More Crazy Things People Say to Teachers (And How to Respond)

17 05 2013

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Wasn’t a dish supposed to run away with a spoon or something?

29 04 2013

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Practical English, Lesson #2

26 04 2013

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The Great Gatsby Character Map

12 04 2013

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The only 12 1/2 writing rules you’ll ever need

11 04 2013

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Broca.org: The 10 Mistakes List

27 02 2013

This is a pretty darn good list of stylistic problems that are often seen in writing, especially at the more advanced levels. I hesitate to call them “mistakes;” they are definitely more along the lines of bad habits and things to look out for if you’re hoping to take your writing to the next level. Check it out!

– dEV

#     #     #

…style guide

THE ’10 MISTAKES’ LIST

© Daniel Reisel, broca.org

1. REPEATS
Just about every writer unconsciously leans on a “crutch” word. Hillary Clinton’s repeated word is “eager” (can you believe it? the committee that wrote “Living History” should be ashamed). Cosmopolitan magazine editor Kate White uses “quickly” over a dozen times in “A Body To Die For.” Jack Kerouac’s crutch word in “On the Road” is “sad,” sometimes doubly so – “sad, sad.” Ann Packer’s in “The Dive from Clausen’s Pier” is “weird.”

Crutch words are usually unremarkable. That’s why they slip under editorial radar – they’re not even worth repeating, but there you have it, pop, pop, pop, up they come. Readers, however, notice them, get irked by them and are eventually distracted by them, and down goes your book, never to be opened again.

But even if the word is unusual, and even if you use it differently when you repeat it, don’t: Set a higher standard for yourself even if readers won’t notice. In Jennifer Egan’s “Look at me,” the core word – a good word, but because it’s good, you get *one* per book -is “abraded.” Here’s the problem:

“Victoria’s blue gaze abraded me with the texture of ground glass.” page 202
“…(metal trucks abrading the concrete)…” page 217
“…he relished the abrasion of her skepticism…” page 256
“…since his abrasion with Z …” page 272

The same goes for repeats of several words together – a phrase or sentence that may seem fresh at first, but, restated many times, draws attention from the author’s strengths. Sheldon Siegel nearly bludgeons us in his otherwise witty and articulate courtroom thriller, “Final Verdict” with a sentence construction that’s repeated throughout the book:

“His tone oozes self-righteousness when he says…” page 188
“His voice is barely audible when he says…” page 193
“His tone is unapologetic when he says…” page 199
“Rosie keeps her tone even when she says…” page 200
“His tone is even when he says…” page 205
“I switch to my lawyer voice when I say …” page 211
“He sounds like Grace when he says…” page 211

What a tragedy. I’m not saying all forms of this sentence should be lopped off. Lawyers find their rhythm in the courtroom by phrasing questions in the same or similar way. It’s just that you can’t do it too often on the page. After the third or fourth or 16th time, readers exclaim silently, “Where was the editor who shoulda caught this?” or “What was the author thinking?”

So if you are the author, don’t wait for the agent or house or even editorial consultant to catch this stuff *for* you. Attune your eye now. Vow to yourself, NO REPEATS.

And by the way, even deliberate repeats should always be questioned: “Here are the documents.” says one character. “If these are the documents, I’ll oppose you,” says another. A repeat like that just keeps us on the surface. Figure out a different word; or rewrite the exchange. Repeats rarely allow you to probe deeper.

2. FLAT WRITING
“He wanted to know but couldn’t understand what she had to say, so he waited until she was ready to tell him before asking what she meant.”

Something is conveyed in this sentence, but who cares? The writing is so flat, it just dies on the page. You can’t fix it with a few replacement words – you have to give it depth, texture, character. Here’s another:

“Bob looked at the clock and wondered if he would have time to stop for gas before driving to school to pick up his son after band practice.” True, this could be important – his wife might have hired a private investigator to document Bob’s inability to pick up his son on time – and it could be that making the sentence bland invests it with more tension. (This is the editorial consultant giving you the benefit of the doubt.) Most of the time, though, a sentence like this acts as filler. It gets us from A to B, all right, but not if we go to the kitchen to make a sandwich and find something else to read when we sit down.

Flat writing is a sign that you’ve lost interest or are intimidated by your own narrative. It shows that you’re veering toward mediocrity, that your brain is fatigued, that you’ve lost your inspiration. So use it as a lesson. When you see flat writing on the page, it’s time to rethink, refuel and rewrite.

3. EMPTY ADVERBS
Actually, totally, absolutely, completely, continually, constantly, continuously, literally, really, unfortunately, ironically, incredibly, hopefully, finally – these and others are words that promise emphasis, but too often they do the reverse. They suck the meaning out of every sentence.

I defer to People Magazine for larding its articles with empty adverbs. A recent issue refers to an “incredibly popular, groundbreakingly racy sitcom.” That’s tough to say even when your lips aren’t moving.

In “Still Life with Crows,” Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child describe a mysterious row of corn in the middle of a field: “It was, in fact, the only row that actually opened onto the creek.” Here are two attempts at emphasis (“in fact,” “actually”), but they just junk up the sentence. Remove them both and the word “only” carries the burden of the sentence with efficiency and precision.

(When in doubt, try this mantra: Precise and spare; precise and spare; precise and spare.)

In dialogue, empty adverbs may sound appropriate, even authentic, but that’s because they’ve creeped into American conversation in a trendy way. If you’re not watchful, they’ll make your characters sound wordy, infantile and dated.

