Updated: Feb 4
The "Beauty of" series took a drastic turn as we journeyed from the world of mathematics into the realm of storytelling. Co-author of "The Geek Girl's Guide to Cheerleading" and 2003 Golden Heart finalist, Minnesota writer Mrs. Charity Tahmaseb shares her insights in an interview we conducted.
What do you believe is the beauty of creative writing?
The beauty of creative writing is its longevity. Humans have been telling each other stories for as long as they’ve been able to communicate. Even when the format changes, even with technology, people will always crave stories, and we will always need writers and storytellers.
Storytelling can help you make sense of the world and the people in it, even—or especially—fantasy or speculative fiction.
For the writer, one of the beauties of creative writing is it’s so portable. You can take it with you everywhere, whether it’s with a notebook and pen, voice recorder, making notes on your phone, or even “writing” in your head.
You don’t need a huge investment (or really any investment) to get started on your writing journey.
Writing grows with you. You never get bored because there’s always something new to try (and if you do grow bored with writing, it might mean you do need to try something new—a new form, a new genre, a new technique).
With a bit of finesse, creative writing can stay with you for your entire life. Sometimes you will need to write in the margins of your life. Other times, you’ll have more space and opportunity. But writing is always there, a constant companion, ready when you are.
When and how did you start your writing journey?
I’ve been “writing” in my head for as long as I can remember. For whatever reason, I never thought of those stories as “real” stories. It was something I did to entertain myself and nothing more.
Since I’d always been a reader, I thought this was something everyone did. In college, my roommate mentioned she was having a hard time falling asleep. I suggested she tell herself a story—after all, that’s what I did when I couldn’t sleep.
She gave me a blank look and then took a step back. Apparently, this wasn’t something everyone did.
It took me a long time to realize that these stories were “real” stories, things I could write down and maybe someone else might read. How long? Close to thirty years. I started seriously pursuing fiction writing when my son was born (or, more accurately, about the time he was sleeping through the night).
I started slowly and worked on my own at first. I still wasn’t 100% sure anyone else would like my stories. So I worked through several writing craft books and did online courses on my own, mostly free and cheap ones (I’m a big fan of free and cheap).
Later, I branched out and took some online classes and workshops with other writers. Some writers love getting feedback at all stages during the writing process. I prefer to get the shape of the story on the page and let it rest for a bit before sharing. Every writer is different. With a little time, you’ll discover the right combination for you.
How do you create interesting characters and settings?
My story ideas almost always appear as a character with some sort of problem. Most of the time, I don’t start writing when I get an idea. I need to ponder a bit more.
I’ll ask myself questions, such as: who is this character, why are they facing this particular problem (and not some other problem), where did they come from, where do they want to go, and what is it they want most of all?
There’s that Kurt Vonnegut quote that I think helps in creating interesting characters:
Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
Often what the character wants and the problem they’re facing are two very different things. Combining the two can lead to intriguing stories.
For settings, I like to use real-world places, even with fantasy/fairy tale fiction (or especially then). I fictionalize places where I’ve lived or visited and use them in my stories. The authentic details help me ground the reader in the story while at the same time I can also get creative with the surroundings.
One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever received was to use the five senses +1:
6. And the sense of time
Sense of time can have any number of meanings—from the time of day to the age of the character to the decade when the story takes place.
One way to hook a reader is to use the five (six) senses in the opening 100 – 200 words of your story (and you can absolutely weave these details in during a second or third draft). Writers are often very visual, and it can be easy to forget the other senses. Smell can be especially evocative. I always recommend writers strive to include that sense when setting the scene.
Using the senses is also a great way to get unstuck when you’re writing a story or scene. When in doubt, have the character connect with those five (six) senses. This will help ground the character within the scene, once again, and help you move the story forward.
What advice would you give to prospective writers?
Take in stories in all formats that you enjoy. Read, absolutely, but there are so many ways to absorb stories these days: audiobooks, podcasts, movies, and TV shows. Movies and television series are excellent for learning story structure. Read poetry and flash fiction to learn economy of words and poetic language. Sometimes what you leave out of a story is as important as what you leave in.
Read (and watch) in the genres you love, but cross-pollinate with entertainment outside your comfort zone. I don’t really like thrillers, but I will read one or two a year simply to study pacing.
This is another great thing about writing: learning by doing something you love.
As with any other art form, writing takes practice. Even when you’ve mastered one form of writing, you may need some practice to learn another.
I love what Ira Glass has to say about storytelling (and how to get good at it):
Since most of us use writing nearly every day—text messages, email, homework, shopping lists, and so on, we often expect storytelling to be easy. And then we’re upset when it’s not.
No writing is ever wasted. If nothing else, it was really terrific practice.
Experiment and try new things, especially if you’re feeling frustrated with what you’re currently working on. You might really love somber literary fiction, but discover you have a knack for humorous, light-hearted tales. Give something new a try, at least until you’re certain it’s not for you.
Remember this: not everyone will like what you write—and that’s a good thing. Absolutely consider constructive feedback when it helps improve your story. Be wary of applying all feedback and losing your story and vision in the process. You can’t please everyone. In trying to, you may end up pleasing no one at all (including yourself).
What do you want to be remembered for?
In the end, what I want most is to make readers happy. Not all readers, mind you. But I hope to find enough of them willing to follow me and my quirky characters on their journeys. If one or more of my stories can help someone through a difficult time or take them away for a few hours, or make them laugh, I’ve done my job as a writer.
Storytelling is about sharing and connecting. It’s about being kind and generous. You’re taking the time to create something you hope someone else will enjoy. They’re taking the time to read. When we're lucky, there's a meeting of minds and hearts.
That, ultimately, is the true beauty of creative writing. I can create something out of nothing and in another place or another time, someone else can read it and connect with it. It's almost like living forever.
Thank you again to Mrs. Tahmaseb for agreeing to take part in this interview! Check out her website and blog here: https://writingwrongs.blog/