Margin Notes

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.

CRAFT STUDIO: KEEP MOVING

Apr
29

What I Was Reading: 

When poet Maggie Smith’s marriage ended after nearly 19 years, she found herself struggling to write poetry. In her words: 

When I write a poem, I don’t begin with an idea and then seek the language for it; I begin with the language and follow it where it leads me. But now I had ideas to work through, stories to tell, and I knew I would need a different kind of writing, a different container for my thoughts. (p. 3) 

She started writing a daily “note to self” and posting it on Twitter. Keep Moving is a combination of these affirmations and short, reflective personal stories. It is filled with hope, inspiration, and encouragement. 

Many of the entries are tweet-sized poems and, as I read, I couldn’t help but admire Smith’s use of punctuation, especially her use of colons. Here are 3 examples: 

  1. Instead of struggling at every roadblock, make a new way entirely. Keep and open mind: even the destination may change. (p. 50) 
  1. Think of the moon, how solitary it looks, and know that’s just a trick of perspective: the moon is not alone and neither are you. Remember how vast and star-filled your universe is, and how it continues to expand. Shine on. (p. 91) 
  1. Let go of the narratives you’ve dragged around for years: you are not who you were as a child, or in year X or on day Y—at least, not only. You do not have to fit yourself into those old, cramped stories. Be yourself, here and now. (p. 148) 

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making: 

  • Instead of using the colon to introduce a list, I like how Smith uses the colon to introduce an additional complete sentence. Unlike the semi-colon used as a connector between two closely related sentences, these colons signal that what follows is directly linked to the first sentence.  
  • In each case, the sentence following the colon builds on what preceded it, by adding further explanation and detail or by completing the thought. 

Possibilities for Writers: 

  • Read these sentences as a writer to notice other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader. 
  • Reflect on the similarities and differences between the three examples. 
  • Use one of the sentences as a model and write an example of your own. 
  • Revise a sentence in your writer’s notebook or work-in-progress by using this move to link two shorter sentences. 
  • Look for similar examples of this and other unique punctuation choices in your reading. 

Here’s my example: 

Instead of setting out to write a masterpiece, start by getting your ideas down on the page. Write with an open heart: the act of writing will lead you to what you want to say. 

CRAFT STUDIO: SALT, FAT, ACID, HEAT

Mar
30

 

What I Was Reading:

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, written by Samin Nosrat and illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton, is informative, readable, and beautiful. I appreciate Nosrat’s ability to be incredibly knowledgeable and accessible at the same time and MacNaughton’s gorgeous images bring the book to life.

As I read, I noticed a number of places where Nosrat inserts an exclamation point in the middle of a sentence (yes, the middle!) as opposed to at the end. Here are three examples:

  1. If something shifts and you sense the zing!, then go ahead and add salt to the entire batch. (28)
  2. Compare this to what happens when you heat or freeze mayonnaise—it’ll break quickly!—and the magic of butter will become clear. (83)
  3. At an age when my primary goal in baking was to eat something—anything!—sweet, this was a minor problem: my brothers and I gobbled up whatever came out of the oven. (97)

What Moves I Notice the Author Making:

  • Inserting an exclamation point into the sentence delivers energy and emphasis to the word or phrase. It adds voice by making it clear the writer is passionate about cooking and food but doesn’t take herself too seriously.
  • In sentence 1 I can practically feel and taste that “zing!” from the added salt. The use of italics makes the word seem like a sound (taste?) effect.
  • In sentence 2 the exclamation point used with the phrase “it’ll break quickly!” feels like a caution. If I try heating or freezing mayonnaise, I know what will happen, and I won’t be able to say I wasn’t warned.
  • In sentence 3 the “anything!” following “eat something” demonstrates that in her early baking days, she would have eaten bad baking rather than no baking. Anything sweet was “gobbled up.”

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Read these sentences as a writer to notice other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.
  • Reflect on the similarities and differences between the three examples. What patterns do you notice?
  • Use one of the sentences as a model and write an example of your own.
  • Revise a sentence in your writer’s notebook or work in progress by using this move to add emphasis.
  • Look for similar examples of this and other unique punctuation choices in your reading.

