Combining the creative with the critical

Often, IB teachers of the Group A Language and Lit courses regret that there is not much opportunity to do more creative work with their classes. But short exercises can be incorporated into our classes and many of us do that.  Here is one exercise which has not only produced some very lively original pieces with my students, but also raised their consciousness and refined their sense of how prose is constructed and how different effects are created. Obviously there are many other passages that can be used, but here are a couple that work very well.  And incidentally, having students copy out their chosen passage is a very useful first step along with some reading aloud.  Prose rhythm is no small feature of good writing.

Learning through Imitating Prose Style: a Critical and Creative Exercise

Below are 2 short samples from two writers with very different prose styles.
Once you have looked carefully at both, choose one to adapt and imitate.
Choose a different subject, and then write your own original piece in exactly the
same style as the original: same sentence structure, grammar, syntax, number of words,
and punctuation.
You may also try to evoke the same tone or mood as the original.

Passage 1

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in the village that looked across the river and the plains to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees, too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw troops marching and afterward the  road bare and white except for the leaves.

-Ernest Hemingway, Farewell to Arms

 

Passage 2

It was Miss Murdstone who was arrived, and a gloomy-looking lady she was; dark like her brother, whom she greatly resembled in face and voice; and with very great heavy eyebrows, nearly meeting over her nose, as if, being disabled by the wrongs of her sex from wearing whiskers, she had carried them to that account. She brought with her two uncompromising hard black boxes, with her initials on the lids in hard brass nails. When she paid the coachman she took her money out of a hard steel purse in a very jail of a bag which hung on her arm by a heavy chain, and shut up like a bite. I had never, at that time, seen such a metallic lady altogether as Miss Murdstone was.

-Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

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