Tag Archives: Creative Writing

Spring 2022, Unconventional Genre

The Quarters

In a Tortoiseshell: In this excerpt of his short story, David Smith exemplifies how key elements of writing taught in academic contexts are essential to other, unconventional forms of composition. In particular, the author displays the role of motive, methodology, and conventions in a work of fiction.

Continue reading


Tortoise Tuesday: Joining a Creative Conversation – Reflections on Motive in Playwriting

For me and my friends in the class of 2022, Wintersession has been a time for relaxing, catching up on sleep (and our favorite TV shows), and stressing about how much work we have left to do on our senior theses. My thesis stress looks a little bit different than my friends’, though. That’s because my thesis is a play (Lia) that will be performed in the third week of the spring semester. So while my friends have been writing and researching, I’ve been attending Zoom rehearsals, scrambling to find lighting and sound designers, and coordinating with the SHARE office so that they can provide support to audience members during the performances. Although writing my thesis has been a very different experience from the writing I’ve done for my classes, I’ve also been struck by the parallels between the way I approach writing a play and writing an academic essay.

Like almost every paper I’ve written at Princeton, my play began with in-text (or evidence-based) motive. When I set out to write a paper on performative madness in Hamlet and Twelfth Night my sophomore fall, I found myself instead re-reading every scene between Hamlet and Ophelia and recognizing how much Hamlet’s actions are informed by his fixation on and problematic views regarding female sexuality. I began to draw out a series of interconnected questions, tensions, and puzzles that Hamlet raised for me. To name a few: Why does Hamlet seem more disturbed by his mother’s marriage with Claudius — going so far as to imagine details of their sex life (see Hamlet 3.4.205 onwards) — than by Claudius’ murder of his father? Why does Hamlet suddenly lash out at Ophelia in scene 3.1? Has there been some crucial turning point that we don’t get to see? Why does Hamlet, after brutally rejecting Ophelia, launch a series of a series of one-sided sexual puns at her in scene 3.2? How are we to account for Ophelia’s madness and ultimate drowning?

And yet, I didn’t feel that I could sufficiently address these motives in a traditional academic paper. While my questions were grounded in the textual details of Hamlet, the answers I wanted simply weren’t there. However closely I studied the text, Ophelia’s story as it is written felt incomplete to me. I realized that I didn’t want to reconstruct Shakespeare’s Ophelia from the fragments that the play gives us. I wanted to use those details as a jumping-off point to write my own Ophelia and allow her to tell her story on her own terms.

So rather than joining a scholarly conversation about Shakespeare’s Hamlet, I decided to join Shakespeare in the “creative conversation” surrounding the story of Hamlet — because Shakespeare’s Hamlet is neither the first nor the only version of the story! In many ways, making my contribution to the “creative conversation” feels parallel to joining a scholarly conversation. Much as I might draw on another scholar’s terms and redefine/extend/adapt them to make a unique argument in an academic paper, my play both draws on many elements of Shakespeare’s play and reimagines and reconfigures them to tell a new story. Ghosts become a way of thinking about trauma as something visceral and real. Hamlet‘s constant blurring of performance and reality becomes a way to reflect both on the behavior patterns of abusive men in positions of power and on the constant self-doubt and fragmentation of memory that survivors often experience as they attempt to reconstruct themselves and their past after a traumatic event.

Writing this play has introduced me to a new mode of responding to evidence-based motive and of engaging critically with a work of literature. But it has also taught me that analyzing stories and telling stories are not as different as they might seem. Both can be equally valid contributions to a scholarly and/or creative conversation, and both can be guided and informed by the principles of motive. 

— Meigan Clark, ’22

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet from The Folger Shakespeare. Ed. Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine. Folger Shakespeare Library, January 24, 2022. https://shakespeare.folger.edu/shakespeares-works/hamlet/


Tortoise Tuesday: Methodology in Hamilton

With the Grammys on Sunday, Hamilton has been on my mind. While Annabel Barry ’19 has previously commented on motive in Hamilton, I’d like to focus this week’s Tortoise Tuesday on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s methodology in telling Alexander Hamilton’s story.

