Creative Ways to Represent Your Story’s Intentions

When I was in high school, we were trained to decipher symbolisms that were well hidden in works of literature. I would always be amazed how we could interpret character actions, objects within the story, and even dialogues differently, but there would always be this aha! moment wherein our teacher would reveal her thoughts as if he or she were the author.

That started it. I wanted to write the kind of stories that could be discussed in our English classes, not only because of the plot but also because of the symbolism hidden within. As a reader, knowing what the author meant felt like being able to excavate a treasure hidden for centuries; at the same time, if you are a writer with this writing style, the feeling of learning that readers have figured out what the plot device means for you is unparalleled.

Creative Ways to Represent Your Story’s Intentions

When used effectively, the following strategies will not only train you to create stories of this style but also help you think of your projects in the future. With so many objects, words, and themes to represent, you will never run out of ideas.

Note that in this article, I will use my stories as an example and explain how the strategy contributes to the overall plot. As an activity, however, you could (1) think of other titles that use the same strategy or (2) start creating your own. I have also prepared checkpoints so you could apply the techniques as a brain exercise.

Word Play in Your Title

Surely, some words or phrases can be interpreted differently, depending on the reader’s perspective. You can use this as the main theme of your story, centralizing the plot on the two different meanings of the word. For example, I used the phrase Over Again as the title of my novelette to represent its overall theme, a time loop. Note that this phrase means “repeatedly,” but if you define each word literally, this means “ended again”; however, the denotation of the latter is improbable, as an end to an event can only happen once—which is, again, the theme of the story.

You can also add or replace one or two letters and then represent these letters within the story. For example, the idea of my WLW novel Tibok, or “heartbeat” in English, came from the popular Filipino term tibo, which means “lesbian.” I used the additional letter k to name the characters Kayi and Kabi, which were from the Filipino term kabiyak, meaning “one of a pair.”

Checkpoint: This can also be a good exercise when you are having a writer’s block but you want to start a new story. Search for words or popular phrases that may have various interpretations, use this as your working title, and create a short story (1,000–8,000 words).

Repeating Elements

For those who graduated in psychology and education, you have probably heard of the Pavlovian condition. Ivan Pavlov is a psychologist known for the discovery of classical conditioning. In his experiment, he would ring a bell and then offer food to the dogs; as a result, they salivate. He continued this until the dogs were conditioned to the sound of the bell to the point that they would salivate just by the sound of the bell even though there was no food. This is the goal of elements that you repeat in a story, whether they are a line, a character, or an object.

Repeating Lines

More effective in flash fiction and short stories, repeating lines may (1) repeat the exact word or phrase throughout the story or (2) create similar statements but with varying degrees with the purpose of sectionalizing. As you will see in my examples below, these lines act as a cue whenever the potential couple is in the same scene, but this technique can also be used in other genres as well.

An example of my work with a repeating word throughout the story is 548 Heartbeats. The imitation of the sound of two heartbeats, Dugdug. Dugdug., would appear whenever the female lead and her love interest were near each other or were about to interact. This way, readers would also have an idea that the love interest was somewhere in the scene even though the female lead thought she was alone.

On the other hand, my work “Sunshower” is an example in which similarly structured statements partition the story. It started with “Umalis ako sa bahay na maaraw. Maya-maya, biglang umulan. Ang labo kasi sabay na umaaraw tapos umuulan. Buti na lang, nandoon na ako sa dapat kong puntahan (The sun was high when I left the house, but then it began to rain. It was a weird feeling—to experience both the rain and the sun at the same time. Good thing I already arrived at my destination before this happened).” But as the story progressed, although the first two lines of the abovementioned paragraph remain, the last statement would change, which was a symbolic representation of what would happen in the next scene.

Repeating Objects

These are objects that, when mentioned, inform the reader that something is about to happen. For example, the use of the sympathy flower, or funeral flower, chrysanthemum has been used in suspense stories to warn the reader that a character is about to be murdered. Another example is when an adventure sci-fi story uses doors as a pathway to another dimension as a cue that the characters will now embark on a new quest.

