Monthly Archives: September 2014

English 4 – the Most Interesting Person You Have Met in 2014

Writing 101: A Character-Building Experience

Who’s the most interesting person (or people) you’ve met this year?

Our stories are inevitably linked to the people around us. We are social creatures: from the family members and friends who’ve known us since childhood, to the coworkers, service providers, and strangers who populate our world (and, at times, leave an unexpected mark on us).

Today, write a post focusing on one — or more — of the people that have recently entered your life, and tell us how your narratives intersected. It can be your new partner, your newborn child, or the friendly barista whose real story you’d love to learn (or imagine), or any other person you’ve met for the first time in the past year.

Today’s twist: Turn your post into a character study.

In displaying the psychology of your characters, minute particulars are essential. God save us from vague generalizations!

– Anton Chekhov, Letter to Alexander Chekhov; May 10, 1886

Describing people — whether real or fictional — in a way that channels their true essence is an invaluable skill for any writer. Through the careful accumulation of details, great authors morph their words into vivid, flesh-and-bones creations in our minds. How can you go about shaping your portrait of a person? Some ideas to explore:

Don’t just list their features. Tell us something about how their physical appearance shapes the way they act and engage with others. For example, see how the author of this moving photo essay, which documents the final weeks of a woman dying of cancer, captures the kernel of the woman’s spirit with a short, masterful statement:

Her eyes told stories that her voice didn’t have the power to articulate and she had a kindness that immediately made me feel like we had been friends for years.

Give us a glimpse of what makes this person unique. We all have our own quirks, mannerisms, and individual gestures, both physical and linguistic. If you’re looking for inspiration, read this blogger’s portrait of her French host family — after reading the first two paragraphs, you already have intimate knowledge of who these people are and what drives them.

Need a helping hand? Head to The Commons.


English 4 and AP English – (read only) The Devil is in the Details: On Descriptive Writing

Remember these hints when you are writing your personal statements!!

The Daily Post

We often hear that we should “show, not tell” — that we should paint a detailed picture for our reader that lets them see what’s happening, rather than simply narrating.

Easier said than done! All details are not created equal: some detail throws a barrier between the reader and your story, and some detail is (ironically) not detailed enough. How do you tell whether a detail helps or hurts? Here are four things to keep in mind when you’re writing descriptively, and some writers who illustrate them perfectly.

Good detail is relevant.

Including every detail is the written equivalent of your friend who can never get to the point of a story because he can’t remember if it happened on Tuesday or Wednesday, or if it was 1 PM or 2 PM, or if the car was red or blue. Good detail is relevant to the point of your post.

Writer beware! Not…

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AP English – Magic and Absurdity…

Tiny Yellow Flowers

Any time we read a book, we’re transported. A good author will develop the characters in such a way that we identify with them automatically. We see their flaws in ourselves, as well as their happiness and desires. We follow them through their lives, the climax and the denouement of the tale, wishing the best for them, or the worst, depending on the type of book we’re reading.

When it comes to absurdity or surrealism in literature, there’s something extra. It’s like when someone adds nutmeg or chicory to brewed coffee — it tastes like coffee, it’s caffeinated like coffee, and yet there’s this subtle undertone that hits us as we take each sip. As with any other book, we’re transported by the storyline and the characters, but we’re also enraptured by the possibility of magic.

I often think of Gabriel García Marquez’ scene of thousands of yellow flowers falling to the ground in Love in the Time of Cholera. As the landscape is blanketed in these small flowers, we readers can picture the real version of such petals falling and more closely imagine ourselves in his magical scene. In fact, we may come to desire such splendor in our day-to-day lives and find ourselves fantasizing about flowers, and romance, and magic.

The Challenge

For your first post, answer one of the following prompts, remembering that the concepts of a sense of magic or absurdity are the primary focus of your response.  If you choose the fictional piece, don’t feel as though you have to write a novel…even a brief episode is fine!  Length should be long enough to engage your readers fully and SHOW the magic or absurdity that you are sharing!

◾Write a fictional piece that incorporates the everyday life we’re familiar with — work, family, errands — and add a surprise twist through an imaginary character, absurd turn of events, or Sci-Fi-esque setting.
◾We all know that sometimes life itself is a bit nonsensical. Tell us a story when you were going about your own business and something completely ridiculous or inexplicable happened. What did you do, and how did you react?
◾Tap into your inner child and conjure up some of the magic you experienced in your childhood. When I was a kid, I was convinced that I could fly and wouldn’t let anyone tell me otherwise. What improbably hopeful dreams did you have?

Your AP classmates and I are looking forward to your absurd tales!!