November 3:  Dogs in Space Day

On this day in 1957, the USSR launched the satellite Sputnik 2 into orbit. Aboard the spacecraft was the first ever living being launched into space, a female terrier named Laika.  Just four weeks earlier the Russians had shocked the world by launching the first-ever satellite, Sputnik I on October 3, 1957.

The launches of the two Sputnik satellites lead to a crisis in the United States as leaders feared Soviet domination of space.  In July 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower formed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and in September 1958, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act, which poured billions of dollars into the U.S. education system.

Russia was successful in launching the first human, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin,  into space on April 12, 1961; however, the United States proclaimed victory in the Space Race when NASA’s Apollo program landed a man on the Moon on July 20, 1969 (see July 20:  Antithesis Day).

Going to the Dogs

English is replete with idioms (expressions that don’t make sense when taken literally) related to dogs. And it is interesting to note that despite the dog’s reputation for being “man’s best friend,” most of the expressions use dogs in the negative sense. For example, they are used as scapegoats for missing homework: “My dog ate my homework.” They are associated with sickness: “Sick as a dog.” And they are even used to characterize life in general as harsh and cutthroat: “It’s a dog eat dog world.”

Use the clues below to identify the eight dog-related idioms. For each idiom, you are given the number of words in the expression and a brief literal translation of the meaning of the idiom as it might be used in everyday speech.

  1. Five words: Don’t make something unimportant the most important thing.
  2. Five words: You’re searching in the wrong place.
  3. Four words: My feet are very tired.
  4. Four words: My wife is very mad at me.
  5. Seven words: He’s not really as mean as he seems.
  6. Eight words: Some people will never change.
  7. Four words: Don’t remind him of your past conflicts.
  8. Five words: Every person is successful at something at some point in his/her life.

Today’s Challenge:  Giving the Dog His Day
What words, phrases, or titles come to mind when you hear the word “dog”?What is your favorite dog-based writing topic, either literal or figurative? Brainstorm a list of words, phrases, or titles that you associate with dogs.  Try to generate at least 20 ideas.  Then, select the one idea that sparks a writing idea, and write a poem, story, or essay on your idea.  Use the word “dog” in your title. (Common Core Writing 2 and 3 – Expository and Narrative)

Quotation of the Day: Fall in love with a dog, and in many ways you enter a new orbit, a universe that features not just new colors but new rituals, new rules, a new way of experiencing attachment. -Caroline Knapp

 

Answers: 1. The tail wagging the dog 2. Barking up the wrong tree. 3. My dogs are barking  4. In the dog house 5. His bark is worse than his bite 6. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. 7. Let sleeping dogs lie. 8. Every dog has its day

 

November 1:  Art Imitates Life Day

On this date in 1866, the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky met a very important deadline.  Based on the terms of his contract with his publisher, Dostoyevsky would either deliver his completed novel on November 1, 1866 or his publisher would be given complete rights to his works, without compensation, for the next nine years.  Clearly entering into such a contract was a gamble, but then Dostoyevsky had a reputation as a gambler.  After all, the reason he agreed to a contract with such stark terms was because he was desperate for money to pay off his gambling debts.

Vasily Perov - Портрет Ф.М.Достоевского - Google Art Project.jpgWhen Dostoyevsky began work on his novel on October 4, 1866, he had just 26 days to finish.  To assist him, he hired a stenographer, a woman named Anna Grigorievna whom he would later marry.  They met daily.  Dostoyevsky dictated the story to Grigorievna, and on November 1st, two hours before the deadline, the complete manuscript was delivered to the publisher.

The title of Dostoyevsky’s novel is appropriately The Gambler, and its plot revolves around several desperate characters winning and losing at the roulette table.  In the novel art imitates life as the author’s addiction to roulette is the focus of his novel’s plot.

