Want to check out some of my writing before hiring? Read on below! My samples include self-published articles and guest posts. These exemplify my ability to write medium to long form blog posts and articles in the fields of education and hiking/travel.
Just over the Loop Parkway Bridge off the south shore of Long Island is the coastal haven of Hempstead. Developed suburbs on the east and west ends of its island sandwich in a small strip of green fields and salt hay grass thickets. Half of that preserved wilderness is the Lido Beach Golf Course. The other half was my adventure for the day.
Less than a quarter mile west on Lido Boulevard from the pier and boat ramp, I discovered this little haven. The sign ‘Lido Beach Passive Nature Area’ sold me. ‘Passive’, I learned later, refers to what activities are approved within; hiking, photography, bird watching, and nature study. I set out to walk every trail through the place. This took me a grand total of about twenty minutes, but proved an enriching visit full of history and unique coastal vistas.
I was greeted at the entrance by a cracked-seashell parking lot. The charm of the place was instantly apparent in the unconventional nesting spot of a mother diamondback terrapin. I was familiar with the turtle species through rescue work my wife and I have done, though this was the biggest one I’ve seen by far, at nine inches. She had begun to dig her nest out right in the parking lot. I sat with her in debate between empathy and the nagging feeling I should leave nature as I found it. When I thought of the hatchlings clawing out of the nest into the path of a hundred rolling tires, the human urge to help won out. I gave the expecting mom a lift to a sign down the trail that read ‘turtle nesting grounds’ and let her loose.
Down the path through tall grass, a vine-tangled archway brought me up wooden stairs to a grassy hill. The crest poked up above the brush on the ‘Overlook Trail’, according to a rustic wooden sign, which led between benches perfect for the bird aficionado. Informational signs told me that, in Spring, I could catch glimpses there of songbirds like Grey Seaside Sparrows, Common Yellowthroats, and Tree Swallows, returning from their southern wintering grounds. I sat for a while, listening to their soft, symphonic tweets for a while before returning to the trail.
The lower paths were dubbed the ‘Wetland Trail’ by wooden signposts. I couldn’t help the nostalgia that came over me as I wandered the winding alley between tall reeds of straw, having grown up five minutes from a salt marsh in New Jersey. The paths here, though, were more straightforward. There was but one central trail, with smaller branches passing here and there. Some were closed for tidal reasons. The central path ultimately brought me out of the hay thickets to a twisting walkway of packed pebbles and seashells leading out through the marsh. It was a splendid, fragrant walk through murk that might otherwise have swallowed me.
At the head of this sedimentary snake was a viewing platform. There I was rewarded for my exploratory diligence with a panoramic vista of the Middle Bay and its wetland wonders. The story of the town of Hempstead leaped from an information panel mounted on the railing. I learned that the town had begun as no more than a collection of shacks built from scrap by resourceful farmers, who saw the business value in salt hay grass. Like many small port settlements, Hempstead found its true prosperity during the Prohibition. It served as a perfect gateway for intoxicating contraband. It was a slow change from that to the seaside getaway we know today, complete with Golf Course and Passive Nature Area.
When I jogged back to the piers down the street, I’d been out a total of thirty minutes. It felt like hours, with such a trip through history. The Passive Nature Area at Lido Beach may be small, but is a concentrated deposit of knowledge and history for those who fancy a short walk and have the patience to warm a stone bench in the marshes. My satisfaction was doubled when I took a peek through our binoculars from the pier and spotted one of the old hay houses- history come to life before my eyes.
The adventures an angler-interviewer and her journalistic newbie husband brought me today to yet another of New York’s fringe island parks. We were a little more off the beaten path this time, or rather, at the end of it. A foggy approach over the Robert Moses Causeway saw us to the site where we would base my wife’s interviews and my general meandering. I was mystified, when we crossed the bridge, by an enormous tower jabbing at the sky. It was a water tower, I’d learn later, at one of two park offices I came across. One road runs through Robert Moses State Park, the name of which is up for some cartological debate. While the signs in the Park refer to it as the “Robert Moses Parkway”, it appears on a map as “Robert Moses State Park”. For ease, it will be called “the road” in this article, which deposited us at the western end of the island just before looping around to bring travelers back to the eastern reaches of the park and Fire Island.
It was a perfect day to get a sunburn, the kind where an overcast grey blanket puts the sun far out of mind, if not for the fifteen-degree temperature spike from our last trip out together. The flies of Robert Moses seemed to have been awaiting this day. They were company both in and outside of our car. Thankfully, only some of them were deer flies, which seemed to be rather fond of my supple shins. I could cope with this, my need for a bathroom, and the tantalizing view of the water tower for so long before I shoved off on another roadside run.
From the road, I turned off at the next site at the promise of a restroom. When I pleaded my case, that there are no bathrooms at Democrat Point, the gateman was pleasant about letting me through free of charge. He didn’t seem to mind when I hopped the wooden safety rail to circumvent the line of cars waiting for parking either. The bathrooms were on the clean side of oceanside facilities I’d done business in, though I was a bit thrown by the stone stall-separators.
