Week 4 Story: The Ranger

An untamed forest. Sunlight filters through bright green leaves, and dense underbrush rustles with minute animal life. Otherwise it is quiet, empty, and natural.

Cut to:
ARJUNA, a man in his mid-twenties, stalking through the brush with careful steps. He wears loose pants and no shirt except a sash across his muscular chest. A quiver full of arrows hangs from his belt, and he holds a bow, half-drawn, in front of him.

His eyes focus on something off-camera. He quietens his breathing, crouches, and draws the bow, aiming into the distance.

Cut to:
A young deer with the faintest dapples still on its flanks grazes among the trees. It is too young to tell if it is a doe or a buck, and it does not notice Arjuna hunting it.

A branch cracks.

The deer startles, sees Arjuna, and bounds away.

Cut to:
Arjuna, shock on his face, stands up and looks toward the source of the noise.

Cut to:
CHITRA, a young woman, twenty-four, however, dressed convincingly as a man, she looks young late-teens. She wears a loose cream shirt, rolled to the elbows to reveal strong forearms, and a leather vest that obscures her figure. Her black pants are baggy and practical. A sword hangs from her hip. Her hair is shorn on the sides as a warrior’s mark, and the long top and back are tied into a tight bun. She holds a forester’s longbow and a snapped tree branch.

CHITRA: Why are you hunting in the king’s forest, trespasser?

Arjuna stays on guard and raises his chin.

ARJUNA: Why is a ranger disrupting the hunt of a prince?

Chitra, despite being smaller, matches Arjuna’s haughty body language.

CHITRA: You are no prince of this land. These deer swear more fealty to me than to you.

Arjuna raises an eyebrow and smoothly releases the tension in his bow. He smiles.

ARJUNA: The king of Manipur has clever rangers, and bold, too, to scorn the authority of Arjuna, son of Pandu.

Chitra’s breath catches. The hardness in her eyes changes to shock, then admiration. Color rises to her cheeks, and she suddenly clenches her jaw as if to hide her fascination.

CHITRA: Even a hero such as yourself will need the king’s permission to hunt the forest.

Arjuna spreads his hands and grins.

ARJUNA: I am but a humble exile, friend. Would your king deny one so poor as me a healthy meal?

CHITRA: If you go north to the palace, I am sure King Manipur the Generous will grace Your Honor with a feast in exchange for tell of your noble hunt.

ARJUNA: You mock me with your tone, ranger.

Chitra smiles, some element of this battle of wits bringing excitement forward.

CHITRA: I would not dare, my Lord. They say you can shoot a fruit fly at a hundred paces. I have shot one at two hundred, but as we are standing no more than five apart, I still dare not risk your wrath.

Arjuna starts at this, but then he laughs.

ARJUNA: Does your king have a daughter? I would envy a union with a people so rich with audacity and wit.

Chitra hesitates.

CHITRA: There is a princess. She is a bore, though, and cares only for jewels and gossip. You will not find her nearly so lively as me.

ARJUNA: A shame, then, but if I need not waste time courting her, I will have more time to hunt with you–and your brethren–to recover the quarry you’ve snatched from me today.

CHITRA: If the king deems it appropriate, I would not stand in your way a second time.

ARJUNA: I hope to meet you again at the palace, noble ranger. What is your name, that I might praise your defense of his game to the king?

Chitra smiles slightly, and her eyes lower with unspoken knowledge. She does not answer Arjuna’s question, bows her head, and slips away into the forest.

Author’s Note:

This story is inspired by the episode from the Mahabharata where Arjuna goes to Manipur and marries his daughter to give the kingdom an heir (as the royal family is cursed to only have one child at a time, and the kingdom needs a male heir).

Rabindranath Tagore wrote a play that adds detail to this story and focuses on Chitrangada, called Chitra, and her love story with Arjuna. In his version, Tagore writes Chitra as a woman who was raised as a warrior. She dresses like a man, lives with the men, goes hunting, and basically defies all the gender norms. She falls in love with Arjuna, but because of her upbringing, she doesn’t know how to act on her love, and instead she ends up being snarky toward Arjuna.

I took Tagore’s imagining and ran with it. First, I adapted it into a screenplay format because I’ve never done that before, and it allows more visual details than a stageplay. The challenge with this was that it’s a lot harder to specify a character’s inner emotions when you can’t have internal dialogue. I had to use their physical reactions to clue the reader into their emotions and limit my authorial commentary. Also WordPress is not outfitted to do true screenplay format, so apologies for that.

