International Summer School 2009 FROM CRITICAL READING TO STYLISH WRITING Tutor: Dr. Cathy Bergin (firstname.lastname@example.org) Course Description The aims of this course are to refine creative writing skills and improve academic composition, giving students tools for the creation and critical understanding of different texts. Each session will be dedicated to a particular style of writing and will involve the careful, critical analysis of exemplary fragments of prose. The types of expression under discussion will include descriptive, persuasive and explanatory writing, and will broaden out to cover processes of editing and paraphrasing information, processes crucial to academic presentation. To get a real sense of what defines different types of composition, and to enrich your study, we’ll be deconstructing examples of literary, philosophical, scientific and historical prose, unveiling the structure and motifs of each piece. Some will be examples of contemporary literature and argument, others chosen from different eras, to give a background to the styles of rhetoric and prose you encounter in literature and academia. Students will be invited both to critique and imitate these pieces, and will be set creative exercises relating to them each session, to be completed in a course journal. Classes will involve close textual analysis, group discussion, and individual contact with the instructor to discuss writing projects and development. All primary sources (extracts of texts to be studied) will be provided in the form of a Course Reader. Assessment 2000 word essay – 40% Creative journal – 40% Course report on class participation – 20% Week-by-Week Guide Week 1: Arts of Description The course begins by looking at your basic motivations for writing well, and introduces some styles of effective descriptive and narrative presentation that engage with and entertain the reader. We will move from a discussion of the formal criteria for writing, such as planning, structuring and disciplining your ideas, to analysis of specific descriptive strategies, concentrating on literary style. Session 1: Why are you Writing? Course introduction, followed by a discussion of your experience of and motivations for writing. We’ll look at ways of finding sources for your ideas and arguments, choosing the audience you want to capture, and battling with the anxieties and frustrations of writing itself. Formal advice will be backed up by literary justifications for writing. Extracts from: Raymond Carver: ‘Fires’ George Orwell: ‘Why I Write’ Session 2: Setting Scenes A discussion of methods of description and introduction, detailing the styles you can use to describe place and character in a way that will captivate the reader and set-up a narrative. This will be relevant to defining contexts, events and ideas in and beyond literary writing. Extracts from: Bruce Chatwin: On the Black Hill Ian McEwan: Enduring Love F. Scott FitzGerald: The Great Gatsby Session 3: Presenting the self Techniques of autobiography and biography aimed at improving your ability to commentate on details and events relating to the personality and life of yourself and others. We will discuss styles of composition that present the self historically, dramatically and informatively, for different purposes: literary and professional, private and public. Extracts from: (Ed. Russell Davies) The Kenneth Williams Diaries Sylvia Plath: Journals Week 2: Arts of Narrative Week 2 offers the chance to study techniques of historical and documentary writing. We follow the ways in which historians present sequences of events, distil information relating to place, person and time and engage the reader with a particular version of historical ‘truth’. Particularly important within this week is the comparison of styles and registers of history: the use of facts, statistics, and evidence competing with the function of metaphor, analogy and sentiment in the re-creation of historical contexts. Session 1: Narrating historical events Historians attempt objectivity, but often have moral and ethical concerns which shape the way they represent events form the past. We will look at three descriptions of bombing missions in the Second World War, from different perspectives, and investigate the way emotive and moralistic writing intersects with factual commentary. Extracts from: Arthur Harris: Bomber Offensive John Hersey: Hiroshima Alexander McKee: Dresden 1945 Session 2: Narrating historical place Another way of reaching an understanding of historical writing is to look at differing depictions of a place, and registering the strategies of metaphor, sentiment and drama involved in recreating a historical scene or site. Here we look at changing depictions of the same city, to demonstrate the ways informative, emotive and creative writing works together to inform historical portraits. Extracts from: Peter Ackroyd: London: A Biography Walkowitz: City of Dreadful Delight Session 3: Historical controversies To show how the art of persuasion always bleeds into the ‘objectivity’ of historical accounts, we will look at two pieces of historical writing regarding the issue of the abolition of the Slave Trade in Britain. Extracts from Seymour Drescher: Capitalism and Antislavery: British Mobilization in Comparative Perspective Chris Brown Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism Week 3: Arts of Persuasion The concept and practice of argumentation will be interrogated in Week 3. Perhaps the most important and common skill in academic writing, the ability to communicate a point-of-view will be examined and developed. Our source material will range from the careful structure and rhetorical flourishes of classical debate, through to the polemic and bombastic opinions of modern-day journalism, our aim being to isolate the rhetorical strategies applied in texts to persuade, convince and manipulate the reader towards a certain way of thinking. On a more sober note, we will take in the precision and accountability of scientific writing, noting the importance of accurate referencing, clear presentation of data and the way popular science meshes these skills with techniques that entertain and engage the reader Session 1: Journalism and Polemic In this series of analyses, we’ll deconstruct the methods by which investigative and ‘political’ writing convinces the reader of certain viewpoints. Extracts from: Naomi Klein: No Logo Michael Moore: Stupid White Men Session 2: Scientific Information and Argument Here we’ll look at the skills of reporting information, conclusions and ideas within a scientific context, focusing on the way fact and opinion are woven together in scientific discourse. Extracts from: Charles Darwin: The Origin of Species Stephen Hawking: A Brief History of Time Richard Dawkins: Unweaving the Rainbow Session 3: Critical and Polemical Review-writing For this session, we’ll look at a series of essays, reviews and polemics on popular culture: music, film and book reviews in particular, to look at strategies of thematic distillation, polemical persuasion and the presentation of opinion. Review extracts to be provided in course reader. Week 4: Personal Profiling Sessions 1 and 2 The course ends with a series of individual meetings, allowing for discussion of your progress, both in terms of the original, creative pieces and the critical, theoretical essays you have produced. During these meetings, you will be given a report on your contribution to the course as a whole, and advice on ways you can improve your writing techniques and your comprehension of literary and scientific writing.