What is most intriguing about Hamilton is of course, its subject: America’s “forgotten” founding father. But a little over 3 years after Hamilton’s release, a Google Trends comparison between Alexander Hamilton and his counterparts shows that he is anything but “forgotten”. Interest clearly spiked in August 2015, as Hamilton made its Broadway debut.

If Lin-Manuel Miranda’s motive in writing Hamilton was to draw attention to Alexander Hamilton’s story, then he has clearly succeeded where others have not. After all, Alexander Hamilton has been the subject of hundreds of thousands of biographies and documentaries. What sets Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work apart is his creative methodology, specifically his use of the musical format.

Starting with a supposedly forgotten subject, as opposed to a more familiar figure, such as George Washington, Miranda had his work cut out for him. The audience enters unassuming, possibly skeptical of a historical musical set in the 1700s (that is, if they haven’t read the glowing reviews yet). However, using a musical — not just any musical but a rap musical — Miranda inserts vibrant elements of artistry, nearly disguising the fact that, at its core, Hamilton is a historical account.

What makes a musical a good methodology? Musicals are similar to television in the sense that you typically don’t expect or wish to gain a history lesson from watching an episode of your favorite drama. However, unlike television, musicals are able to subtly insert otherwise dry historical information in the form of song lyrics. Hamilton capitalizes on this opportunity, leaving the audience with a number of catchy, jazzy, eclectic songs to listen to on repeat, lyrics that easily rival even the “best” of rap, and most importantly, without even realizing it… a newfound interest in and knowledge about Alexander Hamilton.

While not everyone may be able to write and produce a musical to communicate their R3 or senior thesis, I challenge you to think more openly about methodology in your next piece of academic or personal writing. What is the best, most engaging way to communicate your research, your analysis, your argument, your interests? It may just be a musical.

— Ellie Shapiro ’21


Tortoise Tuesday: Motive in Screenwriting

This semester I am taking “Introduction to Screenwriting: Adaptation.” It is my first time experimenting with screenwriting, and as a Writing Center Fellow who works closely with Princeton’s lexicon, I have been very struck by how screenwriting, and screenwriting for adaptive works particularly, relies so heavily on the same process of identifying a strong motivating question to frame one’s work. In my first-year writing seminar, I remember constantly being told to look for a puzzle in the primary source: to seek out a point of tension, or contradiction, or even confusion which I could then aim to reconcile or explain through an academic analysis of the text, as informed by what other scholars had to say. This is what is called a motive. At first, I definitely found this notion of finding a motive to be a somewhat difficult concept to grasp.

However, now that I am more comfortable with looking for puzzles while I read and developing motivating questions which arise out of those puzzles, it has been rewarding to see how this same process is used in creative writing. As its title suggests, “Introduction to Screenwriting: Adaptation” introduces students to screenwriting techniques for adaptation as we work to dramatize true stories for the screen. While the stories we are adapting are true, a lot of our class discussions center around how to go about developing our own perspective on those stories through the specific choices we make regarding the translation of stories to the screen.

In tackling our first assignment, we had to write a short screenplay based on an article we had read. Our professor instructed us to look for gaps in the article, moments that puzzled us or confused us or that left us with questions, as she explained that our own unique adaption could arise in how we imaginatively chose to formulate an answer to those puzzling, troubling, or not entirely reconciled moments of the story from the article. Thinking about the process of adaption in this way, as motive, has proven helpful for me. When I read through my article I was looking closely for a moment in which I felt the timeline progress from Point A to Point B at the same time that some sense of tension or confusion remained in terms of the space between those two points. This between space is what I chose to further develop in my own screenplay.

Taking a screenwriting class has really shown me a whole new context in which motive can be at play. Just as I begin writing academic essays by looking for a puzzle from which I can formulate a motivating question, I have found myself going through this same process, almost in a more direct way, when working through my creative writing assignments, which has been really exciting!

— Danielle Hoffman ’20