So my story is about Chitra meeting Arjuna for the first time. Like Chitra implies in the Tagore play, she’s mocking and teasing toward Arjuna, but in little flashes, she betrays her fascination with him. Similarly, I liked the idea that Arjuna would be drawn, perhaps even attracted, to Chitra even while she’s in the guise of a man. It reminds me a lot of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, where Orsino has a crush on Viola even though she’s dressed as a boy. So this is really just a snarky flirting scene, and now Chitra is going to have to go back to the palace and fret about how she’ll get Arjuna to fall in love with her even though she has more traditionally “masculine” inclinations.


PDE Mahabharata. “Arjuna and Chitra.” From Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A. Mackenzie (1913) and Chitra by Rabindranath Tagore (1913).

Image 1: A forest path. Source: Pixnio.

Image 2: A person shooting archery. Source: Pxhere

Featured Image: Silhouette of a woman with a bow. Source: Pixabay.

Week 6 Reading: Mahabharata, Part B

Arjuna and Chitra

Arjuna asks the king to marry Chitravahana. Source: Wikipedia.

I love the play format of this section. It’s all dialogue, which is always dynamic and exciting. 

It makes me wonder what the setting would be like. Where is Chitra while she’s talking to Mandana, the god of love?

How would the scene change if we added stage directions or visual details to make a more clear setting? 

Some ideas for settings: They could be in the forest on a hunt, or maybe in the palace in a training room. Since this version of Chitra was raised as a warrior, I imagine her spending time in warrior settings. That would be where her mind felt most clear even when she would be conflicted about being a woman in love with a man. If the story took place in a more modern setting, I can imagine Chitra going to a gym or a weight room to work through her thoughts with some exercise, and the god of love would meet her there.

What other unusual formats could Chitra’s story be told in? Poetry doesn’t seem quite right. Maybe adapting the stageplay all the way into a screenplay would be interesting while also allowing for more details outside of the dialogue.

I’m definitely getting Mulan vibes from all of this. Chitra is a woman who dresses as a man and performs a man’s warrior duties, and Arjuna is like Shang, enamored and insulted by  this strange warrior who turns out to be a girl.

Also, how does Arjuna feel about this? In Tagore’s version of this story, Chitra tells the meeting from her point of view, but he must have felt strange finding a man in the forest who behaved like Chitra. Did he instinctively know he was a woman? Did he start to have feelings for her even in the guise of a man? That would certainly be interesting.

Chitra’s explanation of her gender through terms of her personality is interesting. She says “so invincible was my nature, woman though I be.” Of course the narrative and culture sees gender through terms of binary roles and expectations, but Chitra defies that with her upbringing and her innate “spark.” She seems confident in identifying as a woman while still having pride in her skills as a warrior and enjoyment of being a forest ranger. I find that very relatable, though I know that is Tagore’s  interpretation of her character.

The more original interpretation is less detailed and doesn’t include the complexity of Chitra’s character, but it does reveal Arjuna’s noble qualities because he marries her in order to provide her kingdom with an heir.


PDE Mahabharata. “Arjuna and Chitra.” From Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A. Mackenzie (1913) and Chitra by Rabindranath Tagore (1913).

Featured Image: Trees in the Forest. Source — Libreshot

Week 6 Reading Notes: Mahabharata, Part A

I’m reading the Public Domain version of the Mahabharata to get a different writing style/format from the Tiny Tales that I used for the Ramayana. This is definitely a more complex story, so I appreciate the extra details!

My notes focus on the capture and fate of the daughters of the king of Benares: Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika. I love that their names are so similar, which might have been a cultural tradition (like the Roman tradition of naming children, male or female, after their father no matter how many of them there were) but it also makes them stand out in the narrative.

Amba, the eldest daughter stands out to me. She has a secret finace, Shalwa, but she still attends this tournament arranged to find her and her sisters husbands. Of course, this ends up backfiring for her because Bhishma arrives to capture them.

The tournament setting is colorful and vivid. It reminds me of a medieval European setting.

Bhishma is certainly bold to walk right into this tournament and face down everyone there. He doesn’t resort to subterfuge or tricks. I love how the narrative says his voice was “like the roaring of a lion.”

I love the detail about no one being able to move while Bhishma issued his challenge for the princesses. It’s almost as if magic or fear froze them in place.

I wonder what the princesses thought about this moment. Were they impressed by Bhishma’s boldness? Did they wonder about his motives?

