“It seems to me, that the way to help people become better writers is not to tell them that they must develop a four-part outline, that they must consult the experts and collect all the useful information. These things may have their place. But none of them is as crucial as having a good, interesting question.”
As we begin Unit One it is a good idea to start your writing process with brainstorming, which often comes in the form of asking questions.
Some useful questions for this Unit are:
What story in my life relates to sustainability? Why is this the best example?
How does my story tie into larger, sociological events or issues?
How will others relate to my story?
Is my realization deeply personal or is it something that many others have also experienced?
Why do I care about this event, how has it affected my life?
Is this something that I have ever thought about outside of this assignment?
“Although open-form prose does not announce its thesis and support it with reasons and evidence, it does have a focus…the focus is more like a theme in fiction that readers might discuss and even dispute than like a thesis in an argument.”
–Allen & Bacon
Unlike in formal essays, when we write narratives we do not openly tell the reader what we are thinking or what our theme is and instead we let them discover or feel it out on their own through figurative language and description.
Examples of figurative language are:
Simile– A comparison of two things using “like” or “as”.
“It’s hot as a desert in here”, “His eyes shine like diamonds.”
Metaphor– When something is used to represent something else.
“When I think about how my sister has changed since she had children, I realize that she is simply a mother bear protecting her cubs.”
Personification– Giving human-like qualities to things that are not human.
“The bright, blue sky gazed down on us as we began our journey into a new life.”
Although description is at its basis simply a telling of setting, action, or character, many writers stop there without going into much detail. In order to write effective and interesting description it is important to include details or imagery to accentuate the parts of a story you want a reader to remember.
An example of this would be the sentence:
“The car was smashed and I knew we were both in a lot of trouble.”
This sentence is effective in telling the reader what happened, but it is flat and does not necessarily explain how the writer came to these conclusions. A more effective version of this would be:
“The plastic bumper lay in pieces ten feet away from us as the engine began to smoke and I knew we were both in serious trouble from the look of terror on my cousin’s face as he dialed his dad’s number slowly and closed his eyes.”
We also use figurative language and description to form a subtle thesis, which is in contrast to an explicit thesis that you usually see in academic writing. A subtle thesis does not outright tell the reader what argument the writer is making or what stance they take on a subject, and instead allows the reader to discover it for themselves through the essay’s rhetoric.
An example is when you watch a movie. You do not want to be told the plot by a narrator or a noisy friend, you want to observe and make deductions as the story progresses so that you can come to a conclusion on your own—otherwise the entire plot would feel false or overbearing.
Because of this we often hear writers encouraged to “show, not tell”. This phrase basically encourages the writer’s use of description. So if in your essay you want to tell the reader that you were upset because the local river where you swam all summer was shut down due to a paper mill illegally dumping run off into it, you wouldn’t just say, “It made me sad.” because a more effective thing to do is show the reader how you were effected, “While the news anchor continued with the details of what chemicals had been introduced into the river, I stared down my dinner unable to eat anymore as the idea of my summer and all the plans I’d made with friends to go swimming or tubing evaporated with the news that the river would be closed for months.”
When reflecting on an experience and how it has shaped your view of the world, it is important to keep in mind that your former self was unaware of the change in outlook or attitude that the event would go on to trigger.
Thinking rhetorically about audience, purpose and genre
Rhetoric is the way that people use language to influence attitudes, beliefs and actions of others. Rhetoric is important when employing the “show, not tell” method because is the means by which we make something persuasive without stating our purpose outright.
An example of rhetoric is simile. If you say that, “every time you accept a plastic, non-biodegradable, bag from the store it is like you are smothering the planet” you have not directly told the reader that you do not agree with or favor the use of plastic bags, but you have let them know this through your use of negative imagery.
Your peers are the audience for your Unit One . They are your intended readers so you must consider what their values or assumptions may be while writing. This is key to deciding what tactics are necessary when using rhetoric to be persuasive. Your audience may also affect your “voice” or the way that you use language in your essay. For example you may be able to be more casual and colloquial when speaking to your peers where as when you address an academic audience you want your writing to be concise and formal.
Genre refers to the category or type of writing that we are drafting. We are writing a literacy narrative so we use the methods and style of that genre.
When you claim literacy about a subject you are simply saying that you have knowledge or an understanding of the thing being discussed. People often pair this word with a person’s ability to read, but it is not limited to that definition.
A narrative is a story, typically with a beginning, middle, and end.
When you put those together you get a literacy narrative, which is a story that tells about a time when you learned something. By telling your story you are sharing your knowledge with the reader as well as connecting with the reader through story. Using this form or genre is beneficial for our assignment because it allows an audience beyond scholastic readers to engage with the material and because it gives the writer a chance to examine their personal connection to the material.
It is important that when you chose to write about something you are able to invest yourself in the topic. You will quickly discover that if you do not have any interest in a topic, or cannot generate any interest in it, you will have a very hard time writing about the subject. Do your best with any assignment, whether a composition essay or paper for your Psychology class, to find the subject or aspect of a subject that holds your interest. This can be very hard sometimes—trust me—but makes all the difference when you are spending hours with that material.