What do we see when we look at a piece of writing?

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Craft Analysis Paper:

The final major assignment for my 252 class is a craft analysis paper, a 7-9-page, double-spaced critical analysis of a particular author and work we have read this semester (you may choose an author or work from our anthology, you may choose Star of the Sea, or any combination you choose). It is from close observation, practice, and even mimicry of technique and form that a writer learns best how to polish his/her own craft. Do not forget you are a writer while you are writing this—academic style does not mean boring. Examples may include character, tone, point-of-view, narrative stance, structure and design, poetic devices, voice, imagery, word choice, time management, scene construction, dialogue, metaphor, diction, style, etc.

Literary analysis is different than craft analysis. Often, they can overlap, but they are meant to be distinct. Craft analysis is designed to discover the specific ways a writer creates a certain literary element, such as tone or voice. One can study the way tone affects a story, but that is a literary analysis of tone. Studying the ways punctuation and sentencing create tone is a craft analysis. See prompt for more information. This paper is worth 25 points (25% of your final grade).

Click below for the "Imagination and Knowledge Project" prompt.

Here's what I wrote after Skyping with Dr. Duncan's class on Wednesday 3/28:

What do we see when we look at a piece of writing? What's the difference between reading as a reader and reading as a writer? The difference is important. As readers, at the most basic level, we want a story to take us to a place we've never been before, to meet new people, to learn of the world outside of our lives right now. As writers, we want to know what the writer has done to effect that reaction. For instance, I bet that Duncan's class will talk about fragmentation and identity in the postmodern novel (which Star of the Sea is) and how that plays into a postcolonial reading of the novel--but in my class, we'll talk about how O'Connor constructed that fragmentation. We'll talk about the shifts in POV, the shifts in form (from traditional narrative to ship's log to newspaper editorial and more). We'll talk about the way that O'Connor develops and constructs his characters to represent the questions of identity. The fact that it's a murder mystery is genius, of course, and something we'll talk about in my class as well. But a lot of our time as writers is spent at the sentence-level.

Most of my perspective as a reader comes from the fact that I'm a creative writer and I'm interested in place studies. My class started our Famine discussion with linking politics and ecology, for instance. And I'm going to be extremely interested to see what role place plays in the plot and the characters, and also the formation of those plots and characters. (See the third bullet point.) But I'm also going to be very interested in the landscape of the text itself, from the footnotes to the physical forms that the pages take.

  • The form of what is on the page is deliberate (the function of it is what the reader brings to the page). Diction and dialogue, even punctuation, is so deliberately considered through countless revisions that you have to assume it's deliberate, because nothing in writing happens by accident. So, for readers, if O'Connor is using semicolons frequently (something that is common to British/Irish authors), why would he use them, rather than other forms of punctuation? My students find themselves heavily influenced by Noah Lukeman's book A Dash of Style, which looks at the way that punctuation affects the reading of a text.
  • A reader will ask "what is happening?" and a writer will ask "how did the author create this?" A reader--and the scholars in Duncan's class--will talk about symbolism and other thematic issues; writers will ask how that symbolism and that theme is constructed. If Duncan's class is talking about identity as fluid in the text, my students will ask how O'Connor constructed the characters and the setting to affect that reading. For instance, how is the setting crafted through character in the preface, how the character of The Ghost moves through the landscape, a landscape that is also moving? How does how O'Connor craft both the character and the setting mirror the changing perspectives and the reader's understanding of those characters? And what does it mean that the movement is of a crippled character and a coffin ship?
  • And the final thing my students would like to pass on is the importance of place in fiction, that it is more than the physical description of a setting. Reading Eudora Welty's classic "Place in Fiction" is a good place to start. Setting involves atmosphere, the air a character breathes. Place, when it is done right, is as much an active character on the page as anyone who breathes. It's the reason that I was so disappointed with Benjamin Black's The Silver Swan, which I listened to on CD last week--and the reason I'm so in love with Dennis Lehane right now. Setting and place can never be neutral. (One of the reasons why last semester, the craft paper I got on William Kent Krueger's use of cold in Iron Lake turned out so brilliant.)