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Narrative Distance in Life Writing

Life writing (memoirs, essays, autobiographies and biographies, auto-theory, etc.) is inherently personal in nature. These writings focus on personal stories that can be confronting for the reader to read, AND for the writer to write. They intend to communicate some form of personal, human truth.

But what role does narrative distance play in these works? Does life writing have to be first-person perspective that recounts events exactly as they transpired? Or, can a writer distance themselves from the writing and still achieve the same intimacy of life writing?

A range of texts could be discussed here; texts that approach life writing very differently.

Some examples could include clear-cut autobiographies written in the first-person (of which there are many), or works of fiction where a made-up character represents a real person (semi-autobiographical works, like Jane Eyre or Frost in May). A more out-there example could be cook books — these often express personal stories under the guise of recipes. Travel writing, too, can often be an inadvertent style of writing about the self whilst maintaining some narrative distance.

  • Good topic! If I may, The Essays, of Michel de Montaigne could, perhaps, be a relevant example. Indeed, the goal of Montaigne was to depict himself in such a way every reader could find a bit of himself through the pages. In the preface, he wrote: “I am myself the matter of this book […] Every man has within himself the entire human condition”. Montaigne, under the cover of an autobiographical work, tackles, however, many subjects, whether it is social analysis ("Of Cannibals", for instance) or philosophical thoughts, through references to many ancient thinkers. The fact that it is a rather old book (1570-1592) and a French one, may also stress another aspect of narrative distance. – Gavroche 2 weeks ago
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Exploring the Nom de Plume

What causes someone to choose a "nom de plume" ("pen name")? While living in the Internet age, most people are completely comfortable with the idea of identifying themselves online with names other than those they were born with (i.e. usernames). When it comes to writers, the Brontë sisters all used male pseudonyms in order for their work to be taken more seriously. J.K. Rowling was encouraged to hide her sex when the Harry Potter series was initially published because it was feared young boys would not read her work otherwise. Later, J.K. Rowling herself disguised her world-famous name with the pseudonym "Robert Galbraith" when she departed from Harry Potter-related works. However, it is not only women who take up a "pen name." Lewis Caroll, Mark Twain, and George Orwell are just some examples of this. Much like a "stage name" can serve to reinvent oneself into a more exciting character than one’s birth name would initially suggest, what are the myriad reasons for which authors choose nom de plumes? What do they seek to change or perhaps maintain? Have the reasons for pen names changed over time? If so, how?

  • Hi, I'm not trying to steal your thunder, but I made a very similar topic suggestion a while back: https://the-artifice.com/whats-in-a-non-de-plume/Might be worth combining both topic suggestions, as we essentially ask the same questions. – Amyus 2 months ago
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Writing in Isolation during a global pandemic

Amidst a global pandemic, most of us are working from home, and in that context, mental health has become a persistent topic. For writers, daily access to the outside world is an integral part in motivating our creative processes. Under current circumstances where quarantine and isolation is advised, I propose an article that may consider the positive and negative effects that isolation may have in writing as a creative process.

  • A timely topic indeed. I'd suggest adding a section on combating the isolation if and when possible. The obvious answer is, "leave the house," but there are more creative and necessary options during the pandemic, such as taking a virtual museum tour or watching a musical or operatic performance online. In fact, you might profile some platforms where people can do these activities as part of this or another article. – Stephanie M. 2 months ago
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  • Awesome suggestions, it makes sense that the article not only considers the problem but also offer possible solutions to the problem. – Locke 2 months ago
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  • I actually think this topic is so relevant and important to explore during this time. – RheaRG 2 months ago
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  • This is a great topic to discuss. I have currently been writing during quarantine and it is very different and a little difficult. – Raven Kirk 2 weeks ago
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The Sword of Shannara: Inspiration or Plagiarism

It is natural to be inspired by the works of your favorite author when writing your own story. Needless to say, there are many books whose stories show signs of inspiration from older works leading to a contesting balance between seeking inspiration and plagiarism. One such book that skirts the border between the two involves Terry Brooks’ "The Sword of Shannara" often criticized to have plagiarized Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The book has nevertheless found its share of audience and was a massive success. I propose an article that discusses how Brooks took Tolkien’s fantasy formula and used it to provide major boost to the fantasy genre in the post-Tolkien era.