Then we come to Amba’s story. She clever to announce her previous betrothal to Bhishma, and the narrative says she thought it wouldn’t be noble to marry a different man than the one she already entered into an agreement with. And not just that, but she might love Shalwa, her betrothed because she says she would be “secretly longing” for him. Is she lying to get free of Bhishma’s household, or does she truly have feelings? I think she has feelings for Shalwa because she is so upset when he turns her away.

I like that the narrative provides multiple possibilities for Shalwa’s behavior toward Amba, but it ultimately concludes that he’s just not a great guy, and Amba deserves better than him.

I love Amba’s character. She’s extremely proud, almost to the point of being ridiculous. Instead of going to her family home in disgrace, where she would be humiliated but at least sheltered, she goes to live in the forest to plot her revenge. 

Her downward spiral is very compelling. She has a legitimate reason to be upset at Bhishma for disrupting her life, but we see how she takes it so far that it consumes her. It’s relatable but also a word of warning. 

Amba is an ambiguous heroine (haha, a pun). Like I said, her motives are understandable, and I support her desire to defeat Bhishma, but she definitely seems maddened by rage and despair.

Shiva statue in Bangalore. Source: Wikipedia.

The scene where Shiva promises to reincarnate Amba as a man so she can beat Bhishma is super cool and gut-wrenching when she throws herself on a pyre. Very Queen Dido of her.


PDE Mahabharata. “Bhishma at the Swayamvara.” Taken from Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists by Sister Nivedita (1914)

PDE Mahabharata. “Amba” taken from Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists by Sister Nivedita (1914).

Featured Image: Large fire. Source.

Storybook Plan

I have settled on doing a Storybook this semester, and the title of my project is Ilium in India! Ilium is an ancient name for the city of Troy, and my project focuses on similar storylines that can be found between the Ramayana and the Greek epics: the Iliad and the Odyssey.

My plan is to find some kind of framework from which to tell three stories of characters from these epics uniting within their own episodes. Right now, I’m fascinated with this idea of an Indo-Greek Kingdom, where Hinduism and Greek religion would have existed alongside one another. Perhaps this gives me the opportunity to craft some fictional versions of the epic stories where these Indo-Greek people would have combined their traditions.

So maybe the framework is that a storyteller is telling a group of children different episodes where Rama and Odysseus face off in an archery contest or Helen and Sita conspire against their captors. Or maybe the stories are told from the point of view of a young writer who wants to be the next Homer or Valmiki and finds his copies of the ancient epics scrambled together one day, which gives him the idea to write combined adventures. No matter what, I see this project as being more of an anthology of separate stories told under an overarching framework.

So which stories? I really like the three ideas that I landed on in my Storybook research phase.

  1. Helen and Sita have both been captured and taken to Lanka/Troy (maybe the Trojans and Ravana are working together) and they join forces to escape. Sita convinces Agni, the fire god, to create illusory doubles of them, and the escape their captors.
  2. Hector and Rama cross paths. Maybe they are enemies. If Troy and Ravana are allied, it would make sense that Rama would work with the Greeks to help free Sita and Helen. They fight, but like the part of the Iliad where Hector fights Ajax, they end up admiring one another and coming to a draw. I’d like the Greek and Hindu gods to interfere in their fight, so the divine intervention will be an attribute in all of the stories. I think Hector and Rama would respect one another because they are both warriors who are wholly dedicated to their duties. Perhaps Rama could convince Hector to be like Vibhishana and turn to the “good” side, though it would have to be framed in a way that Hector would not be betraying Troy.
  3. Rama and Odysseus have an archery contest. Rama’s bow is more legendary and has celestial origins, but Odysseus can complete a near impossible feat by firing his bow through twelve axe heads. Maybe they try to switch feats. Odysseus cannot string the bow of Shiva, and Rama cannot shoot through the axeheads. They each have to rely on divine assistance–Odysseus from his patroness, Athena, and Rama on his own innate divinity–to accomplish the tasks.

Some Sources:

The Krishna Dharma Ramayana for more detailed scenes from the Ramayana.

The Alfred Church Iliad for episodes about Hector and Andromache, Hector and Ajax

The Alfred Church Odyssey, Trial of the Bow

Main Ideas: By pursuing this storybook topic, I want to deepen my new understanding of the Ramayana by relating it to something that is more familiar to me. I don’t want it to be a “which heroes are better” sort of examination. Instead, I want the unique and fascinating bits of each tradition to have a moment to shine and influence the stories. For example, the Maya Sita episode is an exciting twist that allows for clever divine intervention through Agni’s illusion, and it also works well with Helen. I primarily want to communicate the way mythologies can be combined and adapted to tell new and exciting stories even with familiar characters and tropes.

