The Escalator

An attempt at a plot development technique called “The Escalator” — from an online creative writing course, focused on plot.

Many years ago, I took a continuing education in creative writing at Rice University. I never took another one, until recently when I got it in my mind to try again. This time, I wanted to look for an online course.

Despite most online courses these days centering on coding or engineering, I found an online creative writing course, focusing on plot development, on Coursera from Wesleyan University. Because I’m not a paying student on Coursera, I cannot submit my writing, so I’m going to share it here.

The assignment from Week 1 is called “The Escalator”. The instructions are below, but the goal is to move the plot along by the use of certain words, like ‘tiger’ and ‘appliance’. It feels a little contrived, but actually these action words really help move things along.


Assignment: The Escalator

Write a scene of 250-350 words featuring a character with one concrete want (a table, a moose, a toothbrush, anything physical is fine!) and one weakness. Use these two features to drive the action of the plot. Set up the story where every other sentence is a rising action. To help you come up with rising actions, use one word from the following list of twelve words in each sentence that has a rising action. In other words: Write your first sentence introducing your character. Make the next sentence a rising action using one of the following twelve words. Write your third sentence, which may introduce the weakness, then write your fourth sentence with a rising action that includes one of the remaining eleven words you haven’t used. And so on.

  • trick
  • memory
  • aboard
  • tiger
  • pretend
  • carrot
  • appliance
  • cage
  • rings
  • crow
  • filthy
  • explode

You must use at least 6 of the 12 words, but you are encouraged to challenge yourself to use as many of the words as possible while still meeting the word count.


Submission: Gold Ring

Abby had recently started a new job after a long period of unemployment. As she found herself in the jewelry department of Bloomingdale’s, she could feel a small part of her explode with pride that she had finally secured full-time work and start living again. 

In the past, Abby had purchased earrings or a necklace to celebrate a new job, but since she wouldn’t get paid until the end of the month, she didn’t have the money to buy anything new. She tried to pretend eagerness in buying the set of pearl earrings the sales girl was showing her and smiled when she looked in the mirror.

As she looked around she noticed the jewelry department wasn’t that busy, but it wasn’t that crowded. She had an idea to somehow trick the sales girl and get the jewelry — by stealing. 

She’d never stolen before and could hardly believe she’d formulated this idea on her own. But after those many months of unemployment and self-doubt —- pinching every dime, and eating rice and lentils every night —- she finally felt like she’d escaped her cage.

Well, she told herself, if she was going to possibly get caught stealing, she wanted to make sure it was worth it. She moved around the glass cases like a tiger stalking prey, making notes in her head of pieces she liked and didn’t. 

Finally she came to a case of rings and asked to view them closer. When the rings were placed in front of her, she cocked her head like a crow, this way and that, trying to eye both the sales girl and the rings. 

The ring she chose to try on was a simple ring of rose gold and opal. She admired how it looked on her finger and tried to remember the moment to form a memory in her mind. 

She hadn’t figured out exactly how she was going to steal it and began to feel her confidence waning. Suddenly, what had been a loud murmur at the other end of the jewelry case exploded into a commotion. A well-dressed man and woman began to yell and scream, hurling filthy insults at each other.

All of the sales attendants immediately hurried over to the couple, including the sales girl who had been serving Abby. 

Like a tiger, Abby pounced at her lucky opportunity. She put her ringed hand in her pocket, picked up her bag and began quickly walking, almost running, towards the door.

Just as she reached the door, she heard a voice call out to her, “Oh, Miss! Oh, Miss!”. But Abby didn’t stop.

Notes on Interpersonal Communication

After giving a few recommendations to an acquaintance about my favorite online learning platform, Lynda, I recently watched one of the courses I suggested called Interpersonal Communication. This course is taught by Dorie Clark, who teaches several other business communications courses.

I don’t always take notes, but this time I took a decent amount. I am hoping that re-writing them on my blog, this will help me remember in the moment. (It also helps me throw away some of the papers piling up on my desk.)


9 Notes on Interpersonal Communication

1. How to Make Requests Effectively

Dig your well before you’re thirsty.

  1. Invest in favors before making them.
  2. Explain the context of your request.
  3. Acknowledge you’re requesting a favor. “Thank you for the favor.”
  4. Indicate where your interests are aligned.
  5. Express genuine gratitude.

