We are finished with Frankenstein...boo! One of my favorite book studies to date. Next week we move on to George Orwell's classic dystopian tale...Animal Farm. What happens when a bunch of pigs launch a rebellion? Hmm...gee, I wouldn't know....
William Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey"
In Week #5 we read and discussed a small passage from "Tintern Abbey" (also included by Mary Shelley in chapter 18 of Frankenstein)—probably the most famous poem by one of the most famous British Romantic poets. The Romantic period wasn't so named because the poets wrote a lot about love, but because they were interested in Nature, Beauty, and Truth (please note the caps!). In 1798, Wordsworth published Lyrical Ballads with his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge only contributed a few poems to the volume (including "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"). The Lyrical Ballads weren't just revolutionary in terms of the language they used (for the common man); they also changed the whole idea of what poetry could and should be about. Instead of writing about kings, queens, dukes, and historical or mythological subjects, Wordsworth and Coleridge wrote most of the poems in Lyrical Ballads about common people, like shepherds and farmers. "Tintern Abbey" is a little bit different in that it's about the poet himself, rather than a shepherd, but it is still representative of a lot of the changes Wordsworth wanted to make to the way poetry was written. It's written about common things (enjoying nature during a walk around a ruined abbey with his sister), and it uses a very conversational style with relatively simple vocabulary. It also introduces the idea that Nature can influence, sustain, and heal the mind of the poet. Before William Wordsworth wrote "Tintern Abbey" and the rest of the Lyrical Ballads, literature, and especially poetry, was written pretty exclusively for and about rich people. Wordsworth's mission was to open up literature and to make it more accessible and enjoyable to normal, everyday people. "Tintern Abbey" is about the ways that we change over time, and the ways that we try to figure out just when and how and why we've changed. In short, it's about trying to square the person you used to be with the person you've become.
What's the Big Diff? 1818 vs. 1831 (Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus)
In Week #6 we briefly discussed some of the main differences between the original 1818 edition and the 1831 edition (which we read). By 1831, Mary Shelley was no starry-eyed 18 year-old and had lost her husband, Percy, and two of her children. In the 1831 text, the tone is grimmer and nature is a destructive machine; Victor is a victim of fate, not free will. She made so many changes, in fact, that there's a real question about which version we should be reading. I went with the 1831 edition, because, well, that's the one most people read. Lately, many academic circles believe the 1818 edition is more “pure” to Shelley’s original intent. However, I noted that Percy Shelley may have exercised a heavy-editing hand in the 1818 version, and perhaps Mary felt it was time to make the story completely her own. The 1831 text is differently structured: after Letters 1-4, the chapters are through-numbered, from 1 to 24; this to a large extent obscures the original division into three volumes. Mary Shelley removed many of the references to new scientific ideas, thus detaching the novel from its original intellectual context and the issues that were being debated both publicly and in the Byron-Shelley circle. Frankenstein's character is very differently conceived: whereas in the 1818 version there are many points at which he could exercise free will and choose not to carry on with his experiments, in the 1831 text he is seen as being, like all human beings, entirely at the mercy of fate, helpless to counteract the forces of chance that appear to control the universe.
Frankenstein in the Movies and Monster Reveal
We closed our final class on Frankenstein with a quick look at both the classic Boris Karloff 1931 black and white film, and the more recent (1994) film directed by Kenneth Branagh starring Robert DeNiro. In the 1931 film, the creature is depicted as having a huge, square skull and pale corpse-like skin; he is gentle and childlike. In the more recent adaptation, makeup artists researched surgery, skin disorders, and embalming techniques from the early 1800’s. The result was a gray, scarred, hulking, patchwork sort of man. After a discussion about Doppelgängers (Double Goers) we revealed our OWN interpretations of Mary Shelley's creature (taken from her description in chapter 5). I share them with you here. Wonderful job everyone!
Our second 90-minute make-up class was a success! I do believe we are caught up and where we need to be. Regular 60-minute class will resume this week at the scheduled time (11 am Eastern).
The Poetry of Percy (Shelley)
No discussion of the Romantic Period would be complete without a mention and quick study of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Not only was Percy Mary's beloved husband (until he was tragically killed in a boating accident off the coast of Italy at the age of 30), Percy Shelley belonged to the second, younger generation of Romantic dudes and dudettes, along with Lord Byron. He was inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution, and he held some pretty revolutionary social and political views (boy, howdy!). He spent a lot of time hopping around Europe with his brilliant wife, Mary.
