Tag Archives: creative writing class

Lessons from the Classics: Twain’s Dialect

 Note: This is the first in an ongoing series (I hope?) of posts that take what I’m teaching in my 11th-grade American Lit classes and then shows how that could translate into creative writing, using examples of what I’m doing. I welcome feedback, because I’m no expert on American literature–just somebody who’s been teaching it for a couple of years. I would also love to hear how other writers are using these tools! 

This week in American Lit, we’ve been talking about dialect (writing that imitates the way people actually speak, including accents, slang, and idiom) and how writers use that to provide indirect characterization.

The story we read is Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” a short, humorous exploration of the type of characters populating a rural mining camp in the 1860s. It’s also a frame story,  with an unnamed narrator introducing and closing out the tale in deliberately prolix style, the better to heighten the contrast with the main tale, told by “good-natured, garrulous old Simon Wheeler” (Twain 1). The version at the link has a different ending than the version in our textbook, but the same general ideas are at play in both.

Obviously, Twain’s intent is to satirize both the stuffy narrator, who can’t see the humor in Smiley’s adventures, and Wheeler himself, who’s a bore and a boor and won’t let the narrator escape. We spend time while we’re reading picking out the words that really help characterize the two of them in order to analyze Twain’s use of diction as character. Some of the students’ favorites:

  • The Narrator: compliance, garrulous, hereunto append, personage, infernal, tedious
  • Simon Wheeler: feller, flume, curiousest, so’s, solit’ry, dangdest, thish-yer–and I was very unsuccessful in convincing them that “Well, blame my cats!” should make a comeback in teen vernacular.

There’s clearly a vast gulf here in terms of diction (syntactically, they both tend to run on, but only one of them does it grammatically). It would be very, very easy to label any sentence from this story as spoken by the Narrator or by Simon Wheeler, based on diction alone, because their dialects are so distinct.

So, how do I use this in my own writing?  Continue reading Lessons from the Classics: Twain’s Dialect

Late for Saturday, or early for Tuesday…?

Sometimes it’s so hard to tell.

The beginning of a new semester is always tricky, but especially when you’re sick (still? again? who even knows at this point).

I have a new bunch of students in Creative Writing this semester, and it’s about half the size of last semester’s class–and 80% male. This is the first time I’ve had enough kids sign up to teach it twice in a year, but with the smaller group I suspect it’s going to be a very different experience. Last semester had a lot of humor and several big personalities, and this semester seems like mostly silent students.

But our first unit is Creative Nonfiction, so I’m looking forward to having them write and design their own Six-Word Memoirs.

I just killed like an hour looking for the one I designed on Canva, but have now given up on that. My six-word memoir: “Learned more from teaching than school.”

What’s yours?

 

ZzzZZzzZ (A Philosophical Interlude)

cast-your-whole-voteWell, we all know that being emotionally drained is… draining, and I’ve basically been too tired today to do… like, anything.

The election’s still got me reeling and yesterday I successfully ignored it and worked on fiction, where I control all outcomes and the good guys (eventually) win, but today I accidentally started listening to NPR and reading blogs and am just… done.

Luckily there’s still comedy.

Me, trying to read Thoreau with 11th grade: And then what if you took the locker out of your binder? Wait. No. Um…
Kid next to me, under his breath: Maybe you need more coffee.
Me, with a sad, knowing laugh: Oh, StudentName, there is No Such Thing as “more coffee.” Trust me. If “more coffee” were the solution to my problem, I would be perfect right now.

So I’m going to go to bed early (read: on time) and tomorrow’s a new day. The sun will come up (partway through my workout) and I will keep doing everything I can in my little corner of the universe to make sure my Black, Mexican, LGBTQ+, female, atheist, and/or disabled students (this covers 99% of my students, btw, without even mentioning how many of them rely on entitlement programs for food and shelter) know that no matter what else happens, I love them and will do everything I can to protect them–starting by helping them learn to express themselves, fine-tune their bullshit detectors, and use evidence to support an argument (that, by the way, is what we’re actually doing in English classes, whether we’re reading Beowulf or The Onion).

Luckily there’s still literature.

Heroes. Satire.

Hmm. Writing as catharsis: suddenly I feel a lot better about charging back into class tomorrow to stomp around insisting to my Creative Writing class that “they / Do not go gentle into that good night” and pulling the American Lit crew, kicking and gnashing their teeth, through the rest of “On Civil Disobedience” (a fortuitous coincidence that we just happened to be dealing with the Transcendentalists this week…).

So, as Thoreau reminds us, we can’t just vote on paper and let that be the end of it. We must do everything we can. Even if it doesn’t feel like much.

Grinning my Evil Teacher Grin

The_Evil_GrinI am hoping to update this thing weekly, so here’s a very short update before I leave work and go home: I wrote THREE (okay, like, two and a third) pages this month. That is two-and-one-third pages more than I have written in the previous six months!

I am also having a heck of a time with my creative writing class, as usual. They are delightful. Today we started our poetry unit and several of them were comfortable enough to admit that they HATE poetry (usually they try to pretend they like it because they think that’s what I want to hear).

I like this because I know that now I get a chance to change their minds. >:) >:) >:) >:)