Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Workshop Questions - for the author and reader

Questions for the author:

Answer these questions in general:

  • How do you make yourself want to write?
  • How do you create authentic characters instead of generic ones?
  • How do you keep readers reading?

Answer this specifically in regard to the workshop manuscript:

  • What are you looking for feedback/help on?
  • What story/message/etc are you trying to tell?
  • What are you hoping the reader gets from your story?
  • Who do you think your audience would be?

Questions for the reader:

Overall story experience:

  • How does the title contribute to the story experience?
  • Does the movement of the story feel organic?
  • How does the transformation depict the 5 story elements?
  • Is the story being told or revealed?
  • How does the setting contribute to the overall experience?


  • What do the characters in this story want?
  • Does the story have life such as a transformation in the life of the character?
  • What makes the characters relatable? If not relatable, how does that impact the story?
  • Was there anything that seemed out of place/character?
  • What does the character learn/change? If not, why not?


  • Where does the story tension come from?
  • Is story pacing intention? Effective?
  • Consider the end. What about it satisfying? Is anything missing?
  • Why does the story matter?

Monday, July 26, 2021

Risky Writing, When Profs are Reading

A last blast of summer heat floats in through the open windows, ruffling the multi-colored papers scattered across the narrow conference table. Outside, fire-red leaves rustle. One floats downward. Farther away, students amble past, their chatter slow and quiet because for them the workday is over. Professor New Hire leans forward and pulls their papers closer in, taking another look at the essay printed on green, Essay #3. They’ve already read the piece at least five times, but the grade calibration discussion has stalled so another look is warranted.

Directly across the table, Professor X sets an unbitten chocolate cookie on a napkin, taps the table, and glances around. “Would you pass it? Or not?”

His question is for everyone. There are seven people around the table. No one replies.

Outside a car horn blasts, distant yells and laughter follow. Inside, there are no smiles or laughter, just the click of keyboards and the whisper of pages turning.

At the end of the table, Prof Y reaches for one of the grading rubrics, printed on white paper and featuring orderly rows of boxes beneath the title Freshman Comp Semester 1. The neat grid promises to answer all grading questions, no matter how complicated or heart-breaking. Professor New Hire focuses on their own copy of the rubric, positioned beside a mug of still warm mint tea, and wishes the rubric could actually fulfill that promise. With only five weeks on the job, making a good impression on colleagues and knowing the right things to say mattered. To Professor New Hire, those things mattered a lot. The tightening in their throat was a constant reminder of the stakes.

Prof Y lowers the screen of her laptop and shrugs. “The research is pretty solid. The source use includes the Journal of Organizational Behavior and American Journal of Health Behavior.”

“Yep.” Professor X drums the tabletop now, the constant rhythm of his fingers matching the thrumming of Professor New Hire’s heart. “Good sources,” he says, still drumming. “The writer did some digging. I can tell the student had something to say. But beyond those quotes, do you see much evidence of reading the entire articles? Have they engaged with the conversation beyond these sources?”

“Do we teach reading or writing?” Professor Z asks. “I’d pass it. This student made a good effort. You can see they didn’t just write about the safe and easy topic, like the social impacts of COVID, the way everyone else did last year. They took a chance and tried to tackle a tough issue .”

“I know. I hear what you’re saying. They took a chance and that’s great. I encourage my students to read and write outside their comfort zones too, but…” Professor X picks up the still unbitten cookie, and continues, “But the paragraphing. It’s a mess. How can we blame them for choosing to stay safe, when…?” He gestures to the packet of green pages, now dotted with cookie crumbs. “Look what happens?”

Professor New Hire nods. The organization is, well, disorganized. Also true is that the student took a risk with the topic. Some of the analysis is intriguing and complex, but there are spots where the key points fall apart and thus the, for lack of a better word, lumpy approach.

“Yeah, the paragraphing is not good.” Professor Z’s attention is drawn to the window. A blue jay has perched on the ledge and appears to be admiring itself in the reflection. It spins and flies off. “But would you rather read another one of those perfect, tidy—boring—essays…”

“Okay.” Professor Z turns his full attention to the group. “The student took a risk. Tried. Did some good stuff with the research. Supported their thesis, sort of. Maybe the question we need to think about, before deciding whether or not its a pass is, are they ready? Are they prepared?”

Prof Y sets her tidy rubric over her closed laptop, searching it as she asks, “Ready for what? Prepared for what?”

Thick silence returns to the table. The sidewalk is so empty now, the early evening chatter of the birds has replaced the quiet laughter of students. Professor New Hire eyes the stack of napkins in the center of the table. Just one of those patted in the right spot would get rid of the dampness on the back of their neck. Instead of grabbing a napkin, they flip over the white sheet of paper. On the back side is the rubric for Freshman Comp Semester 2. They wave their hand over it. “We’re preparing the students for the next class.”

