Monthly Archives: September 2015

My Story Episode 005

The BYU English Society presents the fifth episode of its weekly audio podcast, My Story, featuring BYU alumnus Kathy Cowley.

See Kathy’s presentation on Jane Austen and the Art of Argument (given at Ignite Phoenix) and read about her experience on Kathy’s website.
See Kathy’s film-a-day 365 project on Tumblr or YouTube.
Check out Kathy’s memoir / BYU Honors Thesis, An American Teenager in Brazil

Major English News Episode 005

The BYU English Society presents its weekly video digest, featuring host Davis Blount and guest hosts Jacquelyn Dunn and Maddison Driggs.

Poetry Slam Promo:

My Story Podcast:

Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

3 Reasons to Write Fiction

By Jesse Bunton

Most of today’s full-time students and working professionals—heck, even most full-time parents—can find it challenging to carve out the time from their busy schedules to indulge in the art of writing fiction. Here are three reasons why doing so will always be worth your while.

1. Writing Fiction Increases Your Empathy:

“The deepest purpose of reading and writing fiction is to sustain a sense of connectedness, to resist existential loneliness” -Pierre Bourdieu

Writing a good story is a challenge. If you’ve ever picked up pen and paper, or sat down in front of your computer, to write a fictional story (even if only a short story), then you’ve likely experienced the struggle of breathing life into a fictional character. We’ve all been there, shaking our heads and asking ourselves what it takes to render a distinct characterization that possesses relatability.

First of all, the answer is not to go people-watching in the same park every weekend. Rather, the answer to the art of characterization lies in the development of our ability to communicate how other human beings feel and, beyond that, to communicate why they feel the way they do about particular topics. This means doing the unthinkable: putting down your smartphone long enough to talk to people, to communicate with those that espouse different beliefs than your own. Try it. You’ll survive.

Writing fiction is where we immortalize the people we met. Writing a believable character is a contemplative effort that, when practiced regularly, will invariably increase your ability to characterize the people around us in a rich, believable way. More importantly, the practice of writing fiction forges strong connections between you and the distinct people from whom you fashion your characters.

2. Writing Fiction Develops Creativity:

Fortunately for me and you, this shouldn’t require much explanation. Still, this is an important reason to begin writing fiction regularly. Regularly writing fiction is one the best ways for you to question, and often to change, your personal paradigms.

All around us are patterns, standards, models, and archetypes. Fiction, in its most basic function, provides both the writer and the reader the opportunity to break free of life’s more mundane patterns. Fiction provides writers, specifically, with the opportunity to deconstruct and reconstruct paradigms into new models that are can be thrilling and unique. Therein dwells “genius.” Obviously, these creative efforts involve multiple parts of the human brain and can strengthen our recall while simultaneously developing our critical problem-solving abilities.

3. Writing Fiction is Meaningful:

When was the last time you heard someone say—whilst discussing familial heirlooms—how grateful they were to have a video cassette recording that their parent’s made of the TV show “Wheel of Fortune”? Or when was the last time you heard someone planning to make a scrapbook to document all the movies their family had watched together on Netflix? For a majority (excluding those individuals that will promptly begin working on a Netflix scrapbook after reading this article) it seems odd to consider either scenario because the emotional values of the two “hypothetical heirlooms” are negligible.

History has a habit of preserving things that are meaningful…and what has it preserved? Amidst all sorts of artifacts, artwork, and elaborate architectural designs, two undisputed champions rise above everything else: language and literature. History has preserved stories because history could not exist without them. From Homer’s writings on Greek mythology to Sophocles’s dramas, works of fiction have been well-preserved because they address what it means to be human (sometimes questioning it too).

We each have an opportunity to join in a rich heritage of writing. We have the opportunity to create contemporary works of fiction that can echo our historical relatives and share paradigm-shaking messages about the human experience. To preserve our most precious ideas, all we have to do is write.

My Story Podcast Episode 004

The BYU English Society presents the fourth episode of its weekly audio podcast, My Story. This week, English Society’s podcast producer Justin Shaw talks about his experiences at the Washington Seminar, working with the Democratic Caucus.

Washington Seminar:

Internship Opportunities:

Major English News Episode 004

The BYU English Society presents its weekly video digest. This week, host Davis Blount deals with hate mail and he and Chalene Riser give the skinny on events this week.

Poetry Slam Promo:
My Story Podcast:\
Three-Minute Student Reading Series: Come listen to invited readers read anything from flash fiction to tweets. Open mic to follow. Friday, Sept. 25, 3322 HBLL, 6:30 p.m.

Why Blogging Matters

Rachel RueckertThis past week we recorded a podcast with BYU English alumna Rachel Rueckert. Here’s a recent online article she wrote  about her experiences in India that got 27,000 shares. On top of freelance travel writing, Rachel is working for Harvard University, creating MOOCs (massive open online courses). In her interview with BYU English Society’s “My Story” host, Davis Blount, Rachel said, straight up, that she would not have had her Harvard job or her travel writing opportunities if she had not learned to blog while at BYU.

Maybe you should be blogging.

