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What Does \’ Mean in Creative Writing?

From the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to the award-winning television series Oddities and Stuff, people often ask me what does \”mean\” in creative writing. It depends on the context. I think it means different things to different people. But it is always related to story-telling and language. So let’s explore.

Traditional Chinese Medicine And Western Medicine

For centuries, the Chinese have been using traditional Chinese medicine to treat various illnesses. And in some cases, it has been extremely effective. But that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. It depends on the nature of the illness. For example, if you have an upset stomach, TCM may not be the best choice for you. But if you have chronic pain, it could be a perfect match. This is a general recommendation: think of your own specific health concerns before making a decision. 

Huckleberry Finn

I don’t often teach beginning writers, but when I do, I always start by talking about Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain’s classic is often referred to as the first modern novel, and it is easy to see why. The novel is filled with humor and heartbreak, and it explores many issues that were freshly on the minds of Americans in the late 19th century.

One of the things I like best about Huckleberry Finn is how it shows that traditional and modern medicine can work together successfully. You’ll notice that in some parts of the novel, Huck spends time in the hospital recovering from his injuries, while in other parts, he goes to the saloon to meet Bartlett — the town bully — and gets beat up again. And then, in yet other parts, he explores Tom Sawyer’s island with the group of runaway boys he has gathered together.

Often when people ask me about Huckleberry Finn in class, I tell them about this wonderful duality. Even today, when I teach creative writing, I start with Huckleberry Finn. It’s a wonderful example of how to write funny satirical fiction while still maintaining some sense of objectivity and reality.


There are many reasons why Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most influential and beloved of all time. For starters, he is one of the masters of the short story, containing all the elements of a classic short story (a beginning, middle, and end) in under 1000 words.

One of the most influential aspects of Edgar Allan Poe’s work is his use of language. He starts off many of his stories with a curious diction, filled with obscure words that are rich in meaning but hard to pin down. This is the kind of sentence that sticks with you for days or weeks after reading it. 

Then he switches to the English language and throws in words that mean something else entirely. It is this type of creative writing that makes Edgar Allan Poe one of the most influential authors of all time. (And trust me, you’ll be using many of these words in your own creative writing).

Natural History

The Romantic movement in literature was very much about expressing one’s soul through their work, and investigating the natural world was one of the ways people did this. Soaring diction, intricate similes and alliteration, and metaphors — these are all language patterns that could be found in the natural world, and the Romantic authors of this time were acutely aware of this.

When I teach creative writing, I like to use this as an example of how language can be used to create something out of nothing. Sure, you could say your characters are describing the landscape around them, but you could also say that these elements — the snow, the sky, the wind — are inspiring them. And who is to say which one is correct? It’s a question meant to be answered by the reader; the author doesn’t get to decide until the story is finished. This is a very important concept in creative writing: let your audience help you shape your story rather than the other way around.


In a time when much of the world is experiencing an uptick in nationalism and isolationism, it is important to keep in mind that the romantic era was also a time of great literary internationalism. If you take a step back, it is easy to see the connections between all of the major European writers of the time — among them, William Shakespeare, Daniel Defoe, and Marie Anne de Vigny. (And it wasn’t just Europe — American writers such as Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne were heavily influenced by their British counterparts).

One reason why this was the case is that the romantic authors wanted to write about real people — people with complex and interesting lives — and the literary world of the time was very much about stereotypes and generalizations. This is very different from what we see today, where many bigoted, one-dimensional characters inhabit the pages of various novels and short stories.

And this is what makes traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine such a great example of how to work together. In the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, for example, Mark Twain explores many of the prejudices of the time through the eyes of a non-traditional medical professional. The result is a deeply satirical yet deeply moving look at how society views and treats those who are different from them.

While there is definitely a place for Huckleberry Finn in the world of literary fictional characters, the novel also shows us that sometimes, the body can overrule the mind. This is a concept called idiopathic neuropathy — a disease that causes numbness and tingling in the extremities, preventing the person afflicted from feeling pain or temperature extremes. One should not underestimate the powerful effect that this disease has had on American literature as we know it.


Although most people think of Emily Dickinson when it comes to the emotions in creative writing, it was actually Charlotte Brontë who first used ellipsis — the omission of some words in a discourse — and this is what gives her writing its “oddity.”

Charlotte Brontë’s Curiosa — the title of her collected poetry — is filled with emotion, yet there is also a large degree of oddity due to the use of ellipsis. In fact, the poems in Charlotte Brontë’s Curiosa are so filled with omissions that they become strange — almost unintelligible — narratives. This is a tactic that the poet Jane Austen would often use in her own work, and it was definitely a skill that she learned from her sister, Catharine. In one of the letters that Austen wrote to her sister, she explains the importance of using dashes and ellipses to create a contrast in style and tone between the various parts of a book, adding “It is a great practice to write out a book thus, as to keep the reader interested, you must alternate scenes of amusement with those of solemnity.”

And this is why Oddities and Stuff are two examples of brilliant writing that I often use in my creative writing classes. I try to get my students to look at word choice and use of language in an entirely new way. For decades, we have told each other that “birds of a feather flock together,” but what if they don’t? What if they are afraid to show their true colors for fear of being persecuted? In a time when being different is strongly discouraged, these two series show us that there is great power in daring to be different. (And for fans of Oddities and Stuff, the answer to the question “Who is the Yellow King, and what does he want?” might surprise you).