Checkpoint: Choose one of the prompts below to write a flash fiction (less than 1,000 words) or a short story.

1. Use the line “Could you hold this for me?” in a conversation between two girls.
2. Start a paragraph with “The new lights we bought matched perfectly with our room.” You may accompany this with two or three more lines. Create similarly structured statements to represent critical parts of the story until it reaches its conclusion.
3. Use a black butterfly as a repeating element.

Using repeating elements in your story is more effective when they represent something deeper. You wouldn’t want any random object or line to open a scene. For example, would you use a water bottle as a cue in a murder story? Probably not, unless water bottles are a part of the history of the intention of the killer. Would you use bippity boppity boo to indicate that a love interest is near the protagonist? Hopefully, you could think of other more effective statements than that.

Symbolisms

Readers will remember your story through objects, occurrences, and names that have deeper representations because they will be able to associate these elements whenever they happen or appear in real life.

Objects

Unlike the previously discussed “repeating elements,” these objects do not have to appear in the story every time. The purpose of such is to symbolize a character or a part of a plot.

In 548 Heartbeats, I was able to introduce the six-petal Ixora coccinea (santan in Filipino), a common shrub that often has four- or five-petal flowers; a six-petal one is rare. Here, I wish to imply that the female lead, although seemingly average, still has unique characteristics. On the other hand, in my novelette A Miracle, I used a boiled rose seed that was able to grow into a full-blown rose to represent the female protagonist’s belief that miracles exist.

To intrigue readers and give them an “I think I’ve seen this” moment, you can also emphasize the object in the covers of your story.

Checkpoint: Pick an object in your surroundings. Describe its attributes, purpose, and flaws, and then write a flash fiction or a shorty story that highlights your findings.

Occurrences

I cannot classify phenomena—whether natural or man-made—as objects, hence the categorization. Here, think of an occurrence, whether natural or man-made, and analyze its attributes. What are its stages? Can you create a metaphor for each of its stages and use it to create a plot? What is needed for such to happen? Can you use their attributes to describe people? These were my questions before I was able to complete my short story “Solar Eclipse,” wherein I used the stages of a total solar eclipse and the symbolism of the sun and the moon to form the plot and the characters, respectively.

Checkpoint: Create a short story using the stages of a volcano eruption to symbolize a person losing its temper.

Names

While often unnoticed, the names of your characters could be more purposeful if you intend to portray your characters based on the meanings of their names. Like words, names often have origins. For example, if you have a story about hopeful and courageous teenagers in different walks of life, it might be a good choice to name them with gods of different origins with “strength” as its meaning.

Checkpoint: Write a post-apocalyptic novelette, novella, or novel (8,000 words above) that focuses on two people with names that mean “beginning” and “end.” Create a connection between their names and their roles to your story.

Themes

I first saw this used in my favorite romance book Beginner’s Guide: Love and Other Chemical Reactions by Six De Los Reyes. There was an abstract describing how love was a mysterious phenomenon, and the story involved a woman in STEM—who was also a research assistant, by the way—designing a methodology to find her a partner for her cousin’s wedding while also analyzing her results. The author used scientific jargon, which was fitting for her chosen theme. It was instant love at first read for me.

What amazed me was the use of the term Abstract to represent its prologue, and I thought that it was a missed opportunity for the chapters to be named as Introduction, Literature Review, Methodology, Analysis, Results, and Conclusion since the description of these research-paper parts exactly match what was happening in the book. Recommendation might be even a good opportunity to introduce a sequel or a companion novel. This was where I decided to try writing something of that format, in which the element that I consider secondary—the chapter names—will fit the theme of the story.

You may either begin with a plot and then a theme or vice versa, but thinking of a theme for a plot is much easier than the other way around, at least for me. For example, my novelette Crosswalk tells about an adult woman who vows to cross pedestrian lanes whether or not she is going to be late for work. She then experiences a dilemma of being infatuated with a guy who has kept his private life since she doesn’t know if he’s taken or not. I had this plot in mind and then reflected the events in the story to road signs and named the chapters of Crosswalk after them.

