In some works of literature, a character who appears briefly, or does not appear at all, is a significant presence. Choose a novel or play of literary merit and write an essay in which you show how such a character functions in the work. You may wish to discuss how the character affects action, theme, or the development of other characters. Avoid plot summary.
~AP Literature Open Essay Prompt, 1994
Having your name in the title of a book doesn't mean you get to be in the spotlight. Take the classic 1897 gothic horror novel Dracula, by Bram Stoker. The eponymous vampire appears in person surprisingly little, and only once after his initial conversations with Jonathan Harker. Despite this, he still very much deserves the honor of the novel's title. His actions set the events of the novel in motion, and the main characters talk of nothing else but him. While not directly seen, his actions leave tangible consequences on Lucy, Mina, and Renfield,...
Since Banned Books Week happens in mid-September each year, I'd like to talk today about the problem with banning books. Last year, my Bring Your Own Book club's topic for September was to read a banned or challenged book. We had a great discussion during our meeting about common threads in all of the books we read, common reasons why books get challenged, and how that relates to the education system in general. One of the things that kept coming up was that often, the reason the book was challenged is the entire point of the book itself – of course it deals with that; that's the main theme of the book! Whether it's The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Looking For Alaska depicting kids smoking, drinking, and doing drugs, or it's The Giver depicting a fundamentally broken society masquerading as a utopia (psst – that's the definition of the genre – it's a dystopia!), or even a gorgeous picture book called “And Tango Makes Three” telling a true story about a pair of male penguins who...
AP Literature Open-Ended Prompt, 1975, #2:
Unlike the novelist, the writer of a play does not use his own voice and only rarely uses a narrator’s voice to guide the audience’s responses to character and action. Select a play you have read and write an essay in which you explain the techniques the playwright uses to guide his audience’s responses to the central characters and the action. You might consider the effect on the audience of things like setting, the use of comparable and contrasting characters, and the characters’ responses to each other. Support your argument with specific references to the play. Do not give a plot summary.
The Blanks Left Empty
Narration is often the crux of the novelist's art. Through skillful use of narration and point of view, a novelist can make his readers acutely aware of not just the events of the novel, but the characters' opinions of those events. This makes it easy for a skilled novelist to deftly control how his...
Last week in my
Literature Spotlight, I discussed the idea of science-fiction as a reflection of the time period in which it was written. For this week's Writing Rundown, let's take a look at my brainstorming process.
As I mentioned in this blog post, there are many ways to brainstorm for a project. For this one, I decided to use a technique I hardly ever use myself: free-writing. Free-writing is a great tool for projects for which you have the beginnings of a lot of ideas bouncing around in your head, but none are quite fleshed out enough for you to contemplate their connections. It generally requires another form of prewriting such as a word cloud or outline to get it into a state that helps you write the essay, but it's a great place to start.
So, as a brief recap: in freewriting, sometimes called “stream-of-consciousness” writing, you put your pen down on a blank piece of paper and just start writing – and you don't stop writing for at least ten or fifteen...
Prompt: Explain the popularity of Science Fiction. Use at least one work from this genre to explain its appeal.
Science fiction is one of my favorite genres. I love it (and I suspect many of its readers love it) because despite its trappings of the future, good science fiction is very much a reflection of the time period in which it is written. One of Sci-Fi's major draws for me is that it can highlight and discuss social issues that might be touchy to talk about in the present day. Through the skillful use of spaceships, aliens, utopian planet colonies, and other 'flight-of-fancy' scenarios, a science fiction author can hold a mirror up to the way our current society deals with an issue by showing how their fictional society does. By reading sci-fi from previous eras, then, we can catch a glimpse of what people of that era were thinking about – and what was considered an acceptable 'flight of fancy.'
The Skylark of Space, written by E. E. 'Doc' Smith in the...
At a conference in town earlier this year, I presented several panel discussions centering around the difficulty of defining and quantifying art. Our discussions in these panels got me thinking about literature, and how one of my main points could apply equally easily to much of the literature that students read in high school. The point in question is this: one of the defining characteristics of art, in my view, is that it is something that creates an emotional response in the viewer. Experiencing it changes you in some way.
This is easy to see when the emotions are ones we generally see as 'positive;' if a play makes your heart swell with hope for the future, or a ballet duet makes you flush with the excitement of new love, or an epic novel makes your heart race with anxiety over the safety of the main characters, it's easy to argue that those works are art and have changed you. But what if the emotions you experience are more negative – what if a novel bores you, frustrates...
I'm a huge fan of the novel structure known as epistolary, where the story is told through primary sources such as diaries, newspaper articles, or letters back and forth between characters. Bram Stoker's
Dracula is one of my favorite examples of epistolary, as the mystery is heightened by Stoker's clever choices of whose diary to show at which point in the story. Epistolary form allows the author to strengthen the reader's immersion in the story by allowing the story itself to influence the final form the novel takes. Leave off a character's diary in a tense situation where he's about to go do something dangerous and stupid, with the cry “Goodbye all!” and then cut to someone else's diary for the next hundred pages, and you leave the reader begging to know what happened back there – did he make it out? Why are we not reading more of his diary? Is he okay? Tell me please!
