What writers can learn from playing “Final Fantasy VII”

With developers remaking “Final Fantasy VII” in 2020, a Literary Hub contributor revisits one of his favorite games through a writer’s eyes. What else does this storytelling medium of our time have to teach literary artists?

Writing for Literary Hub, Jamil Jan Kochai recounts the the experience of playing Final Fantasy VII at twelve years old. “Refusing to remain static or single dimensional with its storytelling,” Kochai writes, “the game repeatedly breaks out of its own narrative form, all for the sake of the ever-widening story itself.” Kochai even goes so far as to describe a level devoted not to advancing the external plot, but internally exploring the main character’s psyche.

As a child, I preferred Sonic the Hedgehog over Super Mario, perhaps because I was drawn to the storytelling and character development in the Sega games (however “primitive” it may have been). As a matter of fact, my first piece of writing was “Sonic” fan fiction. I wonder how many other young writers can say the relatively new medium of gaming first inspired them to craft imaginative literature.

Magical realism or memoir?

Colombian author Ingrid Rojas Contreras recently released a new memoir, “The Man Who Could Move Clouds.” In an interview with NPR, she discusses the fine line between fact and fiction.

Ingrid Rojas Contreras’s new memoir, The Man Who Could Move Clouds, is named for her grandfather, a curandero in her northern Colombian hometown who people would hire “to ward off rain ahead of soccer matches or to banish ghosts” (read more from WJCT News here). However, since immigrating to the United States, Contreras found that “sometimes when I would share stories of my family, I would be corrected or I would be investigated,” with others calling her lived experience “magical realism.” Contreras interprets this pushback as “a version of just trying to erase different worldviews.”

According to Contreras, “Once I realized that, I had so much energy and so much love for this story and just really wanted to do it justice.” Her book describes “that experience of living in a context where the magical feels routine and people tell you that your real life is fiction.” I can’t judge Contreras as a memoirist without reading her work first, but, The Man Who Could Move Clouds sounds like quite the conversation-starter in the realm of creative nonfiction.

The “New York Times” reporters who write longhand

Sam Anderson and A.O. Scott both draft their stories by hand. While it may seem counterintuitive for journalists to adopt this practice under deadline, they find that they produce higher-quality and more consistent work.

Sam Anderson is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, and A.O. Scott is a co-chief film critic for the Times. According to Sarah Bahr, they both hand-write the early drafts of their submissions to the publication. “Drafting by hand lowers the stakes,” Bahr writes about Anderson, “because it doesn’t feel like ‘official’ writing yet, which helps him avoid writer’s block.”

Since I’m a self-employed journalist who drafts by hand, I agree with Scott when he says longhand helps him “forget the pressures of writing for a publication.” As important as it is to remember your audience when writing publishable content, it is no less crucial to resist burnout. Personally, handwriting is just private and intimate enough that I feel in the moment like I’m indulging this passion and inspiration for its own sake, and not because I’m forcing myself.

New study quantifies hiring discrimination against marginalized TV writers

As per a recent Nielsen poll, eighty-seven percent of respondents are “interested in seeing more content featuring people from outside their identity group.” Yet the data shows that TV writers rooms continue to exclude historically underserved dramatists.

Because audiences and advertisers both crave more diverse, inclusive, and equitable content, the Think Tank for Inclusion and Equity – a consortium of working TV writers sponsored by Women In Film, Los Angeles – has surveyed more than eight hundred seventy-five working writers for their fourth annual report, “Behind the Scenes: The State of Inclusion & Equity in TV Writing.” Deadline reports that the TTIE’s findings are sobering, but not surprising. Women, BIPOC, the disabled, and low-income writers continue to square off against measurable favoritism in Hollywood.

