Margin Notes

CRAFT STUDIO: GMORNING, GNIGHT! BY LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA

Feb
14

What I Was Reading: gnight

Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks For Me & You is a collection of inspirational and encouraging words for the beginning and end of each day. Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the musical Hamilton, compiled the best of his daily messages from his Twitter account for this book. Accompanied by artwork by Jonny Sun, these greetings challenge, inspire, and empower readers with their brief and honest bits of wisdom.

Here are three excerpts from the book:

GMorning GNight Excerpt 1GMorning GNight Excerpt 2GMorning GNight Excerpt 3

 

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

* Each set of greetings begins with a variation of “Good Morning” and “Good Night”

* Each greeting directly addresses the reader.

* The advice uses verbs, insinuating that the advice is actionable and attainable.

* Each greeting is three to four sentences in length.

* The varying sentence lengths and use of punctuation for pause and intonation allow the voice of the writer to sound more relaxed and inviting.

* The illustrations are simple, black and white, and allow the reader to connect them to the greetings with their own interpretation.

Possibilities for Writers:

* Using Miranda’s greetings as a model, write your own Gmorning, Gnight! messages. They could be based on what you need to hear or what you want to tell someone else.

* Illustrate your greetings yourself based on what you think best represents your words.

* After writing your messages, ask a friend or a classmate to create an illustration that they connect to the greetings.

* Write about how one of the above excerpts spoke to you and may have been what you needed to hear.

* Revisit a draft in your notebook and find a place that can be rewritten to address the readers directly. Consider varying your sentence lengths, using one-word sentences, and playing around with punctuation to create a voice that is relaxed and conversational.

Craft Studio: Hunger by Roxane Gay

Jan
31

What I Was Reading:

Roxane Gay opens Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by telling us exactly what it isn’t:

“The story of my body is not a story of triumph. This is not a weight-loss memoir. There will be no picture of a thin version of me, my slender body emblazoned across this book’s cover with me standing in one of my former, fatter self’s jeans. This is not a book that will offer motivation, I don’t have any powerful insights into what it takes to overcome an unruly body and unruly appetites. Mine is not a success story. Mine is, simply, a true story.”

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

* Roxanne Gay takes a unique approach to introducing her memoir. Instead of attempting to capture the reader’s attention by indicating what she will discuss in the pages to follow, she states very clearly what she will not. She clearly defines what this memoir isn’t.

* She acknowledges and addresses what readers might be expecting of a traditional weight-loss memoir: motivation, insight, success. Each is ruled out explicitly.

* The image she creates of herself standing in one leg of her jeans to display how much weight she has lost is easy for the reader to imagine because it has become a cliché. She seems to be letting us know up front that if we think it is that kind of typical weight-loss memoir, we are terribly mistaken.

Possibilities for Writers:

* Students can discuss the impact of beginning a piece of writing by addressing the reader directly and tell them what their writing isn’t going to be. They can brainstorm a list of possibilities.

* Invite students to borrow Gay’s technique in a draft. For example:

-This restaurant review is not going to tell you how excellent the food is. Instead, it will describe the stellar service.

-This essay is not going to persuade you to vote for a particular candidate. This is essay is about why you should vote.

-Most memoirs are about a lesson learned. I’m going to tell you about a lesson taught.

Craft Studio: Why America Is Terrible At Making Biscuits

Jan
08

What I Was Reading:

When I saw the tweet from The Atlantic linking to an article called, Why Most of America is Terrible at Making Biscuits, I was intrigued. I have only attempted biscuit-making a few times and the results were always underwhelming. They never seemed to turn out as well as my dad’s, but I suspect the magic of his biscuits resides in a combination of the specific juice glass he used to cut them out after rolling them and my childhood nostalgia for them.

In this article, Amanda Mull describes her experiences as a Southerner transplanted to New York in search of a good biscuit. In her words, “With every dense, dry, flat, scone-adjacent clump of carbohydrates, I became more distressed.” Mull decides to take matters into her own hands. Using her mother’s recipe, Mull makes a batch of biscuits that turns out to be “just as terrible as all the other ones in New York.”

This passage describing her process caught my attention:

“In subsequent attempts, I tried everything I could think of to get it right. I worried about the buttermilk, so I bought an expensive bottle at the farmer’s market, which did nothing. I tried different fat sources, including butter and lard, which made small differences in flavor and texture but still resulted in a shape and density better suited for a hockey rink than a plate. I made sure all of my ingredients were ice-cold when I started mixing, which is a good tip in general, but did not fix my problem. I kneaded the dough more or less, made it wetter or drier. The only thing left was the flour, but I figured it couldn’t be that—wasn’t self-rising flour the same everywhere? We had just used grocery-store flour back home.”

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

* We often give writers feedback along the lines of “vary your sentence beginnings and endings” and “avoid repetition.” This is a terrific example of breaking those “school writing” rules for effect. This paragraph reads more like a list of all the possible solutions the author tried and their results. The repetition of “I” at the beginning reinforces the image of her trying one thing after another after another.

