Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Descriptive Writing, Not Just For Creative Writers

The Assignment: Read and Discuss Annie Dillard’s essay “Living like Weasels.” The essay is here.
The objective: To turn those generalizations (my students’ diagnostic essays were FULL of them) into sentences with specificity by showing students how creative writing can positively affect their essays.
Some discussion questions:
  1. After reading the essay, what are some of the images you remember without having to look back at the prose? What do you think makes these images memorable?
  2. How do you feel when you read this essay?
  3. Find sentences where you see Dillard using the FIVE SENSES (taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound)? How and why do the five senses make images stand out to the reader?
  4. Does Dillard make an argument? What is it?
  5. How does Dillard use narrative in this essay? Why does it work? What about it doesn’t work for you?
  6. How does Dillard connect her own personal philosophy with that of the weasel’s way of life?
  7. How does Dillard use “metaphor” in her writing? How can metaphor make our own essays more attractive to a reader?

Although there are some well-known problems with Dillard’s essay’s philosophy (which is addressed in the next class by reading Stern’s essay "Living Like Wiesel" by Emil Stern”), the essay is undeniably ear-catching and engaging in its ability to describe a single event and then extend that event into something philosophically larger.  
The Homework: Your Animal Philosophy
After reading Annie Dillard’s essay, “Living Like Weasels” you should be impressed by the colorful, creative language she uses to describe her interaction with the common weasel. In fact, Dillard manages to create an entire life philosophy using the weasel as a metaphor. Whether you agree with her or not (which we will talk about at a later date), what we can learn from Dillard is that: you can get a point across in a personal essay, metaphor works, and description paints a picture in the readers’ minds and therefore keeps an audience engaged.
Now it’s your turn to try to use the same kind of descriptive language in a short 1-2 page essay (typed, double-spaced) that simply uses an animal (of your choice) as a metaphor for your personal philosophy on life. This might take some light research, but ultimately what I am looking for is how you use the “I” to describe an interaction with an animal and how that interaction serves as an experience worthy of deep thought. Do NOT over-think this assignment. In simple terms, I want you describe, in detail, an experience you have had with an animal and how that experience has taught you something about life.  Try your best to create a metaphor for “life” using the experience you describe, but more importantly, use rich, descriptive language.

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