Human Interest

The CSP Summer Workshops offer students the opportunity to explore their interests outside of academics through workshops such as virtual choir, movie club, cooking, and career exploration. One of our most popular workshops is Creative Writing and this year we’re sharing writing pieces from some of our workshop participants. We hope you enjoy them!

The following writing sample was submitted by Anexis Matos, an English major with a concentration in Creative Writing at Montclair State University.

A note from Anexis… “This summer, I registered for seven workshops. I attended the majority of them. Throughout the summer, I’ve learned many different things that I’m sure I’ll be using as my journey continues. It was also great making friends. I’m currently in touch with two o them. I met both during workshop and it’s been great. I hope the workshops will happen more often as I believe they’re very helpful.”

Writing Daughter of Death by Anexis Matos

If you know me, you know I’m an avid story consumer. Reading is one of my favorite things to do. 2020 was my best year, getting 160 books in. Quarantine helped, but I was also going to job interviews two months before it started. In my commutes, I always had an audiobook playing without fail. I still do that when I’m not in a reading slump. 2021 was my next best reading year. I got in 130 books.

After a few months off from college, I applied to Montclair and started during the spring. At the time, school was online. I added what I was reading in class to my Goodreads reading challenge. A lot of it was Shakespeare.

Now, it’s 2022 and I’ve read 52 books. This was my original challenge. I’ve changed my challenge to 100 but have not yet read book 53.

This is all to say that I love books. I’m also a writer hoping to one day publish my work. In June of 2021, I began the project known as The Traveler’s Curse. It’s a very loose Beauty and the Beast retelling that takes place in a fantastical universe that’s a copy of our modern world, but with several different realms. It serves as a backdrop to the main story which takes place in the demon realm.

We follow two characters, Gwen and Declan. After a night of unforeseen events, Gwen finds herself in the arms of her lover, demon sovereign Declan. For a time, she’s happy, but her past comes to haunt her when her uncle, king of Zellus writes to the sovereigns of the demon realm for her to be surrendered to his custody. Now, she must confront her past with help from her friends and love she refuses to lose.

It started off as a novella. That was my original plan. I wrote the first draft in about a month and, for the next few months, I went on an editing journey where it went from a novella to a novel. Every time I edited, I found problems and rewrote most of the book. It took reaching the fourth draft for me to feel like I didn’t fully know where I was going with it. For me to realize that I was way in over my head. It was too big of a project for me.

At some point during my rewrite of the fourth draft, I got an idea for a short story about the daughter of a god of death. The title, Daughter of Death, came with the idea. For two days, the idea floated in my head and I decided to take a break from novel writing and focus on the short story. At the time, I was documenting my writing journey for my YouTube channel. Because I would not be working on The Traveler’s Curse, I took a break from that as well.

For about a month or two, I worked on Daughter of Death. I wrote my first draft in the middle of this semester and have been editing it since. The writing came easily to me. Shockingly, I had no experiences of writer’s block. I had a lot of realizations about The Traveler’s Curse.

My favorite stories are character driven ones. I don’t care about plot because it doesn’t define the story for me. Characters make or break a book for me. It’s one of the reasons I love Sarah J. Maas so much. She’s my favorite author right now. I’ve read all her books with the exception of the one she wrote for the series DC Icons. Everything she writes revolves around her characters. The plot is there, but, most of the time, it’s more of a backdrop.

In Daughter of Death, I found that I focused on my characters more than my plot. I had a balance, but characters became my main focus. They move the plot, not the other way around. I had a grasp on who they were. Their backgrounds. Their personalities. Their present life.

For the longest time, I wrote in first person. However, for Daughter of Death, I chose to write it in third person. I have a reputation of hating my third person writing. I found I liked the way I wrote it this time. I found that my best third person writing is third person present. I can write in their person past, but I need to acknowledge my character and author voice. I need to make sure I don’t sound robotic, unless I’m writing in the point of view of a robot, of course.

Last but not least, I realized I had a terrible misconception of short stories. I enjoy reading short story collections, but I always felt it didn’t explore enough. That it was too restrained to do so. To be fair, I think I read a lot of stories like this. However, it was unfair for me to judge short stories so harshly because of these experiences.

My thought was that a novel would explore themes and characters better. This is why I was so against writing short stories. Why I wanted to write a novel in the first place. I made a mistake. Short stories can explore themes and characters. It may even do it better because it’s in a shorter format.

I probably should have realized this when I was reading The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. Most of them are novellas and explore the main character better than a lot of the books I’ve read. They have a plot and character balance like what I want to write.

I realized I was not focusing enough on my characters in The Traveler’s Curse. I focused a lot on the plot. I also didn’t develop the romantic aspect of the story. The friendships. These are important to me. That’s what I attempted to do when writing a novel in the first place.

I eventually decided to go back to The Traveler’s Curse. I didn’t know what to do, though. Continue with the novel? Rewrite everything again? Scrap it? Leave it alone for a while? After thinking for a bit, I decided to scrap the novel and rework the idea into a group of short stories or possible novellas. I’ve even shortened my title to The Traveler. Each story will focus on a specific event of the overarching plot. It feels like a similar writing style to Avatar: The Last Airbender. There’s an overarching plot, but the episodes feel like slice of life anime. All of them explore the characters while keeping plot in the background. That’s my plan for The Traveler.

I will always be grateful for writing Daughter of Death. If I didn’t pay attention to a random new idea, where would I be now in my writing? Would I have continued working on this novel and constantly being unsure about it? Would I have scrapped it entirely?

Daughter of Death was a wonderful lesson on storytelling and characters. The plan now is to publish it as my debut. I think the final produce will be a novella. I just have to figure out self-publishing.