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Home Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Spring 2005) Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2004) ENG Q20: Basic Writing (Fall 2004)
Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Spring 2005)
Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2004)
ENG Q20: Basic Writing (Fall 2004)
~~ Expressive Writing ~~
What is expressive writing?
Expressive writing is the kind of writing you do when your primary purpose is to explore and/or communicate your personal experience, your opinions about things, your response to the world, including the world of reading. The writing is focused on you the writer instead of an objective subject outside yourself, or on an imaginary reader you want to persuade. For example, here are three ways to write about "protest" in terms of different purposes.
Each of these purposes suggest a completely different way to write about "protest." In an expressive piece of writing, you are writing to discover something about yourself (which the process of reflecting and writing brings forth), and then share that discovery with your readers, who can learn from just as you have.
You may wonder if readers will be interested in reading about you, about your individual experience, about your reflective thoughts and meditations. The answer is that we are. We most definitely are. In fact, personal writing is probably the most enjoyable, most popular form to read and to write. Students who take classes like this usually report that this is the kind of writing they valued most, they enjoyed the most. And it's the same for readers. What's the appeal?
We are always looking for the inside view. The interior picture. When you provide that, you are satisfying our desire to learn more, to know more than what we can learn up here on the surface of things. That's why the novel is such a popular form of literature. It takes us on that journey inside. A great novel, even a merely good one, takes us deep inside the mind and the soul of its main character, and that is satisfying. Memoir does the same thing, except the story it tells is true rather than fictional.
The genres discussed in The Call to Write most directly associated with expressive writing are the "Open Letter" (Ch. 4) and the "Memoir" (Ch. 5). Preparing to write an expressive paper, you should read these two chapters. You'll be able to choose which form you most would like to try for your own paper. You may choose neither, and decide instead to write an expressive "Response to Literature" essay based on one or more of the literary sources we're going to use in this unit.
You'll soon find out what the "Open Letter" and the "Memoir" are all about when you read the chapters in The Call to Write, but what does a "Response to Literature" essay do? How would you write this type of paper?
An expressive response to literature is about seeing your reading as a creative act, a creative process. The text is not independent of you, the reader. It actually depends on you to be its interpreter. Since there is always more than one way to interpret great literature (it's "ambiguous," or "open to interpretation"), it's acceptable even if your interpretation is highly individual, idiosyncratic. When your way of reading something makes it especially rich and meaningful to you, your reflection on it (what you write about it) can become the site of self-exploration, self-discovery, and, like we said before, an excellent basis for an expressive paper which shares that discovery with curious readers. It may be that you deeply identify with one of the characters or ideas, or feelings expressed, and you explore that. It may be that one of the characters particularly repulses you, and you explore that. It may be that the events described make you reflect on a similar experience, or it may be that you want to imaginatively project yourself into something you've read and discover where that takes you. You may draw comparisons or contrasts between yourself and the things you read about; it's very natural to synthesize what you know with what you read. You may want to explore how the reading expands your thinking in some way, how it adds to your experience.
In any case, a "Response to Literature" essay has the potential to be very highly expressive, and it's a choice you can make for your first paper.
What are some of the qualities of good expressive writing?
Description is the strategy you use to create a vivid mental image by using sensory language, connotative language, figurative language. The more creative the language is in getting us to see or hear or smell or taste or touch or understand something vividly, the better. Imagery is the heart of description. Make readers see what you see, imagine what you imagine. Take creative risks with your language to make sure you're understood. The better the description, the more effective the expression.
Narration is "storytelling." If you are recalling and recreating an experience, give some thought about the best way to provide the experience for your readers. Do you need to use dialogue? Should you map out which scenes you want to describe in detail and which ones you can quickly summarize so your story is well-paced? Do you need some quick details to describe the people in the story so they'll be vivid for readers and not just names that evoke no particular image? Finding the quick characteristic detail that really describes a person without being long-winded can be a challenge.
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