Today’s Challenge
What anecdote from your life would be worthy of adapting to fiction?  Just as Dostoyevsky used his life experiences, his passions, and his misfortunes for his fiction, the challenge here is to take something from your life and adapt it into a fictional anecdote.  Once you have an actual incident, transform it into fiction by creating a character in a specific setting.  Decide also on a point of view – 1st person or 3rd person (limited or omniscient).  Then, write your anecdote.  Base the plot of your anecdote on the facts of your experience, but also use your poetic license as a fiction writer to embellish the facts. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life. -Oscar Wilde     

1-Nissley, Tom.  Reader’s Book of Days.  New York:  W. W. Norton, 2014:  315.

October 26:  Four Word Film Review Day

On this date in 1999, a web developer named Benj Clews had a brief but ingenious idea.  Clews wanted to create a web site for movie reviews, but he wanted it to be different.  His idea was to limit the movie reviews to four words or fewer.  That same year he created the website Four Word Film Review, which in the internet tradition of crowdsourcing, invites readers to submit their reviews.  Most of the reviews at www.fwfr.com are not so much reviews as they are new titles, but the fun comes in the wonderful wordplay that results. Puns, alliteration, and adaptations of other film titles are all a part of the creative writing game of making every word count.

For example, here are seven examples of reviews for the film Jaws:

Gulp fiction

Shaw shark retention

Jurassic shark

Shooting barrel in fish

Gil against island

Diet: fish and ships

Amity’s vile horror

Below are ten four word reviews. See if you can identify the titles before you look at the answers listed below:

  1. World’s survival chance: slim
  2. Lion, witch, wide road
  3. Twist ending sleighs me
  4. Song of sam
  5. Ford. Explorer.
  6. If the shoe fits . . .
  7. Humans make bad batteries
  8. Small medium, large twist
  9. Original space ‘n Vader.
  10. Fish finds friends, anemones (1)

Reading four word movie reviews is fun in itself, but there is also something to be learned here. Shakespeare said that ‘Brevity is the soul of wit.’ In other words, the essence of good writing is economy. As you read four word reviews and begin to write your own, you’ll learn that wordplay can be hard work, but the rewards are satisfying for both you, the writer, and your readers. Also read newspaper headlines and notice how headline writers work with the same kind of wordplay to attract the reader’s attention. A good title is vital, so when you write an essay, take some time to write a short, but sweet, title of four words or fewer.

Today’s Challenge:  Four Word – Fantastic Flair
What movie or book would you sum up in four words or fewer?  Create your own four word film reviews. But don’t stop with movies. Write a four word review of your favorite book. Read newspaper headlines and notice how headline writers work with the same kind of wordplay to attract the reader’s attention. A good title is vital, so when you write an essay, take some time to write a short, but sweet title of four words or fewer. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  The four most important words in the English language and in leadership are:  “What do you think?” – Bill Marriott

  1. Dr. Strangelove, 2. The Wizard of Oz, 3. Citizen Cane, 4. Casablanca, 5. Raiders of the Lost Ark, 6. Cinderella, 7. The Matrix, 8. The Sixth Sense, 9. Star Wars, 10. Finding Nemo

1-Clews, Benj and Michael Onesi.  Four Word Film Reviews.  Massachusetts:  Adams Media, 2010.

October 25:  History Into Verse Day

On this date in two different years, 1415 and 1854 , a historical battle was immortalized in verse.

Schlacht von Azincourt.jpgThe first was the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 in which the outnumbered English army defeated the French in a major battle of the Hundred Years War.  The battle took place on Saint Crispin’s Day, a feast day honoring the Christian saints Crispin and Crispinian.  The English were lead by King Henry V who joined his soldier in hand-to-hand combat at Agincourt.

Though history does not record exactly what Henry said that day, William Shakespeare, in his play Henry V (Act IV, Scene iii), imagines what Henry might have said to spur the undermanned English to action.  In a speech of 49 lines, Henry expresses his confidence that they will win and that each year as they near St. Crispin’s Day they will look back and remember their glorious victory and the bond they share with their brothers in arms (1).

