Saturday, March 29, 2014

What Makes a Poem?

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     What makes a poem? Words would be the simple answer, just as bronze makes the statue of David, but it doesn't really tell us much. Is a poem defined by its rhythm and rhyme? But what of the free verse? They are poems too, though my dad insists they are prose. If a poem is not the sum of its words, rhythm, and rhyme, what is it? Well, like all art, it isn't a math problem. "The Scream" is not the sum of the canvas and pigments. It is not, even, the sum of its beauty. It's actually a rather ugly painting.

     Not so pretty, huh? Yet this is a well-known painting, and one I can relate to. What does this have to do with poems? Well, this is art, and poems are art. Think of it like this, a sonnet is like the beautiful, accurate paintings such as this one:
     On the other hand, we have The Scream, which is essentially a free verse. Now, what must any good work of art have or do? It must express. What it expresses is really irrelevant. It doesn't have to be received the same way by different people, either. For example, to me, The Scream represents how the world is awful and distorted to one person when something is terribly wrong, yet the rest of the world does not notice. You may see it differently. Maybe you can't express what it makes you feel, and that is common, art often is that way.
     So, what does this mean? Why is this important? Well, as poems are art, they should express something too. Anger, sadness, hate, disgust, or maybe something else, more complicated, or indescribable. This is particularly important with free verse poems, because they don't have beautiful rhyme or pleasant rhythm to help them, they must be pure meaning. With a haiku, a sonnet, or any of the standard poem types, you can look at a list of rules and know if you've done it right or wrong, but with free verse you can't.
     I think it is good practice to write in free verse, because we can't pretend our poems are good so easily when we don't have any rhyme to hide behind. We have to make it mean something, or it will just be a jumble of words. A pile of dirty clothes. A sonnet, if it has no meaning, is like a box of folded dirty clothes, it can pretend to be done, but it still won't be, and it will still stink.
Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK. You know you've got the right one if the picture is of a dragon holding a crystal ball.
We have a poetry contest currently open to submissions. If you're interested, click here.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

How to Draw a Manga Face

Post by Catsi Eceer, co-founder

     Hey everybody, it's me again, Catsi. Instead of boring you all to death with ramblings on writing, this time I'm going to bore you all to death with ramblings on art! How exciting!

     All right, I'm actually not going to be doing a whole lot of rambling. Most of the post will be done in pictures, so you don't even have to look at the words (although I'll be adding extra tips after each picture, so you may want to pay attention).

     This is lesson is on drawing a manga face. Faces are actually really hard, and they were something I struggled with for a long time. But now I've figured out how to use guidelines to make sure you have everything proportioned properly, and my faces usually turn out quite nicely.

     There are several ways to draw manga faces. Just google "how to draw manga faces" and you'll get a gazillion different tutorials on different ways to draw them. This is my preferred approach, with guidelines that work for me. After you've completed the tutorial, try changing things to make it just right for you.

Step one: Draw a circle.
     Simple enough. Circles aren't too tricky, but if you're struggling to get it right, you can try using a stencil. (Even just trace a lid... I've done that before.)

Step two: Divide the circle into four parts.
      A straight line down, and a straight line across. Try to get these as even as possible. (You can see that I'm not so great at drawing straight lines...)

Step three: Divide the lower half into four more parts.
      This may look complicated, but all you have to do is draw a line dividing the lower half of the circle in half, and then each of those parts in half again (a total of three new lines).

Step four: Bring the center line down farther and draw another horizontal line.
      Oh no, not more straight lines! The distance between the lower horizontal line and the bottom of the circle is equal to three of the subsections you made in step three.

Step five: Draw two more vertical lines.
     The two new lines go from the edges of the last subsection line in the circle to the lower horizontal line. If your center horizontal line is exactly in the middle, the two section created in this step should be even.

Step six: One more straight line.
     This line should be halfway down the lines drawn in the last step, but not the center line. Great job, you've finished the guidelines, or the "skull," as my sister likes to call it. Now we'll actually start drawing the face.

Step seven: Begin drawing the chin.
      Draw two diagonal lines, each starting in the third-from-bottom subsection and going down the intersection of the mid-lower horizontal line and the side vertical lines.

Step eight: Finish the chin.
      Draw two more diagonal lines to connect the lines you drew in the last step at the intersection of the lower horizontal line and the center vertical line.

Step nine: Guidelines for the eyes.
     Just continue the side vertical lines up to the third subsection lines. These will help you place the eyes in the next step.

Step ten: Draw the upper eyelids.
     The distance between the lines should be equal to one of the lines. (You can make the eyelids a little more even then I did... I'm horrible at drawing even eyes.)

Step eleven: Draw the irises.
     Draw two rather irregular rectangles for the irises. I also added the corner of the eyes in this step, however depending on what your character's eyes look like, you may want to draw them differently.

Step twelve: Draw the nose.
     Oh, noes! Manga noses are so easy to draw. Just a little line at the intersection of the center vertical line and the bottom of the circle.