Percy was a bit of a controversial figure in his time, but then again, most of the Romantic poets were. That was the whole point, after all, of British Romanticism. If you think the poetry of the period is a bunch of highfalutin language written for the gentry, you would be mistaken. The Romantics wrote for the common man and in a conversational tone (and yes, this DOES say something about the devolution of the English language—just saying!).
Therefore, we took some time to read a passage from Percy Shelley's poem, "Mont Blanc." Mt. Blanc is mentioned numerous times in Frankenstein. Mt. Blanc is in the Swiss Alps, and both Mary and Percy spent time traveling in this area and being awed by:
"...broad vales between
Of frozen floods, unfathomable deeps,
Blue as the overhanging heaven, that spread
And wind among the accumulated steeps..."
--Mont Blanc by Percy Shelley (1816)
I "translated" the poem line-by-line, and we talked about its importance to the Shelley's, and therefore to Mary's novel, Frankenstein.
Another connection to Percy Shelley is in the full title to Mary's novel. You will often see it thus: Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus. Who is Prometheus and why did Mary think so much of him to include him in the title of her gothic tale? Human beings owe pretty much everything to Prometheus, the Titan god of foresight. Not only did he make the first men out of clay, he also gave us fire (FIRE features big in Frankenstein), which he snuck away from the altar of Zeus in a fennel stalk. Prometheus paid big time for this burglary—Zeus had him chained to a rock, where every day eagles would come and eat his liver. To make matters worse, each night his liver would grow back, so the eagles would have a tasty liver snack all ready for them the next day. According to some folks, Heracles came by years later, set Prometheus free, and got Zeus to pardon the hero of mankind.
Percy Shelley wrote the play, “Prometheus Unbound” around the same time Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. Prometheus (as imagined by Shelley anyway) is one of the great Romantic heroes. Prometheus endures his pain and torture very heroically. Prometheus is heroic not only because of his act of bringing fire to mankind; he's heroic because he endures the (very, very terrible) consequences. He's courageous, and rebellious, and stoic all at once. Just like a Romantic. :) Victor Frankenstein is the modern incarnation of Prometheus because he suffers the consequences of seeking knowledge and power. So now you understand the full title of the novel!
The Paradise Lost Connection
If you've had enough of literary allusions in Frankenstein...too bad! There's more to come, specifically, the huge reference to John Milton's poem, Paradise Lost (1667). A quotation from the poem appears on the title page of some editions of the novel and of course, the creature finds a copy of Paradise Lost in the woods and since he has some new found literacy skills, he reads it...obviously! (Who wouldn't read Paradise Lost with extra time on his hands?) Milton's book-length poem is a retelling of the story of the fall of man from the Bible. When the creature confronts his creator (Victor) near the end of chapter 10 (in Frankenstein), he compares himself to Adam and the fallen angel, Satan. In chapters 11-16, the allusion to Paradise Lost is expanded upon, emphasizing the parallels between God and Victor and Satan and the creature. The tragedy of the creature is that he begins life as a perfectly lovely monster. He's done nothing wrong and he has no beef with humanity—frankly, he just wants to be loved and accepted by someone—anyone! When he is fully rejected by all of mankind, he becomes a demon. Who can blame him? Actually, we had a good discussion about responsibility. Victor is certainly responsible for creating the monster (even though he loves to blame fate in the 1831 edition) and the creature is still responsible for offing innocent victims. Just because you've been jilted a million times AND you're mad at your Creator doesn't give you the right to become a murderer (especially of five-year old children and young brides).
For every chapter in Frankenstein, we summarize the main events, read and interpret two - four quotes from each week's reading, and share our answers from the Glencoe Active Reading Charts and the weekly discussion questions. It is A LOT to get though and your students are moving through the material like champs. Thank you all for your dedication!
“Thrills and Chills:” What makes a gothic novel so…creepy?
What do Emmylou Harris, Dave Matthews, and My Ántonia have in common? Good question!