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.  

More than 400 years later in 1854, Britain and France joined forces against Russia in the Crimean War.  On October 25, 1854 the British Light Brigade under the command of General James Cardigan rode into history.  Following an ambiguous order to charge into a treeless valley surrounded by Russian field artillery, hundreds of British horsemen were mowed down as they swept across the open ground.  Miraculously some of the horsemen managed to temporarily disable the Russian guns and return under fire across what would become known as “the valley of the shadow of death.” The charge, although courageous, resulted in senseless carnage.  Of the 673 British horsemen who began the charge only 198 survived (2).

The British cavalry’s charge was immortalized in verse by Britain’s poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson.  The poet penned the narrative poem on December 2, 1854 after reading an account of the battle in the British newspapers.  On December 9, 1854 the poem entitled “The Charge of the Light Brigade” appeared in The Examiner.

The six-stanza poem immediately became popular, and even today its famous lines capture the plight of common soldiers, nobly and courageously following the orders of their superior:

Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.

Today’s Challenge:  Make History in Poetry
What historical event would you immortalize in verse?  What makes the event worth remembering?  Brainstorm some events from history that are worthy of being immortalized in verse.  Select the one you like the best, and compose a narrative poem (a la “The Charge of the Light Brigade”) or a speech in verse (a la “The Saint Crispin’s Day speech”). (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
-William Shakespeare, Sonnet 55

 

1-March, W.B. and Bruce Carrick.  365: Your Date With History. Cambridge, UK:  Icon Books, 2004: 526-7.

2- March, W.B. and Bruce Carrick.  366: A Leap Year of Great Stories. Cambridge, UK:  Icon Books, 2007: 342.

October 24: Alternative Titles Day

On this date in 1957 movie executive Sam Frey sent director Alfred Hitchcock a list of suggested alternative titles to the film that Hitchcock was shooting. The director has been in a continual battle with his studio, Paramount, over the movie’s title. Hitchcock was determined to go with the one-word title Vertigo; the studio, however, rejected the director’s choice. The list of 47 alternative titles was the studio’s last attempt to sway Hitchcock. It included the following suggested alternative titles:

Afraid To Love
Checkmate
The Face
Malice
The Mask and the Face
Shadow on the Stairs Shock
Two Kinds of Women

Vertigomovie restoration.jpgHitchcock stood firm with his choice, and when the film opened on May 8, 1958, the movie marquee read Vertigo. The film starring James Stewart is based on a French novel entitled D’entre les morts (“from among the dead”). Today it is recognized as one of the greatest psychological thrillers in Hollywood history (1).

Today’s Challenge: What’s the Word?
What would be your one-word alternative title to a classic book or film? Like Vertigo, three of the top grossing films of all time have one-word titles: Avatar, Titanic, and Jaws. The challenge of a one-word title is to evoke the quintessential core element that defines the film. Brainstorm some alternative titles to some classic book titles and film titles. You may not, however, use any of the words in the original title. The Wizard of Oz, for example, might be retitled “Rainbow” but cannot be retitled “Oz” or “Wizard.” Create a Top Ten list of your best alternative titles, and if you’re working with a group, hold an Alternative One-Word Title Contest. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day: ‘Vertigo’ was about a murder, a love affair, memory and loss, and a police detective with a work-related injury. The title, however, perfectly captures the queasy, off-balance feeling the film induces in the viewer, as well as the psychological state of the protagonist. -Christopher Johnson

1-Usher, Shaun. Lists of Note: An Eclectic Collection Deserving of a Wider Audience. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2015: 242.

October 20:  Adopt a Literary Character Day

On this day in 1833, the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) completed his great dramatic monologue Ulysses.  