Step thirteen: Add the ears.
     Step thirteen--The part I am really horrible at. (I'm not normally superstitious... but really?) I drew the ears a little too small here, so feel free to make them larger. The top of the ear should be about level with halfway through the eyes.

Step fourteen: Eyebrows.
     I usually draw the eyebrows before the mouth, because I think the eyebrows add more expression than the mouth does. I never really know what expression I'm going to draw until I draw the eyebrows. These are rather neutral eyebrows, so I'm going to go with the default manga expression: cheerful.

Step fifteen: Draw the mouth.
     To complete the cheerful look, just add a gently curving smile.

Step sixteen: Add details.
     Add detail to the inside of the ears, and the eyes.

Step seventeen: Erase the guidelines.
     If you're going to be inking your drawing, you can skip this step. I really dislike inking, for some reason (probably because I'm horrible at it), so I'm just going to stick with a pencil sketch for this one. I erase the guidelines now because it's really tricky to erase them without erasing hair.

Step eighteen: Add a neck and shoulders.
     Because you don't want your head just floating on the paper. Make sure the neck looks strong enough to support the head!

Step nineteen: Draw outlines for the hair.
     We're almost finished, I promise. The character I'm drawing has straight bangs and very curly hair (although you can't tell that now) but feel free to use any hairstyle that strikes your fancy.

Step twenty: Add more details to the hair.
     Unless you're actually drawing the character that I am, you can skip this step. I'm just sketching in where the curls are going to fall.

Step twenty-one: More details.
     Now I'm actually filling in the curls, and I've given her a headband.

(Zoom in on the curls)
     Here you can see that the curls are just a bunch of lopsided rectangles stacked on each other. This produces a very tight curl. If you want something looser, make the rectangles softer and larger.

Step twenty-two: More details.
     I've just added a few lines in each of the curl rectangles to make it a bit more realistic.

(Zoom in on curls)
     Yep. Just a bunch of lines in the rectangles.

Step twenty-three: Draw some more details.
     I've filled in her eyes except for the irises and the highlight, as well as her headband. I also added some clothing details that are specific to this character, and detail of her collarbone.

Step twenty-four: Shade, sign and date!
     I didn't actually do much shading with this one. It's a lot simpler than what I normally draw, however if you want to shade, go ahead and do it. Just figure out where your light source is and darken accordingly. Sign your name at the bottom, date it, and voila! you have completed a manga face.

     How did yours turn out? Any questions I can clear up for you?

To learn more about Catsi, see the About Us page.

We have one ongoing haiku contest. See the guidelines here.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Challenging Yourself

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

    Everyone has heard it. No doubt you've been told that you need to challenge yourself as a writer. Heck, even those who aren't writers are told that! That's what my mom tells me when she says I need to read different genre's than I normally do. So, I won't talk about that. We don't need another post about how you need to do things that are hard to make your writing great. We get it, get out of your comfort zone. No, when I mean "challenge yourself", I mean it in a different way, not a literary way.

     When you read a book, there are a couple of things that make it great. Characters you love, villains that cause some large amount of emotion (it could be any kind), a plot that is unpredictable, and what else? Learning something is one. A good book often edifies, teaches, challenges.
     Think Lord of the Rings. It doesn't challenge a particular view or belief, specifically. But it does teach us something about the nature of war, and the nature of ourselves. That is one kind, the subtle kind of lesson.
     Now think The Hunger Games. As with everything in them, their lesson is stark. It challenges our perception of humanity, what we are capable of, and not in a good way. If you were in the Games, would you be like Peeta? Foxface? Or perhaps Katniss? This is another kind of challenge, but much stronger. It forces us to come face-to-face with our own darkness, and keeps us reading by putting our own doubt of what we would do into Katniss. Would we kill a friend to save our life and family? Will Katniss kill Peeta? They become the same question.
     The last kind is harder to find, because it can be harder to do well. This is the kind where you literally ask the question, through some means or another. What question? It could be anything. This kind is the most effective if used right, but can never escape a backlash. But hey, we're writers. Isn't an emotional response what we want? Perhaps a good example would be from The Help. Skeeter's book was a direct contradiction of what the people believed, and it's shock and power freed minds from the cultural belief that the way they treated blacks was okay.

