Margin Notes

CRAFT STUDIO: CARRIE SOTO IS BACK

Sep
22

What I Was Reading:

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s latest novel, Carrie Soto is Back, tells the story of retired tennis champion Carrie Soto who decides, while watching a young player tie her record for winning the most Grand Slams, that she will return to the game and reclaim her title.

In this scene, Carrie faces a challenger at the French Open:

Moretti strides onto the court in a white-and-navy-blue tennis dress, waving to the crowd. She blows kisses to the stands. She is sponsored by Nike, so it’s no surprise that she is covered in swooshes from head to toe. When she turns to look at me, she gives me a big smile.

I nod at her.

She starts strong after winning the toss. But I’m stronger.

15-love becomes 15-all. 30-love becomes 30-all. Deuces become ad-ins and then back to deuces and ad-outs.

Three hours in, we are now in the third set. 6-6.

The crowd is cheering. I look up at my father who is sitting elegantly behind a flower box.

It’s now my serve. I need to hold this one and break hers. And then I’m on to the quarterfinals.

I close my eyes. I can do this.

When I open my eyes again, I’m looking directly at Moretti. She hovers over the court. Her hips swaying side to side as she waits for my serve.

I breathe in and serve it straight down the middle. She returns it with a ground stroke to the center. I hit it back, deep into the far-right corner. She runs for it, fast and hard. There’s no way she’s gonna make it.

But then she does. And I can’t return it.

It’s fine. It’s fine. I can feel my knee twinging, but I have plenty more to go.

I look up at my father again in the player’s box. He catches my eye.

I can feel the hum in my bones, the lightness in my belly. I serve it again, this time, just at the line. She dives and misses it.

I hold my game and then begin my assault on her. By the time I get to match point, she’s exactly where I want her. I set her up so she’s on the far side of the court. I return it to her backhand and that’s it. She’s done.

 

What Moves I Notice the Author Making:

  • The way the writer plays with time by speeding up and slowing down the action really stands out to me in this passage.
  • After a scene-setting paragraph describing Carrie Soto’s opponent, the rest of the passage is organized into a series of short paragraphs—many are only a single line—that reads like a list.
  • The description of the first three hours of the match comprises only a few lines. Short sentences with a pattern of repetition (“15-love becomes 15-all. 30-love becomes 30-all.”) reveal the progression of the play.
  • At the third set, with a 6-6 tie, Jenkins Reid slows the action down and builds suspense by including detailed description of the narrator’s thoughts and observations, the serve, and the subsequent rally.
  • Jenkin Reid’s use of sentence break in the line “But then she does. And I can’t return it,” intentionally slows the reader’s pace by emphasizing the pause between the two thoughts. Separating one sentence into two is another interesting strategy for controlling the action in a scene. This also seems to be a pivot point in the passage as the details become more compressed and the action accelerates.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Notice and name other interesting craft moves in this passage.
  • Watch for interesting pacing strategies in other texts you read.
  • Develop a scene and experiment with time by using some of the Taylor Jenkins Reid’s techniques.
  • Try organizing ideas into a series of short paragraphs to give your writing a list-like quality that conveys many details in a concise structure.
  • Revise a draft in your writer’s notebook by incorporating some of the craft moves you notice in this excerpt.

CRAFT STUDIO: CAST AWAY: POEMS FOR OUR TIME

Jun
09

What I Was Reading:

Cast Away: Poems For our Time by Young People’s Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye is a collection of poems about trash that will inspire any reader to take more care regarding the things we leave behind. Recommended for ages 10+, the poems are accessible, relevant, and relatable. Here is one of the poems in the collection:

 

Trash Talk 326

Did anyone ever say you were their girlfriend
or boyfriend and you barely even knew them?

Did they tell your friends they had insight
and could guess what you might do next?

Did they say you called them when you
didn’t even know their number?

What did you do about people like this?
Did you argue, tell them off?

Or walk calmly past them in the hallway
as if they were a locker or a clock?

