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Monthly Archives: August 2013

Over the long weekend

At this point you should go ahead and begin drafting your personal narrative. As you do this, keep in mind the elements that we discussed that go into an effective narrative–if you need to review those notes they are posted to this blog.  The partial draft of your narrative, which should be 1 1/2 pages typed, is due  Wednesday September 4th when we return. This means that you have five days to get your draft in order to be submitted for instructor comments. This partial draft is worth half of the informal assignment points for you working folder, so please be aware that the draft should be turned into me via email by 5pm on Wednesday to receive credit for the assignment. Also, keep in mind that it is worth your while to attempt to submit a full rough draft as this is a chance for your work to be looked at before turing in your working folder draft on Wednesday, September 11th.


Examples of concise storytelling through concrete, specific description.

The Breath He Holds

It’s the only thing Kenji Takezo does
Better than his brother Joe.
At last year’s town competition
Kenji stayed under longest
Defeating Joe
And the six-year champ
Jack Sullivan who withdrew
After taking water in
Through the nose.

The family trophy case
Now displays the Steel Lung.
Kenji’s the youngest
Ever to win it.
His parents are proud
He has such a knack,
That there is something
He can do besides surf.

To properly defend his title
This year, they purchase for him
a wooden vat,
Fix it in rich soil
To stand near the older son’s
Award-winning herb garden.
Hose water instead of wine
Fills it.

Kenji practices his technique
Back there twice a day
Before surfing and after school.
Saffron, sage, and basil
The last scents he breathes
Sinking down to sit

Cross-legged on the bottom,
A ten-pound brick in his lap,
Bubbles popping over his head,
No words inside them.
Nothing better on television
The neighbors come to watch him
Train until his skin becomes old.

From Rich Noguchi's book of poems.

From Rich Noguchi’s book of poems.

In class assignment due Friday

Revise these passages from abstract language to concrete language by adding specificity and information that is sensory driven:

1. My summer trip became quite interesting near the end.

2. Her dessert was a perfect end to a wonderful dinner.

3. I love my favorite band and all of their crazy songs.

4. That bathroom was disgusting.

5. This movie was so sad, I never thought a story about football could upset me that way.

Far Side Cartoon

Wednesday’s In-class Response



Imagine that your parents and the next-door neighbors are close friends. They decide to go on a trip together over the 4th of July weekend and leave you at home in charge of watching over the houses. You decide that a small BBQ and get-together is a fine idea and invite some people over. As the party goes on, more and more people show up, to the point that you can hardly recognize anyone. One thing leads to another and a stray party-goer begins shooting off 4th of July fireworks–one lands on the roof of your neighbor’s garage.

The fire department is called as the garage bursts into flames. Luckily the fire is put out before it can spread to the house but your neighbor’s garage is completely decimated. The next day you are required to submit a statement of events to the fire marshal so that he can file a report on the incident. You also want to email/facebook your best friend who was out of down during the party and tell her/him all about it.

Write each of these explanations with your target audience in mind. Remember who you are speaking to and what rhetorical devices/what voice is appropriate when speaking to each recipient. This does not have a length requirement but please try to creatively and effectively execute the topic.

Notes on Writing Style

The choices you make in an essay help to define its style—and yours.

Writing style is simply the way in which you write and is defined by the choices that you make when writing. These choices are often variations of syntax (sentence structure), diction (word choice), and description (what details are available to the reader and how you present them), that when brought together uniquely by the writer reveal a specific personality or voice.

Two primary elements that influence a writer’s style are audience and intent. When a writer considers their audience they are stylizing writing to the demographic or type of people that will most likely encounter their work.

For example a novelist, such as J.K. Rowling, that has an audience of mainly young adults is going to take into consideration what level of violence or profanity is acceptable for that group to read and will most likely write accordingly to those boundaries.
Another example would be a student that is composing a letter of intent to accompany an application for a grant. The letter is a formal document that will be read by an academic party, so it is important that the student write in a style that is free of informal language and exhibits proper use of syntax.

Intent is often a precursor to genre and is the writer’s purpose for writing. Some intentions for writing include: to entertain, to persuade, to inform, and to describe.

Diction: the wide world of word choice.