I recently wrote about the bigoted hiring practices I’ve faced throughout the field of content creation in this blog post as a gay, gender-queer, disabled man. Since American capitalism dominates our post-Cold War world, it is an act of systemic and institutional violence to deny these communities the access to resources they need for survival. Yes, I work a day job that pays the bills, but it is increasingly incompatible with my life-threatening mental illnesses to daily settle for less than my passions, my qualifications, and my talents.

“The Philadelphia Inquirer” calls for us to use a different word than “manifesto” to describe the Buffalo shooter’s writing

“The Grammarian” is a columnist with the “Inquirer.” He argues the dictionary definitions of “manifesto” elevate the Buffalo shooter’s rantings.

The eighteen-year-old accused of killing ten people at a grocery store last week in Buffalo wrote a hundred-eighty pages of racist and deplorable literature leading up to the crime. The Philadelphia Inquirer, though, says it is unethical to refer to this diatribe as a “manifesto,” like so many mass media outlets have done (including the Inquirer itself). NPR is quoted in this column as saying, “‘Not using the word ‘Manifesto’ in no way deprives our audience of information, it helps deprive the shooter of the platform he was looking for.'”

The shooter “seeks to be an ‘individual … of public relevance’ — a status we’d rather not grant him,” writes “The Grammarian” about the first dictionary definition of the word “manifesto” he discusses here. “If it’s the second, then his screed’s propoundment of the ‘great replacement’ theory — a racist assertion that white people are being ‘replaced’ in America and Europe by nonwhites — suddenly becomes a ’cause,’ and we also shouldn’t grant him that.” The news has come a long way since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, when shock rocker Marilyn Manson castigated them in Rolling Stone for making “folk heroes” out of those two murderers, but until violence in America becomes a thing of the past, we must always critically deconstruct these stories at the word level.

Less than a week left in the “Mother’s Day Confessions” Challenge at Vocal

The deadline is May 30. If you feel so inclined, enter today for a chance to win!

“I’m sorry, Mama… I never meant to hurt you… I never meant to make you cry…”

These Eminem lyrics inspired the title of my entry in Vocal’s “Mother’s Day Confessions” Challenge, “Cleaning Out My Closet.” In this personal essay,I come out as gay to her.

Writing competitions are key to gaining exposure for both emerging as well as established authors. The “Mother’s Day Confessions” Challenge encourages entrants to write either a nonfictional or fictional open letter between six hundred and five thousand words based on the prompt, “Hey, Mom. I never told you this before, but…”

The first-place winner walks away with two thousand five hundred dollars; second place, one thousand; and fifteen runners-up will receive fifty dollars each.

In the interest of full transparency, you do have to pay for a Vocal membership to participate in their challenges. Mine costs me ten dollars per month. But they do pay you three dollars and eighty cents for every thousand reads, and the audience who finds you through one of their communities can tip you directly.

If this sounds like a worthwhile investment for you, then I encourage you to visit vocal.media.

Maine poet writes through terminal cancer diagnosis

Nick Stone is a former corporate lawyer who started writing poetry in his retirement. In August, when he was diagnosed with stage four metastatic prostate cancer and given twenty months to live, he decided to keep writing.

Eighty-nine-year-old Nick Stone has written dozens of pages of “left-brain” work, such as legal briefs and filings, for decades. However, the Portland Press Herald reports that he started engaging the right side of his brain when he composed poetry for the first time after retiring to Maine from his career as a corporate lawyer in Boston. Now that he’s diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer and has just months left to live, “Stone only wants to keep writing.”

It is almost otherworldly, what comfort writing can bring – even to the dying. Stone’s poetry gives him something to come alive for. No matter how late in life it is – even near the end – a writer’s time can come.

Program in Iowa encourages fifth-grade students to write about the environment

This next generation will face the most direct impact from climate change, young people of color most of all. That is why the Iowa Youth Writing Project’s latest program, Writing on the Environment, is working to engage elementary schoolers in Iowa City with this reality.

