Here are our class notes for week 6:

This week we primarily were talking about some of the key things you’ll want to be keeping in mind as you work on your portraits which are due in two weeks.

  • First, we talked about the importance of being able to discern where the story is in the midst of all the facts and raw information you’ll be getting from the people you interview. You don’t want to just regurgitate facts to me; you need to be able to identify the narrative thread here as you’re telling me about this person. So we talked about how to do that–listen for interesting details, find something that makes you say “I want to learn more,” ask follow-up questions about that thing, etc.
  • Second, we talked about the importance of avoiding the passive voice in your writing.

  • Third, we talked about the three parts of a complete sentence and paid particular attention to how subordinating clauses by definition cannot work as standalone, complete sentences. If you say, “until grandpa comes home,” that is not a complete sentence because “until” has to be answered by something—”until what?” So you need something like “We will not eat dinner until grandpa comes home,” or “Until grandpa comes home we will stay up.”
  • Fourth, we talked about the challenge of purple prose. Here are the example sentences we used:
    • He set the cup down.
    • He eased the Big Gulp onto the table.
    • Without haste, the tall, blond man lowered the huge, plastic, gas station cup with a bright red straw onto the slick surface of the coffee table.
    • Amongst other things, we identified four main concerns when dealing with purple prose (many of my notes for this section, including all three example sentences given above, came from this very helpful link):
      • First, purple prose announces the author’s presence to the reader in ways that are generally distracting and unhelpful. “A good novel tells you the truth about its characters,” said Chesterton. “A bad novel tells you the truth about its author.”
      • Second, we highlighted how purple prose is needlessly verbose and difficult to read.
      • Third, we talked about how the use of adverbs can enable laziness when it comes to verb choice. If you choose a boring verb like “walked” you may need an adverb like “blindly” to help capture your meaning: “He walked blindly down the hall.” But if you just chose a punchier verb, you wouldn’t need to bother with that at all. Thus: “He stumbled down the hall.”
      • Fourth, we talked about how adding words to a sentence can make the sentence seem more “professional” or “important,” but really it just needlessly inflates your prose and, again, adds barriers for your readers.

If you have additional questions as you prep for your interviews and writing your portraits, please be in touch. And please do work on your reports this week. Biting off a 2000 word report in one week is not a good idea and I will be… less than sympathetic if you come to me on Friday the 14th begging for an extension if you haven’t made any efforts to work on the paper up to that point.