We closed by listening to a song titled, "My Antonia," a collaboration between Harris and Matthews. After listening to the song we tried to compare and contrast different elements between book and song: use of landscape imagery, narrator's voice, tone, style, and theme. While it was clear the story in the song did not much resemble that of the Willa Cather novel, we did pick up on some similarities related to narrator's voice and tone or style. In the end we learned the song is a reinterpretation inspired by the book. Often artists use existing material and change it to express a new story or idea.
Next Up: Mockingbird (not Mockingjay)
See you on April 16. Have a wonderful Easter.
Family Tree Final Projects
Now and then it all comes together and there is a singular moment when the stars align and there is magic. We were honored that the grandmother of one of our students shared her very poignant memories of growing up in the German Province of Bohemia. Her memories have some similarities with those of our heroine, Ántonia, in terms of some of the difficulties faced in her home country and when emigrating to America. It's when these real life experiences affirm art that we start to understand that reading literature is a personal experience and so much more than an exercise in understanding story content, theme, and tone. That's when we really "own" a story and it becomes real to us on a whole new level.
If you would like to enjoy these stories, see below by clicking READ MORE...
Analyzing Books Three - Five
Related Readings: Virgil and The House on Mango Street
"Optima dies...prima fugit." The best days...are the first to flee.
Virgil was the master of metaphorical language and is known for his epic use of simile. To drive home this concept we did a couple of fun exercises where we "Built a Better Metaphor" and a "Fill in the Blank" simile exercise. Both were good for several laughs!
To wrap things up, we read five selections from The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. From Amazon.com: "Told in a series of vignettes – sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous – it is the story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become. Few other books in our time have touched so many readers." If you can grab a copy at the library, I think it's well worth taking an hour or two to read through some of these short sketches.
Final Project - Family Tree Essay
Thursday is our last class on this novel. No class on April 9. We pick things up again on April 16 with our final, and possibly finest selection to date: To Kill a Mockingbird.
Fill out the family tree page I gave you in class to the best of your knowledge; ask your parents for help. Choose one family member and find out where they are originally from--preferably a foreign country, but if not, the state or town is fine. If they are still alive, interview them about their earliest memories and create a one page essay or fictional story inspired by their memories. If you do not have access to an older family member, choose one of the countries or areas of origin and research what life was like in that place 50-100 years ago. Write a short essay or fictional story based on your findings.
Analyzing Book Two
We also discussed some of the plot that wasn't too clear and set up our discussion of Book Three for next week. Finish the novel this week and check your syllabus for all homework.
Literary Devices Exercise
We agreed personification is typically easy to spot, while occasionally simile vs. metaphor can be a bit trickier! Remember the definitions of each and that simile uses connective words such as "like," "as," or "than," or sometimes a verb like "resembles."
Figurative Language Essay
To help you, here is a re-cap of what we discussed and an outline you can follow to complete your essay.
Essay Assignment: How important is figurative language to Willa Cather’s writing style? How does Cather’s use of imagery (or figurative language) communicate the themes of her novel?
First sentence(s): Address the first question--here are some things to think about: What would the novel be like without the extensive use of figurative language? Would it be as interesting to read? How does her language help you see in your mind's eye what the Nebraska prairie looks like? What about the characters? How does it help you get to know them? Hint: the answer to the first question is really in the second question. Figurative language is important because it communicates the theme(s) of the novel.
Your thesis statement can be the answer to the second question. Refer to the worksheet that we completed in class and remember the discussions we had about how the figurative language communicates or relates to the different themes.
As a reminder the themes we are focusing on are: humankind’s relationship to the past; humankind’s relationship to the environment; the immigrant experience in America
Preview the three types of figurative language you found (simile, metaphor, personification?) and what theme(s) you think they convey (these can be your three points). Remember the introduction should preview or forecast what you're going to talk about.
Three Body Paragraphs:
Use the worksheet to guide you in selecting the three quotes you want to use. Remember the proper citation after the quote--author and page number (for example; Cather, 12). Do not use a quote that is longer than four lines when you type it out, a longer quote than four lines is very unwieldy and you really want to narrow your focus on the bit of figurative language that conveys the theme(s).
It would be ideal to use one of each: personification or imagery (remember imagery is a word or phrase that refers to the five senses and helps create a physical experience), simile, and metaphor. If you end up using two metaphor and one simile, or some other combination, that is fine. State the type of figurative language you found and work the quote into your paragraph. Tell me how you think the quote communicates the theme(s). This will be the most challenging part, and can be your own opinion, just make sure it is logical!