For most academic writing fairly formal language is appropriate. However, we are composing an essay that is open form, so there are many more avenues of language available to you. Some examples of language accepted in open form writing, but not in closed form, are colloquialisms, idioms, jargon, and slang.
A colloquialism is a word or phrase that would be used in conversation, but not necessarily in writing. Although, colloquialisms are quickly becoming a part of our every day writing through informal communication via texts, emails, chat boards, and social networking. Colloquialisms also tend to reflect a specific region and imitate that region’s style of talking.

Examples of colloquialisms: wanna, gonna, ain’t, pop (in reference to soft drinks), joe (as in a cigarette), Yonder (meaning, “over there”), where’yat? (where are you?/how are you?).

Idioms are common words or phrases with culturally understood meanings that differ from what the word’s denotation would suggest. For example, an English speaker would understand the phrase “kick the bucket” to mean “to die” – as well as to actually kick a bucket. Furthermore, they would understand when each meaning is being used in context. however, someone that does not speak English may not be aware of the contextual duality of the word and therefore may miss the connotation of the phrase.

Some common idioms are: “open up a can of worms”,  “give the cold shoulder”, “hit the road”, “break a leg”, “take a hike”,  “blood is thicker than water”.

Jargon refers to language or phrases used by a specific profession or group that is difficult for others to understand. An example of this may be a carpenter’s use of the terms coffin key, circle square, spectra loop, and Klein tool. For someone outside of the carpentry profession these terms mean little to nothing, but to another carpenter they are specific and noteworthy names for the tools necessary to their work.

Slang is an informal use of language that almost everyone participates in verbally. Like colloquialisms, slang can often be a hint as to what region or group a person is from as it is often used to emphasize the closeness of a group by connecting a word’s definition closely with the context in which the word is being used.

An example of this is Cockney Rhyming Slang, seen here:

Informal language may enliven an argument, add personality to an essay, or form strong connections with specific audiences, but it can also can bewilder and isolate readers if your meaning is only accessible to a certain group. It is important to weigh the capabilities of the language that you choose by examining what phrases or informal diction are serving a purpose in your writing, and which may be unnecessarily complicating it. The ringmaster of this negotiation is more often than not the all mighty connotation vs denotation.

Connotation is the implied definition of a word or phase and denotation is the literal meaning.

Controlling the connotation of words and phrases in your writing style is something to consider, as it is what forms the associations that surround your intent. Keep in mind that although a word’s denotation may be appropriate to your claim, its connotation could throw off what you are arguing completely.

Examples of words that are formally defined as the same but have different connotations are:



Effective writing through strong description.

Concrete, specific language is more effective than abstract, general information.


Concrete language “shows” the reader rather than “tells” them. Concrete language is specific and cannot be argued with. some examples are: “climb”, “swim”, “rusty”, and “eyebrow”. Because these words express physicality (things we can see, touch, taste or feel) they are more effective in relating an idea to readers.
Abstract language is non-specific and often vague or open to interpretation. Words like “courage”, “confusion”, and “happiness” are abstract because they can mean different things to everyone. Abstract language expresses ideas, concepts and beliefs that do not always translate equally to every reader.


Instead of writing “This is a bad fix to the problem.” which is abstract and general because it relies on a reader’s interpretation you may try saying, “Creating a gender divide in the workplace is a counteractive solution to bridging the gap between men and women in the professional world.”


Another example may be: “He is a bad roommate.” This is vague and abstract because the idea of what constitutes a “bad roommate” may vary from person to person. When we elaborate and change the sentence to, “John leaves his dirty underwear on the floor and eats all of my food.” It is understood that these qualities are undesirable.


According to John Gardner, “If a writer says “creatures” instead of “snakes”, if in attempt to impress us with fancy talk he used Latinate terms like ‘hostile maneuvers’ instead of sharp words like ‘thrash, ‘coil’, ‘spit’, ‘hiss’, and ‘writhe’, if instead of the desert sands and rocks he speaks of ‘the snake’s inhospitable abode,’ the reader will hardly know what picture to conjure up.”


Syntax: the landscape of your writing.


Syntax is the arrangement of words or phrases in a sentence. At the a sentence level this is often defined by the writer’s use of grammar (which can be inverted or nontraditional in creative writing) and when looking at an essay or work as a whole it is defined by the sentence variety that can be found throughout. Syntax is the rhythm of your writing.