The voice of the poem, or persona, is Ulysses, the Latin name of the epic Greek hero Odysseus.  In writing this poem, Tennyson adopts the character Ulysses from Homer, the author of the epic Greek poems The Iliad and the Odyssey.  The Odyssey is the epic narrative that follows Ulysses’ 10-year struggle to return home after the Trojan War.  Once home on Ithaca, Ulysses faces another challenge to out wit the suitors vying to win the hand of his wife Penelope.  Displaying brawn but also brains, Ulysses defeats the suitors in a contest, slaughters them, reunites with his wife, and once again becomes king of Ithaca.

Alfred Lord Tennyson 1869.jpgThe poem Ulysses imagines the hero years after he has returned to the throne.  In the tradition of the dramatic monologue, we hear only the voice of the old king as he reflects on his past, on his relative idleness as King of Ithaca, and on his desire to once again set out on a bold adventure.  The understood audience of the poem is the crew of his ship, the men who will join him on his new journey.

In the poem’s opening lines we hear the voice of a king, weary of his kingly duties on Ithaca and restless to return again to sea:

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;

Willing to give up his throne to his son Telemachus and to leave his wife, Ulysses looks forward once more to bold adventures and seeing “a newer world.”  Rather than staying put and rusting, Ulysses wants “to shine in use!”  It is appropriate then that the poem ends with a string of parallel action verbs:

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Like much of the verse of William Shakespeare, Ulysses is written in blank verse, unrhymed iambic pentameter.

Today’s Challenge:  Write a SPAT Monologue
What fictional character from literature or film would you adopt for a dramatic monologue?  Brainstorm some interesting characters from either books or film.  Like Tennyson did for Ulysses, imagine the life of the character after the work you know them for is over.  What would he/she be thinking about and what would he/she be saying — and to whom would he/she be saying it.  Write a dramatic monologue using the mnemonic SPAT:  the Speaker, a Problem (or dramatic situation), the Audience, and the Tone (or attitude).  Try to capture the distinctiveness of your character, impersonating his/her voice so that it can be understood by your reader. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  A monologue presents a single person speaking alone, but a dramatic monologue presents an imaginary or historical character speaking to an imaginary listener or audience . . . . -Edward Hirsch

October 13: The Battle of Hastings Day

The year 1066 marks the most important year in the history of the English language. The most important single day in that year was October 13th. It’s a date that might have signaled the beginning of the extinction of English; instead, it marks the beginning of a remarkable evolution and enrichment of the language.

Harold dead bayeux tapestry.pngAt Hastings in Sussex, England on this date, the Saxon army of King Harold confronted an invading army of French-speaking soldiers from Normandy, a province of France just across the English Channel. The Battle of Hastings was fought from approximately 9 am to dusk. Thousands of soldiers died that day, and the Norman army, led by William, Duke of Normandy, prevailed. Harold was killed, shot through the eye with an arrow, and William marched his victorious army to London, where he was crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066.

Scenes from the bloody battle are depicted in the colorful Bayeux Tapestry, a 229 feet long embroidered cloth, which was commissioned by William’s brother not long after the battle (1).

William the Conqueror was now King of England. The French speaking Normans thus ruled England, and Norman-French as well as Latin became the language of government. The Saxons were defeated, but their language did not die. The conquering Normans were outnumbered by the Saxons, who continued to use English in their common, everyday activities. So instead of being stamped out by French, English adsorbed French words, enriching its lexicon over the next two hundred years.

The Norman Invasion of 1066 marks the end of the Old English period of the history of English and the beginning of the Middle English period. One of the rich legacies of this period is the great variety of words and rich well of synonyms that are characteristic of English. Richard Lederer, in his book The Miracle of Language, states it eloquently:

Bequeathing us the common words of everyday life, many of them fashioned from a single syllable, Anglo-Saxon is the foundation of our language. Its directness, brevity and plainness make us feel more deeply and see things about us more truly. The grandeur, sonority and courtliness of the French elements lift us to another, and more literary, level of expression (1).