Here’s my example:

Imagine my surprise when I opened the front door and found my cat, Charlie—an indoor cat!—on the outside: the wrong side of the door for an indoor cat.

CRAFT STUDIO: THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT IS A SPORTS DRAMA

Feb
18

What I Was Reading

In “The Queen’s Gambit” Is a Sports Drama, Manuel Betancourt draws parallels between the story of chess prodigy Beth Harmon’s triumph over the trauma of her childhood to become a world-class chess champion to sports dramas like Rocky and Friday Night Lights:

Visually, the drama finds new ways of making chess (yes, chess!) as exciting a spectator sport as anything else. Her match with Harry Beltik (Harry Melling) in that first tournament of hers is shot almost like a fencing duel, each move a calculated strike; a later speed chess matchup feels as dynamic as a squash game; while her later games in Moscow, against the best from the best from the Soviet Union, lean heavily on the pageantry of it as a spectator sport, like a soccer match being watched in hushed silence.

 What Moves I Notice the Writer Making

  • This paragraph contains only two sentences: one short and one very long. The writer definitely did not use a hamburger paragraph graphic organizer for this one!
  • The addition of “(yes, chess!)” to the first sentence addresses the reader directly, making us aware that they know we may have a hard time believing what they are going to say, but they are confident they will convince us if we read on. This small interjection adds energy and voice.
  • The second sentence contains an incredible amount of detail, but it works because of the pattern of an example from the show + an example from the world of sport + a semi-colon. Each specific scene from the show the writer has chosen to support their point is paired with a spectator sport described in a way that a fan of the sport will completely relate to.

Possibilities for Writers

  • Use this paragraph as part of a punctuation inquiry. Ask yourself what you notice about the author’s punctuation choices, what conclusions you can make, and what patterns you see emerging.
  • Model a sentence of your own after this one by incorporating semi-colons and commas.
  • Experiment with addressing the audience directly to show you have anticipated what they might say about your ideas.
  • Read this passage as a writer to notice and name interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.

 

CRAFT STUDIO: ALL THIRTEEN: THE INCREDIBLE CAVE RESCUE OF THE THAI BOYS’ SOCCER TEAM BY CHRISTINIA SOONTORNVAT

Dec
01

What I Am Reading

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat tells the harrowing tale of what happened to the Wild Boars soccer team in Mae Sai, Thailand in June 2018. It is “a unique account of the amazing Thai cave rescue told in a heart-racing, you-are-there style that blends suspense, science, and cultural insight.” (amazon)

This is how the first chapter opens:

opening paragraphs of a book

What Moves I Notice the Author Making:

  • The use of very short paragraphs
  • The use of onomatopoeia  (tap-tap, twee!, thump…)
  • A short title that captures the mood
  • The use of “the rule of three” – in this case, three sentences that start in a similar fashion.

Possibilities for Writers:

As a shared writing activity (or a quick write), invite students to emulate this author’s craft moves…

On the _______________________________ of ____________________, it sounds like a typical Saturday morning: 

The _________________of _________________________________________.

The _________________of _________________________________________. 

The _________________of _________________________________________. 

Here is a class’s shared writing version:

In the woods in the middle of nowhere, it sounds like a typical Saturday morning: 

The crunch of leaves under your feet. 

The crack of branches as you push your way through the underbrush. 

The sharp ring of the gunshot echoing through the woods. 

Try it out!

Craft Studio: When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk

Sep
29

What I Was Reading

When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk is YA realistic fiction that tells the story of the end of Cleo’s friendship with her best friend, Layla. It is organized into alternating narratives of then and now—before the incident that ultimately ended their friendship and after as Cleo develops a plan to create new memories to replace the ones that include Layla. This novel is about self-acceptance and forgiveness and recognizing that we can be more than the sum of our mistakes.

Woodfolk’s writing is detailed, specific, and colorful. For example, this passage when Cleo meets Dolly:

“Well ain’t you a cutie,” she says. “Where’d you get all them freckles?” She moves a few of the braids that are hanging over my eyes and tucks them behind my ear, and while the gesture feels like a “correction” when my mother does it, with Dolly it feels a little like love.

