Margin Notes



What I was reading:

In preparation for a genre study on transactional writing that incorporates research, I had been looking for essays and articles that connect with the interests of secondary school students. After much searching, I had a collection of texts that demonstrated good writing, but were too dense and academic to serve as mentor texts for students. There will be opportunities to use these, but they were not what I had in mind. Finally, I turned to Twitter and realized that this task would have been much easier if I had done so in the first place (I realize that this is common knowledge for most teachers by now). For instance, I found an article by Ben Lindbergh in The Ringer called “The Importance of Scrutinizing Sci-Fi and Fantasy Stories” (28 June, 2022). In it, Lindbergh makes the case for engaging thoughtfully and critically with popular sci-fi and fantasy texts. Lindbergh sets up his argument by welcoming the passionate responses that people have to these genres, both positive and negative, while objecting to one particular stance:

“There’s only one strain of responses to stories like these that truly bums me out: the suggestion that they aren’t worthy of impassioned analysis or critical inquiry, be it primarily positive or negative. That stories about space wizards or dragons or superheroes are inherently silly or unserious, and that those who have issues with their plotting or pacing or depictions of characters should just stop overthinking things. That they aren’t supposed to make sense, and that the only way to enjoy them is to turn one’s brain off before boarding the ride. That they’re purely escapist, popcorn pablum. That they’re just for kids, and that it’s a waste of time to engage with them on an intellectual level as well as a visceral level.”

What moves I noticed the author making:

In this passage, Lindbergh presents the objections of a hypothetical critic of sci-fi and fantasy. He sets up his point in a casual tone – “bums me out” – before presenting a sequence of assumptions that a sceptic might bring to sci-fi and fantasy stories. Each new sentence builds on the last, always beginning with “that,” to emphasize the point he is making. This repetition is an effective way of conveying strong emotions.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Using Lindbergh’s paragraph as a mentor text, writers might think about an assertion they are making in their writing and consider the counter-points that a hypothetical critic could make.
  • Writers might use Lindbergh’s paragraph as a template and structure a paragraph around the repetition of sentences beginning with “That” to emphasize an idea they feel strongly about.
  • Writers could be encouraged to think about a topic that they feel is not taken seriously and explain why they think it should be.
  • Writers might try moving between a casual and a formal tone, or between a playful and a serious tone, in a single paragraph.


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