Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go. ~ E. L. Doctorow

Friday, January 14, 2011

Prose from the Pros #1: F. Scott Fitzgerald



Six years ago, I was student teaching at Pennsbury High School East, 11th and 12th grade AP English with Anne Marie Liebel (now Garth).  Administrators and parents visit the classrooms often, so it was important to display student work and learning on the bulletin boards.  The students learn from it as well believe it or not.  Anne Marie came up with a brilliant idea: the composition class will create a bulletin board with aspects of a piece of writing they felt was well done.  The students would choose from well known authors read in class.  We called it Prose from the Pros (see picture above).  The students were then expected to emulate that style in their own writing. 

I thought the idea would be perfect on a writer’s blog, for myself and for others.  This series of posts will explain what I liked stylistically about a novel or book, albeit the structure, diction, figurative language, characterization, setting, etc.  Then I will open up discussion with my readers regarding the novel and their writing.    

Today’s discussion is The Great Gatsby.  I vaguely remember reading this novel in school.  I can’t recall the grade, but I remember liking it.  My boyfriend bought it for me as a Christmas present, since I’m trying to read as many classics, along with modern literature, to improve my writing.  At some point my own style will emerge.  

The two aspects of Fitzgerald’s novel worth considering, among many others, are his description and characterization. 

Description 
Fitzgerald’s sentences bring life to the paper they're written on.  He sweeps the reader up with his metaphors and carries them into the story with his carefully crafted details.  Chapter III is my favorite chapter in the novel.  Nick Carraway attends Gatsby's lavish party and the reader is given a glimpse into the carefree world of the rich.  
   
There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights.  In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars (39).

And on Mondays eight servants, including an extra gardener, toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers and garden-shears, repairing the ravages of the night before (39).  

Characterization
Fitzgerald, through Nick's observations, paints a portrait of the rich and cavalier in the 1920’s.  The round characters deal with controversial topics such as infidelity and racism.  The characters are written with specific mannerisms.  Jordan Baker walks like a boy showing the reader the affect athleticism had on her as a golfer.  Daisy Buchanan's siren's voice caused her husband and lost love, Gatsby, to fight over her, ending in the latter's death.   


As you read, they come to life as if they were plucked from the world around us.  The realistic characters are the driving force of the novel.  Their behavior creates the plot of the novel.  


My writing is still evolving.  Characterization is not as easy as it looks, and a poet with my words I am not.  Reading The Great Gatsby, closely observing his style, reminds me of college.  Hopefully, some of his skill will slip into my writing, and one day someone will be discussing my novels.     

What did you think of The Great Gatsby in terms of style?  How do you approach description in your writing?  Do you believe characterization drives the plot forward?         


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