Tag Archives: Creative Writing

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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

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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