My students have gotten internships based off of their blogging. They have been solicited to submit articles to journals. They have demonstrated publicly that they can think things through, work on projects with others, and build their ideas in response to the interactions they’ve sought out socially, online, with experts and interested parties rather than keeping their thoughts between them, their computer, and their teachers. Blogging has given them street cred they have banked on.

If you are an undergraduate, your experience with social media has probably been mostly very casual — connecting with existing friends, and maybe following a sports team or celebrities. That’s okay. But it isn’t enough. Why do I teach blogging? Because I want my students

  • to practice serious online writing and serious uses of social media
  • to connect with people beyond the classroom, the university, or the moment
  • to learn to collaborate
  • to get some legitimacy within the dominant medium

Blogging Gives Street CredThe English Society has a world of content and good purposes about which students can blog.

Our blog isn’t just a broadcast channel, another way to get the word out! It’s a proving grounds for English majors who are smart enough to realize they need to make their thinking public and practice collaborating within teams, and who realize that this is a chance to practice a skill that isn’t in the official university curriculum. Neither is getting a job, or making a name for yourself, of course.

We didn’t ask Rachel, but if she had to do it over again, I’m sure she would say that the time she spent honing her skills for writing online was as consequential as all the other good things she learned while an undergraduate.

So, blog. Blog together. Blog to make a difference for the club, for yourself, and for the future.


11 Tips for Online Writing

Chances are you’re already doing some online writing, whether it’s a full blog post or a caption for a picture on Facebook.Online writing is becoming incredibly common and for all audiences, so what are the requirements for good online writing?

First, I’ll explain the difference between online writing and print writing. There are honestly quite a lot of similarities between the two styles of writing, but print is allowed to be a little lengthier. The layout of magazines draws the reader with colors and illustrations. Magazines tend to be a little more artsy, meaning that you can add a little more flair to your work to catch the reader’s attention.

Reading articles online is a lot harder than reading them in print, so people don’t read web articles, they scan them. They pick out headings, sentences, and phrases. If that quick scan is an information overload or not interesting enough, they will notcontinue reading. Studies have shown that web articles should be about half the length of print articles.

Here are some rules for web writing:

  1. Keep it short. If you can say in it two words, do it. Think of the simplest way to say that still makes sense. Short, powerful statements are best, especially for social media.
  1. Grab their attention. Titles are the most important part. If you don’t have a good title that tells readers exactly why they should click and read, you won’t get read. Use action words.

That doesn’t mean you have to put “Mom gave birth to baby with three heads. What happens next will make you cry…” Don’t be tacky, but make it interesting. A common trend right now is “7 Ways…” or “How to…” type of things. Putting “Faith Gives You Wings,” is pretty, but putting “4 Ways to Strengthen Your Faith” is clear and SEO-friendly (easy to search).

  1. Be clear. Have someone who has no idea what you’re writing about read your article and tell you what they think the main message is. Do they get it? If not, rewrite until they do.
  1. Make it conversational. If you’re struggling with writing something simply, think of how you could explain it to your mother/grandmother.
  1. Break it into chunks. Large blocks of text are intimidating for web readers. If it’s too long, try breaking it up. Web readers like more white space, because it is much less intimidating to read three short chunks than huge paragraphs.


Don’t do this.

Nebraska is filled with internationally recognized attractions that draw large crowds of people every year, without fail. In 1996, some of the most popular places were Fort Robinson State Park (355,000 visitors), Scotts Bluff National Monument (132,166), Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Museum (100,000), Carhenge (86,598), Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer (60,002), and Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park (28,446).


Do this.

In 1996, six of the most-visited places in Nebraska were:

  • Fort Robinson State Park
  • Scotts Bluff National Monument
  • Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Museum
  • Carhenge
  • Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer
  • Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park

Though, unless you’re writing for a travel company, your audience may not be incredibly interested in Nebraska (see number 9).

  1. Stay informative. If it’s not entirely relevant, cut it. Stay informative rather than trying to be clever or witty, especially with titles and subheadings. Don’t use clichés.
  1. Make it interesting to look at. Web doesn’t always have a pretty layout or illustrations to draw in the reader. Images and videos break up the text and are interesting. If you want to hold attention, include relevant, well-done images that catch the eye.
  1.     Cite sources. Online readers are a little more skeptical, so make sure you cite your sources. Relevant links are also great to get the readers to engage with more material.
  1.     Know your audience. Picture the people you are writing to in your mind’s eye. Go through the article as if you were that kind of reader and make changes to better fit the text to your audience. Select material that fits the needs of your audience.
  1. Highlight keywords. Hyperlinks are one way to do this, but you can also use bolding and/or color variation.
  1. List-icles are great. Lists are great way to break things up. Write a bolded short sentence at the beginning that summarizes what the rest of the list segment will be about. Don’t use solid blocks of text in lists. Break it up.


Clarity and simplicity are the keys here. When in doubt, make it simpler.

Follow these steps and you’re well on your way to becoming a quality online writer.

Major English News Episodes 001 and 002

The BYU English Society presents the first two episodes of its weekly video news show, Major English News.

Episode 001: Introducing Major English News and BYU’s English Society. Find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Episode: 002: Mourning Learning Suite, discussing the opening social, future poetry slam, new English major advisement ( info about this week’s audio podcast, featuring Jenny Poffenbarger talking about her internship at the church (