All gazes converge and Professor New Hire feels the weight of all 12 eyes. They’d meant the comment as a joke, sort of. A darkly humorous way to bring up a point well-accepted but never spoken. But now, with the very people they’d wanted to impress staring silently, the point wasn’t seeming so funny and the goal of making a good impression was now very far off.

Then, a wry smile softened Professor Z’s face. Others chuckle. Professor X bites into his cookie. “Point well made,” Prof Y says as she opens her laptop. “So, we’re moving on to Essay #4.”

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Veronica Lodge, Riverdale's Male Gothic

corruption and conflict

Veronica Lodge, in her Riverdale comic universe, is an easy to anger, spoiled, competitive, ‘daddy’s girl.’ Many Archie comic stories feature her wealthy lifestyle, showing her shopping compulsively or buying her way to success. Her wealth comes through her father, and she does not hesitate to use her charms to get material possessions or access to privilege. In her depiction in the show Riverdale, this dependency on her father forces her to operate within his criminal world. Repeatedly, she attempts to use her understanding of the corrupt world to thwart her father. This cycle can be seen in the manipulations she performs to gain control of businesses such as Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe and La Bonne Nuit.

Veronica’s father, Hiram, is an ambitious criminal. Using his money, connections with the local government, and his ties to the mafia, he strives to control Riverdale. His ultimate goal is to monopolize the entire town by purchasing and closing key businesses, such as Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe. Even while using the underhanded tactics she learned from him to force him to pass ownership of the popular afterschool hangout to her, Veronica strives to define herself as different from her father, thus clarifying her own identity as someone who helps rather than hurts. Despite being female, Veronica’s character embodies the common male Gothic struggle which Punter notes, “primarily focuses on questions of identity, and on the…protagonist’s transgression of social taboos. It involves the confrontation of some isolated overreacher with various social institutions, including the law, the church and the family”. She continually takes action to prevent her ambitious and well-connected father from taking over the town and controlling all the local institutions.

After coercing her father into granting her ownership of Pop’s, Veronica embraces her criminal family history by reopening the speakeasy in the basement of the diner. Although she sees the establishment as a positive, a place where the quarrelling Northsiders and Southsiders can enjoy themselves, it is nonetheless an establishment that glorifies criminal activity of the past, the very lifestyle Veronica claims to reject. Toward the conclusion of Season 3, after discovering her father lied to her and that his name is still on the property deed of Pop’s, she intentionally sets up an illegal boxing match in the club, lets the authorities know, and gets her father arrested. Consistent with her characterization carried over from the comic series, Veronica is assertive and goal-oriented, struggling to distinguish herself. Corruption and conflict, elements created by the Gothic setting of Riverdale and evident in the plotlines involving Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe and La Bonne Nuit, pull her away from her friend Betty.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Betty Cooper, Riverdale's Female Gothic

confinement, abuse, escape

Betty Cooper, in the earlier Riverdale comic universe, is characterized as the sweet, hard-working, girl next door. Many Archie comic stories feature her “tom-boy” side, showing her to be a talented athlete or skilled car mechanic, but most often the circumstances reveal that she is a compassionate girl who puts the needs of others before her own. In her depiction on the show Riverdale, this caring side, a personality trait that is typically admired, is exploited, transformed into a weakness, and used to cause her downfall.

This exploitation is emphasized through The Sisters of Quiet Mercy plotline. Until its closure in the middle of Season 3, The Sisters of Quiet Mercy was a residential institution dedicated to reforming the troubled youths of Riverdale. While claiming to aspire to honest and good values, such as hard-work and spiritual devotion, the so-called ‘Sisters’ ran an illegal distillery, used conversion therapy, and gave the resident teens Fizzle Rocks, a drug that induces hallucinations. In a plan to rescue local teenagers being abused at the corrupt institution, Betty sneaks in. She is discovered and confined. Ultimately, she escapes, taking the residents with her. Once out, she learns that her mother was once a resident of the institution and remains connected to the self-serving and cruel ‘Sisters’ running the estate. This pattern of confinement, abuse, and escape is at the core of the female Gothic. David Punter, in his description of the female Gothic, observes that “Critics [theorized the] female Gothic through psychoanalytical readings of the female protagonist. These critics read the typical plot of confinement and escape as representing the daughter’s struggle towards psychic individuation”. Betty’s struggle to break free from her mother’s influence and control continues with her interactions with The Farm, a cult that purchases the estate after The Sisters of Quiet Mercy is forced to close.

The Farm, led by a controlling and crooked leader, takes advantage of the secluded location, using it as a place to covertly harvest the organs of those who come looking for healing and spiritual guidance. Betty, seeking to save those being harmed by brainwashing and the undisclosed removal of their organs, works her way into the group and uncovers the leader’s treachery. Consistent with her characterization carried over from the comic series, Betty prioritizes the needs of others before her own. In Riverdale, she puts herself at risk both physically and mentally. These two plotlines, The Sisters of Quiet Mercy and The Farm, are examples of how the Gothic cycle of confinement, abuse and escape, shape and energize her individual plotline, pulling her away from her friend Veronica.