I elected to follow the road all the way back to the Causeway. I was distracted midway by a mysterious tunnel directly beneath me. A rail-hop and a slight descent later, I’d passed through an eerie little shaft under the road to a beautiful, hidden little pier. It’s half-moon shape was lined with grey-brick cobbles and overlooked by a welcoming park office. I excused myself past some grizzled anglers for an excellent view of the Causeway bridge. Inspired, I made a stop in the park office on my way back to the road, but was disappointed inside to hear that there were no trails for me to explore. Still, I plucked up to visit the water tower, at the suggestion of the workers.
A thin grassy strip carried me with the relative safety of two feet on either side, to the fields around the foot of the massive tower we’d passed on our drive in. With the fog burned away, the place had an entirely different look. A monolith at the center of a green island, encircled by a colossal roundabout, the water tower was like a giant’s sundial. I jogged over to it across grass long and spindly enough to flicker shades of green with a passing breeze. I admired interlocked cement swirls around the base of the tower and stony spotlights that light the thing like a heavenly spear at night. The child in me climbed the steep stairs to try the heavy iron front door, while the adult in me knew it would be locked.
It was a little of both of me that headed down to see the ocean, kicked my shoes off, and ran in the water. There was surprisingly little access to get there, being that the beaches are the park’s proudest, only attraction. I had to jog down two sites to find one that was open before I found an open path, though I admit it was well worth it. Growing up a ten-minute drive from the New Jersey seaside, I’m no stranger to sandy getaways. Still, I was refreshed by the Robert Moses Shoreline. I hardly saw an iota of the 3.6 million visitors that come by annually, but neither did I see the industrial driftwood, beer cans, or snack bags traditional to my home coast. The sand was a pleasant shade of beige, and free of all litter but that of nature. I had to take a high step over muscles or cracked conch washups, but nary a cigarette butt smoldered in the grainy oasis. I had to applaud both the work of the park staff and the withheld hand of human greed for leaving the place admirably unsoiled.
By the time I made it back to our site, following a wrong turn into the oddly walk-on Robert Moses Golf Course, the sun had awakened battalions upon armies of flies. I wrote most of this piece hunkered down in the car, but not without the window cracked. The sandy hills and rolling ocean ambiance of Robert Moses were revitalizing inspirations, certainly worth the drive and fly bites.
Writers always seek to produce a unique story, hoping readers will choose their book from the increasing pool of what’s available. But this can lead to creating a character or story that is “different” sheerly for the sake of, well, being different.
I’ve found three dangerous pitfalls for writers struggling to stand out:
Luckily for anyone struggling with one of these tempting story blackholes, there are ways out of all three.
There’s a reason for the parentheses in this one. It’s because gender truly does not matter in what makes a character strong. End of story. Period. Does making a female character a gifted kickboxer make her strong? Physically, yes. Does it make her a strong character? No more than it makes a male character strong. The fact that a female character is a kickass fighter does nothing for the readers in terms of respect or interest in her as a person. This is a crime of being “different” for the sake of it.
For example, if you pick up a romance novel featuring a female perspective, it’s likely you may encounter a character who’s “not like other girls.” This girl is tough. She knows how to handle herself. She likes fighting and beer, maybe she smokes too. She’s gruff and doesn’t take garbage from any man.
So what? Transplant all of those traits to a male character, and the reader has no real reason to like him, so why would they like Sally Slugger?
The way around this is to think about what makes a person truly strong. Physical strength, in fact, has little to do with character. Some people train for years to become as strong as they are, some are naturally gifted. Now, if you include details on your character’s workout routine that shows grit and determination, that’s strength. But there’s also emotional strength in a person who carries on through difficult circumstances. There’s strength of character in a person who is willing to make sacrifices to achieve a goal. Note the use of the word person here, not woman. Many acts that require true strength are universal, and characters should be treated as such, if you want readers to care about them. Don’t write a “strong” woman. Write a strong character.
If you’re writing fantasy, you can’t just tell me “it’s magic” without explaining what you mean. If you’re writing science fiction, you can’t solve every problem with ambiguous “lasers” and expect readers to believe you. Similarly, with any romantic story line, you cannot unite mortal enemies in passionate love without explanation. Not if you don’t want every reader to roll their eyes instead of looking at your pages, anyway.
Every great story needs conflict, but it’s a crime of being “different” for the sake of it to make two characters who absolutely despise one another fall in love. It doesn’t happen, almost ever. And if it does, it should probably take the full length of the novel, plus several traumatic bonding experiences.
The way around this particular pitfall is to remember, above all, that you want your readers to believe your story. People want to escape when they read, but usually within reason. When romantic attractions are so wildly outlandish—like feeling immediate attraction to someone trying to kill you or steal your business—readers can no longer identify with the story. So, if you want to tackle an enemies-to-lovers romance arc, remember the average person should be able to see themselves in it.
Hundreds of great characters have been born from tragedy or trauma, and a leading character with a troubled past will be full of weaknesses or flaws that lead to great conflict. But every one of those characters should also have redeeming qualities. They show at least a shred of kindness or remorse, even if they are jaded and closed off.
