Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

Costumed Writing

by Maggie Phenicie '13

If you’re writing creatively, you’re already writing with a sort of mask. The "you,” the author on the page, is separate from the real-life you (even if you’re writing non-fiction). But just as all good Halloween costumes need more than a mask, your prose needs more than your authorial mask, too. Here are some tips to dress up your creative writing.

Avoid Cliches

Don’t make your prose the sexy nurse, pirate, schoolgirl, or generic cat. Take a hard look at what you’re writing and see if it includes overused word choices, trite expressions, or turns of phrases that feel tired or hackneyed. Your reader is hoping to see your own style, not one you borrowed from others. You’re better than the sexy nurse—be unique.

Consider Your Audience and Timeliness

If you dress as Honey Boo-Boo or a binder full of women, will anyone remember it next year? When writing, consider the timeliness of your writing. What’s your release date?

Sure, write for the present moment and let your voice feel natural and current, but recognize that today’s expressions (YOLO![1], #somethingproblems) probably won’t be around forever.

At the same time, if you dressed your prose as Roberta Flack[2] or William Jennings Bryan[3], no one would get it. One, because those are kind of weird costumes, but two, because they’re outdated references.

Make Sure You're True To Your Voice

When considering word choice, consider whether or not it feels genuine. If you hate video games, you wouldn’t dress as Mario. If you love garlic, you wouldn’t dress as a vampire. Keep your word choices (and your costume choices) organic and true to you. Your readers can tell if your costume fits.

Draw from Your Experiences

It’s easy to dress as a witch without having actually practiced witchcraft. But to get into the character, you have to draw on prior knowledge. Consider your mean kindergarten teacher as you create your Halloween persona. The same goes with your own writing, especially when you’re crafting characters: you don’t have to base your writing entirely on your own experiences, but it is should be rooted in a reality you know and can access.

[1] “You only live once”—phrase popularized by rapper Drake in his song “The Motto”

[2] R&B singer most famous for “Killing Me Softly with His Song”

[3] 1890s Democratic politician; opposed the Gold Standard; argued for the prosecution in the 1925 “Scopes Monkey Trial” 

  • maggie phenicie