We can see this difference illustrated by the Anglo-Saxon words ask, end, fear, and dead and their synonyms of French derivation, question, finish, terror, and deceased. Some writers argue that we should favor the short, precise words of Anglo-Saxon origin to the longer words derived from French, Latin, or Greek. Winston Churchill, for example, expressed his bias when he said, “Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.”

Today’s Challenge: Saxon Short Short Story
Is it possible to tell an effective story or give an effective speech using words of only a single syllable? One way to test Churchill’s claim is to try your hand at writing using words of only one syllable. It’s also an excellent way to learn to pay careful attention to your word choice. In general, the foundational Anglo-Saxon words in English are one syllable words, unlike words from French, Latin, or Greek, which tend to be more than a single syllable. Write a narrative of at least 200 words and make sure to use only one syllable words. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day: To do all that one is able to do is to be a man; to do all that one would like to do is to be a god. -Napoleon Bonaparte

1-http://www.bayeuxmuseum.com/en/la_tapisserie_de_bayeux_en.html
2- Lederer, Richard. The Miracle of Language. New York: Pocket Books, 1991: 19-21.

October 11:  Apocryphal Anecdote Day

Today is the birthday of Parson Weems (1759-1825), the man who might be called “The Father of the Father of Our Country.”   It was Weems’ biography of Washington that first published the story of young George Washington and the cherry tree.

Parson Weems, also known as Mason Locke Weems, was a book agent, author, and ordained Episcopal priest.  His primary employment was as a book salesman.  When George Washington died in 1799, Weems saw an opportunity.  He thought that a biography of the venerated first president would be a big seller.  Weems published The Life of Washington in 1800, one year after Washington’s death.  Excerpts of Weems’ biography were later included in the enormously popular McGuffey Readers, the most widely read elementary textbook from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century (2).  

One of the excerpts included in the McGuffey Reader was Weems’ account of the cherry tree incident, an anecdote that Weems claimed he got from one of Washington’s distant relatives:

One day, in the garden, where he often amused himself hacking his mother’s pea-sticks, he unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful young English cherry-tree, which he barked so terribly, that I don’t believe the tree ever got the better of it. The next morning [an] old gentleman, finding out what had befallen his tree, which, by the by, was a great favourite, came into the house; and with much warmth asked for the mischievous author, declaring at the same time, that he would not have taken five guineas for his tree. Nobody could tell him anything about it. Presently George and his hatchet made their appearance. “George,” said his father, “do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden? ” This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself: and looking at his father, with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth, he bravely cried out, “I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet.” “Run to my arms, you dearest boy,” cried his father in transports, “run to my arms; glad am I, George, that you killed my tree; for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son is more worth than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest gold.” (2)

The historical veracity of this anecdote is questionable.  Certainly by modern standards of historical research, Weems’ citation of a single distant and unnamed relative makes it dubious.  To be exact, however, we cannot call it a myth nor a total falsehood.  What we can call it is apocryphal — that is, a story that is widely circulated as true, yet is of doubtful authenticity.  The adjective derives from the Greek apokryphos, meaning “hidden or obscure.”  Another relative of the word is the Latin noun Apocrypha, a word used to identify the books excluded from the cannon of the Old and New Testaments.

No doubt a part of a story’s appeal is its foundation in truth, but often we can sniff out an apocryphal story if it sounds just too good to be true.  This is the nature of stories we call legends, stories based on actual characters from history but that cannot be verified as true.  If we try to classify Meeks’ Washington story on the continuum of narrative between fact and fiction, the most accurate term would be legend.

