Fall SAVY 2016 (Day 2) – Creative Writing: (Re)Imagining the Monstrous
We had an exceptionally insightful and fast-paced second day of SAVY, in which we more closely examined revision, narration styles, imagery, and drafting processes for short stories! After students reintroduced themselves, we had a fruitful review of concepts from our last course (tone, characterization, third-person narration, omniscient narration, protagonist, antagonist, and epic poetry). Students reviewed the third-person battle scenes they had composed last week, and some of them even read them aloud to the entire class! After a symposium-style discussion on revision, in which we talked about the difficulty of “re-envisioning,” or seeing a text with new eyes, students rewrote their battle scenes from the perspective of the monster or creature their hero was battling. This challenging activity yielded a fantastic conversation not only on “antiheroes” in literature, but also on the advantages and limitations of third-person narration. Some students remarked how a third-person perspective more easily allowed them to maintain an authoritative “distance” from the action taking place, while other students noticed how this narration style can make it more difficult to directly introduce the thoughts and emotions of their antihero.
We then read an excerpt John Gardner’s Grendel, paying close attention to how the first-person narration and more sympathetic perspective help the reader to relate more closely to the fearsome Grendel. But how do we know when to write in first-person perspective or third-person perspective, and which perspective should we use to write our own stories? Moreover, which perspective allows us a more complex view of the “bad” or “evil” character of a story? Student were asked to revise their battle scenes yet again, changing all third-person pronouns to first-person pronouns. Students were excited to see many of their narratives instantly become more “intimate” and conversational. Others commented on how this revision strategy made them want to add details about the villain’s history or backstory. We pointed out how using imagery allowed us to add more details about the conflict, which in turn helped the reader imagine the text more vividly.
After these writing activities, we learned some new advanced vocabulary: “syntax” (word order) and “diction” (word choice). Students worked in pairs to find examples of interesting, telling diction in Beowulf and Grendel, examining at the same time how the syntax differs in the two texts. Together, we talked about how diction such as “crawled” and “bloodstained,” as well as archaisms like “atheling” and “thanes,” contribute to tone and style. We discovered that choosing strange, unfamiliar diction can make a reader pay closer attention to the story, while choosing archaic diction and syntax can make a text seem more formalized and ancient.
We then reviewed the famous critical tool, Freytag’s Pyramid, defining and critiquing concepts like “opening,” “rising action,” “crisis,” “falling action,” and “resolution.” Our conversation revolved on the difficulties of identifying only one crisis in a story, poem, or novel, and we challenged the idea that a resolution means that all conflict needs to be “resolved” by the end of the plot. To better understand these concepts, we read an excerpt from Mary Shelley’s fascinating Frankenstein, examining how she uses first-person narration to complicate our preconceptions of Frankenstein’s monster. We also identified multiple crises in the plot and talked about how each text can have multiple moments of crisis before reaching its final conclusion. Students then drafted their own pyramids for their short stories, identifying their openings, crises, and resolutions.
In our next class, students will be able to put their new pyramids to use, drafting and revising the opening scenes of their stories. We will also begin our foray into musical elements of literature, studying the diction, syntax, and meter in poems by Edgar Allan Poe and Robert Browning, before using these techniques in our own writing.