Tag Archive for Ernest Hemingway

Writing and Voice: Day Three

Quite often a student asks me why I can’t specifically give them a formula for how to improve their voice as a writer.  Now of course I can talk about style and formatting.  I can even discuss punctuation, sentence structure, and word choice.  But ultimately, the right answer is that there is no right answer.  This is the type of response that drives a teenager insane.  INSANE.  I know this because I’ve watched it happened directly in front of me.

The fact that everyone can have their own style/voice stymies them.  It can’t possibly be true.  It just can’t.  I must be withholding, joking or tricking them.  It’s easy to have them identify the difference in writer’s voice between Hemingway and Fitzgerald but it’s not so simple when they are being asked to come up with their own voice.   I mean, their must be some kind of surefire checklist that gets them an A.  No?

That’s why there’s nothing like This American Life.  Nothing.  It’s one of those radio shows that you don’t just listen to.  It’s an emotional investment every week.  For our purpose today it is also a lesson in teaching students about voice and point of view.  Each week the host, Ira Glass, highlights a topic and then includes anywhere from 2-8 acts from other commentators about that topic.

Some of my favorites include What I learned from Television, Return to Childhood and Notes on Camp.   Transcripts are available for all of the shows along with the audio.  All you have to is select episodes and acts.  (A whole show runs 59 minutes, and not all of it is appropriate for some students.)

What this offers you is the opportunity to provide examples of “stories” all on the same topic but wide ranging in terms of their approach.  It’s great for creating voice in personal essay, college application essays, even for working on how to create meaningful introductions and conclusions in academic writing.

 

Using only the Prologue

Annotating and Discussing

  • Each episode starts with a prologue that includes a reflection by Glass.  Prologues are short so give students the transcript and have them annotate for voice, style, and point of view.
  • Have them discuss his argument, voice, and point of view as a class.

Writing

  • Have them construct an opposing point of view to Glass’s using his voice and style. 
  • Have them add another paragraph to the argument he’s already constructed in the prologue.   

 

Using the Prologue and “Acts”

  • Each episode starts with a prologue that includes a reflection by Glass.  Prologues are short so give students the transcript and have them annotate for voice, style and point of view.
  • After students have annotated and you’ve all discussed as a class, have students write a short piece about This American Life’s theme of the week.
  • Then, have students listen to one of the individual “acts” following along with the transcript while they mark for voice again.
  • As a class discuss/evaluate the speakers voice and the format of the “act.”
  • Now, have students rewrite their piece based on some of the characteristics found in the first “act” you’ve played them.

Repeat with as many acts as you enjoy/have time to use in class.

Song Use: Day Four

One of the hardest things for students to identify adequately is tone.  Many of them are able to recognize what emotion is brought out in a text, but they struggle to explain how that is communicated.  Most of them default to content analysis by looking at the story that is told, which doesn’t necessarily speak to a firm understanding of the function of tone.  Because of this, teaching tone is greatly accentuated by the study of songs.  Through this, students are able to understand the tone more clearly because they can recognize the musicality of a piece.  The notion of using a song to teach tone isn’t new; however, today’s suggestion is to teach the distinguishing characteristics of tone through cover songs.  For example, view the below to videos.  The content doesn’t change, yet the two pieces have vastly different tones.

(a brief 15 second advertisement opens the clip)

Consider opening the class with these two videos (because everyone needs a little Jimmy Fallon in their lives) or providing them a commonly known song and playing them the lesser known cover, so they are able to see the striking difference.  There are plenty of websites that list popular covers.  My particular favorite comes from the New York Post and was written in 2007.  However, some of my personal favorites are…

Song Title Original Artist/Artist Who Covered
“It’s My Party” Lesley Gore/Amy Winehouse
“Tainted Love” Gloria Jones/Soft Cell
“Hazy Shade of Winter” Simon and Garfunkel/The Bangles
“Heart Shaped Box” Nirvana/Evanescence
“Since U Been Gone” Kelly Clarkson/Ted Leo
“Iron Man” Black Sabbath/The Cardigans
“Jolene” Dolly Parton/The White Stripes

Then, to move them into deep analysis of the tone, provide them musical terms and definitions.  Consider providing tempo, beat, staccato, cadence, allegro, dissonance, tremolo, dynamics, glissando, harmony, intonation, drone, intermezzo, instrumentation (specifically the difference in instruments used), mezzo, minuet, modulation, rhythm, forte, timbre, and trill.  These are terms that are easy to actually hear in a piece and translate well to literature.  Provide them with two copies of the lyrics and ask them to explore which musical terms are found within both songs.  Play the songs on loop several times so the students are able to get a full grasp on the way in which it is constructed musically.  This should prepare them to have a brief discussion of how the songs differ in tone.

While this is a fine lesson in and of itself, the real challenge comes when asking students to analyze the musicality of a piece of writing.  Transition to literary analysis by looking at the specific music terms and discussing how they translate to prose (for example, staccato might be seen in prose through words with only 1-2 syllables or short, choppy sentences).  Then, instead of asking them to analyze one piece, ask them to study revisions of the same work, thus comparing and contrasting two versions of the same text (much like their study of covers). For example, below is a copy of an original and a later draft Ernest Hemingway wrote about war.

 

Earlier Draft

I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, sacrifice and the expression in vain. We had heard them sometimes standing in the rain almost out of earshot so that only the shouted words came through and read them on proclamations that were slapped up by bill posters over other proclamations now for a long time and I had seen nothing sacred and the things that were called glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. Certain numbers were the same way and certain dates and these with the names of places were all you could say and have them mean anything. Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates.

 

Later Draft

I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, sacrifice and the  expression in vain. We had heard them and read them now for a long time and I had seen nothing sacred and the only things glorious were the cavalry riding with lances and the clean oiled mechanisms. Things glorious had no glory and the sacrifices seemed like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. Certain numbers were the same way and certain dates and these with the names of places were all you could say and mean anything and they meant everything. Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were a little obscene beside the concrete names of places, the numbers or roads, the numbers of regiments and the dates.

The minute changes end up having a grave impact on the tone of the piece itself because it alters the audience and purpose.  There are also revisions of “The Gettysburg Address” and Walt Whitman’s poetry.  Their study of music should set them up to engage in a close, detailed study of the writing and give them more tools to utilize when reading a text.