However, you can also do a themed story even if you do not have a plot in mind yet but would want to flesh out the creativity in you and start one:

Start by brainstorming themes, such as sports, food, flowers, planets of the solar system, and colors. There are numerous, if not infinite, themes and categories to list, but I suggest to stop enumerating at five. You do not want to be overwhelmed with ideas to the point that you begin to wonder where to start.

Next is to choose your focus from this small list. You can always go back to the items in your list if you need more writing ideas.

Then, go narrower until you are content with your subcategories. You may even use a tree diagram to be more organized.

For example, under the food category, you have meal types, food types, kinds of tastes, and more; under meal types, you have breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner. Go deeper and you will have the parts of a full-course meal, namely, appetizer, main dish, and dessert. You may go further and choose examples of desserts, such as ice cream, cakes, and fruit salads. Use whatever subcategory you have chosen as your chapter names.

Now that you have your chapter names, associate these concepts with meaningful representations and relate them to what will happen in the chapter.

In the previous example, you can name different desserts and then name them as a chapter, such as Chapter 1: Fruit Salad. Then ask yourself questions such as what a fruit salad is for you and how can the process of producing it compare to real life, or what its components and their attributes are and how can you represent these to your characters and the events in the chapter.

Tibok, as I have mentioned, is a WLW story, so I focused on the representation of the colors of the rainbow (since the rainbow has become a symbol of the LGBTQ+ community). The name of each chapter is a rainbow color, starting from “Pula (Red),” and the events in the chapter are connected to the color’s representation; for example, since red not only symbolizes love and passion but also warnings and war, the first chapter described how the main lead seemed to have found love, but she knew it would be a “war” that was difficult to win.

Checkpoint: Choose one of the prompts below to write your next novelette, novella, or novel.

1. A thriller story whose chapter names are based on food
2. A story about a female astronomy enthusiast whose chapter names are based on the names of the planets in the solar system

You can use one of these strategies, combine some of them, or even apply all of them in your story. What matters most is how you use these literary techniques effectively to represent your intentions. Once you get a hang of it, you will never run out of ideas, now shifting your dilemma from having no clue what to write to having a long list of future story prompts. However, if you easily get overwhelmed and you have the habit of jumping from one idea to another (which is a different topic altogether), I can only advise based on how things work for me: Organize and sequence your ideas and be patient as you start with one. Care for your stories like you would any living being. That is, if you are completely sure that you have nurtured and cared for them, then you know that they will be able to stand on their own feet. Neglecting and forgetting them and doing so over and over say a lot about you more than anything else. After all, as I have always believed, beginning a story does not officially start your journey toward being published—ending one does.

Back to Zero: Cafe Hunting and Mental Health, 181DOMJ (and More)

Content warning: Before you start reading my blog, sasabihin ko na that there are mentions of mental health issues ko here na kinubli ko for the entire June. If you’re okay with that and you’re willing to listen/read on what’s on my mind, you may continue. ‘Yung content under the first two headlines lang naman. The content under the last two headings are writing related.

Kape Tayo, Rizal on a Hiatus

Ang daming natigil kasabay ng pagtaas ng bilihin, and that includes me going to cafes. Ang mahal ng pamasahe, and nagsitaasan din ng rates for some goods. I’ve decided to put my cafe hopping on a hiatus kaysa naman ipilit ko at maghikahos ako in the end.

Grabe, ‘no? Well, passion ko lang naman kasi ito aside from writing, pero unlike writing, this consumes a lot of my energy. I have 40 hours a week to work, so that’s 8 hours a day dapat. Pero ang ginagawa ko kasi dati, I work 10 hours a day para 4 days lang ako magwo-work, and either Thursday or Friday e gagawin kong day for cafe and writing. Weekends will be for chores and for alone time sana. For a while, this worked. Pero at some point, I realized na ginagawa ko na to give others content . . . not to give myself a time to relax and enjoy. E, hello, hindi naman ako kumikita rito.

Kailangan ko mag-step back, in short. I’ll still post the cafes I’ve been to before I paused cafe-hopping.

But there’s another reason why I stopped, which I’ll tackle next.

