March 2

Plans for Extended Critical Essay (ECE)

For my upcoming semester at Spalding University,  I need to turn in a 20-30 page essay referred to as an Extended Critical Essay, or ECE,  Since I imagine three and a half-weeks between each draft wouldn’t be enough time for me to do all my research, reading, writing and edits, I am working on gathering all my information now.

I’m not sure what my topic will be on. I’m leaning toward writing emotion into a story or something on world building.  Maybe I can somehow combine the two…. How character’s emotions can help with world building in YA. I may decide to go in a totally different direction as well. But I’m hopefully giving myself enough time to do the research and come up with a final decision.

In fact, I plan to write mini-essays on the two topics while I am doing the research, with the hope that it’ll help me build material/resources for the ECE I will need to work on. I would love feedback from people as I make progress, differing opinions, suggestions on what other resources to look at, no matter what stage I am in during this endeavor.

My first step is to find the resources that will help me write the mini-essays and eventually the ECE. I would appreciate recommendations on:

  • Non-Fiction books/articles on Writing Emotion
  • Non-Fiction books/articles on World Building
  • YA Fiction that is a good example of one or both elements.
  • Any other resources that you think may be of interest/help to me.

Thanks in advance for your recommendations and comments.

March 1

Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch By Constance Hale

Writers know it instinctively: Verbs make a sentence zing. Grammar gurus agree: Drama in writing emerges from the interplay of a subject (noun) and a predicate (verb). Constance Hale, the best-selling author of Sin and Syntax zooms in on the colorful world of verbs. Synthesizing the pedagogical and the popular, the scholarly and the scandalous, Hale combines the wit of Bill Bryson with the practical wisdom of William Zinsser. She marches through linguistic history to paint a layered picture of our language—from before it really existed to the quirky usages we see online today. She warns about habits to avoid and inspires with samples of brilliant writing. A veteran teacher, Hale gives writing prompts along the way, helping readers “try, do, write, play.” Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch  guides us to more powerful writing by demonstrating how to use great verbs with style.

I truly enjoyed reading this book. A lot of books on writing that I do read at this point often re-hash the same information as other books: new information is rare. This book focuses not necessarily on writing, but on words.  We learn the history of English, how some words are stronger than others, proper grammar usage. If you follow me on Facebook  you’ll have noticed I quoted this book several times.  What you may not know is that I have a long list, from this book alone, of books I should do my best to eliminate from my story and everything discussed is well explained.

I found this book invaluable and I will probably purchase it for my own shelves.  I borrowed it from the library.  I also plan on checking into Constance Hale’s Sin and Syntax.

July 2

Briar Rose: A Critical Review

Writer’s have many decisions to make when they start on a story, from who the characters are to how the story is told. Jane Yolen uses the third person narrative in Briar Rose. This allows readers to explore the horrors of WWII without being overwhelmed by the gruesome details and for Yolen to switch from the books past to the books present without confusing readers.

Briar Rose is about a twenty-three-year-old named Becca who on her grandmother’s deathbed, promised to discover her grandmother’s past. This proves to be difficult, as her mother–Gemma’s only daughter–knows almost nothing about Gemma; not her real name, where she came from or who her husband was.  The only clues Becca has to Gemma’s identity are small souvenirs that were hidden in a small box. After getting all the information, she can from the box’s contents, Becca travels to Poland with the hopes of finding concrete answers.

The story swings back and forth in time, allowing readers to learn about the fairytale that Gemma told her granddaughters in flashbacks, and return to the story’s present to learn about Becca’s journey through alternating chapters.  This allows readers to see how the story of Briar Rose Gemma told her granddaughters relates to the information Becca discovers as she uncovers Gemma’s past, until past and present converge.

The transition between the two times is seamless. This is because Jane Yolen chose to write the story completely in third person.  If the tale had been told in first person or even alternating between first and third, readers would have been jarred from the story and potentially confused as to the shift in time. However, the fact the story is told in third person allows the voice and tone to remain the same throughout the chapter and only the flashback chapters need to be italicized to let readers know that they are reading a flashback. The story stops alternating between past and present when Becca meets Josef Potoki, a Holocaust survivor, who knew her grandparents.

Josef tells his story and the story of Becca’s grandparents for the majority of the remaining book. Since Josef is in fact telling his own story, it would have been acceptable for Yolen to switch to first person at that point, however Yolen wisely chose to keep the story in third person. This allows the horrors that were endured in WWII to be revealed, along with other subject matter, without overwhelming or sickening readers. On several occasions, readers may have put the book down if the descriptions were in first person. For example, at one point in Josef’s story he and several of his comrades end up in Chełmno, which was the location of an Extermination camp. There victims of Nazi’s are loaded into the back of trucks and gassed to death. Josef and his companions watch in horror as bodies are shoved out of the back of the trucks. Only at the end of the day, when they believe it is safe do they approach the mass grave the bodies’ were dumped in:

They came to the side of the deepening dark. It was enormous, full of shadows: shadows of arms, or legs, of heads thrown back, mouths open in silenced screams. Lines of Dante ran through Josef’s mind but he realized, not even the great Alighieri could touch the horror of what lay at his feet. The smell–a lingering fog of exhaust fumes, the stench of loosened bowels, the sweet-sickly odor of the two- and three-day dead–drenched them (206).

If this were in first person, the details would more likely have been sharper. Josef’s stomach would have turned at the stench described, perhaps tasted it at the back of his tongue. The details could have been sharper, so that the bodies are seen in detail. Granted, this could be true of third person as well, but no matter how deeply one writes, third person always seems a little more distant than first person. The difference between using I and Josef may seem miniscule, but it can change the impact of a scene.
Using third person is what made Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose a success. It made the transition between the past and present smooth and protected readers from some of the more grisly details found in the book.

June 27

Book Review: A Reference for Writers

In Make a Scene, author Jordan E. Rosenfeld takes you through the fundamentals of strong scene construction and explains how other essential fiction-writing techniques, such as character, plot, and dramatic tension, must function within the framework of individual scenes in order to provide substance and structure to the overall story.

This book is a good reference for basic scene techniques. There are some new ways of introducing the information that I have not seen before but the information is nothing new. I would recommend this book for beginners or those who want a review on material or haven’t read many books on the subject of writing.

Jordan E. Rosenfeld uses a lot of excerpts from various books to get her point across. Several of the excerpts have me wanting to read the books she uses as examples.  However the book itself is on the dry side. It isn’t the driest piece of literature I’ve ever read, but I kept putting the book down, and progressed through the book slowly.

A slow is not necessarily bad. It allows things to digest the information.  But I am not one to enjoy slow reading. I prefer to swallow it  whole and study the parts most helpful to me later.  This book is a very good specific topic book.  Rosenfeld had plenty of opportunity to expand outside of how to write a scene, for instance, she could have explained more on what makes a good character, said more on point of view or even how to write good dialogue.  However when she does address dialogue or characters, it is only in reference to how it helps make a scene great.

Have you read Make A Scene? What did you think?