Remember to pad with your own writing as much as possible. There is plenty of room here for personal opinion and interpretation. Repeat the above for paragraphs three and four.
Does not have to be overly structured. Review and restate in new language the three types of figurative language you covered and how they communicated the theme(s) of the novel. Wrap up with a brief summation of why figurative language is important to Willa Cather's writing style.
If you get stuck, email me and I will do my best to guide you through! See you next week. Two more classes and we have a one week Easter break before our final session!
We also reviewed the definitions of round and flat characters and direct and indirect characterization. After giving a few examples, I had the students think of a friend or acquaintance and describe him/her using at least three different types of characterization--same person, but three different sentences. After writing the three sentences, they chose the one they liked the best, shared it with the group, and then we decided which tool of characterization was used. Some were obvious and some more subtle. Some even used two types of characterization.
We then moved on to identifying direct vs. indirect characterization and tools of characterization in three different excerpts from popular literature (The Lorax, Hunger Games, and Harry Potter). This demonstrated that the author uses these tools so that the reader can learn important information about his/her characters. We applied our newfound knowledge to My Ántonia by choosing one main character and one supporting character, locating a quote within the text, and then performing the same steps of analyses as we did with the popular fiction. Hopefully this gave students some experience in quote identification for our next essay...
Introduction: Follow the guide; you still need a thesis, but not necessarily a thesis with tension since we are not really making a debatable claim this time--this is a character analysis. Remember the thesis is the controlling idea of the paper. Try not to simply state the obvious--a thesis statement should be a fresh idea or opinion that is supportable based on facts or evidence taken from the story. This may take some work, since in this case, the thesis statement is not an assertion to a question that was posed. The three points you are making can simply be what we discussed in class--that Ántonia is high-spirited, proud, and generous. If you feel that is debatable, and you want to make a claim that she has different personality traits, that is up to you!
Second - Fourth Paragraphs: Each point should have a quote from the book that supports the claim (she is "high-spirited" for paragraph 2, "proud" for paragraph 3, and "generous" for paragraph 4). After the quote from the book, place the author's last name and page number like this:
"After Ántonia had said the new words over and over, she wanted to give me a little chased silver ring she wore on her middle finger. When she coaxed and insisted, I repulsed her quite sternly. I didn't want her ring, and I felt there was something reckless and extravagant about her wishing to give it away to a boy she had never seen before" (Cather, 23).
Don't use more than four lines of text per quote and don't simply start the paragraph with the quote. It will be up to you to craft the paragraph in such a way that you use your own writing to explain why the quote supports the point. This is a less formulaic approach than our last essay.
Conclusion: You can follow the guide pretty exactly for the conclusion, although you do not necessarily need to "take a stand" or "persuade the reader" for this essay.
Any questions or confusion, just email me!
Warming up with Willa
Willa Cather did not want her novels to be read as veiled autobiography, but My Ántonia parallels many of her life’s experiences. Many literary scholars argue that Jim Burden is Willa Cather. For example, Jim and Cather both left Virginia as young children and lived on the Nebraska prairie. Cather’s family then moved to Red Cloud a year later; Jim’s family moves to the fictional town, Black Hawk. Cather gave her high school graduation speech, as does Jim; then they both studied at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. After graduation, they leave Nebraska for the east: Jim to study law at Harvard; Cather to work as editor at Home Monthly in Pittsburgh.
I love this quote from Cather:
Art must spring out of the very stuff that life is made of. The German housewife who sets before her family on Thanksgiving day a perfectly roasted goose, is an artist. The farmer who goes out in the morning to harness his team, and pauses to admire the sunrise—he is an artist.
We talked about this quote's meaning. How can a housewife be an artist if she hasn't painted anything? How is a farmer an artist if he's simply admiring the sunset? Cather was an author who was captivated by the simplicity of prairie life and expressed her thoughts in words that truly approach poetry. Cather quotes are absolutely life affirming. H.L. Mencken said, “No romantic novel ever written in America, by man or woman, is one half so beautiful as MY ANTONIA.”
As you read, notice places in the novel that are written in such a way as to conjure up a particular image. Re-read these parts to understand them better. Roll the images about in your mind. Taking the time to enjoy the novel in this way is not only far more engaging but (hint) will help you with another essay coming up in a few weeks!