 

What Moves I Noticed the Writer Making:

  • The poet speaks directly to the reader (you), which creates a sense of intimacy between poet and reader
  • The poet tells a story by asking a series of questions
  • The poet never tells the reader how she feels about the situation. Her feelings are inferred through the questions she chooses to ask
  • The first three stanzas set up the problem and the last two stanzas is where she is asking how others have handled the situation

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Use the format of the poem (asking questions of the reader) to tell your own story of an event/situation
  • Write the story of what you think happened between the poet and this person
  • Write back to the poet, answering the questions as they pertain to you
  • Write a letter of advice to the poet on what to do if she is ever in this situation again

CRAFT STUDIO: FREAK THE GEEK BY JOHN GREEN 

Jun
02

What I’m Reading: 

John Green’s short story “Freak the Geek” is the story of two friends who have been named the targets in a school tradition to be pranked for a day. The pair run to escape and reflect on their friendship, school traditions and values. The author moves the story forward at a quick pace. He uses action mixed with short dialogue to demonstrate the quick movement that is happening during the conversation. 

Excerpt: 

“I never really thought about it before,” I tell Kayley as we simultaneously duck under a low-hanging oak branch, “but just the phrase ‘Freak the Geek’ is just hugely lame.” 

 “Yeah,” Kayley says. “True. It’s almost like the name was thought up by a bunch of mustachioed purple-hued maltworms.” Kayley likes using Shakespearean insults. I get down on one knee in a flash to pull up my sock — a girl has to protect herself from poison ivy. “Richard III?” I guess.  

“Henry IV,” she says. I nod. I can hardly hear the girls behind us anymore; I mostly just hear our breath coming fast and hard and the ground scrunching beneath us.  

“Like, admittedly I am not an expert in slang,” I say, “but isn’t freaking usually kind of sexual?” Kayley turns around to me and runs backward just long enough to say, “Example?” 

 “‘Madam, I wish to freak your body.’ Or, ‘My heart desires to become freaky with you.'” 

Moves I Notice the Author Making: 

  • The author uses quotation marks to show the words spoken. 
  • Sentence punctuation goes inside the quotation marks. 
  • Each time the speaker changes, the paragraph changes. 
  • The quotation marks close for the speaker tag (“Kayley says”) and re-open to finish the dialogue. 
  • The characters have internal thoughts while speaking out loud. 
  • The character actions are described between speech. 
  • When description sets up the dialogue, there is a comma before the quotation mark. 

Possibilities For Writers 

  • Write whatever comes to mind. 
  • Write about traditions that your school has and whether or not you think these are good traditions to have. 
  • Write a conversation trying some of the craft moves in this model. 
  • Write about slang words in you vocabulary, when to use them and how they might be misinterpreted by someone who is “not an expert in slang.” 

CRAFT STUDIO: AIN’T BURNED ALL THE BRIGHT by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin

Apr
21

What I was reading:

Ain’t Burned All The Bright by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin.

From the book blurb: “Jason Reynolds, using three longgggggg sentences, and Jason Griffin, using three hundred pages of pocket-size moleskine, hav mind-melded this fierce-vulnerable-brilliant-terrifying-whatiswrongwithhumans-hopefilled-hopeful-tender-heartbreaking-heartmaking-manifesto on what it means not to be able to breath, and how the people and things at your fingertips are actually the oxygen you need.”

What moves I noticed the writer/illustrator use:

  • The text and the artwork are equally prominent 
  • The author and the illustrator work together to create the text (true collaboration)
  • All the art is created in a Moleskine notebook
  • Some of the words are crossed out but kept visible
  • On a few pages, blackout poetry is used
  • The text on each page appears to be cut out of a larger page and taped down in the Moleskin
  • Many art media are used – ink, pencil, paint, chalk, collage, stencils, etc.
  • The text is an example of a prose poem
  • The artist uses nature themes as a metaphor for the pandemic
  • The text is an example of a remix. Learn more about remixes from educator Paul W. Hankins here.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Try your hand at writing prose poetry and then play around with cutting it up, changing it, adding to it – in other words- remix it. 
  • This book is a true collaboration. Try collaborating with another person to create a text together using a poem and art. This could be your poem, or someone else’s. 
  • Create a blackout poem from a old book, newspaper or magazine

Here is a sample:


You can also make blackout poems using a Blackout Poetry Maker. 

