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Showing posts from April, 2008

Winner for the Day!

Students Publish Here! is gaining more readers and today won the Blog of the Day Award.

It is nice to know that someone has noticed the hard work that goes into this site. Thank you! Thank you!

More Spanish Short Stories

I recently finished teaching a Spanish class in which the students were required to write short stories in Spanish. From this group I selected 3 to publish. These will appear this week with English translations. Viva la historia!

Last year Students Publish Here sponsored a Spanish short story contest for High School students. There were over 40 entries and the 6 winners had their stories published. You may read those stories beginning here. One was published daily for 6 consecutive days.

A Poetry Experiment

Ed Pacht, who contributes regularly to this blog, recently wrote, "You know, the very existence of a word is a powerful attack upon randomness. Every word or phrase, even a bit of nonsense like 'slithy tove', is a purposeful ordering of reality to an end. I'd say further that it is impossible for a single human mind to make a truly random selection among words. One's brain is, it would seem, wired so as to make connections, even when they are not apparent. Actually, the list I worked from, if I'd found it without attribution, would have made me think of a personality much like what I've come to know of yours. I would not/could not have made that selection myself. Writing the poem actually felt like taking a journey with Alice into her own wonderland."

This caused me to wonder what would happen were Ed to provide me with a random list. Would I create a poem that reflects his inner world? So I proposed an experiment and he wrote back with his …

From Random to Reason

Ed Pacht has attempted to use all the words and has succeeded. What an excellent poem!

Ed wrote to me that "Improbable though it seemed, I decided I just had to use them all in one poem. I finally had two [words] left. One went into the title, and the other into the two-line epilog, and I did it. Not my best poem ever, but it works."

(Here again is the list of random words and phrases: cornered and caged--pink prom flowers--feverish brain--glimpse--warp speed--unfailing youth--tagging along--spreading silence--peace forseen--tortuous path--mocking sign--hung out to dry--derailed affair--corrosive speech--sea-being--payday--broken bones)

Pain Like Broken Bones
Ed Pacht

Cornered and caged, my feverish brain,
working at warp speed, not ever resting,
its tortuous path leading me nowhere,
while, tagging along, the worries keep coming ...

Cornered and caged, my feverish brain,
hung out to dry in the flames of confusion,
corrosive speech, a derailed affair,
cruel mocking sign, bringing despair…

Priming the Poetry Pump

I have 3 private writing students now and they are working on poetry. This doesn't come naturally for any of them, but what they lack in experience, they make up for in enthusiasm! They are having a difficult time moving past prose to poetry. Poetry isn't telling a story with fancy words.

In fact, words themselves are a problem. Their word reservoirs are fairly shallow. The solution isn't to require them to memorize vocabulary words, but to present them with random lists of words and phrases from which they are to create a poem. I've discovered that this is an excellent way to stimulate poetic imagination while building vocabulary. Now and then a poem of fine quality is produced, or one nearly ready for publication.

You may want to try this at home. If so, here is a sample list.

cornered and caged
pink prom flowers
feverish brain
warp speed
unfailing youth
tagging along
spreading silence
peace forseen
tortuous path
mocking sign
hung out to dry
derailed affair
corrosive speech

Floating a Book Proposal

Here is a step-by-step approach to floating your first novel.

Before you begin writing the novel, develop your ideas on paper. How will the story open? Can you picture the scene in your mind? What is the main character’s problem and how is that problem going to get worse? How is this story going to end? What has to happen to get to that ending? What surprises await the reader?

Sketch the principal characters. Develop their inner lives and their motivations for doing what they do. Describe their appearance and show their attitudes by things they do and say. How are the characters related? Are they friends or enemies? Family members or strangers?

Decide how the story will be told. From whose perspective? Or will each chapter be told from the perspective of a different character? If so, which character gets to go first?

State the theme of the story as concisely as possible. For example: "This novel is about how a woman in a man’s world comes to embrace her femininity." If you are h…

Opening Paragraphs that Rock!

Great short stories have great first paragraphs. Greatness is marked by punched up word selection, writing stripped of useless words, key details, images that evoke emotion, and action with an element of suspence.

Consider the following example of a great first paragraph:

Some of the evil of my tale may have been inherent in our circumstances. For years we lived anyhow with one another in the naked desert, under the indifferent heaven. By day the hot sun fermented us; and we were dizzied by the beating wind. At night we were stained by dew, and shamed into pettiness by the innumerable silences of stars. We were a self-centered army without parade or gesture, devoted to freedom, the second of man's creeds, a purpose so ravenous that it devoured all our strength, a hope so transcendent that our earlier ambitions faded in its glare. (T.E. Lawrence, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom)

Here is an exercise for Creative Writing teachers to use with their students:

Select 2 of the following opening …

Creative Tension between Plot and Theme

I've written a dozen short stories and find that the best ones are those which maintain a creative tension between plot and theme. Here are some ideas for how you might work for that creative tension.

Playing with the Plot

One of the ways you can discover creative tension between plot and theme is to play with the plot. Plot is the story line or narrative structure of a story. The pyramid structure involves a beginning (exposition), rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. When plotting a story, you may find it helpful to draw a pyramid. Now make a list of the most important events that take place in your proposed story. Decide where these events should go on the pyramid and write them down. Make this diagram #1.

Consider this example. My list has 2 children who discover magic rings. The rings transport them between worlds. An evil queen attaches herself to the children as they escape from her dead world back to their own. She brings chaos to the children's world un…

What Makes a Good Short Story?

It used to be that we read good stories in literature textbooks, stories selected for their literary merit, but today the stories are banal and uninspiring. That is because they are not chosen for literary merit as much as for their political correctness, as it is judged by political pressure groups of all kinds. The mediocre quality of literature textbooks in America is due to the adoption process used in over 20 states, including Texas, Florida and California, which purchase enormous qualities of textbooks. The books are selected by statewide committees rather than by the teachers, who must then try to teach good writing using inferior examples. It is a sad state of affairs that speaks once again of how children really are not the main concern of American public education.

Some of the stories students read in their literature texts receive a more favorable response than others. Contrary to the prevalent view, the stories they like best are the ones that open before them experiences a…