English 101

English 101
General Comments on Seminar Paper 2: “Joyas Voladores” and “Once More to the Lake”
The comments below apply to many of the seminar papers (though not to all), so I am writing them on
this sheet rather than repeating them individually in my messy handwriting. Please read them carefully
and review your seminar paper, studying how they may apply to your writing. If you have questions,
please ask.
Don’t be ridiculous! Make sure that what you are saying makes sense. Let’s say that one of your
confusions for Question #1 is “Why is there so much description? All the description jumps around and
doesn’t help me focus on any main idea.” It doesn’t make sense, then, when you say what technique you
would like to adopt in your own writing, to write, “Using vivid description will make my writing better.”
If you found the description off-putting in the essay, why would you want to use it in your own writing?
Maybe your real answer to the “What do you want to imitate” question would be that you don’t want to
use description, and you could discuss why.
I am looking for genuine inquiry and curiosity, not for platitudes about writing. Here’s a platitude:
“The vivid description made me feel like I was really there.” A first-grader could write that. If the
writing makes you feel the wind on your face or hear the putt-putt of the motor, you could think about
how these sensations emphasize the ideas in the writing. If you are writing about sensory imagery,
instead of merely saying that it “feels real,” you can ponder how each image connects to the essay as a
whole: Does it evoke a theme? What theme? Is it similar to or different from other images in the essay?
Why might the author have chosen to use this vivid description about that particular thing? When you
write a sentence in your seminar paper, ask yourself if it says something meaningful, something that
shows you connecting all parts of the essay together and being genuinely attentive to how the writing
might be working and what it might be meaning. You don’t have to know the answers or totally
understand everything. However, you do have to avoid writing sentences that don’t mean anything or
that repeat the obvious.
When discussing what confuses you, truly make an effort to figure it out. That means investigating
questions like “What else in the essay does this connect to? Why would the writer say it like that?” I
think it is also useful to pay attention to your personal response, for example, as we saw in class
discussion, one personal response was “That image makes me think of a car crash.” Spend a minute with
that: Does the car-crash image fit with that the writer might mean? Did your thought about the car crash
come from nowhere, or did the writing cause it? How did it do that? Why? Again, you don’t have to
know the answers, but you do have to honestly puzzle at it. The seminar paper is a place to explore your
ideas and test them out.
Do not evaluate the writing. We are not reviewing the writing, we are analyzing it. It doesn’t matter
whether you like or don’t like it or whether the author “beautifully evokes the storm at the lake.” What
matters is how the writing is working and how it is shaped to make meaning. Assume that all the writers
in the book had reasons for writing it the way they did. Investigate why they might have done it that
way. If you say “Doyle should have cut out the section about the whale,” you avoid the interesting
question of why he might have put the whale in: How might the description of the whale add to what the
essay as a whole says about hearts? You want to expand your skill as a writer by finding out how some
professional writers do it. You do not want to make these writers write more like you do. We do hope
that writers appeal to our understanding, but we also have to expand our understanding. You can hate or
love the writing or be indifferent to it, and it will be wonderful to discuss those personal responses in
class. However, cut them out of your seminar papers.
Answer the complete question. Even if you don’t know the answer, try your best to at least think about
it in your writing. You are not required to be right, but you are required to engage and wonder and think.
Read the essays more than once. Make notes throughout. For example, the sentence at the end of
“Once More to the Lake” is extremely surprising and confusing. You might ask, “Where did that come
from?” You might feel tricked or surprised or confused. But don’t get mad at that sentence! Assume that
White put it there for a reason, and now that you know how the essay ends, go back through the essay
looking for anything that might relate to that sentence. Your seminar paper can then propose some
connections. And in class we can investigate everyone’s suggestions.
Finding out about the author: Many people wrote that they suspected some sort of childhood
heartbreak as Brian Doyle’s motivation for this essay—mostly because of this: “When young we think
there will come one person who will savor and sustain us always; when we are older we know this is the
dream of a child, that all hearts are finally bruised and scarred…” (127). Although we must be careful to
find support in the text when we base interpretations on an author’s biography, in this case a simple
Googling would have given you information about what life event prompted “Joyas Voladores.” It is not
necessary or required to Google the authors in order to write the seminar paper; however, I’m just noting
that many of you had a question that could have been very easily answered.
Don’t write content-free sentences! Example: “The imagery emphasizes the theme of the essay.” OK,
maybe this isn’t totally content free, but it doesn’t tell us much. Instead, choose one specific image and
discuss how it might emphasize a particular theme. You don’t have to be right, but you do have to
engage with the specifics of the writing and think about them.
I am happy to help you figure out what to say in your seminar paper: visit me during office hours.
Avoid orphan quotations, otherwise known as dropped quotations. See Trimble, pages 153-15.
Review the three ways to introduce quotations shorter than four typed lines of text (your typing,
not the source’s):
1. With a brief signal phrase (the author’s name and a signal verb) followed by a comma.
2. With a full idea-containing sentence of your own followed by a colon.
3. Integrated into your own sentence (good for brief phrases and individual words).
There should never ever be a period before a quotation. It is very unlikely that there would ever be a
semi-colon before a quotation. All quotations must be introduced. You will have notes on this from
class, and there is a handout online also. Find it in the Unit 1 Module: “How to Integrate Quotations into
Your Writing.”
For quotations longer than four typed lines: Your seminar papers should not need to use quotations
longer than four typed lines, but if by some chance they do, see Trimble, page 151, “Indented
Page numbers: the period or other closing punctuation goes on the outside, to the right of the
Spell the author’s name correctly, and spell it the same way every time.
Reproduce all quotations exactly as they are in the text. There is no excuse for misspelling
something in a quotation unless it is that way in the original.
Semi-colon: A semi-colon joins complete sentences. See Trimble, pages 121-126.
Colon: A colon must have a complete sentence to the left of it. It introduces a list or explanation or
expansion. A sentence or non-sentence may be on the right of it. Do not put a colon between a verb and
its object or complement or between a preposition and its object. See Trimble, pages 140-143.
Write in the present tense, even if the quotations are in other tenses. Example: “Throughout the essay,
E.B. White confuses the present with the past and his son with himself.” “In emphasizing physical facts
about the hearts of hummingbirds and whales, Brian Doyle reveals emotional truths of the human
The titles of the essays are put in quotation marks.
They are not underlined or italicized.
Capitalize all the important words in the title (the first word and all other words except for
articles (a, an, the) and prepositions (of, in, with, at, etc).