On a field trip to the park at Cangleska Wakan in early May, students from Iowa City Community School District were tasked with composing nature journals, eco-poems, and nonfiction about their experience. According to the Iowa City Press-Citizen, “It was part of the Iowa Youth Writing Project’s new program, Writing on the Environment, which invites students to write about the subject through lessons and exploration.” Three schools were selected for this initiative based upon their student populations who “may have higher economic need and those with more students of color,” since “‘communities of color are more affected by issues of climate change'” and “‘if we want to make a difference, make inroads in addressing those problems, we need to make sure that those communities are involved in finding solutions,'” says Patrick Snyder, elementary science and social studies coordinator with ICCSD.

Everyone reading this should applaud the IYWP for recognizing the intersection between science, literature, and social studies, as well as how critical that overlap is to inspiring meaningful action. Indeed, Melanie Hester, a fifth grade teacher at Alexander Elementary School for the past seven years, “observed how one of her students, who has ‘barely’ spoken throughout the year, ended up leading his group through the trail and back to its meeting spot.” With this kind of encouragement, children like that can grow up empowered to overcome otherwise insurmountable challenges for the good of all.

The myth of the substance use-disordered writer

Mark Dery, a columnist for Medium, analyzes the relationship between alcohol abuse and writing. Although he stresses the physical and emotional toll of such a lifestyle, I cannot emphasize enough the danger of this narrative.

According to Luis Buñuel’s memoir My Last Sigh, he perfected his martinis by “simply allowing a ray of sunlight to shine through a bottle of Noilly Prat before it hits the bottle of gin… [as] the generative power of the Holy Ghost pierced the Virgin’s hymen … leaving it unbroken.” A poetically written quote which attests to the depth of Mark Dery’s research as well as the keenness of his prose, the cultural critic deconstructs the connection between writers and alcoholism in his Medium column, “Why Writers Drink – and This One Doesn’t.” While employing a personal essayist’s anecdotal evidence for his own artistic partnership with booze, Dery argues that the field of psychology fails to grasp the unique stress of writing for a career, in addition to the ethereal nature of inspiration and creativity, when scientists “reduce any use of mind-altering substances to a psychological disorder or a genetic predisposition.”

Personally, the “madness and genius” narrative bears no weight with me – if anything, my mental illnesses kneecap my productivity, rather than disinhibit it, because studies show my bipolar I disorder has diminished my hippocampus in size, which leaves me more vulnerable to alcohol-induced blackouts and leads to more debilitating trauma. Indeed, Dery writes, “after one too many scotches, the law of diminishing returns kicks in and you realize, woozily, that everything you’ve written since the tide in the bottle ran out has been drek.” If you’re at risk of becoming one of the ninety-five thousand Americans who dies of substance use disorder, please reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Minnesota man founds writing program for the incarcerated

Before he founded FreeWriters in the fall of 2019, Nate Johnson worked as a prosecutor in southern Minnesota. Now, the free-writing program has raked in more than three thousand pieces of writing from more than a thousand inmates.

During his prosecutorial career in southern Minnesota, Nate Johnson mentored “a highly gifted young man named Joe,” who was serving a probationary sentence after “an extremely traumatic childhood.” While sitting down for an interview with the Star Tribune, Johnson said Joe eventually violated the terms of his probation in the fall of 2019, serving a sixty-day jail sentence with nothing but Bible lessons and twelve-step meetings to accompany him. Drawing from his experience with a workshop at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, Johnson taught Joe the art of free-writing “to help him stay sane;” this would evolve into the prison writing program “FreeWriters,” which encourages participants to complete three five-minute writing exercises per class.

If you’ve ever jaywalked or loitered in the United States, you’ve broken the law – that’s why Johnson’s efforts are so commendable in a country with the largest prison population in the world, where more citizens are incarcerated per capita than any military dictatorship. More than one inmate-writer claims FreeWriters positively impacted their mental health. “Thank you for getting me outta the unit,” one is quoted as saying.