Most of all, have fun! 

CRAFT STUDIO: SPEAKING OF NATURE

Mar
03

What I Was Reading:

In Speaking of Nature: Finding language that affirms our kinship with the natural world, Robin Wall Kimmerer (author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants) reflects on the grammar of animacy and how the language we use to describe nature reflects our relationship with it. In this passage, Kimmerer contrasts her roles as a scientist and an Indigenous woman:

I have had the privilege of spending my life kneeling before plants. As a plant scientist, sometimes I am collecting data. As an indigenous plant woman, sometimes I am gathering medicine. These two roles offer a sharp contrast in ways of thinking, but I am always in awe, and always in relationship. In both cases the plants provide for me, teach me, and inspire me. When I write as a scientist, I must say, “An 8 cm root was extracted from the soil,” as if the leafy beings were objects, and, for that matter, as if I were too. Scientific writing prefers passive voice to subject pronouns of any kind. And yet its technical language, which is designed to be highly accurate, obscures the greater truth.

Writing as an indigenous plant woman I might say, “My plant relatives have shared healing knowledge with me and given me root medicine.” Instead of ignoring our mutual relationship, I celebrate it. Yet English grammar demands that I refer to my esteemed healer as it, not as a respected teacher, as all plants are understood to be in Potawatomi. That has always made me uncomfortable. I want a word for beingness. Can we unlearn the language of objectification and throw off colonized thought? Can we make a new world with new words?

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

I was particularly drawn to this passage because of the way Kimmerer uses repetition to contrast her experiences as a scientist and an Indigenous plant woman.

  • The second and third sentences follow the exact same structure but with a slight variation in the wording: “As a plant scientist, sometimes I am collecting data. As an indigenous plant woman, sometimes I am gathering medicine.” This is an effective and efficient way to demonstrate how these two roles differ in their relationship to plants.
  • Juxtaposing examples of the difference in the way she would write about plants in each of these roles further clarifies the different relationships each one entails: “When I write as a scientist, I must say…” and “Writing as an indigenous plant woman I might say…”.
  • Kimmerer continues the repetition in structure by following both quotations with a sentence or two of analysis to further highlight the contrasting views of plants encompassed within each role.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Read this text as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.
  • Model a pair of sentences of your own after Kimmerer’s by repeating the structure and changing a few words to compare or contrast.
  • Experiment with repetition for effect in your own writing. Where can you incorporate repetition of wording or structure to show your reader how something is alike or different?

Here’s my example:

I have had the joy of spending my life exploring books. As a teacher, sometimes I am thinking of the booktalk I will give when I finish reading. As a writer, sometimes I am thinking about what I can use in my own writing as I savor the author’s words.

CRAFT STUDIO: YOU’D BE HOME NOW

Jan
13

What I was reading:

Kathleen Glasgow’s You’d Be Home Now is a beautiful story told through the eyes of Emory Ward, whose brother is addicted to drugs. The story explores a variety of topics connected to youth today, specifically addiction and identity. Interspersed throughout the story is Instagram posts called Mis_Educated. These posts become another character of the story. Here are some examples:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Moves I Noticed the Author Making:

  • through these posts, the reader also gets the chance to hear from other students in the town of Mill Haven (in the comment section) about what’s really happening and how they feel about their lives and all the messiness that comes with being a teenager.
  • These posts broaden the story from that of just the main characters
  • Posts are written as poems
  • How the hashtags used set a tone, for example #nightmare in one post and #itgetsbetter in another post
  • How the comments are not always connected to the post or to other comments, but reveal a great deal about the youth culture in Mill Haven

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Read these posts as a writer and notice the craft moves inside each post
  • Read these posts as a reader. Write about your thoughts on what you are reading.
  • Write an Instagram post that would fit with the novel you are currently reading. Add in the hashtags and comments
  • Choose one Instagram post/poem and follow the format of the writing
  • Find a poem and write the comment section to depict the youth culture in your life
  • These posts discuss notable people in Mill Haven. Write about the notable people in your city/town/community.