Today’s Challenge:  Bogus Back Stories
What are the keys to creating a story that sounds believable enough to be really true?  Try your own hand at a little fact-based fiction by selecting a well-known person who is no longer living.  Think about what you know about that person’s character; then, craft an anecdote that seeks to explain a defining incident in the person’s youth that formed his or her character.  Include a plausible setting and vivid enough details to make it believable.  Share your story with some of your friends to see if they can detect any dubious details. (Common Core Writing  3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself as a liar.  -Mark Twain

 

1-http://edit.mountvernon.org/george-washington/the-man-the-myth/

2-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parson_Weems

 

October 7: Gender-neutral Pronoun Day

Today is the birthday of  C.C. Converse (1832-1918), an American attorney and composer of church music who is perhaps best known for his attempt to fix a glitch in the English language:  its absence of a gender-neutral singular pronoun (1).

The glitch that Converse was attempting to repair can be seen in the following sentences.  Which one sentence would you select as correct?

  1. When a person arrives at work, he should check his phone messages.
  2. When a person arrives at work, she should check her phone messages.
  3. When a person arrives at work, he or she should check his or her phone messages
  4. When a person arrives at work, s/he should check his/er phone messages.
  5. When a person arrives at work, they should check their phone messages.

This is a bit of a trick question because each sentence has its own problems:

Sentence A uses the pronoun he, assuming the gender of a person is male.  Although some in the past have argued that the masculine  pronoun should become the default generic pronoun, embracing the feminine, most people today see this as an unacceptable sexist usage.

Sentence B has the same problem as Sentence A.  Some writers will randomly alternate the use of the masculine and feminine pronouns to avoid charges of sexism, but this can be confusing and distracting to the reader.

Sentence C, while attempting to avoid exclusive use of either one or the other pronoun, adds an element of clunkiness by adding the conjunction “or,” especially when used repeatedly.

Sentence D is just plain awkward.

Sentence E creates an ungrammatical situation in which the antecedent of the singular noun person is the plural they and their.

Columnist Lucy Mangan captures a typical writer’s frustration in the following rant:

The whole pronouns-must-agree-with-antecedents thing causes me utter agony. Do you know how many paragraphs I’ve had to tear down and rebuild because you can’t say, “Somebody left their cheese in the fridge”, so you say, “Somebody left his/her cheese in the fridge”, but then you need to refer to his/her cheese several times thereafter and your writing ends up looking like an explosion in a pedants’ factory? Billions, that’s how many. Even if the Queen, Noam Chomsky and Stephen Fry said it was permissible to use “their” to refer to a defiantly singular, sexless something, I couldn’t. It’s not right, and for once its wrongness is mathematically provable. Look. 1 = 1. 1 not = 2. I crave a non-risible gender-neutral (not “it”) third person singular pronoun in the way normal women my age crave babies (3).

In an attempt to solve the problem, Converse coined the word thon in 1858, blending the two words “that one.”   If we apply Converse’s coinage to our sentence it becomes:

When a person arrives at work thon should check thons phone messages.

Obviously Converse’s new pronoun didn’t stick; instead, it joined the pool of other pathetic, failed pronouns of the past, such as:  ne, co, xie, per, en, hi, le, hiser, ip.  However, credit is due Converse in that Thon is the most successful attempt at a solution to date.  Thon made it into two dictionaries and was actually adopted by some writers, as we can see by this example from a psychology textbook published in 1895 by Henry Graham Williams:

Every student should acquaint thonself with some method by which thon can positively correlate the facts of thons knowledge (1).

As of today we are still stuck without a solution to our pronoun glitch. So when a person comes upon this thorny thicket in his/her/his or her/their writing, he/she/he or she/they remain without many good options.

Today’s Challenge:  Playing with Pronouns and Points of View
If you were to write a story, from what narrative point of view would you tell the story?  When creating a fictional narrative, authors must consider point of view, the lense through which the reader sees and hears the story.  Point of view in fiction correlates to the grammatical point of view of pronouns:

First Person – I:  In the first person point of view a character in the story is the narrator,  which allows the reader to see and experience the plot intimately.  However, just as in our own lives this can be limiting since we are only privy to the thoughts, experience, and perspective of that single character.