Featured Image: Rama with a bow. Source.

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Thank you for your feedback!

You can find my storybook here: Ilium in India.

Featured Image: Storybook fantasy. Source: Pixabay.

Learning Challenge: Time Management and the Creative Mind

I’ve had a weird problem this week. There’s a solid chance it has something to do with the massive cabin fever from being locked in my apartment all week (I have not been able to go to the gym or go on my usual long walks, and I suspect those activities do more for my creative state than I credit them for) but I had an epiphany when I tried to work on my Storybook project for this class and my brain, like a tired dog that refuses to walk any farther, simply said “No.”

I have spread myself too thin. This semester is unique for me in that I am working on at least 4 major creative projects at one time, and my creative capacity seems to only have room for 2. I have only been excited about my tutorial project (which is a novel) and my capstone project (a novella), and my honors research (collection of short stories) and Indian Epics Storybook have remained stagnant. So today I decided to take some time to learn more about time management, how to foster creative energy, and how I can make room for all of my projects.

I started by digging through the the class library and finding this article: Being Busy is Killing Our Ability to Think Creatively. I chose this article because it sounded just like my plight: my creative endeavors have become a list of to-dos, busywork to check off a list, and the problem is, you can’t sit down to write a short story thinking it’s just another class assignment. It’s a creative project. It requires mindfulness.

The article’s solution to the problem shocked me. It doesn’t SEEM intuitive. The idea is that idle time will breed creative energy, but the problem is, I have had SO much idle time. Why don’t I feel creative?

Then I found the answer: “Engaging creatively requires…lying around, meditating, or staring into nothingness. This is impossible when every free moment…you’re reaching for your phone.”

Oh…Do you know how many times in the past seven days I have mindlessly scrolled through TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, even Pinterest? Because it’s the only source of noise, communication, and society beyond the two roommates who have been shut in with me.

Dereck Beres suggests choosing more constructive idle activities to reset the brain and forge creative space in your mind. He suggests long walks, trying new activities, and taking time to explore. I tried to brainstorm some ways that could work in my life. As soon as this snow melts, I can go on walks again. I find cooking to be a low-stress idle activity that allows my brain to wander. What if instead of watching TikToks on my phone in between sets at the gym, I find some way to use those minutes to charge my creativity? I’d like to spend more time daydreaming and less laughing at silly puppies on the Internet (though they certainly have their place).

I also took some time to manage my 4 big projects by giving them their own space and goals by making a sticky note chart. This isn’t something I explicitly took from the Beres articles, but it has been brought often in time management advice. It’s important to keep small goals, and I thought that if I gave each project an equal and distinct visual marker, they would seem more tangible. Now I can see exactly what needs to get done creatively on each project. I can see that my novel project can be left alone this week (though I’ve set some goals in case my creativity leads me there). I can see that my novella just needs some outlining. The two projects I’ve neglected need the most work, naturally, but now I’ve given myself visual permission to focus on them. It will be interesting to see if applying Beres’s creativity tips and keeping this colorful chart will help!

Sticky note chart created by me!

Featured Image: Warped clock. Source.

Story Lab: Write Like You’re Alive

I enjoyed watching the collection of videos about storytelling and style today. Style is something that I’ve always admired in other writers but don’t see in my own writing. I just don’t feel like my voice is very distinct, or I feel like everything I write sounds juvenile. Sometimes my PW classes don’t help with this. It’s far easier to teach writing as a formula–subject, verb, object; don’t use semicolons; avoid complex sentence structure–than it is to nourish each individual student’s personal style. I think it would be nice to, from here on out, use this class to break free from those constraints and experiment with my style.

The Power of Creative Constraints

Speaking of constraints, the first video in the playlist was interesting because it talked about why creative constraints are not always bad. They can challenge us to try new things or get better at a skill or solve problems laterally. Here are some of the thoughts I had while I watched the video:

Having no boundaries, goalposts, or limits on creative freedom isn’t exactly freeing. It’s kind of terrifying, to be honest. That’s why no one likes assignments that don’t have some sort of prompt. “Write whatever you want” is a freeing statement, but it leaves me frozen sometimes.

I like the formula the video introduces: How can we [insert goal] while [avoiding obstacle or acknowledging constraint]? This formula applies to storytelling too: How can my characters [accomplish story goal] while [experiencing conflict from antagonistic force]?