Varying sentence structure and style can help reduce repetitiveness that often lulls writing into a monotonous, disengaging tone. Often writers have the tendency to draft initially in either short, choppy sentences or long, run-on sentences. This is fine while you are drafting as it allows ideas and information to flow and develop naturally without constraint, but it is important to revise these sentences once you have developed your first draft.


For short, choppy sentences attempt to combine them with conjunctions like: and, but, or, nor, yet, for, so.

ex) Taco Bell carries several frozen drinks or “frutistas”. Almost all of them include the flavor strawberry. Most have a strawberry topping too.

Taco Bell carries several frozen drinks called “frutistas” that typically include the flavor strawberry and may also be topped with like preserves or syrup.


For run-ons you must correct the sentence by providing appropriate punctuation or conjunctions. Do this by joining two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet) and use a comma before the connecting word.

She enjoys walking along the levee, and she often splashes in the water.

When you do not have a connection word (or when you use a connecting word other than and, but, (etc…) use a semicolon.

He often painted triptychs when there were serious political movements in action; however, this piece is about the seldom-reported serenity and cohesion of the republic.


Sentence types:

Simple: A simple sentence has one independent clause and no dependant clause.
“My dog was excited to go for a walk.”


Compound sentences have multiple independent clauses but no dependant clauses.
“The squirrel frightened my Yorkie and she ran behind my legs.”


Complex sentences have one independent clause and at least one dependant clause.
“After the squirrel returned to its branch, it began to pitch acorns at us.”


Complex-compound sentences have multiple independent clauses with at least one independent clause.
“Red squirrels are regarded as an uncommonly aggressive variety of tree rodents, and because they have adapted so well to urban settings, which include public parks, they have become quite the nuisance to humans and domesticated animals alike.”


Remember to be aware of what you can handle syntactically–it is understood that young writers are not expected to achieve syntactical feats that established writers are able to. If you can say something simply and effectively, then do so. Do not waste your time weaving a web of syntax that is unnecessary or dense when a more direct route will do.


An example of the type of syntax that may be too much to take on at this point is William Faulkner’s 157 word sentence from  Absalom, Absalom!:
“There was a wisteria vine blooming for the second time that summer on a wooden trellis before one window, into which sparrows came now and then in random gusts, making a dry vivid dusty sound before going away: and opposite Quentin, Miss Coldfeild in the eternal black which she had worn for forty-three years now, whether for sister, father, or nothusband none knew, sitting so bolt upright in the straight hard chair that was so tall for her that her legs hung straight and rigid as if she had iron shinbones and ankles, clear of the floor with that air of impotent and static rage like children’s feet, and talking in that grim haggard amazed voice until at last listening would renege and hearing-sense self-confound and the long-dead object of her impotent yet indomitable frustration would appear, as though by outraged recapitulation evoked, quiet inattentive and harmless, out of the binding and dreamy and victorious dust.”


The longest sentence in the world is a 4,391 word sentence in James Joyce’s Ulysses.


Another thing to pay attention to when looking at syntax are sentence openings. If too many sentences begin with the same word, especially the, it, this, or I, prose can grow tedious for readers. Changing opening words and phrases is refreshing and stops your work from becoming predictable or boring.


In-class response #3

The enemy toys of carpet.

The enemy toys of carpet.

For today’s warm up I would like you to draft two descriptions, each a paragraph long. The first description should focus on a toy that you had while growing up, and the second should be a description of a toy that you desperately wanted but your parents would never buy for you.

In your descriptions try to be as specific as you can–don’t be afraid to use sensory details if you can remember aspects of the toy beyond its looks–what sounds did it make? Did it have a smell? Did it live up to the hype the commercials made for it?

Draft this response in your email and send it off to me at


Notes on drafting your Personal Narrative

Important questions before you begin your personal narrative essay

1. What event or circumstance in your life has led to some result, consequence, or lesson learned and what is the reason that you want to talk about this event?

2. Who are the agents of your story? Who are your main “characters”?

3. What point of view would you like to tell the story from?

4. What images come to mind of when you think about this event?

5. What can someone else learn from reading this story? Does it cause people to question assumptions they may already have about themselves or a subject?

