Sunday, April 24, 2016

BEFORE YOU GO....A Final Reflection

The final days of the 2015-2016 school year are rapidly approaching.  For some of us, it will mark the beginning of another well deserved and highly anticipated summer break that will rejuvenate our spirits before our final year of high school.  But for others, it will mark the end of something very significant and the beginning of a whole new chapter in our lives..

It can be an exhilarating and terrifying time.  What are we going to do?  Who will we become?  What is our passion?  What are the dreams we're going to chase?

If you are like most people your age, you don't know.
Maybe you have a few ideas or notions about who you would like to be "when you grow up," but the pressure of choosing your career--your ultimate destiny-- can be quite dizzying to say the least.  How do you go about narrowing the field?  Have you chosen your major?  Is there some kind of magic formula that helps you make the right choice?  Everyone talks about finding your passion--your purpose--your calling.  Do you know what that is?  Do you know and are you  just afraid to admit it to yourself or are you whole-heartedly in the dark?

I do not, unfortunately, have a magic formula to help you determine what it is you were created to do.  I also, very regrettably, do not have a crystal ball to look into and tell you whether or not you will be successful in achieving your dreams.  I can tell you that often times, the journey is the best part, but so many people do not realize that in time to fully enjoy it...

You will have many opportunities cross your path, and there will be, consequently, many decisions to make. Whether you are graduating next month or a year from next month, your end here at high school is really just one of many new beginnings you will experience in your life going forward into adulthood: each risk and choice will open up new possibilities.  So while you may be a bit wistful about leaving your high school years behind you, remember that these years you have had were more of the jumping off place - a time to prepare, play, study, and learn- so that you would develop the tools you will need to begin and forge your way. matter what your purpose, passion or calling, the only thing I CAN promise you with great
confidence is that you will find it.  Keep looking, search your heart, try new things, explore new places, travel and adventure.  Take risks, embrace challenges, and enjoy the journey as you navigate your way towards ultimate discovery!  Keep a diary of the things you learn and realize, set goals, meet them, and set some more. Decide where you would like to go and what you would like to do, and then go there...make those things happen.  Be a mover and a shaker, but take the time you need to stop and reflect, too, and you will find it.

While trying to conceptualize this, our final blog of the school year, I came across this very interesting TED talk video.  It poses the fill in the blank question:  Before I die, I want to....  Watch the video, think about the project this young artist began, and then ask the question with your own explanation.  The whole world is waiting --your life is out there for you to discover and determine.  When you stop and think of all the ages and eras that have already gone by on this earth, each of us are only here for a blink of an eye.  How will you make the very most of that time?

I so look forward to reading your posts, but more than that, I look forward to seeing what YOU will do out there in the years to come with the time you have been given!

Sunday, April 3, 2016


The job of any great author is simply to begin with a premise, devise a setting, people it with characters (a protagonist or two, an antagonist or two, and several secondaries to move scenes along), give his characters an agenda, and then repeatedly, through an intricate series of twists and turns, deny them immediate gratification.  Then, voila, through trials and tribulations resulting from these twists, the protagonist emerges, better from the battle in some big way, and then, having sacrificed him/herself for the greater good OR celebrating in triumph, he resurrects some greater hope for happiness.

There is only one thing wrong with the above description:  and that is the word simply.  There is nothing simple about writing a story, for it is nothing short of creating a whole, wide world where just a blank page used to be.

All stories have a basic foundation in common.  They begin with an introduction and a bit of backstory, usually thrusting the reader "in medias res:" into the middle of the action.   We discover as the character moves towards and into the conflict that he/she is flawed--often terribly--but it is up to the artful skill of the writer to connect us to him/her so that it is somehow because of these flaws that these connections happen.  We can forgive and even embrace them because they are relatable.

Next, a decision is made to face and endure the conflict, whether inner or outer, and our plucky protagonist is forced through what is often referenced as "the door of no return," that leads up the slope of rising action towards the climactic moment that will determine the ultimate fate of not only our hero, but possibly, the very world in which he/she resides.

It is what happens along this  journey that keeps us, the reader, deeply engaged as we are urged along by the hand of a skillful writer.  How does the author create this so-called rising action that is so brilliantly fraught with the electrical currents of tension, suspense and uncertainty?  What are the conditions and situations laid forth on the page that will push our protagonist (and subsequently us, the readers) through that door of no return?

No matter what the genre in fiction, the magical ingredients of the twisting-turning plot that holds us captive are:  tension (often romantic), suspense, and uncertainty.  A great writer knows that if he/she truly wants to make his/her characters especially captivating, he/she must deny them their deepest longings and desires...prolong the successful achievement of his/her ultimate goals.

If the author has wielded his/her magic well, the reader, right along with the protagonist, will feel the frustration and enmity towards the antagonist external, and the struggle and vexation against the antagonist internal.  We will often, as I have indicated in class, wish to hurl our  book--the world of the story, itself--against the wall and curse the author for ever hauling us into this convolution of complex contention in the first place.  Of course, shortly thereafter, the deeper connections we have for our protagonist will win, and we will pick up the book once again.  Why?  because the frustrating ingredients of these twisty, turny works of fiction are often quite real: they mirror the struggles and denials we, ourselves face in our own, real worlds.

How is this tension created?  How do authors go about twisting the plot and our gut in suspense and uncertainty?  That is what we, the critical readers in IB/DP part 4 of the course must readily determine.  I have, below, included a link to a Writer's Digest article that offers a description as to how authors tighten tension and raise the stakes, along with another link to three scenarios from a novel which contain some of the tension and suspense indicated that twist the plots and deny our protagonist a ready victory.

1. First, read the article, and identify three key skills involved in creating and tightening tension and suspense.

2. Then, choose one of the three scenes, read it, and explain how it sets up romantic tension, suspense and uncertainty.  It may be something as expansive as a sweeping description of setting or an inner monologue, or something as small in detail as diction: the selection of a single word that pushes it right up to the cliff's edge.  Find it and explain.

3. Finally, it's your turn.  Find a sample of text OR share one YOU have created which tightens the tone of tension, raises the stakes, and creates suspense or twists our guts with uncertainty.  I cannot WAIT to read these!

This blog will help get your creative juices flowing in preparation for our Socratic Seminar next week in which we will discuss how writers hold us captive--willingly, delightfully, and frustratingly so--and keep us agonizing along with the protagonist, no matter how flawed, until the bitter (or beautiful) end.

Batten down the hatches, and let us bravely acquiesce through the doors of no, and everywhere!