The video talks about lateral problem solving, which is something that I have always found fascinating. It’s sort of the idea that mistakes or imperfect solutions in solving one problem can be used to solve other problems. Nothing is a waste of time because everything ends up having a use or providing new information/constraints. I think I use this a lot in my writing. There’s a whole folder of documents in my WIP of quickly written, 200-500 word one-shots that aren’t ever going in the actual story. Some of them put the characters in new places or silly situations. I use them to foster ideas and develop characters or just to get excited about the story again.

How to Write Descriptively

This video talks about the kind of skills I want to focus on fostering in my writing. It’s ALL about specific details. I complain sometimes that the PW program has stripped down my writing to bare essentials, but I don’t think it’s been a wholly bad process because now I get to build it back up. Also, we have always been taught to use specific and vivid descriptions, and I break out in hives any time I’m reading and I see a sentence start with “She felt [insert emotion or sensation]” because it’s something my professors discourage.

So how do we, as writers, avoid the easy kind of flat description? The video uses great examples of specific words that evoke the five senses. I also like the suggestion of layering these sensations together. It sounds like a challenging thing to do, but it’s effective.

Beware of Nominalizations

I LOVE this video because it shows in a very accessible way how to immediately breathe life into your writing. When I write academically, I’m sure my papers are loaded with zombie nouns because they make you sound smart (and they take up a lot of space). However, in prose writing, they are death.

The video focuses on nominalizations, but I think the lesson can go farther. Anything that gets in the way of specific verbs and details steals from the writing’s energy. That’s one reason why some people harp on adverbs. There’s usually a more specific word that does not require the adverb. (I really love adverbs, though.)

I chose the title of today’s blog post, Write Like You’re Alive, because the nominalization and descriptive writing videos have compelled me to look at my writing style and make sure it is vivacious. I’m not sure what shape it will take one day–heck, it might just continuously change throughout my life–but I do know I want it to be alive. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go reread my latest writing and see if I can resuscitate the style.

Featured Image: Storybook fantasy. Source: Pixabay.

Week 4 Reading Notes: Ramayana, Part D

I love a good epic battle, and this part of the Ramayana delivered that. It’s action-packed, and it gives all of the characters an opportunity to fight. Then, finally, it gets to the most awaited battle: Ravana versus Rama. I think this is a good storytelling technique that is very popular in epic. There are so many characters, and they all have their own arcs. Therefore, people like Lakshmana and Hanuman still have victories, and it makes the battle feel much larger and more important.

The illusions of Sita are an interesting way to throw in plot twists. I bet that really messed with the heroes’ minds. They always knew it was POSSIBLY actually Sita and POSSIBLY an illusion. That’s an excellent way for Ravana and his minions to play with their enemies and get into their minds.

I especially like the conflict between Lakshmana and Indrajit. Indrajit has been causing problems throughout the epic, and Lakshmana has been present enough in the story to deserve a place in the battle. It’s also poetic that Lakshmana kills him with an arrow, and Indrajit’s weapon of choice is a bow.

Artistic rendition of Rama versus Ravana. Source: Wikimedia.

The moment where Indrajit’s wife comes to fetch his body is moving, and it reminds me (like everything) of the Iliad, where fighting over fallen heroes’ bodies is an important motif. Lakshmana shows Indrajit honor by allowing his body to be returned to his family. Rama does the same thing to Ravana by demanding that Ravana’s body be treated with honor. After everything Ravana did to him, it would be easy to disrespect his body, but Rama still has honor for his opponent.

I’m surprised that Rama allows Ravana’s brother to be king of Lanka, but Vibhishana was on Rama’s side in the end, which is cool because it shows that not everyone was okay with Ravana’s tyranny. 

I’m really interested in the “arrows that dissipated the darkness” and the “mighty weapons of fire” that Rama uses against Ravana. I think there’s a lot of interpretation in these weapons. They could be really cool technology, like arrows that create light or cannons.

Battle for Lanka. Source: Pixabay.

Rama doesn’t lose himself in the fighting. He allows his friends to help him, like Matali telling him how to kill Ravana. Again, it would be easy for him to be enraged, and obviously he’s full of righteous anger or energy, but he doesn’t turn into a killing machine or betray his ideals.


Tiny Tales from the Ramayana, Part D by Laura Gibbs. Source.

Week 4 Reading Notes: Ramayana, Part C

Hanuman Infiltrates Lanka 

This part read like a Mission Impossible episode and was exciting, so I’m focusing on it for my notes.