Second Person – You:  In the second person point of view, a character directly addresses “you” the reader, as if the story is a letter.  Like a letter, the effect is a feeling of intimacy, of being talked to directly by the narrator.  The limitation, however, is that you only see and hear what that narrator reveals.

Third Person – He or She:  The third person point of view involves a narrator outside the story who reveals either the thoughts of a single character (3rd person limited) or the thoughts of more than one character (3rd person omniscient).  With third person, the voice of the narrator becomes a vital element of revealing a story’s setting and the thoughts of its characters.

Read the Aesop Fable below called “The Cat and the Fox”; then, rewrite it from three different points of view:

1:  First Person – The Cat as narrator.

2:  Second Person – The Cat speaking to the Fox’s family

3:  Third Person Omniscient – A narrator that reveals both the thoughts of the Cat and the Fox.

The Cat and the Fox

A Fox was boasting to a Cat of its clever devices for escaping its enemies. “I have a whole bag of tricks,” he said, “which contains a hundred ways of escaping my enemies.”

“I have only one,” said the Cat; “but I can generally manage with that.” Just at that moment they heard the cry of a pack of hounds coming towards them, and the Cat immediately scampered up a tree and hid herself in the boughs. “This is my plan,” said the Cat. “What are you going to do?” The Fox thought first of one way, then of another, and while he was debating the hounds came nearer and nearer, and at last the Fox in his confusion was caught up by the hounds and soon killed by the huntsmen. Miss Puss, who had been looking on, said:

“Better one safe way than a hundred on which you cannot reckon.”

(Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  When you pick up a book, everyone knows it’s imaginary. You don’t have to pretend it’s not a book. We don’t have to pretend that people don’t write books. That omniscient third-person narration isn’t the only way to do it. Once you’re writing in the first person, then the narrator is a writer. -Paul Auster

1- Dickson, Paul.  Authorisms:  Words Wrought by Writers.  New York:  Bloomsbury, 2014:  166-7.

2-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender-specific_and_gender-neutral_pronouns

3- http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/mind-your-language/2010/jul/24/style-guide-grammar-lucy-mangan

September 21:  Compose a Novel First Line Day

On this date in 1937, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit was published.  Tolkien began the book in a rather unexpected way.  As a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, Tolkien would augment his salary in the summers by marking School Certificate exams, a test taken by 16 year-olds in the United Kingdom.  In a 1955 letter to the poet W.H. Auden, Tolkien recounted the moment that launched what was to become a classic in fantasy and children’s literature:

All I remember about the start of The Hobbit is sitting correcting School Certificate papers in the everlasting weariness of that annual task forced on impecunious academics with children. On the blank leaf I scrawled: ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’ I did not and do not know why.

TheHobbit FirstEdition.jpgThe opening line that Tolkien scribbled on a blank page that fateful day remained intact in the published final draft, followed by a sentence that elaborated a bit on the hobbit habitat:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

While the book was still in manuscript form, publisher Stanley Unwin gave it to his 10-year-old son Rayner, who wrote the following review:

Bilbo Baggins was a Hobbit who lived in his Hobbit hole and never went for adventures, at last Gandalf the wizard and his Dwarves persuaded him to go. He had a very exiting (sic) time fighting goblins and wargs. At last they get to the lonely mountain; Smaug, the dragon who guards it is killed and after a terrific battle with the goblins he returned home — rich!

This book, with the help of maps, does not need any illustrations it is good and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9.

Rayner’s favorable comments were the final confirmation that Urwin needed to publish the book (2).

Today’s Challenge:  From Blank Page to Page Turner
What character and setting would you introduce in the first two sentences of a story?  Grab your own blank piece of paper and draft at least two sentences that introduce a character and a setting for a story.  Hold a contest to see whose novel first lines resonate the most with readers. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.  -Louis L’Amour

1- http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/12/jrr-tolkien-teaching-exhausting-depressing-unseen-letter-lord-rings

2- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rayner_Unwin