What Moves I Notice the Author Making:

  • I was drawn to this short passage because it communicates so much in only a few lines. It combines “small moment,” “show don’t tell,” and “compare-contrast” in just three sentences.
  • This brief paragraph combines dialogue and descriptive detail to introduce the character Dolly. The compliment followed by the intimate gesture of fixing Cleo’s hair gives the reader the opportunity to infer how comfortable and safe Cleo feels with Dolly. She has put Cleo immediately at ease.
  • The explicit contrast between how this small gesture feels with Dolly, “like love” as opposed to a “correction” from her mother, reveals important information about both women.
  • The dialogue embedded within a paragraph invites readers to examine punctuation choices.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Create a small moment that combines dialogue and touch (or another sensory detail) to communicate something important about a character.
  • Use contrast to reveal details about two characters by showing us who they are by showing us how they are unlike each other.
  • Revise a draft in your notebook by replacing a description of a character with a demonstration.
  • Experiment with incorporating dialogue.

CRAFT STUDIO: EVERY LITTLE SCRAP AND WONDER BY CARLA FUNK

Aug
18

What I Was Reading:

As I neared the end of every little scrap and wonder by Carla Funk I came across yet another passage that at once transported my senses to the scene from the author’s childhood and into a memory of my own childhood. Her description of all the distinct gun noises that kids make while playing war were so perfect that I was simultaneously drawn into her narrative while re-living scenes from my youth. My mouth silently formed the noises she was describing, while my memory’s ears heard my childhood friends and I voicing the same array of gun noises.

every little scrap and wonder 2every little scrap and wonder 3

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • Specificity: The different gun noises are all linked to a specific gun.
  • Onomatopoeia: Descriptions of the noises use original onomatopoeia.
  • Functional description: By describing the gun’s firing mechanism, the reader is given a sense of the cadence the gun’s noise has.
  • Physical description: The reader is encouraged to try each sound as they read because the author describes how the mouth is shaped and which part of the vocal system is used for that sound.
  • Combinations: Most descriptions use a combination of multiple of the above-mentioned techniques in order to create a richer auditory description of the sounds.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Brainstorm noises and create an original onomatopoeia for those noises.
  • Think of details you can include about how whatever is making the noise operates in order to give the audience a more complete picture of the sound.
  • Describe the physical shape of the mouth or use of the vocal system in a description of a noise someone is making.
  • Try to combine different noise descriptors to create a multi-faceted description of a noise.
  • Explore other ways of communicating sound through text (physical sensation of the sound waves, rhythm, font, spacing, metaphor etc.).

Guest writer Michael Reeder is currently in the UNB education program, hoping to teach English Language Arts to high school students soon. He has always loved reading and believes that, since reading is one of the most powerful tools and individual can use to advance their lives independently, instilling a love of reading in students is one of the most important things a teacher can do.

CRAFT STUDIO: WITH THE BEATLES BY HARUKI MURAKAMI

Aug
11

beatlesWhat I Was Reading:

While reading Haruki Murakami’s short story, “With the Beatles”, I was drawn in by the intimacy his prose can generate, and I asked myself how he was doing it? One rhetorical move I observed I’ve taken to calling, The Interrupting Self.

In this craft move the author offers a phrase to modify the phrase that came previously in order to be more precise and to indicate stream of consciousness. Consider this example from Haruki Murakami,

There’s one girl—a woman who used to be a girl, I mean—whom I remember well. I don’t know her name, though. And, naturally, I don’t know where she is now or what she’s doing. What I do know about her is that she went to the same high school as I did, and was in the same year (since the badge on her shirt was the same color as mine), and that she really liked The Beatles.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • This move is made in the first sentence and the last. Murakami breaks into his own discourse to clarify that the girl is a woman now. In this way we learn where we are in time relative to the moment being remembered and it makes the prose conversational, as though the author were telling you what was on his mind. This interruption makes his communication feel more direct and immediate.
  • The second iteration is performed in a different way, brackets instead of dash, but it achieves the same effect. Here we are given the detail of the badge colour they shared, which focuses attention to a precise detail. From that detail we glean that Murakami’s speaker attended a school with a uniform. Again, this little aside evokes a conversational tone in the piece that feels like confession.
  • This piece does something else that I really like, which I call “Load the Last”. The above paragraph is taken from Murakami’s short piece, “With the Beatles.” So, bringing his meandering paragraph to its conclusion with this particular noun allows it to land with weight.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • I think the former of these two moves would be a great way for students to practice structured stream of consciousness writing. One exercise might be to write a simple line in a direct voice. Then, go back and insert a detail that reveals what your speaker is thinking in ‘real time’.
  • With the latter move, students should experiment. Try writing a paragraph with one important idea in mind. Provide supporting details throughout the middle of the paragraph, try to ‘land’ on that final word. This is a practical tactic that writers can use in a variety of writing forms.