CRAFT STUDIO: PRIVILEGED BY KYLE KORVER

Nov
04

What I Was Reading:

In 2019 Kyle Korver wrote a first-person essay called Privileged that was published by the Player’s Tribune. In it, he describes two racialized incidents involving his teammates that led him to recognize his white privilege:

What I’m realizing is, no matter how passionately I commit to being an ally, and no matter how unwavering my support is for NBA and WNBA players of color…I’m still in this conversation from the privilege of opting in to it. Which of course means that on the flip side, I could just as easily opt out of it. Every day, I’m given that choice—I’m granted that privilege—based on the color of my skin.

Later in the text, Korver reflects on his responsibility to take action:

How can I—as a white man, part of this systemic problem—become part of the solution when it comes to racism in my workplace? In my community? In this country?

I have to continue to educate myself on the history of racism in America.

I have to listen. I’ll say it again because it’s that important. I have to listen.

I have to support leaders who see racial justice as fundamental—as something that’s at the heart of nearly every major issue in our country today. And I have to support policies that do the same.

I have to do my best to recognize when to get out of the way—in order to amplify the voices of marginalized groups that so often get lost.

But maybe more than anything?

We all have to hold each other accountable.

And I think we all have to be accountable—period. Not just for our own actions, but also for the ways that our inaction can create a “safe” space for toxic behavior.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • Korver uses an ask-and-answer technique to introduce this section of the text. It marks a turning point between his recognition of his white privilege and his responsibility to take action.
  • He builds on his first question with two short follow-up questions that mirror the wording of the first: “…in my workplace? In my community? In this country?”. This use of repetition highlights the way each question builds on the previous one.
  • The answer to the question is organized into a list of actions. Again, Korver uses a repeated structure: “I have to…”.
  • This pattern shifts within the list from “I have to…” to we have to…”.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Read this text as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.
  • Try the the ask-and-answer move to create a shift or introduce a new idea in your writing.
  • Find a place in your writing where you can incorporate a list of short sentences instead of a paragraph.
  • Experiment with repetition for effect in your own writing. You might also make a slight change in the pattern to draw your reader’s attention as Korver did by shifting from I to we.

Craft Studio: Letter to Someone Living Fifty Years from Now

Oct
21

What I Was Reading:

Matthew Olzmann’s poem, Letter to Someone Living Fifty Years from Now serves as a warning for everyone living on earth now. It offers a glimpse into our future, showing us the harsh realities we will face if we don’t become better stewards of our environment.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • In typical letter form, this poem addresses the imagined audience directly us “you.”
  • Phrases such as “most likely you think,” it must seem,” and “you probably doubt” give the poem an air of “I know it looks bad but…” This is an effective way of saying, without saying, that we are convincing ourselves that we’re doing ok but we’re not. As in, we may tell ourselves that we love elephants and whales, but we aren’t doing enough to protect them.
  • The repetition of “back then” is powerful because it describes our current reality—we have stars, forests, lakes, and bees—and we are taking it for granted. Olzmann is giving us a vision of where we are headed if we don’t change our ways. The final one-line stanzas makes it clear: “And then the bees were dead.”

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Read this text as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.
  • Think of a topic and audience for your own letter to the future.
  • Explore similar texts such as this Letter to My Younger Self by Olympian Anna Cockrell or this Letter to My Future Self by skateboarder Alexis Sablone.

