“Revising makes a person aware of how vast imagination is. One accesses something much larger than one’s self.” - Baron WormserThis diary is my lesson plan for Monday, June 17 2013, for my 10th and 11th grade TRIO/Upward Bound Students.
For the last week, we have read, reviewed, shared, analyzed, discussed and written about a wide variety of poems. We also drafted our first poem. My intention in including verse that ranged from Edgar Allen Poe's work in the 1800s to modern slam poets in Brooklyn, New York can be expressed in one sentence.
We provided each other with an accessible survey of those technical aspects of poetry which students of creative writing often see as daunting.
We attempted attempted to demystify the writing, experience and study of poetry, and explored the issues in a lively and informative fashion.
In effect, last week was a route map though the poetic maze, with discussion on such essential but often complex issues as rhythm and metre, the use of metaphor in poetry, poetic sound effects and the visual appearance of poetry. Our course aims to make the jargon of poetry less intimidating, offering clear explanations of poetic terminology allied to close readings. These pieces demonstrate how poetry actually works in practice. Our focus on short assignments in this class encourages students to work hard on revising each piece.
As we move into our short story unit this week, here are more thoughts on revision.
Although revision—the act of reconsidering and altering a piece of writing—may initially seem like a chore, most literary writers come to enjoy the process as much as, if not more than, the creation of the ﬁrst draft. Indeed, ﬁnding yourself deep in a successful revision can become almost a mystical experience.“The revision process involves comparing an existing text to a writer’s goals or ideal text, diagnosing the differences, and deciding how to reduce or remove these differences to bring the text as close as possible to the desired status,” wrote Todd Lubart. Georgia Heard likes to reminds writers that “revision doesn’t necessarily take place after they’ve ﬁnished a piece of writing, but instead . . . will most likely occur throughout the writing process.”
While editing and proofreading may take place in the revision process, those tasks are not what most teachers mean by “revision.” Editing means eliminating sentence-level errors. Proofreading is simply making a ﬁnal pass through your draft to ensure that you haven’t left in any silly mistakes (“loose” for “lose,” “it’s” for “its,” and so on).
Revision in creative writing is a much larger process. It addresses global as much as local issues. A thorough revision of your story might mean reconceptualizing both the protagonist and the plot or deleting the ﬁrst three paragraphs of your six-paragraph essay.
In an essay comparing the composing strategies of student writers and experienced adult writers, Nancy Sommers notes that “experienced writers describe their primary objective when revising as ﬁnding the form or shape of their argument.” Sommers goes on to remark that experienced writers believe that “their ﬁrst drafts are usually scattered attempts to deﬁne their territory,” while the goal of second drafts “is to begin observing general patterns of development.
This week, you will write a short story. My approach to teaching this genre is to let plot guide your writing.
According to Writer's Digest:
The short story is the art of abbreviation. We aren’t dealing with the panorama of life as we might be in a novel. We’re focused. If the novel is the art of the gaze, the short story is the art of the glance. The short story’s illumination must be sudden and should suggest an ongoing life, not present it in full. A short story must immediately pull the reader out of her world and drop her into the world of the story. There’s little time for setup. We begin when everything but the action is over—at the edge of the cliff. ...If crafting such an engaging world in so few words seems intimidating, begin by grounding yourself in the fundamentals of good storytelling. We read stories to make sense of our lives, to be entertained, and to feel something. We read them to be transported to another more lucid and compelling world, to learn about ourselves, what it’s like to be human, and to “meet” someone we can care about. We read stories in order to imagine and to create, and so we ask the writer to tell us a story. And when we say story, we mean plot.So in crafting our short stories, we will begin by taking our definition of plot and letting it guide us, quite naturally, to considerations of characterization, theme, tone, point of view, setting and so on. This approach can guide you in composing a short story that creates the emotional and intellectual experience your reader hopes for.
Plots, Aristotle told us, have beginnings, middles and ends, and they proceed through a series of reversals and recognitions, a reversal being a shift in a situation to its opposite, and a recognition being a change from ignorance to awareness. The basic plot of every story—regardless of length or complexity—is: A central character wants something intensely, goes after it despite opposition and, as a result of a struggle, comes to either win or lose. ... Many aspiring short-story writers shun plot and instead focus on the other elements that make up a snapshot of a story—characters, descriptions, setting and the like. But no matter how luminous your prose or how fascinating your characters, if you have no plot—no narrative shape—if the characters have nothing meaningful to accomplish, the reader will lose interest in even a short piece. Plot is your weapon of suspense. Wield it wisely, and the reader will want to know what happens next.
We will use the following Short Story Worksheet to engage and discuss stories this week.
1. Who is the main character?
2. What is that character’s desire or decision? What do they want? What do they do to get it?
3. Who or what comes in conflict with the main character? How does that person, place, or thing work to frustrate the main character’s desire or decision?
4. How does the main character change? How is he/she transformed by his/her desire or decision and the associated conflict?
5. Does the character succeed or fail?
6. How does the author open the story?
7. How does the author introduce the main character?
8. What is the story’s mood?
9. How does the story end?
10. What tense is the story told in?
"Sometimes when I think how good my book can be, I can hardly breathe." - Truman Capote