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Home Notebook for Topics in Literature: Rites of Passage (Spring 2006) Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2006) Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Fall 2005) Notebook for Effective Writing I (Fall 2005)
Notebook for Topics in Literature: Rites of Passage (Spring 2006)
Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2006)
Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Fall 2005)
Notebook for Effective Writing I (Fall 2005)
Expressive WritingExpressive writing is the kind of writing you do when your primary purpose is to explore and communicate your own personal experience, your own opinions about things, your own response to the world, including the world of reading. The purpose of this kind of writing is to invite readers into your sphere of existence, into your field of vision, inside your mind, up close to your feelings and your experiences. It may be an intimidating form of writing, but also a liberating one—it is always profoundly generous, demonstrating your willingness to share something of yourself. Other kinds of writing may allow you (or require you) to stay hidden in the shadow of your subject, but expressive writing puts you right out in front. This is pretty obvious in the following example. Notice how different the same subject, “protest,” can be approached when you consider writing about it with three completely different purposes in mind. Notice the one that focuses on the writer:
Expressive: My first political awareness began in elementary school, when I remember buying a silver metal bracelet with the name of a soldier who was missing in Vietnam. This name was mysterious and terrifying to me. It represented a real person, someone’s father or brother or son, who had lived nearby and who was lost somewhere unimaginably far away. Wearing this bracelet, I staged my own political protest in a sixth grade assembly; I remained seated during the Pledge of Allegiance. The feelings I had then are probably related to my feelings about politics, and about war, today.
Expository: Public protest against the Vietnam War eventually brought that war to an end.
Persuasive: The Iraq War may have been won, but the occupation of Iraq is not sustainable. Whatever you think about the decision to invade Iraq, we have created a no-win situation for our troops, who are not well enough equipped, not numerous enough, and not welcomed enough by the civilian population. Every day they are highly vulnerable to attack; the numbers of troops killed and wounded keep climbing, while people here at home are barely encouraged to take notice of their sacrifice. It’s time to rescue our troops out of harms way.
Each of these purposes suggest a completely different way to write about protest. In an expressive piece of writing, you are writing to share something about yourself (which you may discover as the process of reflecting and writing brings that something forth); you are writing to share that discovery with your readers.
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.
The Call to Write tells you all about the "Open Letter" and the "Memoir," but what does a "Response to Literature" essay do? How would you write this type of paper?
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. An essay like this uses the literature as a
springboard to discuss something about yourself. 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.
Questions? Contact me.
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