We read our articles with a view to choosing a point that we could put into our own words. We wanted to look for a point, not just a comment. A comment not worth paraphrasing will not have a specific fact or unique idea to contribute. Look for facts, data, statistics, or conclusions built on those things. Expert opinion also qualifies. (Be sure to include their qualifications: see Citing Sources below). Paraphrasing means taking ideas and putting them into your own words and sentence structure. The length and style of the sentence should be maintained, but the language and structure should be different.
We then chose the quote or piece of information that we wanted to practice paraphrasing and wrote it out exactly as it appeared. Then, on a separate sheet, we wrote out our own version WITHOUT looking at the original. We shared the original and then our paraphrase. These usually need more than one attempt. After the first attempt, you can go ahead and look at the original quote and try a second draft. I actually think all the students did pretty well on their first draft and some even had time for a second attempt. I wanted to practice summarizing as well, but that will have to wait for another day and time.
Important: Citing Sources
Once we become more comfortable with essay writing (e.g., next year) we can relax the formulaic approach. For now, follow the steps and you'll have success!
You will need this information to cite sources correctly for this essay:
Researchers place brief parenthetical descriptions to acknowledge which parts of their paper reference particular sources. Generally, you want to provide the last name of the author and page number if it’s from a book. If it's from the Internet, you will just put the author's name in parenthesis after the quote or bit that you are paraphrasing or summarizing. PLEASE UNDERSTAND, EVEN IF YOU ARE NOT USING A DIRECT QUOTE YOU MUST GIVE CREDIT. If such information is already given in the body of your sentence, then you don't need a parenthetical citation. Ideally, when citing on-line sources, try to reference the source within your sentence, with either the author or the title to avoid writing a parenthetical citation. Otherwise, place the parenthetical citation where there is a pause in the sentence – normally before the end of a sentence or a comma. If there is no author, use the title that begins the citation, either the article or website title. Be sure it also takes the same formatting as non on-line sources, i.e. articles are in quotes and website titles are italicized.
Next session we will learn how to include a "Works Cited" at the end of your paper (the bibliography).
Example of information taken from the Internet and you know the author's name:
The economy will rebound with the new monetary policies (Smith).
Example when you do not know the author's name, but you know the title of the article OR name of web-site:
Elephants are thought to be one of the smartest mammals (“Smart Elephants”). This came from an article--use quotes so I know it was an article.
Most importantly, if this is not clear, please ask. Citing sources is required for this paper--either within the sentence itself (preferred for on-line sources) or in-line parenthetically as described above.
Good luck and see you next week!
The Expository Essay
Thesis with Tension
A thesis with tension (for our purposes) should begin with the sentence starters "although" or "whereas" with the first part of the sentence stating the claim you're going to refute, and the second part of the sentence (or clause) asserting the view that your paper is going to prove or support.
To practice thesis with tension one last time, everyone posed another question and wrote another thesis statement on a second topic that they had chosen to explore at our last meeting. The questions were excellent! We shared our theses and I think everyone gets the general idea. I was able to give some feedback so that hopefully our non-practice theses statements will be on target.
The Homestead Movement and Bohemian and Swedish Immigrants
Following the outline I provided, students should create their thesis with tension for the immigration essay and email it to me for help if needed. A few are ready to go with their theses, but if they need to do some further research before deciding on the final version, that is more than fine. After crafting the thesis with tension, students should continue with their research and fill out the "Points and Particulars" portion of their handouts.
As I told the students, if they want to take an alternative view on this topic, that is fine! The evidence they find may lead them to make a surprising, unexpected statement.
Any questions, email me! See you next week.
Thank you so much for creating and sharing your work with our circle of writers! It really has been an honor to hear your stories each week and work with you individually on developing your talents even further.
Publishing to The Writer's Community
Next week I will send out an email with my recommendation of which pieces I think should be published. The students are free to make a different choice, or decline to publish. I do think it would be a great record of their work!
Free Writing for Fun
The second free write involved images. Students chose one or two images that I had prepared ahead of time, and wrote for five minutes. Again, we had some really interesting ideas! For this free write, students could choose to begin a story, write a poem, or simply describe what was in the picture.
