Two versions of Litany by Billy Collins

A three year old reciting:


Billy Collins reading:


Optical Illusions:  They work on the brain like metaphors do.



Some Definitions of Poetry

Poetry is what gets lost in translation.  ~Robert Frost

Imaginary gardens with real toads in them.  ~Marianne Moore's definition of poetry, "Poetry," Collected Poems, 1951

Poetry should... should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.  ~John Keats

Poetry is thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.  ~Thomas Gray

A poet is someone who stands outside in the rain hoping to be struck by lightning.  ~James Dickey

If you know what you are going to write when you're writing a poem, it's going to be average.  ~Derek Walcott

Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.  ~Rita Dove

What oft was thought, but never so well expressed.  Alexander Pope
Poetry is like making a joke. If you get one word wrong
at the end of a joke, you have lost the whole thing.
-   W.S. Merwin

Poetry is news that stays news...  Ezra Pound

Check out this cool YouTube video on the power of Body language by Amy Cuddy:

This is a Ted Talk, which is something you should know about and explore.  Great talks in 15 minutes.



Short Story Cheat Sheet  Professor James Hall, Spring 2013, FIU

1.     How long will your story be?  If it’s 3000 words, or roughly 12 pages long, then how many scenes will there be?  An average number might be 5 or 6 which would mean that each scene should be no longer than 2 pages.  That means you’ll have 5 or 6 changes in location or time or both.  One event ends, and the action shifts to a new place and time.  So as you think about the structure of your story, keep in mind that you must get to the point quickly at the opening.  12 pages may sound like a lot, but it fills up very fast, especially when you use dialog.  So you can’t have a leisurely pace and expect to tell a real short story in only 12 pages.  Things must keep moving along briskly.

2.     Who is your story about?  Only one character can be the protagonist.  You must decide at the opening.  A protagonist is the person who makes the action happen.  The other main character is the antagonist, or the person who is standing in the way of the protagonist.    In most short stories of this length, there will be those two characters, then maybe two or three others who have walk-on roles.  They might be crucial roles, but they aren’t in the same league as the protagonist or antagonist.  For the purposes of this first story, don’t make it hard on yourself:  only go into the mind of the protagonist.  Don’t tell us the thoughts of the other characters.  You might give us a quick history about them, very quick—a sentence or two—but only that.  Stay out of their thoughts.  Only see events through the eyes of the protagonist.

3.         What does your main character want?   This thing should be small and
concrete, but it should also suggest something bigger and more emotionally
complex.  A girl wants to take a ride in the airplane of a traveling air show
pilot.  (simple and concrete)  But the larger thing she wants is:  excitement, a
larger view of her small town, escape from the limitations of her life,
romance, etc.  As with poetry, you shouldn’t try to spell any of that out.  Be
sly.  Let your reader infer the larger thing.  Just stick to the concrete situation. 
A poor man wants a bicycle because then he can ride to the other side of
town where the jobs are.  And then he might have a chance to get work to
feed his family and have a comfortable, safe, ordinary life.  That’s all he
wants, but he needs the bicycle.  So getting a bicycle and keeping it safe from
thieves is a major issue for this man, while if a middle-class kid in Miami
wants a bicycle, that desire is totally different.  It will mean something else

4.         What do they do to get what they want?   This is the main action of the story. 
A character sets off on a quest to accomplish something.  To get into that
airplane, or acquire and protect that bicycle.  It’s what they do, the actions
they take that show us their character, their resourcefulness, their values,
their courage, their weaknesses, and so on.  We learn who they are by what
they do—not by what they think.  Thinking TELLS us about characters, while
acting SHOWS us about characters.  A dramatic story is one that SHOWS
action and speech and behavior 90 percent of the time, and keeps telling to
an absolute minimum.

5.         What stands in the way of the protagonist?  

             If what the character wants is easily acquired, there’d be no story.  What makes stories
             interesting is conflict, problems, trouble, difficulty, challenges, obstacles, danger, risk,  
             struggle.  Without conflict there can be no story.  Sometimes this conflict can be partly 
             internal within the main character.  The girl is timid and shy and inexperienced and 
             doesn’t know how to ask for a ride from the visiting pilot. 

            But internal conflicts aren’t concrete.  They can play a small role, but overall you should 
            look for other obstacles that are external.  The obvious and usual form of conflict is to use
           the antagonist as the source of difficulty.  The airplane pilot will take the girl for a ride in 
           his plane, but he wants her to be intimate with him first.  Will she permit that?  If she 
           does, what problems does that create?  Once she’s intimate with him, a whole new set of 
           complications might arise, taking the story in a new, an unexpected direction.  The girl’s 
           mother or her family objects to her playing around with the pilot and “ground” her.  Etc. 
           etc.  Complications lead to more complications.  In a story as short as the one you’re 
           writing, you might be able to have a couple of complications, but no more than that.

6.         How does the setting shape or highlight the action?   Where the story takes
 place is crucial.  An argument between two people at home in their bedroom
is much different than an argument in a crowded restaurant or during a
funeral service.  Use the setting to help you create more tension, and
therefore to help reveal more about the character who the story is about.

7.         What aspect of the protagonist’s character helps them achieve their goal?
(their timidity, their honesty, their courage, their ingeniousness, their self-
destructiveness)  Usually in a short story, a character doesn’t get what they
wanted initially, but through the events of the story, their goal changes, and
they settle for something different.

8.          How is the protagonist changed at the end of the story?  If there is no change,
even a subtle one, there is no story.  The changes characters undergo in
stories are not huge, but they are still consequential.  A boy quits his first job
at the grocery store.  It’s a scary and dangerous and courageous step, but it’s
also emancipating.  He decides he doesn’t want to grow up to be the manager
of a  super market or anything so normal.  He takes the first small step
toward some new and unknowable life.

9.         Why should a reader care?  To engage the reader’s sympathy, we must
 connect to the protagonist emotionally.  We must form a bond with them. 
We must understand them, root for them.  Again, as with poetry, you enemies
are abstraction and vagueness.  You want your characters to exist and
operate in real spaces with real problems that we connect with immediately. 
You don’t have to create a super dramatic problem, like an abortion as in the
Hemingway story.  A much smaller problem is fine as long as the problem is
 clear and specific.  We care about people who seem vulnerable and honest
and are caught in difficult problems  We care about people who may be
flawed, or even dark if we are allowed to witness their world and understand
how they became the way they are.  The surest way to lose a reader is to
create a character who is murky and confusing and general.  The second
surest way to lose the reader is to put that murky character into a bathtub
and have them lie there in the warm water and merely think for 12 pages.


Check out this youtube video of John Dufresne, an FIU professor and fiction writer, discussing short story writing.  It's very short and could be very valuable.



This is a great list of quotes from 20 great writers on revising their writing.


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