If flaws are all the character has, he or she will act accordingly. This tips the balance too far to one side, and you’ll have a jerk on your hands. These negative behaviors should also be challenged, and even overcome, over the course of a story. The ultimate goal of conflict is, after all, to change a character. He or she has to be more than just their tragedy.
It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of making a story “different” to set your story apart. But first, write a story that makes sense and stands on its own.
It’s the centerpiece of your story. The cornerstone around which your entire world revolves. The source of all reader satisfaction and dismay, and it might not be what you think.
Worldbuilding, romance, a good antagonist, and epic battles are all important to telling a good story, but at the end of the day, people want to read books about people. That’s why a strong protagonist is an absolute must for all-powerful stories.
Now, strong is a word here used to describe the realism and depth of the protagonist, not their physical or emotional strength. Some of the best characters ever written actually start out lacking in one of these areas, and it’s that growth that makes their story so engaging.
So how can we give protagonists realistic flaws, and give them depth? There are many recipes to use, or pick apart and make your own. We’ll go over three activities here that could get anyone’s creative juices flowing, to ‘build' your protagonist one piece at a time.
The key to never forget is that a protagonist needs to be a person (metaphorically speaking, if you’re writing fantasy, scifi, or supernatural). This means that, when readers think of your protagonist, they should not think of just one or two characteristics, but a complete person, with their own thoughts, feelings, and values.
Here are three activities to help you make sure you don’t end up with a flat, cookie-cutter character, but with a strong protagonist to drive your story.
A great way to get your protagonist off to a strong start is to build them a profile of interests, values, flaws, and abilities. Build a list of traits for your character using the list below, and you’ll have a solid foundation to start with.
Give your protagonist something to love! It can really be anything, as long as it aligns with his or her core values, i.e., a deeply religious protagonist probably wouldn’t have an interest in artistic vandalism.
It is advisable to make it something that fits into your story. For instance, you can make your protagonist seem more human by giving them a love of playing piano, but it won’t do much for readers if he or she never comes across a piano in the story.
Core values are (seemingly) unshakable beliefs your protagonist holds, at least at the beginning of the story. One of the most powerful storytelling devices is challenging those beliefs, but we’ll get to that later.
For now, pick two things your character believes in, that matter to him or her more than anything. Examples of these values include: religion, spirituality, family, revenge, justice, community service, advancement in a business, and so on.
Make something wrong with them! It doesn’t necessarily need to have anything to do with morals either. A flaw is just an aspect of a character’s personality that creates challenges for them in the plot, and as such should have something to do with the conflict.
An example of an effective character flaw would be giving your protagonist the need to handle problems alone in a situation where others’ skill sets are needed. Your protagonist’s growth towards accepting help as they fail to conquer obstacles on their own makes for an interesting journey.
An ineffective character flaw would be to make your protagonist bad at math in an adventure story where the conflict revolves around a quest. It wouldn’t necessarily lead to failure, or challenges. Your character might never fail or experience adversity, which would make for a very boring story.
If you’re writing in the above genres, a protagonist profile is a great place to decide what your protagonist’s special ability will be. It’s wise to make this something that gives them an edge, but doesn’t make them invincible. Remember, lack of failure or adversity leads to a dull story.
Another great way to temper the balance of a protagonist’s supernatural advantages is to give this amazing power a price. Can your protagonist breathe fire? Maybe this damages his or her throat a little each time. Not only does this limit the protagonist from overusing their power to be invincible (and boring), it creates some interesting conflict points. The protagonist may be forced to decide between his or her own health or power.
Now that you’ve built a basic personality for your protagonist, you can get to know them better by putting them through a minor conflict, using their Protagonist Profile as a guideline.
Here is a simple minor conflict that is feasible in virtually any fictional universe: your protagonist is walking down a dark alleyway, and a figure blocks the opening. Based on your Protagonist Profile (interests, values, flaws, abilities), how do they deal with this situation?
If your protagonist is a peaceful soul who only cares about charity work and church, he or she isn’t going to pick a fight. If your character is insanely intelligent and values logic above all else, maybe he or she will be able to bargain.
Remember your protagonist’s flaw, though. If he or she has a fear of the dark, this encounter will likely strike your protagonist with mind-clouding fear.
Write out how your protagonist would deal with this dark alleyway encounter!
As you’ve seen above, a hallmark of any great story is that the protagonist changes. A character who doesn’t grow is predictable, flat, and dull. If this is your protagonist, the whole story will suffer, and become insufferable.
This change is something that should be sprinkled throughout the story, through many minor conflicts like the alleyway experiment above. As the story goes on, your protagonist should question one of their core values, or perhaps gain a new one. They might act in a way that defies their flaw.
Your protagonist can grow, or devolve. There are endless possible paths he or she can take, but the key is to make sure your protagonist is not the exact same person at the end of your story that they were at the start.
This is just one method of piecing together the aspects of a strong protagonist. If you build them a Profile, then put them through a minor conflict, and make sure they change, you’ll have a great place to start.
Remember, the plot revolves around your protagonist’s conflict- make sure they aren’t defined by one trait. Make sure they are a strong character, and the story should follow suit.
Copyright © 2018 Justin Attas - All Rights Reserved.
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