Monday, July 15, 2013

Re-Framing Writing and Teaching - Anderson's 6th THING

I know I said I'd probably be waxing poetic about Jeff Anderson's chapter on FORM for a while longer, but after I spoke with you last the rest of the chapter seemed to fly by with lots of examples.  This, of course, left me free to dive into his 6th Thing Every Writer Needs to Know: FRAMES.

Frames?  Like...picture frames?  Glass frames?  Methods criminals use to scapegoat others for their crimes?

Not so much.

The frames that Anderson is discussing are beginnings and endings, leads and conclusions, the frame we set for our own writing that draws in the reader and leaves him or her feeling satisfied at the end.  I'm a killer lead-woman (also, a humble one), but I struggle making endings satisfactory.  Sure, I can spout a line or two for a short piece that are pithy, but most of my endings feel slapdash and vaguely unsatisfying, like poorly made sushi.  Specifically, the endings of my manuscripts, so far, have been...lacking.  *sigh*  This might be a function of my being a "fly by the seat of my pants" (hereafter known as a Pantser) rather than a Planner.  It also might be a function of my unwillingness to stop messing in the lives of my characters.  Either way, it's a big ole problem for me.

What strikes me again and again in Anderson's work is his strict methodology of creating lessons that force students to DISCOVER the points he's trying to make.  One of my weaknesses as a teacher, is that I often feel like I do WAY too much of the talking.  While I'm sure this is partly a function of my actor/director ego being overfed, it's also a function of not enough intention in my choice of methodology and my fear that time will become too much a factor.  The method of Anderson's of providing short sample and comparison/contrast texts for students to study, discuss, and analyze for the purpose of discovery forces us to slow down our teaching so that we may reach a depth and permanency of understanding and independence in students' learning.  It's forcing me to re-frame my teaching altogether.

One of the things that Anderson suggests for students in learning how to create strong, connected leads and conclusions is to collect and categorize them.  He shows us an example of having students choose books at random and use sentence strips to discover what is unique about them, then to categorize what makes them strong - what they tell and what they show that might draw a reader to keep going.  Then he has them decide a category of strength that the sentence falls into.  The students are the ones studying, discovering, and naming things for themselves - he's leading them to water, but they are the ones who name the river and discover how to do the drinking.

Today's TeachersWrite guest author is one of my personal favorites, Linda Urban, who came to our school a few years ago.  She's kind, funny, and delightful - just like her writing.  Her book, A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT, is a prime example of quirky, interesting characters, an original plotline, and strong beginnings and endings.  Her new book, THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING, is still bright, shiny and new - sitting in my TBR pile.  It's sneaking quickly to the top of the pile, though.

Urban urges us to use time as a weapon in our writing arsenal - letting it slow to emphasize a pivotal moment for a character.  Jo Knowles, in her Monday Morning Warmup, urges us to go one step further - and take "show, don't tell" to a greater degree - to look for ways to show the emotion of the moment without falling back on cliched phrases or the usual descriptors.

I chose to write a scene from my Work-In-Progress, a YA novel called The Rude Awakening of Marlon Grunt.  One night, unable to bear the loneliness he feels will be his lot in life, Marlon takes what he believes to be an overdose of painkillers, never expecting to wake up again.  Imagine his surprise when he does wake, with no one the wiser to his attempt, and in the wrong house.

The first thing Marlon knew for sure was the true meaning of the term "cottonmouth".  

Did people get cottonmouth in heaven?

His tongue was wrapped in sticky fur, and his teeth were coated in glue.  His arm reached for the glass of water he always kept on the nightstand, but it was too far away.  He turned over to reach with his other hand, but met only air on his express trip to the floor.  


But it wasn't the pain he'd expect if landing on the linoleum floor of the trailer.  The carpet currently mashed in his face smelled faintly of woodsmoke and carpet deodorizer - something flowery.  Marlon's fingers clenched in the cushy pile.  Is this what clouds felt like?

Someone, not his mother or grandmother, asked if he was all right, did he know his name?

The pit of Marlon's stomach lurched, and he heard his molars grind in his skull.  His eyelids unstuck from each other, and a wavy, blurry vision of a well-pedicured foot and the hem of a soft pink bathrobe.

Clouds should be that soft and pink.  

But living-room carpet is not clouds, and Marlon felt the hole inside himself reopen and all emptiness of before whoosh in fill it.  The hole drew him in, a drain sucking him into the fetal position.  

It hadn't worked.

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