* Most of the sentences follow a similar pattern: I __________, detail, description of how the attempt failed. As I read, I noticed my own investment in this biscuit project growing with each disappointment. I wanted, as I’m sure Mull did, the next one to work. This series of sentences, each following a similar construction, underscores the attempts as a process of elimination.

Possibilities for Writers:

* Read this passage as a writer to notice and name interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.

* Examine one of the longer sentences and describe the role of the commas. Use the same structure to create an original sentence of your own.

* Organize a series of events or actions into a paragraph using similar repetition.

* Watch for other examples of effective repetition in your independent reading.

* As you read, find examples of writers breaking “school writing” rules and consider why they might have made those choices.

Craft Studio: Takedown by Laura Shovan

Nov
26

What I Was Reading

Takedown is a wonderful middle-grade novel about wrestling, friendship, and facing stereotypes. Mikayla “Mickey” Delgado is ready to start a new season of wrestling. This year she is excited to finally be able to compete with the Eagles, however, her coach has different ideas about girls wrestling competitively. Lev Sofer is determined to make it to State this year. He’ll have to defeat his biggest competitor and nemesis, Nick Spence, and he’s ready to do whatever it takes. After they are paired as practice partners, Mickey and Lev develop a friendship. Unfortunately, the reality is that only one of them can win.

In this passage, Lev is reflecting on his love for the sport of wrestling:

“Why do I love this sport? Who wants to leave the house before six a.m. on a holiday weekend? It’s cold enough to freeze the boogers inside my nose. But late this morning I’ll have a great match. I’ll feel my opponent hesitate for a second, my instincts will kick in, and the other guy will be on his chest and Slap! The ref’s hand will come down and I’ll be standing in the center of the mat, victorious.”

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making

* This short paragraph is organized as a question-and-answer. The first question is general, but the second one, “Who wants to leave the house before six a.m. on a holiday weekend?” acknowledges that Lev recognizes that the commitments required by his beloved sport might not hold the same appeal for everyone. He then answers his own question with the best-case scenario: a victory.

* The specific detail about the temperature being “cold enough to freeze the boogers in my nose” makes the early morning travel seem even less appealing. This small observation also adds authenticity and personality to the description.

* As Lev goes on to answer his own question, he begins the first sentence with “but,” signalling that he is transitioning from the negative aspects of his sport to the positive. He acknowledges the challenges, but he is going to tell us about the things that make them worth it. He envisions a victory that will compensate for all of the hard work and sacrifice.

* The sound effect “Slap!” adds energy to this brief scene. Lev is imagining every detail down to the sound of the ref’s hand on the mat when he pins his opponent.

* The structure of the final sentence adds a nice element of sentence variety. It also ensures that the last word is the most important of all, “victorious.”

Possibilities for Writers

* Read this passage as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.

* Describe something you love (or maybe something you don’t) by trying out this organizing structure:

Why do I love (despise) __________? It’s… But…

* Find a place in your notebook where you can revise a description by adding a detail like “It’s __________ enough to __________” so that you also reveal something about the speaker through the comparison they are making.

* Add a sound or action detail to a description.

Craft Studio: 12 Novels to Remind You What’s at Stake Tomorrow

Nov
22

Vote

What I Was Reading

I subscribe to the Literary Hub Newsletter.  It is a never-ending source of excellent information and inspiration.  On November 5, the day before the US Midterm Elections, they posted 12 Novels to Remind You What’s at Stake Tomorrow: “To remind you of just what’s at stake in tomorrow’s elections, we thought we’d do something a little different and turn to those contemporary fiction writers who have brought some of the most pressing issues currently facing this country to the forefront of their recent work.”

 What Moves I Notice the Writer Making

 Each of the twelve selections in this collection is accompanied by a very short summary followed by a brief review that combines summary, reflection, and analysis. (more…)

Craft Studio: Puddin’ by Julie Murphy

Nov
19

What I Was Reading:

Puddin’ is the much-anticipated and equally joyous companion to Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’. Puddin’ focuses on Millie Michalchuk and Callie Reyes, two characters we met in Dumplin’. Millie and Callie seem to have little to nothing in common, yet they are brought together unexpectedly when Millie identifies Callie on security footage taken the night her uncle’s gym is vandalized. Callie, who mistakenly blames the members of her dance team for turning her in, begins working with Millie at the gym to repay her debt. I loved this book as much as I loved Dumplin’, which tells you a lot!

The book opens with an introduction to Millie:

“I’m a list maker. Write it down. (Using my gel pens and a predetermined color scheme, of course.) Make it happen. Scratch it off. There is no greater satisfaction than a notebook full of beautifully executed lists. (more…)

Craft Studio: The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu

Nov
13

What I Was Reading

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu explores the aftermath of a tragedy shared by a group of girls on a canoe trip at summer camp. It traces the threads of the experience and its impact on each of the girls—Nita, Andie, Isabel, Dina, and Siobhan—through their teens and into adulthood.

