Fall SAVY 2016 (Day 5) – Creative Writing: (Re)Imagining the Monstrous
We began our penultimate SAVY class by looking even more closely at the role of sympathy in the classical literature we have read. In pairs, students considered the questions: Who is the most sympathetic character we’ve read so far? Who is the most empathetic? Is it possible to sympathize with someone with whom you disagree? Does feeling sympathy for a character lead to a greater feeling of empathy?
From there, we talked about using imagery in our writing to make a scene come to life, and how concrete language often helps the reader sympathize or empathize more fully with a character than abstract language does. To see these concepts in action, we read Elizabeth Bishop’s strange and beautiful poem, “The Man-Moth.” As we read each stanza, students circled the abstract concepts and underlined the concrete images that they found. We then shared these images and abstractions with each other, noting how Bishop combines different senses within her imagery. Students pointed out how the combination of visual, audial, and tactile imagery contributed to the poem, helping them sympathize and empathize with the Man-Moth’s perspective.
Students then broke up into small groups to continue developing their own monster stories. As they wrote their fiction, they were challenged to include multisensory concrete imagery to more vividly portray a scene. Afterward, we met again in the center of the room to discuss students’ progress with their stories, as well as strategies for finishing their writing by the end of SAVY.
Students were then introduced to the compelling world of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. We read an excerpt of this brilliant but challenging novella, looking for instances of abstraction and imagery. Afterward, we investigated several themes: How does Stevenson elicit sympathy or empathy for Mr. Hyde, especially in scenes in which Mr. Hyde isn’t present? Is Mr. Hyde a facet of Dr. Jekyll’s personality, or are they completely separate entities that just happen to share the same body? If so, to what extent can we say that Mr. Hyde is monstrous? For that matter, how monstrous is Dr. Jekyll, and is the division between the human and the monstrous as clear-cut as it sometimes seems to be?
Students’ answers to these questions were enlightening, and they were able to put much of this conversation to use in our “mock workshop” of Stevenson. In this mock workshop, I pretended to be Stevenson seeking the students’ positive critique of my work. Using a checklist that detailed several themes and concepts from our readings, students told me what they found interesting in the story. They were excited to list the techniques that Stevenson successfully utilized and to say why these techniques were so successful. Students were even more excited, however, to workshop their own stories. In groups of three, each student read the opening to his/her story aloud to his/her peers for two minutes. Afterward, the audience commented on the story, listing what techniques they identified and what questions they had. It was very exciting to hear students asking for more exposition in the story’s opening, talking excitedly about the development of the crisis, and pointing out the complexities of their peers’ protagonists and antiheroes.
I am so thrilled for our next class, when students will be studying the monstrous metaphors of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis while preparing to read and present their fiction to all our guests. We hope to see you there!