Unhealthy Habits

Again, please check the content warning above, lalo na kung may eating disorders at body dysmorphia kayo tulad ko. Reader discretion is advised.

I know overworking isn’t healthy, but sometimes work—along with writing—becomes my coping mechanism. I deflect my issues that I know I should address immediately, else I get worse.

Felt down for the past two (or three) months. My BDD may have returned. I gained weight because I had to stop exercising for a time. There were a lot of factors: ‘yung sakit ko sa tiyan, ‘yung boil ko, ‘yung ilang linggo kong ubo’t lagnat, not COVID though. And I slowly gained weight.

Whatever happened to body positivity? I just feel so . . . bad about myself.

Pero pinakamalala na nangyari ‘to last June when I was supposed to work in a cafe. But after seeing myself in front of my mirror, I collapsed onto my bed and sobbed. I felt like I couldn’t share this to anyone—too afraid to be called petty, too afraid to be told “it’s all in your mind, too afraid to hear “some have worse days than you.”

The last two days, I was so eager to work, but today I slept and wept the whole morning while I try to get my shit together. I attempted to open online documents, but I was only able to start during lunchtime after dragging myself out of my bed, thinking how I could not disappoint not only the people who relied on me but also myself.

Note entry last June 20, 2022

So whenever I look at the mirror, I just . . . I just want to break it, alam n’yo ‘yon? Hirap na ako mag-selfie, na-realize ko, kasi naiiyak ako kapag nakikita ko sarili ko. Natigil ako mag-cafe dahil dito. I don’t want to meet people anymore. However I look at myself interferes with how I interact. Maski video cam nga, ayoko na rin. Someone told me I wasn’t what I perceived myself to be, and that I was beautiful, pero ewan. Even compliments don’t work. It seemed to me that they’re saying these stuff to try to make me feel better.

Anyway, ginagawan ko ng paraan. I go back to the diet that worked before (medyo mahal lang talaga), intermittent fasting, pills, derma . . . lahat na. I’ll go back to exercising this week since um-okay na ang ubo ko. Kaya rin tinigil ko muna ang cafe hopping dahil ayoko namang pupunta ako sa ibang lugar only to be anxious about people looking at me tapos feeling ko nadiya-judge ako kahit hindi naman at ako lang talaga nag-iisip n’on.

Ending this negative part of my blog here. Proceed tayo sa mas okay na parts of my life.

181 Days of Madeline Jesty

Part ng Back to Zero blog kasi it’s my first time writing a story na maraming conflicts. The last time I did that was for Siya, pero this is more complex. Ang progress ng conflict ay Person vs. Destiny, Person vs. Person, Person vs. Society, Person vs. Supernatural, and Person vs. Self. Two types of conflicts may happen at the same time, and I’ll be doing this within 80 chapters—o baka puwede pa madagdagan—and in the 181 remaining days of the character, as per the title.

Na-e-excite ako, pero at the same time walang audience. Hahaha. Iniisip ko, Filipino kasi ang readers ko, and they’re quite comfortable with Filipino siguro. And fluff. E, this one’s a bit dramatic. Pero kababasa ko ng English sa Wattpad, pati language ko rito ay naiba. Hahaha. Pero okay lang. It’s a challenge for me. Kung walang Filipino audience, siguro I’ll make a way para magkaro’n. Maybe submitting to a publisher? Ewan. Basta ang goal ay matapos at makarating sa gusto kong wakas. And then revise. And then submit it somewhere na pahahalagahan ‘yung kuwento at ako as an author.

Content Warnings in Writing

That being said, 181 Days of Madeline Jesty is the second work I placed content warnings early on. Dati kasi, hindi ko ‘yon ginagawa. Pero sabi ko nga, we grow as writers. May nakita pa nga akong tweet na ganito:

authors purposefully write fucked up characters, you are supposed to HATE them. that’s like the whole point of having unreliable characters

And then in one of the comments, I found:

redemption arc dopamine

I agree with that, but a content warning would be good at the back of the book where the blurb is written. Some readers prefer stories with an “all is good, all will be good” ending to escape reality. Readers have different preferences just as characters have different goals. I’m talking about published books, ha.