I recently finished another epistolary novel that has quickly made it onto my list of great examples...
“It is as inhuman to be totally good as it is to be totally evil.”
~(Author's Introduction to A Clockwork Orange, P. xiii)
The protagonist of A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess, is a depraved young teen named Alex who has a love for 'ultra-violence.' For the first third of the book, Alex gleefully commits felony after felony, robbing, raping, and beating up random innocents just for the fun of it. At first glance, anyone witnessing his nighttime escapades would probably call him inhuman, a monster. And he is certainly degenerate and warped – but is he really inhuman? After all, humanity has sunk to some pretty low depths in history, and the human race is capable of acts of incredible violence and devastation. What do we really mean when we call someone inhuman? Are there some qualities absent in Alex that we feel should be present in all humans? A sense of morality, perhaps? A Clockwork Orange explores the link between morality, free will, and humanity, and shows...
At BYOBook Club last month, we were discussing possible topics for the final meeting of the year. Someone suggested “The best book you've read all year,” which seemed to be well-received in the moment as an option. Since I'm participating in the Reading Challenge this year, I set myself the goal in January to read 50 books over the course of the year. (Right now I'm on book 45, so I'm right on track.) So I started thinking about it, talking with friends about how to choose a 'best' book, and I've realized that's a trickier question than I expected.
For one thing, how do you define the 'best' book? The one you enjoyed the most? The one you're most likely to re-read? The one with the most well-crafted story? The one with the most interesting setting? The one you're most likely to recommend to a friend, regardless of genre or other interests? The best nonfiction vs. best fiction? What about the one you're most glad you read?
This is a tricky question, to say the least,...
F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby presents the dark side of the American Dream and does so with unusual panache. The shimmering surface of Fitzgerald's prose style mirrors the daylight optimism of the dream, reflecting the ideal of a society wherein talent and hard work routinely get rewarded and upward mobility is based at least as much on merit as on luck or charm or who you know.
Ruthlessness or deceit … but who could need such things?
The narrator, Nick Carraway, likewise begins this adventure with a fair measure of this robust American optimism. He envies the high society spoons in his new top drawer of polished acquaintances, interpreting their frivolity and hedonism as an abundance of life.
Yet as the narrative progresses, this bright-eyed optimism dims. Nick sees, on the one hand, heirs to inherited wealth who are arrogant, bigoted, selfish, and only superficially cultured – Tom Buchanan and his ilk. On the other hand, he sees those who are...
Hello! I come from Spain and I am a Writer and worked as a Journalist for a variety of Media back in Spain. I also had over 10 years of Teaching experience now and then, because I love it. The most important think to start speaking a language is just trying conversation! What better way to speak it to a Spanish native? I am very good in conversation. It is much more fun than the traditional grammar classes. Try me!
For this week's Ellen's Choice, it's time to run down another month of Reading Challenge books! Once again, it's a long one, so skim through for the titles in bold if you just want to see what I've read.
Book 11: “Red Seas Under Red Skies” by Scott Lynch
“a book with a color in the title”
Wow - Locke Lamora is at it again! Consider me officially hooked on this series now - yet another winner of a fantasy-action-con novel from Scott Lynch. In this one, Locke gets roped into being a real-life pirate - not by choice, unfortunately. Some great characterization and world-building ensues, with badass female pirates running a tight ship and standing toe-to-toe against much greater foes. Reading as Locke and Jean went full pirate-cliche for a con was incredibly entertaining, particularly since it's contrasted with the nowhere-near-cliche depictions of the actual pirates they're working with. I also really enjoyed getting to see more of the mysterious world where...
For this week's Ellen's Choice, I'm going to run down a month's worth of Reading Challenge books. It's going to be a long one, so feel free to skim through for the titles in bold if you just want to see which books I read and not my reviews of each one.
Book 5: "Catch-22," by Joseph Heller
"A book with a number in the title"
This one was to tackle “A book with a number in the title”. Of course, I could not pass up a chance to finally read a book that I’ve been wanting to read for years now – “Catch 22″!
The title has since become synonymous with the idea of a self-contradicting statement, a predicament you can’t get out of because of its self-referential nature. Catch 22 follows the experiences of a bomber pilot in WWII whose superior officer keeps raising the number of missions required to complete a tour so that nobody can go home. The protagonist’s efforts to worm his way out of flying missions repeatedly bump...
I recently read a new-ish novel by one of my favorite authors, the incomparable Terry Pratchett, that provided me with some much-needed food for thought.
