Saturday, March 15, 2014

Saturday Summary: Week 1

So considering that I want to tell you guys about all four of the classes I'm studying at university this trimester, I've decided I may as well just do it all in one blog post every week. So this will be the first Saturday Summary of all the classes I had this week. Feel free to scroll down to the headings you are interested in and skip the rest.

Of course, as it was the first week of classes, there was a lot of generic introductory stuff, which means future posts will probably be longer than this (and I may end up reconsidering doing this all in one post...).

Fiction Writing: Story, Structure, and Starting Out
This is the class that kick-starts the week for me! Our readings were 'Learning Writing Through Reading' by Nigel Krauth and 'The Sentence in Time' by Kevin Brophy.

In the Krauth reading, we looked at the process of reverse engineering, and specifically how it happens in writing. This is when someone pulls apart a story to see how it was made. This is often done with the intention of recreating the story being told. This process sometimes happens subconsciously. More consciously is when it is done because we're thinking about what doesn't work in a story, and what sticks out like a sore thumb. Reverse engineering to find out how something does work often happens subconsciously because unless we are intentionally thinking about how something works, we aren't going to sit there pondering. When it works, it won't distract us from what we're reading, so we don't consciously notice it unless we are looking for it. How many of us writers have read a 'how-to' book? This is reverse engineering from the perspective of another writer. While knowing how to reverse engineer is useful, we have to be careful not to emulate somebody else's work, otherwise we will never write with our own voices. Instead, we should be using this process to find out why we respond to things the way we do.

In the Brophy reading, we examined the creation, use, and purpose of sentences. Sentences in fiction are not all about grammar and punctuation, but about having an experience. As writers, we should be using all of our senses when we form a sentences. Words on their own might mean something, but when we string them together into sentences, we expand their meanings into stories.

Poetry: Making it Strange
This week, we looked into the myth of the myth-maker, Orpheus, the first Greek poet, among other things. We looked at the translation of a poem 'Orpheus and Eurydice' by the Roman poet Virgil, the more modern interpretation of the story called 'Raw Shock' by Toby Fitch, and 'The Sonnets of Orpheus XIII' by Rainer Maria Rilke.

Just a heads up: my teacher for this class, from what I gathered this week, is an absolute basket-case. In other words, I love him, but it's harder to make a coherent, smooth-flowing blog post out of the notes I took. We started the class by answering the questions 'What king of a stain are you?' when he did the roll-call. Then we went on to some Greek words, like poiesis: to make. The prejudice of poets is that the whole world is made through poiesis. The point of writing poetry is to push yourself into thinking: what's the most I can know?

Orpheus was a semi-divine being according to Greek mythology. This led us on to a discussion about why the gods don't write poems. They are not facing death. But then, what is scarier? Knowing you will die, or knowing that you will live forever? As soon as we start writing poems, we become Orpheus. Poets are fetish-ers of words and in the 21st century, there is nothing that can't be put into a poem. I've heard a lot of people saying that all love stories come from Romeo and Juliet, but if you look further back, my class now sees that they all come from the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, even if the author isn't aware of it or doesn't choose to name them as such.

The only way to write poetry is to read poetry. When we try, we aim to write an emotion as that emotion, rather than just as a representation of that emotion, so that it plunges the reader into the experience.

Literature for Children and Young Adults
Our reading for this week was 'Why Assumptions Can't be the Whole Truth' by Perry Nodelman and Mavis Reimer.

Children's literature is one of the few categories specifically defined by the audience's age, and is a generic term that covers literature for children from infancy through to young adults. Purposes of children's literature is to help that age group understand the world, including values and culture. There are always people controlling children's texts: governments, institutions, industries, creators, teachers and librarians, and of course parents. However, sometimes the things these controllers do and don't let children read is determined by assumptions that are not always accurate.