If a warning was written and the way the book was marketed was honest, then readers should stand for their choice. It’s true that one can judge a book by their cover and what’s written in the cover. I mean . . . it’s what they prefer, e.

In my case, I like positive character changes in romance, sci-fi, detective, coming-of-age, and fantasy stories. And again, I’d like to know because I read and watch these genres to escape, to ignite the little hope and faith in humanity I have, which is why I always look at reviews before I read or watch. I only accept negative character changes in horror and psychological thrillers, na to be honest, itong mga ‘to ang nagiging favorite movies ko (e.g., Gone Girl, Midsommar, Ready or Not).

On Wattpad naman, I believe some writers just go with the flow and do not have a specific ending until they feel that the story should end. Kaya may mga readers na pinipiling basahin kapag tapos na kasi they can check if it’s a happy ending. If it is, saka nila babasahin. There are, of course, adventurous and spontaneous readers and movie goers. I salute them for their courage, but to each their own.

When I was only beginning as a writer, I thought that putting such warnings would spoil the fun, but I’ve come to realize that not everyone has the same tolerance. One scene you thought was “just part of a story” could actually reopen one’s Pandora’s box. I learned this the hard way. (I know it’s inexcusable that I haven’t updated the description of my old stories, but I promise, I’ll fix them when I have time. Isa-isa lang huhu.) I mean, kung ako rin siguro reader ng Gakuwesaribig, matutulala na lang ako habambuhay. Sorry na powhz.

Anyway . . . the tweet is an opinion about another opinion, and this blog is an opinion about that tweet, and things must have ended with the tweet only if I didn’t choose to write this. Ha, it’s difficult to shrug off a topic that is related to what I do.

🍑

Ayun lang. I only allotted an hour for this blog dahil ang dami ko pang gagawin today, which includes writing two other blogs. Listen to Wildside by Red Velvet and ingat kayo lagi.

Mother’s Day at Carpentry and Coffee, 548 Heartbeats Self-Pub Official Announcement, and . . . More Health Issues

The bulk of this blog will actually about my mental and physical health kasi I can’t believe that all of that happened in a month. So weird.

Mother’s Day at Carpentry and Coffee

I decided not to allot a solo blog entry post for my cafe day at Carpentry and Coffee since I already had one last 2020 where I celebrated my birthday. Ang difference lang, wala namang occasion, so I was able to see what the cafe looks like without the decorations.

Unfortunately, after I took the picture below, nasira ang memory card ko. I had to buy another one. Anyway, ang sarap-sarap talaga ng food dito. This is one of the cafes in Cainta na hindi ako magsasawang mag-order ng comfort food.

Here’s my Kape Tayo, Rizal post for more information about the cafe:

548 Heartbeats Self-Pub

Nasabi ko naman na lahat sa posts ko kahapon, which is the 14th anniversary of my first completed online novel, ang nag-umpisa mag-pave ng way sa akin—548 Heartbeats! Sabi ko nga sa Facebook post ko

548 Heartbeats, as I may have repeatedly said, is not my favorite work of mine. In fact, whenever I read it, I cringe at the scenes. But it’s a reminder of where I started; a reminder that once upon a time, being a published author was a dream I could never reach. . . .

Now, here I am, with a few published books, a lot of stories online, and many ideas waiting to be written. 548 Heartbeats din ang nagpakilala sa akin sa karamihan sa inyo pati sa mga kapwa ko authors sa Wattpad, which created a path so I could work with Wattpad mismo.

Today, I can’t say that I will still choose the same roads if I could go back in time. But I am now an adult; I realized that the decisions I had made during my teens might not be the best ones, but these decisions led to who I am now, to my better self. So para sa mga teenager diyan, try your best to make wise decisions, but when you make mistakes, learn from them and allow yourself to grow.

P. X. V.

So ang tamad ko na gumawa ng bagong words for this blog kasi nauna na sa Facebook hahaha. Pero also, I’ve seen people criticizing the characters in the story, which is okay lang naman. Opinion nila ‘yon. Haha. As an adult, I do agree na red flag sila. But here’s a note, na na-post ko rin sa Facebook.