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    Journalism and the Politics of Character Assassination.

    Analyze how writing techniques are used by journalist on all aspects of the political spectrum to paint politicians in a specific light. Some journalist might play with elements of the truth or take phrasing out of context to go after an opponents reputation. An example of this from the United States of America might be how journalist on the right side of the spectrum go after progressive senators like Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They tend to portray them as communist, but they are actually self-proclaimed democratic socialists. The left in the United States of America also does similar things to the right. The article can also go into the the dangers of avoiding neutrality in political journalism and letting readers come to their own conclusion about political figures. Or, it can dive into the risks of creating a veiled portrayal of neutrality regarding political figures when the writing is not. The writer can also discuss the effects of polarization when it comes to political writing. This topic could be a delicate subject to write about since, for readers in the U.S, it is very close to elections. Nonetheless, it could be a good opportunity for an analysis of journalistic writing.

    • This article would have to be cautious to stick to analysing the writing techniques, and not focus too heavily on the politics (as that is not what The Artifice is for). – Samantha Leersen 2 months ago
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    • I agree. I just wanted to put the topic out there for anyone that can skillfully pull it off, and stick to the writing techniques. I've always felt that political journalistic writing is an interesting niche because it functions to sway discourse in a certain way. I'm not familiar with the writing style enough though to do the analysis. – Passerby 2 months ago
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    • The article just needs to focus on media bias and use examples from both sides. A certain amount of centrism is required but the person who writes this topic should also consider the limitations of the media. Drawing upon the failure of Hillary Clinton to successfully mobilize voters, reveals that negative media coverage can have the opposite of the intended goal.So this topic would have to critique media and its limitations. Does the media coverage even make a difference? Journalists themselves were shocked and dismayed post the 2016 election and there is ample self-reflection among them as to why all their polls were wrong. But were polls incorrect? Hillary won the popular vote by 3 million votes. So regardless of media coverage, voting will be served by the electoral college. There are many limits to how much influence the media has as has been evidenced by American politics. – Munjeera 2 months ago
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    • I don't think it would be necessary to stay neutral or in the center with this article. If you think one side does this more than another, I think it's fair to build it that way. I wouldn't search for an example on the other side for everything you say about one side's behavior. – AveryGrant 2 months ago
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    • I reckon the author should be encouraged to find at least one example of the other side employing character assassination. The author can have their beliefs that one side has a greater tendency for it than another, but neutrality is important when focusing on the writing techniques that journalists use. Otherwise, it would be a political debate that seeks to support the ideology of one side over another. – CharlieSimmons 7 days ago
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    The Importance of Travelling to Creative Writing

    Analyse the importance of travelling to experience other cultures on the creative writing process (either your own experience or an author you are familiar with).

    • I think it would be good to include the aspect of travel as not necessarily only the aspect of exploring other countries and cultures, but to use 'travel' as a metaphor for stepping outside of our comfort or familiarity zone even in everyday life, and thereby creating more depth and experience to draw upon in our writing. – MonicaGrant 1 year ago
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    • Stepping outside of the world you know and into the unknown or the other worlds we’ve only read about is essential to unclogging writer’s block. As MonicaGrant said it’s also about getting out of your comfort zone, mentally. Traveling allows you to open up to these new spaces in your mind. It gives you new perspectives and issues to expand upon. Traveling gives you the opportunity to tell the people’s story of them that may not have a voice. – Jailel 1 year ago
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    • I agree with the sentiment that "travel" us a metaphor for stepping outside of one's comfort zone. Furthermore, an author travelling and exploring the unknown lends proper authenticity in regards to escapism, a trait that so many, if not all creative pieces, aim to have readers experience. – TahliaEve 1 year ago
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    • I'm wondering if this relationship might be more reciprocal than the suggested topic allows. What if creative writing is what encourages people to travel? – kelseyodegreef 1 year ago
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    • I definitely like this idea as I think many on this site could relate to the ideas expressed and would be interested to hear another's input. Especially when analyzed through the work of a few great authors of the past. – RJSTEELE 12 months ago
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    • Travelling I always feel can be taken both from a figurative and literal perspective as what one does in promoting their individual growth. The individual experiences of every writer play significant role in how their works turn out, and as such exploring not only the literal notion of traveling from one place to another, but also the mental traveling one endures when dealing with day to day life would be interesting for discussion. – ajaymanuel 11 months ago
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    • An example that could be drawn upon is Steinbeck's Travels with Charley: In Search of America. – EJSmall 10 months ago
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    • W.G. Sebald’s Rings of Saturn is an interesting read that could tie in will here – Samantha Leersen 3 months ago
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    Modern Literary Language