Writing Our Introductory Paragraphs

Your first paragraph should announce the direction/tone of your essay and often determines whether or not a reader will choose to continue with reading the essay. Try to give the reader an idea of the subject matter–there is no single approach to doing this, however there are methods.

A few great ways to begin your personal narrative are:

-Using dialogue to put the reader directly into the action,
Ex) “I can’t put it out!” Concetta screamed, as I looked back into the kitchen to see the grill covered in flames so high that they were licking the exhaust vents. I immediately grabbed a container of salt and rushed back to throw it on the fire.

-Describing a significant image,
Ex) Her candy dish was made of hard, faceted crystal with roses cut into the front and back. The lid’s design was four clear stalks sporting raised thorns leading to the knob on top that looked like a Russian dome or the unopened bud of a flower. Old Mrs. Florence has been gone for many years, but the one relic of her’s I have left always sits on my desk filled with hundreds of the tiny Red Hots she loved so much.

-With a narrator,
Ex) All the country songs ever have to say about living in a small town is that everyone wants to get out. Well I never felt that way, in fact I liked my small school and small community with its small main drag—everything was always just where I left it and just how I expected it to be. Yet, right before I turned sixteen my parents sat me down to tell me that we would be leaving the rural, American life I had always known for a much, much different place: Montreal, Canada. I was not happy.

Traveling Through Your Story

As you move into the body paragraphs of your narrative there are certain elements of your story that you should keep in mind, primarily theme and focus. These parts of the narrative are essential because they are basically “the point” of the entire story.

Theme is the main point or implication of the story. The author usually says or implies a theme about the subject. The theme of an essay should be obvious to any careful reader without need of an outside explanation from the author. In a way, theme is the “subtle thesis” of our narratives that develops throughout the beginning, middle, and end of the story.

Theme is sometimes confused with focus.

The focus of an essay or story is the primary subject matter. The focus is typically directed toward a person, place, or event. You may want to begin writing your essay without knowledge of what your theme is, but your focus is typically something you consider from the start.

Some additional rhetorical tools that you can use throughout your narrative are:

Addressing the Reader: When you immediately involve the reader you are creating a connection and avenue of empathy right from the start. This rhetorical tool asks the reader to consider their own feelings, and thus encourages them to continue reading.

Ex)“You never know for sure how you will act in an emergency until you are caught in a burning building.”

Ambivalence: the melding of two apparently contradictory emotions.  By doing this you create a kind of lament, but stay clear of sentimentality.

Ex) “My sister was one of the most bossy, obnoxious brats I have ever known. I miss her terribly.”

Dramatic question: The dramatic question is a central part of any story, but is not directly in the story—it is in the audience’s mind. It is what keeps them in their seats. The audience may not be consciously thinking the question aloud but it compels them nonetheless to stay and watch the rest of the story unfold. Giving the reader clues about a story without outright telling them everything creates a dramatic question. For example, in the quote below the reader is left wondering, “Who exactly is the narrator and how did s/he get that way?”

Ex)  My old neighborhood may look like any city slum to outsiders, but every time I go back I feel a sense of renewal. It reminds me of who I am.
Narrative Closings

Many writers have trouble bringing an essay to its conclusion. Often conclusions are thought of in an academic fashion with a formula that is often a repetitive overview of everything the essay has already stated. Yet when drafting a personal narrative the concluding paragraph does not necessarily have to recap all that was discussed in the essay. In fact, many narrative conclusions do not offer readers the “key” or answer to the dilemmas that were discussed throughout the essay, and instead leave the reader with something to think about.

This can be done in a way very similar to the opening paragraph through image, dialogue, or narration. The difference being that in your conclusion these choices are reflective of your theme and hint at what “lesson” or conclusion you have reached about the subject. Most people find problems with forming a conclusion because they are unsure of what they have written. You should not have to be overly explanatory.  Keep it simple and keep it relevant. Select a detail from the essay itself to focus on rather than attempting to abstractly summarize.

One tactic is to end with a moment of action that implies a mood or decision. This is great because it allows the reader to arrive at the theme through your experience and on your terms yet without direct narration which can feel stale and give the impression of a condescending attitude.