     So, what is my point here? Well, at times we have something that needs to be said, something from the third degree of lessons, that we believe and few others do, or at least a large portion don't. But you aren't likely to have more than one or two of those lessons in you, and that may not be what you want to write. So generally, you will be sticking to the first two degrees. Because the first two degrees do not depend on the beliefs that others have, they are more broad. They also can be used more than once. For example, The Giver has the same thing as The Hunger Games, but that doesn't make The Hunger Games's lesson any less compelling.
     To find a good lesson, something that will challenge your reader, you will need to challenge yourself. If we don't find it challenging, how will we know it will challenge others? Is it really something worth learning, or do we already know it, like that we should respect the soldiers for their service? Some things are obvious to our society. That doesn't mean you can't show those truths, in fact if you removed all the obvious truths from your writing you would end up with a very unrealistic book. But, the important truths, the ones that we don't know at first glance, or don't think about, or don't want to think about.
     That last one is one of the reasons The Hunger Games did so well. We don't want to think about whether or not we would kill another for our own lives, yet it's something that, when asked, interests us intensely. So the book asks it for us, and we follow to see the answer. Whatever Katniss had done, we wouldn't be able to condemn her, because we would always think "Would I do the same thing?" It is a better question than "Would I do the right thing?", because both things are positive, and negative. The question, instead, is "What is the right thing?" or "Which evil would I choose?".
     It is questions like these that really challenge us to think beyond the normal, beyond our comfort zone. And to push the reader out of their comfort zone, you must push yourself out of your comfort zone.

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK. You know you've got the right one if the picture is of a dragon holding a crystal ball.

Saturday, March 8, 2014


Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     So, my last poetry post was about the Japanese poetry style of haiku. Here we'll look at an other short, but less dignified, poetry type. And, no, it's not Japanese.

     Our subject today is the limerick. A limerick consists of five lines, the first, second, and last being seven to ten syllables, and the third and fourth being five to seven. The first, second and last end with the same sound, and the third and fourth will end with their own. We'll use the most well-known limerick as our example. Seeing as no one's quite sure who wrote it, and those who some say did write it are dead, I think I'm safe from copyright problems.

There was a young lady of Niger
who smiled as she rode on a tiger;
They returned from the ride
with the lady inside,
and the smile on the face of the tiger.

     As I'm sure you're well aware, this is amusing. And most limericks are amusing, or at least ironic. They also usually deal with a person, who is often unusual, or has something unusual happen to them. And by unusual, I mean Twilight Zone-like. So, let's go about constructing our own, huh?

Once a young girl had a thought

     The first line normally introduces the character. Notice that this line is seven syllables.

And such a thing she did have a lot

     To be honest, I'm just playing for time here, but it rhymes and is nine syllables, so it'll work for now.

She saw then a fawn
And the thought then was gone

     Okay, I put these together because the first on it's own is kind of pointless.

And though she looked, it all was for naught

     Yeah, this didn't work out so well, huh? Not very clear or anything, but I'll rewrite it. That's the important thing, you need to just spew something out (because if you think about it your limerick will probably seem stupidly silly, and they're kind of supposed to be that way) and then you fix it, if you can.

Once a young girl had a thought
And such a thing she did not have a lot
She saw then a fawn
And the thought then was gone
Though she looked for the thought, is was for naught

     Ta-da! It's still not half as good as the tiger one, but it works, and this is my first limerick that actually does, so I'm happy with it. How about you? Can you write a limerick?

     Ah, and a bonus limerick to prove my point about their silliness:

There was a young lady named Bright
who traveled much faster than light.
She set out one day
in a relative way,
and came back the previous night.

     I hope you enjoyed this!

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK. You know you've got the right one if the picture is of a dragon holding a crystal ball.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Haiku Contest

This contest is now closed. Winners will be announced May 1st.

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     Hello everyone! The haiku article seems to have attracted a fair bit of attention, so now we're going to have a contest of them! (If you missed that post, you can see it here.) It can be on any theme you want, as long as it's a haiku. So, here's the submission guidelines. Yeah, I know, it's long, and kind of random, we'll find a way to organize them later, but for now, the things that will get you disqualified are generally at the top.

Your submission must be a haiku. If you don't know what a haiku is, see here.

Include the "Haiku Contest" in the subject line.

Include a short author bio, if you wish, of less than 200 words. You can include your Twitter handle, Facebook page, website, etc. either in your bio or on the side.

Your name or pen name should be in the body of the email ONLY.

Your submission should be as an attached dox. doc. or txt.

The contest will close on April 20th. Winners will be announced on May 1st. The winners can be seen here or in the newsletter.

There are no font or formatting requirements, if you win it will be re-formatted anyway. However, if the font and such are important to the piece, let us know in the email and we won't.

There are no age requirements.

There is no entry fee.

All rights remain with the author, we only ask to place winning and other exemplary submissions on our blog and in our newsletter.

Because many publications for poetry do not accept things that have been previously published in any way, you may ask that your submission not be displayed and we won't. This doesn't stop you from winning, and we'll still put your author bio in there.

Your submission should not contain any identifying information.

All rights remain with the creator.

It must be your own work.

We allow previous and simultaneous submissions.

You can submit as many haiku as you want.

Send your email to windowtothesoulcontests[at] Any questions should be sent there as well.

Because you can't really critique a haiku that isn't just plain wrong, we will instead advertise you by Tweeting your haiku along with your links, and posting them to Facebook.
We will give feedback on all submissions.

We also have an art contest, for anyone who's interested. Deadline is March 20th, and the winner's entry will replace our banner, the thing up top that says "Window to the Soul" on it. You can find the guidelines here.