    I’m really interested in the evolution of language across literary movements. We saw the quickening and shortening of literary language during the Beat era, and I’d argue the lengthening of language in the decades before. How are we writing today? What will become of modern-day style? I think it’s interesting to try and interpret our tendencies in real-time, rather than decades after they’ve happened. Have we even further shortened words/sentences as a result of the fast-paced digital moment we live in? Is there a niche that has done the opposite (ie. tend toward longer, flowing sentences as a kind of reaction to memes and media)? Have we changed the way we speak and write in some other fundamental way?

    • I think this is a really interesting topic to explore. Modern language is definitely interesting, though I think an article on this topic would definitely need to look at where we have come from. Explore (if only briefly) the history of the development of the English language, earlier eras/movements that saw the way we use language change dramatically. It is easier to see change retrospectively than while it is occurring, so having some previous point of reference would help with accessibility to this topic. Also - clearly defining what is considered 'modern' is crucial. – leersens 6 months ago
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    • I would be interested from the stand point of modern scientific writing and if it does/doesn't translate well into the broader readership. Are there any alternatives? Ways and forms that will make it more readily applied and enacted into policy etc? How can scientists (and hopefully audiences as well) change to accomodate space within the dearth of literature available for consumption today? – DrBax 6 months ago
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    • Here's a really cool analysis of inaugural addresses by US Presidents: https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3534 The linguist who offers that analysis observes that, over the centuries of those speeches, average word lengths have decreased only slightly (by 5% or so) but average sentence lengths decreased by a whole lot (perhaps 50%).Similar changes in literature definitely didn't start with the Beats. The modernists, decades before the Beats, were already paring down language and rejecting what they saw as the literary excesses of the Victorian period, for example. – JamesBKelley 2 months ago
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    Published

    Books That Have Changed Your Life

    With free time opening up for a lot of people due to current circumstances, there is plenty of time to read and focus on self-development. Books shape our lives and influence us whether or not we choose to recognize that. Personally, I’m always looking for book recommendations, so perhaps an article could be written about books that deeply impacted you or books that have been well-received in general. They could range from books that developed you spiritually, fictional books that helped you learn the art of writing, or memoirs that shifted your mindset. A diverse selection of book genres and the ways in which they impacted readers would be interesting. You could also touch on the messages, lessons, and themes that made the book resonate with you or readers in general. Recommend books that people will connect with and explain why they altered your life in some way.

    • Just to add also, I think an article like this should try to be as diverse as possible. As in, don't select 5 books that make you feel more optimistic, for example. Pick one that made you look at the world more optimistically (a sad memoir maybe). Pick one that convinced you to read more (YA literature is good for this - it is literature that is easily consumed and is a good starting point for a lot of people who don't like to read). Maybe choose a text that is political or subverts a master narrative of history, something that opens the reader's eyes to an important aspect of the past. These are just examples of course, I just want to stress that an article like this should avoid sameness. – Samantha Leersen 4 months ago
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    • Sometimes this theme, which I've seen before, can be addressed by discussing a book that is read and then re-read at different points in one's life to see how a reader understands a book the second time around. – Joseph Cernik 4 months ago
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