Just a little reminder that the characters in 548 Heartbeats are teenagers, and I wrote it during my teen years. ‘Yung mga attitude nila diyan—Xei’s “emoness,” Kyle’s indecisiveness and pride, Marj’s low blows against Rai (and tbh, all characters hahaha), pagmamaldita ni Rai, and even that one chapter where Chris became selfish—these reflected what I noticed and went through during my time. . . .

[N]gayong adult na ako, although I cringe at my characters’ actions, I preferred to not rewrite some parts kasi I don’t want to rush their growth. As an educator, I don’t expect kids and teenagers to make the right decisions all the time. Kaya nga may character growth.

P. X. V.

Ayun lang. Excited na ako, pero May na at slight nagpapa-panic na. Haha. Slight lang naman. Tada, here’s a part of the pinup. Salamat, Canva.

More Health Issues

Grabe pa nga itong buwan na ‘to sa ‘kin. I think ang dami kong pa-ospital for the first five months (digestion issues). I am not even sure why. Kulang ba ako sa pagmamahal? Chz.

The results of the elections took a toll on my mental health. There were a lot of triggers, including the term “dakip.” Weird how people can easily joke about that. Kaya ini-story ko na kasi I see people in my feed doing it. As in that whole week, I had no motivation to work. I still did though, but I felt that what I was doing was mediocre lang. Already at the point that I muted several names of politicians for self-care.

Aside from my declining mental health, naging factor din that I was infected with a boil kaya hindi ako makagalaw nang maayos. Y’ know, pinagtatawanan kasi ang “pigsa,” and I rarely have that. I can’t even remember the last time I had it (or did I even have it?). Anyway, so, di ba, pumunta ako sa miting de avance last May 5. Dahil sa lack of space, ayun, kung sa’n-sa’n ako umupo, not knowing the infection that awaits me. Haha. I thought it was just a small pantal na mawawala na lang the next day. Nakapag-cafe pa nga ako sa Carpentry and Coffee.

Pero ayun. The next day, boom! It grew larger and more painful. Una, hinayaan ko lang kasi it might go away. Aba, biglang sumama ang pakiramdam ko nang malala. So I went to my dermatologist, who is also VP Leni’s supporter. I am so relieved kasi nakapagkuwentuhan kami about the election while she’s trying to squeeze the pus. She gave me medication, and ayun, pawala na.

And guess what . . . after the boil . . . I am now suffering from skin allergies! Di ko talaga alam kung pa’no ko nakuha. ‘Yung first time kong na-intake is ‘yung peach tea cooler, but I remember I also had peaches before, e. Ang ironic, ano? Ako si Peach na mukhang allergic sa peach. Why naman gano’n? Hahaha.

But I was also thinking na baka ‘yung taxi na nasakyan ko e ‘yung previous passenger niya ay may dalang something that I’m allergic to tapos nag-stuck sa balat ko. Tinitingnan ko kasi pics ko sa cafe, and wala pa ‘yung red marks. It was only when I made clips for Tiktok and then about an hour of working when I realized that my face itched.

Hahayaan ko lang sana pero sumama ang pakiramdam ko. I’m just glad na hindi naman ito ‘yung instance na bumibilis ang heartbeat ko at hindi ako makahinga (katulad sa crab and shrimp). Buti na lang ang bilis mag-respond ng derma ko. Nag-viber call pa. Binigyan n’ya ako ng reseta and pina-Lalamove na agad para mabilis.

If you’re all looking for an effective dermatologist, try n’yo si Dra. Asuncion from Skin Icon Clinic sa Antipolo. She’s so kind and super maasikaso niya.

Pero ayun nga. Ang saklap kasi drained ang wallet ko. Nagtitipid kasi ako for something—aside do’n sa concert for children with special needs na kasama ang Red Velvet—pero mukhang hindi talaga kaya. Hay. Bawi na lang ako next life.

At dahil diyan, manifesting isang masuwerteng second half of the year. And I’m really gonna make it a lucky one. Fighting!