I like that Hanuman shows up just in time to save Sita before she gives up for good. It’s a very dark moment because she’s thinking about killing herself. Even though he’s never met her before, Hanuman is dedicated to making sure Sita is safe. I wish he had insisted on rescuing her, though, because it seems a little wishful to believe Rama is going to be able to rescue her before Ravana hurts her more.

The plot of the mission changes from stealth to a battle when Hanuman gets caught eating the fruit. I think it’s realistic that Hanuman made a mistake by being too noisy. Maybe his monkey nature overcame his self-control. 

When he’s chased by the grove guardians, Hanuman has a fun cheeky attitude. He’s not a serious warrior. He thinks it’s funny to throw fruit at the guards even though it might make his situation worse.

While the scene with the fruit is funny, the tone changes completely when Hanuman kills Aksha. The sentence structure becomes short and grave, and there are no explicit details about Aksha’s death or how Hanuman killed him, but the story makes it clear that it’s a point of no return in the war. It’s the first death.

Indrajit’s “bow of many colors” sounds fascinating. Do the colors give it special abilities? Maybe each color corresponds with a special arrow that has a special effect.

I love a fake-captured trope, so I really like the part where Hanuman gets captured so he can taunt Ravana. He’s also clever to use the sacred protection of messengers to keep Ravana from killing him.

It’s strange that Ravana honors messenger hospitality rules but has kidnapped Rama’s wife and is trying to get her to marry him. He’s very  selective with the virtues he defies and espouses. Of course, he does try to get around the rules by burning Hanuman’s tail.

I love that the people of Lanka think that Hanuman is a fire-god because he uses Ravana’s torture to destroy the city. One hero is able to completely debilitate the enemy’s lair. Aside from having to leave Sita behind, it’s definitely a victory for Rama’s side.

Hanuman sets fire to Lanka. Source.

Overall I think this section of the story is great because it has ups and downs for the hero. Hanuman fails to rescue Sita—because she wants Rama to rescue her—and he’s seen and captured by the guards, but he manages to taunt Ravana about Rama’s anger and cause chaos in Lanka before he leaves. 


Tiny Tales from the Ramayana, Part C by Laura Gibbs. Source.

Feedback Strategies: Giving Good Feedback

I love giving feedback. I’m thrilled when a friend asks me to read their papers or help them with an assignment. I love reading others’ works and telling them what’s working and what isn’t. One of my favorite classes I’ve taken in my major is called Editing, and all we do is write short pieces, trade them with one another, and edit them. Sometimes I can get overeager and leave more feedback on a piece than may be necessary. I’m always worried about being perceived as cruel or critical, but I also want to give genuine advice. I always hope that others will give me good feedback, too.

Today I read “The Trouble with Amazing: Giving Praise That Matters” by Jennifer Gonzalez. I enjoyed this article. I always try to leave lots of positive comments on work that I read, and Gonzalez points out that that is a necessary part of good feedback. You have to let someone know what is good so they know to keep doing it or they can see where they have improved a previous mistake. Most of the article is focused on why general feedback is not helpful. Telling someone their work is “amazing” or “great” does not say anything specific about why it was great. It is very discouraging for me when I get work back that just says “Great job!” It makes me insecure. Is my professor just saying that because it was so bad that he doesn’t even think it’s worth correcting? Or what exactly was good? The characters, the story, the tone, the grammar? Gonzalez calls this “Paula Praise,” as in Paula Abdul from the old American Idol days. I thought this was funny because she’s right. We say we want “constructive criticism,” but I wonder if we also want “critical praise,” praise that specifically hones in on what is working and why it was exceptional.

The second article I read is “Be a Mirror: Give Readers Feedback that Fosters a Growth Mindset” by Gravity Goldberg. It is written from the point of view of a reading teacher, but I think the advice about feedback can apply to writing and any other work. Goldberg says that feedback should be specific, and it should reflect what is in front of us without any additional judgement. She suggests providing context for feedback, so instead of saying “This sentence was well-written,” say, “This sentence really helped me understand the emotions of the character at this moment.” I think this is great advice and will separate average feedback from really good feedback. It can be used in negative feedback, too. Instead of saying “This part of the story was rushed,” you can add context and saying “This part was rushed and created an emotional disconnect between the characters and the reader.”

This diagram by Kim Scott explores the relationship between personal trust and challenging feedback. Source.

I’m really excited to read more stories and give lots of useful feedback! I hope to avoid nonspecific feedback and give lots of praise that is critical as well as uplifting.

Featured Image: Feedback chalkboard. Source: Picpedia.org

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