a little earlier, or taken a break from working on the school project, or dragged myself to an air-conditioned library to work on a story. But I didn’t.

Sometimes life happens and we just can’t prioritize writing, but for the most part we have room in our schedules for just a little bit each day—before going to bed, maybe, or during that awkward hour between classes. The problem is we don’t fit it in and the stories never get written.

Here’s a challenge: Pick a day this weekend and make writing a priority. I’m choosing Sunday. Care to join?

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Outlines: Pros and Cons

I used to be opposed to outlines, I wanted to let my (inevitably aborted) baby novel plots to grow unbounded, to take me in unexpected directions. Around the age of seventeen, sitting in a metaphorical pile of bloody botched novels-that-would-never-be, I decided to give outlines a chance.

My first detailed outline (outside of school assignments) was for a fantasy novel, the ideas of which had been churning around in my brain since middle school. I pounded out a whole outline over the course of a couple of weeks. After I began writing, sticking to the outline but tweaking details, I realized that there were deep flaws in the plot as mapped out. I saw the potential for plot-holes, and I even began to dislike much of the plot and the villain (not the main characters, I liked most of them). I realized that I was relying on the outline as a crutch, and not seeing that the characters and the plot wanted to grow in a vastly different but more natural direction. Confounded, and frustrated that the outline strategy wasn’t magically turning me into a productive writer, I stopped writing that story.

Recently, I’ve been trying to focus on two stories/novels, and I’ve discovered that outlines allow me to figure out where a story is going, to string together plot developments in an organized manner, to pinpoint good places to provide clues or foreshadowing in stories where it is necessary, and to have a vague sense of progress as I write. Outlines will also save you from resorting to a deus ex machina, unless you’re really shameless and you include one anyway. Unless you want to kill off a character, you should not write her into a hard place she won’t be able to extricate herself from. Your outline will swoop in, much like a superhero, and save you from bad plot devices. Okay, maybe not literally. You’re going to have to do some of the work yourself.

I’m not just here to sing the praises of outlining as a writing process. I have a warning. If your characters are not fully conceived before you work on the outline, you will have to force them to fit the outline, when it should be the other way around. This will probably lead to inconsistencies that astute readers will catch. To have a plot, you must have characters that are willing and able to drive that plot.

The main point to take away from this is that you need a bit of structure to keep the plot growing, but that structure has to be flexible. Or, to use an analogy relevant to modern life: an outline is comparable to a GPS, it can be a good guide, but it can also lead you astray if it’s not very good. Happy writing!

P.S. It’s okay to start writing something before you have an outline hammered out.

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I don’t know how many of you are familiar with, but it is a goldmine of information about just about every type of trope that exists in just about every form of storytelling. To be clear, a trope is not the same thing as a cliche. As the website puts it, tropes are “devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members’ minds and expectations.” Instead of boring you guys with an expanded definition or examples, I am simply going to direct you to this story generator, and encourage you to click around. Who knows? It might inspire your next great idea (or help you waste several hours.) Enjoy!

P.S. – Happy Labor Day!