In Julia Glass’s “Three Junes,” a character named Stavros is a forthright and matter-of-fact guy who talks to his lover without pretense or affectation. But when he mentions an offbeat tourist souvenir, he says, “It’s absolutely wild. I love it.” Now he sounds fey, spoiled, superficial.. (Granted, “wild” nearly does him in; but “absolutely” is the killer.)

The word “actually” seems to emerge most frequently, I find. Ann Packer’s narrator recalls running in the rain with her boyfriend, “his hand clasping mine as if he could actually make me go fast.” Delete “actually” and the sentence is more powerful without it.

The same holds true when the protagonist named Miles hears some information in “Empire Falls” by Richard Russo. “Actually, Miles had no doubt of it,” we’re told. Well, if he had no doubt, remove “actually” – it’s cleaner, clearer that way. “Actually” mushes up sentence after sentence; it gets in the way every time. I now think it should *never* be used.

Another problem with empty adverbs: You can’t just stick them at the beginning of a sentence to introduce a general idea or wishful thinking, as in “Hopefully, the clock will run out.” Adverbs have to modify a verb or other adverb, and in this sentence, “run out” ain’t it.

Look at this hilarious clunker from “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown: “Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino.”

Ack, “almost inconceivably” – that’s like being a little bit infertile! Hopefully, that “enormous albino” will ironically go back to actually flogging himself while incredibly saying his prayers continually.

(Full Story)

http://www.broca.org/style.html





Wired: New Online Course Explores Gender Through Comic Books

25 01 2013

I’ve already signed up! This looks interesting, and it’s a free online course! Well, except for whatever textbooks you have to buy, but in this case I think that won’t be much of an issue for me!

– dEV

#     #     #

xmen 1By Kelly KnoxJanuary 24, 2013 | 9:00 am

An online course to study comic books? Sign me up! No, seriously, I already signed up. This spring the Canvas Network is offering a massive open online course called Gender Through Comic Books, taught by Ball State University’s Christina Blanch. Aimed at students college-age and up, the course will explore gender roles in comics from DC Comics, Marvel, and more. The goal of the course is to take a detailed look at “how comic books can be used to explore questions of gender identity, stereotypes, and roles,” with comics luminaries like Mark Waid, Scott Snyder, Gail Simone, and more providing their own input and insights.

I had the chance to ask the course instructor Christina Blanch about what students can expect in the course, and she revealed that the course will not only cover how men and women are portrayed in comics, but also discuss current comic book culture like the “fake geek girl” debate.

GeekMom: What inspired you to use comic books as a medium to explore gender roles?

Christina Blanch: I was taking a class on Women and Education for my doctorate. For the final project we had to write a paper and my professor, who is also my mentor and an amazing woman, encouraged me to step out of the lines and do something different. I had been researching Mort Weisinger and how he as editor changed the Superman Family books, focusing on Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, and I thought using comic books could be a way to approach teaching gender without the trepidation some students feel. So, I wrote a paper on how a class could be developed using comic books to teach gender.

One of the students in the class taught for Women and Gender Studies and thought that it would be a good class and suggested it to the department chair. Next thing I knew, they asked me to teach the class. And it was such a great class – the students were all engaged and simply amazing.

strangers-in-paradiseGM: Can you give any hints about topics you’ll be exploring in the course?

CB: The first thing we will cover is what exactly gender is. People often times think it is synonymous with sex or is feminism in disguise. This class is about men and women and how we can learn about gender through its social construction, as politics, as a diffuse concept, and as a lived experience. Constructions of gender vary from culture to culture and change throughout time. In the class we will look at how gender is constructed and how the stereotypes of certain gender traits are perpetrated by the producers of cultural material. Masculinity and femininity have traits associated with them that are not equal with a person’s sex.

We will look at how women and men are represented in comic books and see how masculine or feminine they are.

With the recent “fake geek girl” debates, I also plan to talk about the comic book culture and who consumes the material.

And finally, we will look at the producers of the comics themselves through live interviews with some of the leading comic book writers and editors today. Using Google hangouts, we will interview writers such as Mark Waid, Scott Snyder, Gail Simone, Terry Moore, and Brian K. Vaughan. We will also get the editorial perspective from Marvel editors Steve Wacker and Sana Amanat. And through the miracle of technology, we will be able to randomly choose several students to be able to directly ask the interviewees questions. It should be an enlightening experience for the students.

GM: Will your course explore characters from both Marvel and DC Comics, as well as some of the smaller publishers?

CB: Yes! We are exploring a lot of different types of comic books. I wish we had more time, it’s only six weeks, so we could get more into autobiographical comic books, but time is so limited. We will read some Marvel and DC, like Captain Marvel and Batman, but will also be looking at books from smaller publishers that put out amazing books like Strangers in Paradise and Saga.

GM: Why did you choose to teach this course as a massive open online course (MOOC)?

CB: I really didn’t choose to do it as a MOOC. I was teaching the class last semester on campus and Ball State approached me and asked me if I would teach it as a MOOC. It’s been interesting working on ways to engage a large audience in the subject and still trying to keep the personal aspect. This will be my first time teaching a MOOC so it’s been a steep learning curve. I’m both excited and nervous, which I think is a good combination. I have a lot of great people at Ball State and the Canvas Network helping me with the technical aspects, so I think it will be amazing.

(Full Story with Video)

http://www.wired.com/geekmom/2013/01/gender-through-comics/