The idea of 'childhood' is a social construct and society's ideas about childhood has changed over time. It has been shaped by adult ideologies and assumptions. The belief that is widely held is that children's literature should reflect the image we have of children themselves: happy, colourful, innocent. However they also think that children are of lesser intelligence, wild, and lacking discipline. They think children are subconsciously sexist (that boys only like reading stories about other boys, and girls only like reading stories about other girls). Often, the people who control what children do and don't read believe in contradictory ideologies and assumptions. They think that if children read about bad things happening, they will do bad things. If they read violence, they will become violent. In class, we did some myth-busting and thought of some really good examples of texts that break these ideologies. For example, my favourite picture story book 'Jenny Angel' by Margaret Wild has a very sad ending, but it didn't traumatize me and make me hate reading like the assumptions and ideologies said it would. I loved watching 'The Lion King' and reading the 'Harry Potter' books, even though they were about boys. I didn't become violent when I saw violence, like in the movie of 'The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe' when Aslan's army fights the White Witch's army.

Creative Nonfiction: The Personal Essay
Our readings for week 1 were: 'The "everything you ever wanted to know about creative nonfiction, but were too naive and uninformed to ask" workshop stimulation' by Lee Gutkind, 'Twenty Ways to Talk about Creative Nonfiction' by Sondra Perl and Mimi Schwartz, and 'Reaching one thousand' by Rachel Robertson.

Personal essays talk about something relevant to a wider audience through a personal experience. It's not just about 'What happened to me', but 'what happened to me in relation to the subject at hand'. When writing creative nonfiction, we implement the skills we learned from writing fiction (storytelling, scenes, subjectivity, suspense, frame) with the nonfiction skills of information, structure, research and interviews, and focus. Creative nonfiction is used to teach something and the scenes are the building blocks. The scenes are separated by little blocks of information in a structure that engages the audience enough to want to keep reading, then informs them about things they need to know to understand the story, before drawing them back into said story with another scene.

Which of my subjects interest you? Also, what are your thoughts on the all-in-one blog post? I don't know how else to share this stuff without inundating you with a minimum of four blog posts a week with whatever else I want to share in more posts on top of that... What do you think about my first week of classes? Have you learned anything writerly recently? 

- Bonnee


  1. OH, boy. I think if you try to do a separate post about each class, you'll end up burning yourself out! I take it your poetry instructor jumps all over the place--must be fun trying to keep up with him.

    By the way, what kind of a stain are you? I'd say coffee for me.

    I hope you're enjoying yourself so far.

    1. That's the other thing I was worried about! And yes, he does jump around a lot, but everything is relevant to poetry, so it's okay by me. Plenty of fun!

      I said I was a blackberry stain around the mouth. There were a few coffee stains and wine stains in various places and a few other things I probably wouldn't have thought of immediately.

      I'm loving it! Thanks for visiting, Jeff!

  2. Those classes don't actually look that bad. Are the teachers less stuffy and literary-inclined than I've always imagined? As for how many posts, feel free to go with however many you'd like. I'll click onto them no matter their quantity (well, assuming I have the time).

    1. I love the classes so far, and no I don't think any of them are stuffy (maybe some literary-inclined, but that doesn't bother me particularly). I think I'll stick with the Saturday Summary for now and see how things go, but I'm glad to know you won't condemn me if I decide otherwise. Thanks for visiting!

  3. I never took literature classes at university level (only at highschool) so it's very interetsing to read your posts about your classed. You are my online literature professor ..:). It's better to do the summary of all four classes in one weekly post. I can't see myself writing poetry and I don't really knwo how to appreciate it, so that's what I skip. But it's great theat your four classes cover four different categories. Most interesting for me is the YA literature class and it's interesting to read about the assumptiosn underlying this category. Like you said, I doubt that teens become violent after reading violent boosk like the HUnger Games. Teens are smart enough to know that it's fiction to take them to another world and to entertain them while reading. Ther are also interesting observations in your summary of fiction and creative nonfiction writing. Really, Bonnee, thanks for the summary.

    1. At the moment, the class you're interested in is focusing on the younger part of the Children's Literature category, and over the coming weeks we will move up to young adults. I'm glad you liked the post, thanks for visiting Giora! :)

  4. Literature for Children and Young Adults is always a fascinating subject, especially when it delves into concepts and perceptions.

    1. I'm realising so many things that I never noticed before in the things I read as a child! Oh my goodness, my childhood my actually be ruined after this class, but I'm sure it will be worthwhile. Thanks for visiting, Lynda!

  5. Your classes sound so interesting -- definitely the kind you enjoy attending! Wishing you a wonderful semester! :)

    1. Thanks Shari! I'm definitely going to have an amazing time studying this semester!


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