The novel opens with a scene from camp, in 1994, with the campers on the dock singing the official camp song:

“They stood straight-backed and solemn-faced as soldiers in formation, even the ones who itched to squirm, to collapse into their natural posture, who were rolling their toes in their shoes and humming to themselves, squeezing their lips in their fingers to suppress a bubble of nervous laughter.”

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making

* I was immediately impressed by the complexity of this sentence and how, thanks to the skillful use of hyphens and commas, Kim Fu managed to pack so much detail into it.

* The pair of compound adjectives, “straight-backed and solemn-faced,” combined with the simile comparing the girls to soldiers in formation adds efficiency and precision to the description of the girls.

* The rest of the sentence, marked by the use of “even the ones…,” describes the girls who are struggling to stifle laughter and the careful organization of the details makes what might have been two or three separate sentences flow perfectly as one. The details are organized into a series of phrases and the use of repetition helps me as a reader link the individual phrases together and see the description as a whole: to squirm and to collapse, who itched and who were rolling, humming and squeezing.

Possibilities for Writers

* Read this sentence as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.

* Use this sentence as a model to write one of your own, trying out some of the same moves Kim Fu has used.

* Revisit a draft in your notebook and find a series of short sentences that can be combined into a single sentence using commas.

* Be on the look-out for other interesting sentence structures in your reading.

Craft Studio: For Those About to Rock: A Road Map to Being in a Band by Dave Bidini

Oct
25

What I Was Reading

You may know Dave Bidini from his career in music with Rheostatics and now Bidiniband, or you may know him as the author of Tropic of Hockey or Writing Gordon Lightfoot: The Man, the Music, and the World in 1972 (among other titles). For Those About to Rock combines Bidini’s passion for music with his skill as a writer. It is a combination of memoir, music history, and advice to aspiring musicians.

In the chapter, “The Myth of Making It,” Bidini explains, “There’s no rock-and-roll blueprint. It’s not like studying a manual and learning how to build a Battlebot. You can’t diagram it and watch it come to life.” Instead of a how-to manual, For Those About to Rock is a roadmap. When I opened the book to check out the Table of Contents, I appreciated how it was organized:

Introduction

Let There Be Rock

The Mythology of Making It

And the Fickle Fruit of Fame

A Very Slow Hand

Your First Instrument

Playing in a Travelin’ Band (more…)

Craft Studio: I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You by David Chariandy

Oct
18

What I Was Reading

I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You is a letter written by David Chariandy to his daughter a decade after they were faced with a racist comment on an outing together. The author had taken his then 3-year-old on an outing and was confronted by a woman who told them “I was born here. I belong here.” After a decade of reflection, he writes to his daughter about it, opening with:

“Once, when you were three, we made a trip out for lunch. We bussed west in our city, to one of those grocery-store buffets serving the type of food my own parents would scorn. Those over-priced organics laid out thinly in brushed-steel trays, the glass sneeze guard just high enough for you, dearest daughter, to dip your head beneath it in assessing, suspiciously, the ‘browned rice’ and ‘free-range carrots.’ And in that moment, I could imagine myself a father long beyond the grasp of history, and now caring for his loved one through kale, and quinoa, and a soda boasting ‘real cane sugar.’”

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making

These opening lines immediately set the tone as a letter written by a father to his daughter. The first words, “Once, when you were three…” introduce the memory of a shared experience from a decade prior and the author recreates the event through details that his daughter might not remember because of her age. This serves a second purpose, which is to bring the reader into the event and establish the context for why the letter has been written. He refers to her directly, as “you” and “dearest daughter” creating a tone of intimacy. I felt the authenticity in the message. The writing is heartfelt and honest.

Possibilities for Writers

* Describe a vivid memory of an event you shared with someone by writing directly to that person about the experience.

* Consider options for the kinds of writing that might have an increased impact if they are addressed directly to the audience.

* Revise a draft in your notebook by rewriting it to address your intended audience.

* Find examples of other places where the writer directs their message to the audience and reflect on the impact of this craft choice.

Craft Studio: After the Shot Drops by Randy Ribay

Oct
11

What I Was Reading

After the Shot Drops by Randy Ribay introduces us, through alternating perspectives, to Bunny Thompson, a basketball star who has accepted a scholarship to a prestigious prep school, and Nasir Blake, the best friend and teammate Bunny left behind when he switched schools. As Bunny navigates feelings of guilt over the opportunity he has received and questions whether he has made the right decision, Nas is harbouring feelings of resentment about Bunny leaving without giving him any advance warning and of worry for his cousin Wallace who is being evicted from the apartment where he lives with his grandmother.

Early on, Bunny returns to the neighbourhood court where he has played ball his whole life:

“It’s not as nice as St. Sebastian’s gym, but this is my home court. This is where I started really playing ball with Nasir once we graduated from the low-hanging crate nailed to a telephone pole on our block. I know every crack and dip like the back of my hand. I know if the shot’s going to drop by the sound of the clang when it hits the steel rim. I know the lights click off at ten but you can still see enough to keep shooting if the moon is bright. (more…)