CRAFT STUDIO GOOD GIRL, BAD BLOOD

Oct
14

What I was reading:

Good Girl, Bad Blood is Holly Jackson’s much anticipated sequel to her bestseller A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder. While the first book is investigating a cold case, this title works to solve a current missing person’s profile, in real time. The different text forms presented in this book make the reader feel like they are looking through a case file, not simply reading a novel. The pictures, text messages, audio clips and case notes draw the reader in, and creates a sense that  we are solving the case together.

Here are some clips of the varying text forms:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What moves I noticed the author making:

  • Details like a voice being inaudible on a podcast bring a realistic element that makes the reader feel like it is a true crime story.
  • The titles of file names are matter-of-fact and end in the type of file – picture, audio etc.
  • The case notes are written to herself and include incomplete sentences to mimic quickly jotting down notes to oneself.
  • The text messages showing a series of texts left unanswered give a visual of desperation that simply narrating the scene would not have provided.

Possibilities for writers:

  • Using a floor plan, annotate events to tell a story. Give it a matter-of-fact title.
  • Create case notes for yourself on an observation – maybe one you’re making right now in class. Mimic the structure here of some short and incomplete sentences to get your point across or jump into the detail.
  • Write about how you would respond if you were sending messages without a response until you say you’d do anything and the person replies “anything?” Where does your mind go?
  • We engage in so many text forms daily. Our narratives are composed of all of these. Create a story using multiple text forms – an image, a floorplan, text messages, notes to yourself, dialogue etc.
  • As always, take your writing where it goes.

CRAFT STUDIO: ON ONE-ON-ONE

May
06

What I Was Reading:

I was excited to discover that essayist and poet Hanif Abdurraqib has a new column with the Paris Review called Notes on Hoops where he reflects on “the golden age of basketball movies.” Abdurraqib’s writing is always a poetic combination of personal reflection, commentary, insight, and analysis. In On One-On-One he writes about the 2000 movie Love & Basketball. He opens by addressing the reader directly:

Before any of this unfolds, I must first be honest. Before I can talk romantically about the way a basketball hoop, ornamented by a clean net, glows even as a starless nighttime empties its dark pockets over a cracked court. Before I can talk about the way when a well-worn ball begins to lose its grip it spins wildly in your palm, but is still the ball you have known and therefore you must care for, as you would an elder who whispers the secrets of past and future worlds into your ear. Before that, it must be said that you, reading this now, from whatever cavern you are riding out this ongoing symphony of storms, could beat me in a game of one-on-one if the opportunity arose.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • Abdurraqib gets my attention right away. When he says, “Before any of this unfolds…” I know there is something he needs to say before he gets into his reflection on Love & Basketball, and now I’m curious.
  • By making it known that anyone reading his column could beat him in a game of one-on-one, he is being clear that, although he loves basketball, one-on-one is not his strength. Later in this paragraph Abdurraqib goes on to admit, “It is not my game and never has been, though it isn’t for lack of trying.” He wants us to know from the very beginning the experience he brings to the discussion.
  • The repetition of “Before” at the beginning of the first four sentences creates a cohesion between them—each one progresses to the next, culminating with what it is that must be said: that one-on-one isn’t his game.
  • On the way to the fourth sentence, he uses “Before I can talk about…” to give some clues about what he is eventually going to discuss. These two sentences are filled with such beautiful imagery, they can only have been written for someone who loves the game and has played it enough to develop an intimate knowledge.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Read this text as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.
  • Use the same structure as a model for your own writing:

Before any of this __________

Before I can talk about __________

Before I can talk about __________

Before that, it must be said __________

  • Experiment with the technique of addressing the audience directly in your introduction.
  • Try out a similar form of repetition for effect.

Here’s my version:

Before any of this unfolds, I must first be honest. Before I can talk romantically about the way a cat, snuggled into a lap, purrs musically as the peaceful hush of evening takes over a busy household. Before I can talk about the way when the gentle pawing begins, even though it is an hour before your alarm is set to go off, you must still rise and fill the dishes before the meowing begins and wakes everyone. Before that, it must be said that I was once a dog person.