2. Communicating by Phone or Email?

If it’s a boss or power broker, do they have an opinion or a preference about which they prefer? If so, choose what they prefer. Otherwise, some tips on email vs phone, and benefits of each:

Benefits of Email

  • Simple information
  • Different time zones, travel, late at night
  • Dealing with a talkative person

Benefits of Phone

  • Brainstorming or Troubleshooting
  • Emotional conversation

3. How to Interpret Non-Verbal Cues and What to Watch Out for In Yourself:

She might be cold, but crossed arms signals “closed” body language.
  • (Micro) Expressions of contempt (especially those brief expressions in yourself)
  • Open vs Closed body language
  • Check the direction of the feet; where are they pointed
  • Mismatched facial expressions

 

4. Communicating with Your Supervisor

Manage expectations by ranking projects.

Get the guidance you need:

  • Have a conversation about how to have conversations. [WARNING] – This will be uncomfortable.
  • Develop an emergency plan, on what to do when your supervisor cannot be reached.
  • Create an operating manual for your job.

Ask the right questions:

  • What can I do that’s most helpful for you right now?
  • How can I prioritize that?
  • Do you see anything that I’m missing?

5. Meetings

Notes on when to speak up in meetings and when to listen:

  • Listen when you don’t know the context
  • Listen when you don’t have a strong opinion
  • Speak when you have relevant experience
  • Speak if you have useful resources
  • Speak if you do have a strong opinion
  • Speak if you have key questions

6. Managing Tricky Communications

Can occur in cross-cultural scenarios when some culture explain things with direct language and some use indirect. Ex: Germany (direct), the US (mostly direct), and Japan (indirect).

In addition, some cultures are very formal and others are more informal. Ex: In the US, using an honorific title like Director or Chairman to refer to someone is way too formal, but some countries it’s standard.

Reference to work done by Andy Molinsky.

7. Interpreting Interruptions

  • Why are they interrupting?
  • Do they want more detail?
  • Is it a culture of interruptions or just one person?

Solutions

  • Talk one on one: Bob, you interrupted me 3 times. If Bob protests: I’m sure you didn’t intend it, but my impression was that you interrupted me 3 times.
  • Change the system: Talk to your manager and take note. Choose an interruption monitor for meetings. Ask meeting organizers to stop interruptions.

8. Responding to Critical Feedback

The most important rule is: know who to take feedback from! There are only two sources of feedback:

  1. Your boss (or client or professor).
  2. Anyone you ask for feedback.

If it’s anyone else, their opinion is not important. 

Other Tips:

  • Don’t respond immediately to feedback. Give yourself time to reflect.
  • If you’re worried about negative feedback: Think of worse-case scenarios between you and your boss. Write down possible criticisms and then your solutions.

9. Communicating as an Introvert

The office is optimized for extroversion, but you can play to your strengths:

  • Get an agenda before the meeting and share your thoughts in written format (even before the meeting).
  • Get a friend to advocate for you, and you can advocate for an introvert.
  • Try creating talking points
  • Create challenges: Ex: “I’m going to be the first to speak up.”
  • Do more pre-work.

 


Conclusion

If you’re interested in this course, here’s an overview:

Communicating effectively isn’t an innate talent that some people have and others don’t—it’s something that anyone can learn and practice. In this course, learn strategies that can help you hone and master your interpersonal communication skills.

Join personal branding and career expert Dorie Clark as she shares techniques for getting your message across effectively in the workplace, and explains how to tackle potential communication challenges with your colleagues and supervisor. She also discusses how to grapple with tricky situations, taking you through how to handle interruptions, respond to critical feedback, and communicate across cultures.

This course was released 6/13/2017 and rated “Beginner” skill level. So fairly recent and open to everyone. Also it’s only 37m 7s, so easy to fit into a day.

I saw a few more courses I didn’t know about on her author page, about how to hold yourself accountable and body language for women — also around 30 minutes. Maybe I’ll take those and write more notes.

Design Courses with Ellen Lupton on Skillshare

Ellen Lupton is a curator of contemporary design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City and director of the Graphic Design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore. She is also the author of Thinking with Type, which is widely used in graphic design.

After recently browsing around on Skillshare, I discovered a few of her courses. Many are free and only around 30 min long. Here’s a short list. I haven’t taken them all, but I hope to review them sometime soon.

Typography That Works: Typographic Composition and Fonts

Screenshot from skillshare

 

 

 

Demystifying Beauty: Inspiration for Design

scrreenshot

 

 

 

 

Graphic Design Basics

Screen shot of video on scale

 

 

 

How Posters Work

Title slide for skillshare

 

 

 

 

I’m not a big fan of the Skillshare interface — for one thing, the videos autoplay when you load the page. But, these are pretty short videos, about 30 minutes, so don’t let autoplay scare you. Plus, they’re all free.