Free writing is a great activity for the summer! Have students select a block of time, say five minutes, and write from a word, images, or a prompt. The only rule with free writing is that you don't stop writing until the timer goes off and that you do it consistently. Even if you write nonsense, the idea is to keep the words coming without hesitation. This will come in handy later when students are expected to write in a more formal environment. It will help them "think on their feet."
Have fun and enjoy your summer!
Sharing and Critique
This applies to the two stories they sent me on Friday. If they haven't yet sent me two stories -- please have them do so by today, Monday, May 12. Any feedback that I don't get to by Monday, May 19, will be emailed to you shortly thereafter.
Review and Revision -- Final Project
The Final Project: Students are to select a third piece that they have written during this course and review and revise it based on the macro-editing guidelines. It cannot be one of the two pieces they have already sent me. This final project should be emailed to me no later than Friday, May 16.
To re-cap, by the end of our six weeks together we will:
- Receive feedback on two stories that students may or may not have had time to self-edit. Review that feedback, make any changes and send to me a final time for review.
- Receive feedback on a revised and self-edited third story which should be sent to me no later than Friday, May 16. They may also choose to implement those suggestions and send to me for a second review.
- At our last class on Monday, May 19, I will give feedback to the four students who did not receive feedback today. We'll conclude our time together by doing a fun in-class writing exercise (hopefully involving our invented characters).
I have truly enjoyed each and every one of your children, and have so enjoyed getting to know them and listening to their wonderful stories. See you Monday!
Sharing and Critique
Students -- please be sure to read the homework note at the end of this post for more information about getting some of your work to me by this coming Friday (May 9).
Dialogue, Take 2
First, we did a fun exercise that I call "Dialogue Mash-up." We were given two lines of random dialogue that were to form the middle of a story. Half the class wrote one - two lines of dialogue that could come before the snippets and the other half wrote the dialogue that might come after the snippets. We then "mashed" them together to see what we had come up with. Even though the students were all thinking of different plot lines, surprisingly the dialogue made sense in many cases! Most importantly, everyone was able to correctly write dialogue that followed the flow of the random snippets. We had some fun with this, and the kids did a great job of coming up with some fun and creative dialogue!
We then learned a few tips, including showing your characters feelings through their words instead of the dialogue tag. For instance, try to avoid tags such as "she said angrily," and show us how the character speaks instead of telling it. This is something new writers tend to need more practice with. It's perfectly okay to use the simplest dialogue tags (say, tell, and ask). In other words, try to rely on spoken words to get emotions across instead of the dialogue tag.
Lastly, we practiced punctuating dialogue by writing two lines of dialogue that related to our invented characters from the first day of class. Our invented characters have been following us along nicely for the last three weeks. Who knows what they'll do next!
I collected these papers and will check for correct dialogue punctuation, returning them next class. Which brings me to the last and most important bit from today...
Homework -- Students Please Read!
Make sure to follow the formatting requirements. Before you send to me, proof your work for content and punctuation, grammar, spelling and paragraphing. Reading pieces aloud usually helps tremendously with self-editing. Next week we will devote part of our class to Review and Revision. I will also give everyone individual feedback on at least one of their stories.
Please email me your third and final story for critique no later than Friday, May 16 (I'll remind everyone again next week). At our last class I will continue to give feedback on individual pieces and we’ll do some fun in-class writing exercises. Any feedback that I don’t give by our last class, I will email to everyone individually.
If you have a piece ready to go, please feel free to email me prior to Friday -- I appreciate any extra time so I can give as much detailed feedback as possible. Thank you!
Sharing and Critique
Second, the group is also becoming slightly more comfortable with the critique process. This is really difficult to master, and only becomes easier with time and practice. Hopefully, in the next four weeks we'll gain more confidence and be able to share more freely with one another. When you're trying to become a better writer yourself, it's not always easy to give another writer specific suggestions. Through this give and take process (give critique constructively and receive it graciously) we all can become better writers.
After a speedy grammar review (nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs) we read some examples of using and abusing adjectives and adverbs. Ultimately, "saying it" with fewer words that pack the most punch is strategically a better choice. We don't want to weigh down our readers with clunky and overloaded text. We also don't want to be too cryptic either! Using detail in just the right way is probably one of the most challenging aspects of writing, and I'll be giving each individual student more specific feedback on his or her pieces in the final two weeks.