The Long Earth, a collaboration between Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, centers around the invention and distribution of a simple contraption enabling its user to 'step' between an infinite number of parallel dimensions. Each of these dimensions is slightly different from every other, possibly depicting a series of 'what if?' alternate Earths, and the entirety together is referred to as 'The Long Earth.' One of the most curious things about the Long Earth, however, is that none of these alternate Earths have any humans on them – no cities, no civilizations, simply wild and beautiful vistas with plenty of local wildlife and a few enigmatic 'humanoid' races that are rarely seen. Forget space travel – mankind can simply step across the Long Earth and find millions of pristine new worlds to conquer!
The novel brings up quite...
Book 4: "a book of short stories"
I checked off "A book of short stories" and read this anthology edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio.
Gaiman begins the book with an introduction discussing how they collected the stories for this volume. He talks about the idea of four words that indicate a great story: "And then what happened?" This collection is stories that made him and Sarrantonio want to keep turning pages to see what happened next. I definitely see that common thread throughout the anthology. I also enjoyed the fact that each story was from a different author, and that most of the authors were ones I'd never read before. I'll almost certainly look up more of their work now that I've gotten a taste of what they can do.
The stories are all over the place in terms of setting, plot, characters, and writing style, though all have at least a little bit of that Gaiman-esque supernatural about them. I found that most...
Book 3: "A Play"
I threw this little beauty in my backpack a few months ago for a long day out teaching lessons. I've had Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" on my shelf for a while, but I'd never actually read it cover to cover. I love reading plays, so if I can swing it there might be a few more of them in this year's challenge, but this one fulfills the "play" requirement.
I was fascinated by a couple of things while reading. The first was the subtle way that Willy Loman's mental state is depicted through intercutting of scenes. Willy is losing his mind due to stress, and struck me as perhaps having some kind of dementia. He lives in the past, drifting off into memories of happier times when things aren't going his way in the present. Several times in the play, there are two completely different conversations going on, one in the present where Willy is physically seated, and the other in the past where he is actually participating...
Toni Morrison's “Beloved” is a beautiful, poetic, and haunting work about love, motherhood and the lengths to which a mother will go to protect her children. The runaway slave woman Sethe kills one of her children (and attempts to kill the others) in order to save its life, and in doing so destroys the beautiful world she's tried so hard to create for the rest of her family. The baby's ghost haunts Sethe's world through the enigmatic character of Beloved, a character with at least three distinct possible interpretations. Is Beloved the ghost of the “already-crawling? baby,” or a simple runaway slave who just happens to call herself “Beloved,” or perhaps not even there at all? The novel is intentionally written to keep our interpretations vague, and each interpretation comes with its own commentary on the relationships in the novel.
On the one hand, Beloved could be a real, physical girl, not related to the family, who ran away from an abusive slave owner and found her way...
Book 2: "A Nonfiction book"
I came across this one while looking for an e-book to put on my iPad so I'd have something to read on those full-to-bursting-backpack days. It completes the item for "a nonfiction book," and wow...I tore through this book faster than I think I've read a nonfiction in a very long time. My favorite part about this one was Bill Nye's writing style: conversational, informal, strewn with jokes (such as the running gag of his old boss as a lesser-evolved life form), and unquestionably him. Fans of the Bill Nye the Science Guy show from the 90's (like myself) will be able to hear his voice quite clearly in their heads as they read - it's like an adult version of his show in book form!
I was also really impressed with the content of the book - I'd expected it to be much more about the debate with Creationist Ken Ham (the impetus for Bill writing this book in the first place). But he actually only touches on the debate...
You have one hour with a college prep specialist who can help make your admissions/scholarship essays award winning. How can you maximize your time? Here are five tips to get the most out of your time:
Come Prepared. - Bring the essay prompts from each of your colleges. Bring a sample personal statement and resume. Be sure to have any information necessary to complete an admissions essay, to include your GPA, test scores, and any major accomplishments.
Know Thyself - Always know your stats. During this time, knowing your GPA and SAT score is as important as knowing your name and birthdate. Also, know (and have a list of) your interests, hobbies, favorite subjects, etc. Have an idea of at least 3 possible majors and careers you would like to explore.
Be on Time - There is a lot to cover! The better prepared and earlier you are, the more likely we are to get a lot done. Also, I tend to take my time...
For the next few Ellen's Choices, unless I have a brilliant idea that must be discussed immediately, I'm going to start recapping the books I've read for my 2015 Reading Challenge. The Challenge is an ambitious attempt to read one book a week for the entire year, selecting each book based on prompt items in a checklist.
Book 1: "A Book You Started But Never Finished"
For my first Reading Challenge book, I tackled "A book you started but never finished" - and boy, am I glad that I did! I've had
Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff on my shelf for years, after I bought it and read the first few chapters, but got busy and lost interest. Turns out, this unassuming little book is an amazingly unique steampunk-dystopian-epic fantasy! The steampunk dystopia is thorough and riveting - I mean, c'mon, the sky is RED! And in amongst all the civil unrest, plots to overthrow society, and men clanking around in insectoid mechanical suits, there's...