Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Highlighting Scenes in Our Writing

On Tuesdays, the writing community at Two Writing Teachers hosts the Slice of Life. Everyone is welcome to join in by writing, commenting, or just reading slices from around the world!

Over the weekend, I participated in a writing retreat hosted by Brenda Power. Throughout the time, she gave us snippets of articles and ideas to push our thinking about writing--both other people's and our own. Once of the ideas she shared will change my information writing.

Highlight the scenes

We had all been writing posts and articles, not the genre of writing where we typically think about scenes. She gave us highlighters and we went to work with our own writing, highlighting the parts of our posts where we'd included scenes. Some of us had several lines of highlighted text, but others had very little highlighting on our papers. 

"You don't have to have highlighting," Brenda was quick to say. "Not all articles and posts have scenes."

But as we talked about scenes within other genres of writing, we realized that these snippets of story woven into information or opinion writing engage readers. 

"It's the scenes that pull the readers in," I said to my daughter as I explained the activity to her. She was working on an explanatory essay, and it was packed full of information. "Create some spots where you could have people on a stage, even if it's just for seconds."

That line made sense to her, and her writing gradually gained voice, a trait of writing that is so hard to define, so hard to teach, but so important in engaging readers.

It's October, so I'd guess many of us are in the middle of narrative units with students. As we shift into other genres of writing, I love the idea of continuing elements of our narrative writing and creating scenes within other genres. 

Happy Writing,


  1. This post reminds me of Tom Newkirk's book "Minds Made for Stories," in which he argues that stories construct meaning for us in math, in science, in government, in history, and, of course, in English. We understand more because of stories. When I teach research and when I teach public speaking, I often tell students to think about their work as a narrative; of course, that's not the same as exposition, persuasion, or argument. Yet considering stories inherent to the development of an essay does at richness to our writing. We see this in the popular social commentary of our day. We prefer the versions w/ story (read: scenes) to the stripped down ones w/ no art.

  2. Melanie,
    I am a big fan of scenes. Not that I always pull it off! But I recognize the importance of them as a reader. Being such a narrative junkie, they are so necessary for me as a reader. What great advice for our writers and our writing. Thank you! I always learn so much from you.

  3. We did the same activity with Brenda at the summer writing retreat, Melanie. Since then, my articles have had much more voice to them, I think. It's great advice.

  4. This is so true. Penny Kittle and Thomas Newkirk spoke about this at ILA/IRA last year. The best informational writing has elements of narrative--it's what draws us in. (Persuasive, too!) Although we often teach genre as if it has clear boundaries, authentic writing often blurs the lines. The beginning of the year, often when we launch the writing workshop with narrative, is a great time to think about how we will teach for transfer over the course of the year. Where will we intentionally inject narrative (or scenes--love how visual that word is) into our informational and persuasive writing? And are there other examples in the writing we find in the world of genres blending? Thanks for the thoughtful post!

  5. Creating scenes is exactly the phrase I have been looking for! My students' writing can be a blow by blow recount or can jump around from scene to scene. I want to help them focus more and wasn't really sure how to get them to do that. Thanks for helping me focus on a good teaching point.

  6. This is a great post, Melanie. One reason why spending time at the beginning of the year in narrative writing is so powerful. Not only does the sharing of stories promote connection and building community in the workshop, storytelling makes other genres richer as well. The best TED talks weave story elements in no matter the content. I am also so much more likely to be persuaded when facts are supported with personal experiences I can connect with. Thanks for this reminder.

  7. Smart advice, Melanie! I agree that adding "snippets of story" makes our writing come alive. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Melanie, thank you so much for your great contribution.I like the way of writing and presenting. You clearly describe all the parts of the article with good language.

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