Before moving on, everyone wrote one sentence that gave as much detail as possible (without over-using adjectives or adverbs). This was trickier than we thought -- some were spot-on, some were nearly-there, all were on the right track.
Writing Great Dialogue
Next week we'll practice by writing dialogue in class!
See you next Monday!
Three Steps of Critique
Each week we will have three to four writers share their work at the beginning of class. If you don't share one week, you will automatically share the following week. You can read the story you wrote that week, or choose another that you haven't had a chance to share yet. We'll also take turns sharing our in-class writing, as well.
Remember, in critiquing another's work, we:
- First, tell the author what we think the story is about and what we think the piece is trying to do or accomplish (this is more abstract, but there should always be something).
- Second, say what you think is working well. This can help the author write more of what works in the future.
- Third, give constructive criticism that addresses a specific improvement. This is definitely the most challenging aspect of critique because no one wants to hurt anyone's feelings! I did most of the critiquing today with the hope that as we become more comfortable with one another we'll feel confident jumping in and adding to the discussion.
Plot Structure and Narrative Viewpoint
Then we moved on to talk about narrative viewpoint and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of writing in the first person vs. the third person narrative. We wrapped up class by starting another short story prompt. This time the task was to present the same story from two different viewpoints. Students can continue this story at home, or the earlier prompt involving their invented characters. Additionally, I gave everyone four more prompts -- two that focus on plot structure and two that focus on narrative viewpoint.
Students should choose from any of the prompts just described, start a new short story of their own, OR continue any story they have started at home or in class. Everyone should have plenty of ideas by now!
As mentioned before, I will be working with students individually on polishing three of their stories before we wrap up our class on May 19. In preparation, please follow the formatting requirements from the 4/14/14 class notes as you write your stories -- it will save you time in the end!
- Share the stories we begin in class and finish at home during the week, receiving constructive feedback from our circle of writers
- Learn additional element(s) of fiction writing (character development, plot structure, dialogue, etc.) and practice writing them
- Start a new short story in the last five minutes of class
At our fifth class, I will ask the students to choose three of their stories and I will work with everyone individually to polish their writing. This will be done partly in class and partly via email.
For the stories we began today, please transfer what you have written thus far to a word processing document.
For this class, all short stories should utilize the following formatting requirements:
- Double spaced
- 12 point Times New Roman font
- 1 inch margins (top, bottom and both sides)
- Put your name at the top of the first page
- If more than one page, number all pages except for the first
- Don't forget a title!
We also talked about how long our stories should be. This will depend on each individual's experience and comfort with writing. I do expect them to challenge themselves, but I encouraged them to focus on quality over quantity, especially in the beginning. At this level, all stories should be a minimum of one - two typed pages, but again, this will vary depending on the student -- any questions, just ask!
Creating Great Characters
Show, Don't Tell!
See you next week!
Enter National Poetry Month, and you guessed it -- National Poetry Writing Month ( yes -- NaPoWriMo)!
In honor of this momentous occasion, I'd like to share a couple of resources to help get the poetic juices flowing:
1) NaPoWriMo.net offers a 30 poems in 30 days challenge. Much like NaNoWriMo which challenges novelists each November to reach a word count goal in 30 days, NaPoWriMo lists poetry writing prompts on its web-site each day in the month of April. For instance, the prompt for Day 1 was an ekphrastic poem (poem inspired by or about a work of art). This could be something like a sonnet or a haiku or free verse. The prompt for Day 3 (today) is to write a charm – a simple rhyming poem (think nursery rhymes!). You don't have to use the daily prompt -- just write! And when you're all done, if you publish your poems to your blog or web-site, you can share that with NaPoWriMo as well; they also feature Participants' Sites on their web-site.
2) The complete 10-week Poetry for Kids course lays out 10 simple poetry lessons that you can do once per week for 10 weeks or all at once! Some of the lessons:
- Cliche Busting
- Finding Poetry in Song Lyrics
- Poetry Crafts & Games
- Layers of Meaning
- How and where to publish children's poetry
Check them out! And, if you prefer for someone else to lead this journey into the poetic and the rhythmic, let us know -- we have a great class for you -- Poet's Corner!
Now go be brilliant. Come back, and email me your poetry. If I like it, I'll publish it here and on our Facebook Page.
Interpreting Western Literature
Short Story Writing Circle