Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Our Fiction in Wordles

I had my students paste the text of one of their stories into Wordle. Wordle is a web application that creates a word cloud of a passage, and the words that appear most often show up as the largest words on the word cloud. It helped them see which words they overuse in their fiction. Below are some samples.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Writing Exercise - Show Details

This is my sample of a writing exercise I used in my Creative Writing class. The challenge was to rewrite a "telling" scene into a "showing" scene. Enjoy!

The original telling scene: (The underlined parts are specific "telling" parts that need changed.)

It was late in the evening, and she could tell it would soon start raining. She was young – a teenager – and fairly wealthy. The street was starting to become wet. She had just finished a screaming match with her boyfriend. Their relationship was headed for the edge of a cliff after what she had done to him. He had told her that he deserved better than her, and she believed that he was right.

Rewritten to show:

The moon cast a silvery glow through the elms lining her neighbor’s drive. Searching for those patches of light on the gravel, Amy eased her way toward her dark house. Yard light off, parents almost certainly asleep, she breathed a sigh into the cool autumn air.  October was chilly in west Colorado, and it had a tendency some nights of letting a heavy, five-minute rain flush from the sky. A peal of thunder told her this was one of those nights. The paint of her tall, columned house seemed to glow under the flicking rain and moonlight, and its many windows blinked like eyes, accusing her with each flashing bolt.
A gentle step across the wooden porch. A soft turn of the key, a twist of the knob. Amy tried to keep her body’s movements silent, but her mind was reeling with noise.
“You’re unbelievable!” he’d shouted. “What were you thinking?” The air had been filled with cutting words, words of disgust and hate – words of truth.
Amy welcomed the sound of her bedroom door clicking shut. Her shaky fingers reached for her hair-tie and let her ponytail fall like damp curtains around her shoulders. Stepping in front of the mirror, she stared into the murky, brown pools of her eyes – the eyes of a liar. Beside her, the cutest smile in the world filled a frame. She lifted it from the dresser top and smiled back at it with one side of her mouth.
“Better,” she whispered into the still air of the room, moving to the edge of her bed. The sheets surrounded her head like a hood as she lay back. “You deserve better.”
She shivered and pressed the glass frame against her lips, then let it slip to her chest, which is where she would find it in the morning when she awoke with a dry, salty crust along her cheeks.

Alternate Worlds in Fiction

     Some time ago, I published an article defending the Christian principles, analogies, and allusions present in the Harry Potter novels. I wrote that despite the conclusions that people may jump to, this alternate world of fiction actually brings to light many biblical philosophies; the novels even have references or parallels to biblical events, which in my opinion shows that the author was (at least) not trying to attack Christianity.
     Recently, I was visiting with a friend of mine about this article and my (somewhat passionate!) beliefs about the usefulness and innocuousness of alternate worlds in "other-world" fiction series' today. My friend, who has a background working with deaf children, could not read the novels with children who are hearing impaired. These kids she worked with have difficulty separating the actual from the imagined, making literature involving other worlds completely inappropriate for them. I had never considered this before.
     Perhaps this genre is simply best read by those who can separate fiction from reality, or perhaps we're comparing apples to oranges. I'm not sure, but I definitely took something away from this conversation; I'm sure it will take me a while to figure out just what it is.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Body English - My Attempt

Below is the fruit of my own intellectual labor for the body language exercise.

            I noticed them as I was picking up my second slice of pizza.  They were in a booth against the wall opposite mine, and they were very engaged in conversation.  He wore a baseball cap and stared at the table top. She twirled her long, blond hair and chomped on a piece of gum.  She smiled with only one side of her face as she stared into his eyes. 
            He finally looked up from the table and met her eyes.  His eyebrows bunched up in the middle.  Slowly, very slowly, he put words to his thoughts. Her face went slack.  Her smile disappeared into the flesh of her face.  Her stare went blank. 
            He relieved his eyebrows as he adjusted the bill of his cap and gazed toward the door.  She grabbed his chin and pulled his face around to meet hers.  Her voice raised, and she slapped him across the face.  He grabbed her wrist and flung it back toward her.  Now his voice grew louder, and he stabbed his finger through the air in her direction, his words echoing with each jab of his finger. 
            She stood up now, putting her fists on the tabletop and leaning toward him.  Her lips quivered. 
            He was exiting the booth, meeting her on her own grounds.  They stood and shouted.  She dominated the war, and he stood in fury, taking the thrashing. His mouth open but silent, he looked around the room again, uttered a few simple words, and sat back down in the booth.  She grew louder still, grabbed the salt shaker, and smashed it loudly on the table until the bottom shattered; salt scattered across the table and floor.  Grabbing her purse, she stormed from the cafĂ©, shouting at him as she went.  She stopped at the doorway and turned around.  With her face now calm yet somehow still livid, she lowered her gaze to his eyes and shot one last, quiet thought his way.  She skirted out the door.  He rested his arms on the table and stared at nothing. 

Body English

I worked with students today in a creative writing class on the use of explaining bodily movements in fiction. (His finger taps the period key and glides over the space bar.) We discussed whether the use of these explanations adds to or detracts from a work of fiction. (He taps the 'enter' key once, twice...okay, enough of that.)

Tomorrow, I plan on challenging them to write a scene using only descriptions of bodily movements. The difficult part of this is to tell a story. There can be no dialogue, no exposition, nothing except for description of bodily movements. It will be interesting to see their efforts. I tried this today after school. It was not easy; that's why it is an effective exercise.