What’s the Story of Your Writing?

For most people, the word “story” is a simple noun used to describe the plot or narrative of a work. However, for Adam Tramantano, story is also a verb, one used to describe the process of writing and the point of view of the author.

Tramantano, an English teacher at the Bronx High School of Science, is also a doctoral student in English Education and an adjunct instructor at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. He recently sat down with Jason Chu for a webcast entitled “What’s the Story Behind Why We Write?” that delved into how we can make writing a more conscious and deliberate process for students.

According to Tramantano, by “storying” their writing, authors can not only introduce elements of themselves into their work but can also drastically change the way the work is read and can provide new context for the ideas, images and events in the piece.

One example Tramantano provides of this is Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, which is a fictionalized account of a young man who graduates university and treks around the country, eventually ending up in the Alaskan wilderness.

In that book, the author’s note directly tells the reader that the protagonist’s narrative will be interrupted by stories and moments from Krakauer’s own life. Krakauer says he hopes, “That my experience will throw some oblique light on the enigma.”

Elsewhere in the book, Krakauer writes, “So, as a youth I am told I was willful, self-absorbed, intermittently reckless, moody.” According to Tramantano, this provides a sense of self-reflection on the narrator/author and creates a kind of dramatic irony, one where the audience knows that the character is reckless but the character, who is recalling the events from the future, does not currently.

In another example, Tramantano cites James Baldwin’s book of essays Notes of a Native Son. In one of the essays, Baldwin told the story of his father dying but contrasted it with other elements going on at the same time including race riots happening elsewhere in the city and the fact the funeral took place on his birthday.

According to Tramantano, this was a way of viewing the story Baldwin wanted to tell as a closeup of a much larger story, like a camera zooming in on a detail. It puts the story in a larger context, one that adds to the tale but also changes the way the audience views it.

Tramantano believes that studying these kinds of techniques are important for students as they can help new writers improve their work in not just English class, but all of their subjects. Teaching students how to be more active in their writing and more deliberate with the message they are sending to the reader.

Along those lines, Tramantano says that teachers and students alike should stop thinking about a work as being “complete”. Though it might be done for a particular class or assignment, works are constantly revisited, changed and improved upon over time, meaning that even a “final” draft might just be a new beginning.

All in all, Tramantano wants instructors to teach students not just how to write, but also how to think about their writing so the decisions they make about framing and narrative are conscious rather than accidental.

By “storying” their writing, students have a chance to create much more powerful writing that delivers a message on more levels.

Watch the webcast, “What’s the Story Behind Why We Write?”


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