Guest writer Scott Connelly’s experience with music, theater, and the performing arts, combined with his years of experience in corporate telecommunications, help to provide students with a variety of essential skills in literacy.  Scott teaches English Language Arts and Social Studies in Saint John, NB.

CRAFT STUDIO: THE BLADE ITSELF BY JOE ABERCROMBIE

Aug
04

bladeWhat I Was Reading:

In a wonderfully fun but hauntingly dark fantasy series, Abercrombie uses a trick throughout the trilogy to give us a unique perspective on one character, an Inquisitor (torturer) named Glokta, one of his primary point-of-view characters throughout the series. Normally adhering to the old principle of ‘show, don’t tell,’ Abercrombie avoids any kind of internal dialogue, letting the characters’ actions speak for themselves, but he makes an exception for Glokta – Glokta can walk and talk like any character, but he is the only one with an internal monologue, signified by italics:

‘Impressive, eh Inquisitor?’ he asked, before dissolving into a fit of coughing.
Not really.… ‘It certainly produces a great deal of smoke,’ he croaked.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

This allows Glokta to speak to himself, but it also allows him (and Abercrombie) to speak directly to the reader. We get a clearer picture of his motives and desires, and it also says a great deal about his character – he is explicitly two-faced. In almost every interaction we see him say one thing but think another. It also speaks to his intellect. Thinking and conspiring are Glokta’s main occupations, and with this running internal monologue Abercrombie can show the reader Glokta doing it in real-time:

The old man squinted across at Glokta. ‘Are you telling this story or am I?’
‘You are.’ And you’re taking your time about it.

Possibilities for Writers:

Think of a time you were speaking with someone but couldn’t tell them what you were really thinking. What was going through your mind? How might you represent that on a page, while writing dialogue?

Find an example of a dialogue where a character had to hide their true motivations. What might they have been thinking during this scene?

Guest writer Matthew Shaw is an education student and a longtime teacher of English as a Second Language and a former archaeologist. He lives in Fredericton, NB with his wife and three-year-old son, and likes reading and spending as much time as possible outdoors with his family. He hates how much time he spends on YouTube every evening.

CRAFT STUDIO: THE PIGEON HAS FEELINGS, TOO! BY MO WILLEMS

Jul
21

PigeonWhat I Was Reading:

Mo Willems’ The Pigeon Has Feelings, Too! is a children’s book that tells the simple narrative of a pigeon who gets increasingly angry because those around him are constantly telling him what to do.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • Using only speech bubbles to tell a story.
  • Emphasizing words by bolding and capitalizing letters.
  • Using different coloured texts, such as using red for the word ‘angry’ to grab attention.
  • Employing a variety of punctuation such as exclamation points.
  • Using body language to better express the intended message and emotion.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • When the message is being shown by illustration, such as in graphic novels and picture books, the illustration becomes the message. Explore body language and how posture and movement express emotion and intent, and ensure illustrations match the dialogue.
  • Have students find an existing text (their own or someone else’s) or write a new one, and pinpoint the words that they believe are important or best express what the writer is intending to get across. Explore ways to emphasize those words, such as using colours, different fonts, and bolding words.
  • Explore a variety of punctuation. Would an exclamation point or a semicolon work better than a period?

Guest writer Sylvie is a Bachelor of Education student at UNB hoping to become an English Language Arts teacher for a high school in or near her hometown. When not doing schoolwork she can be found with her partner, Samuel, enjoying a film (probably
horror), a cup of something hot (probably coffee), and/or whichever pet is closest
(probably Samuel’s doodles).