Three interesting conversations in class

A few weeks ago, I went to Midge Raymond’s interesting workshop on travel writing at the Ashland Public Library. Among other things, she pointed out the importance of dialogue and noted that people might skip over long descriptive passages in fiction but they never skip the dialogue.

I’ve been trying to draw some parallels between narrative writing and expository/argumentative writing, so her comment caused me to think about the role of quotes. I confessed to my Advanced Composition class that I sometimes skip long block quotes in scholarly books and academic articles, and I found that some of them did also.

We talked about how quotes and papers are different from dialogue and narrative, and one student, David Brown, came up with an observation that gets to the heart of the difference. Quotes in academic papers, he pointed out, take you outside of the voice of the writer, while dialogue in fiction drives the narrative forward by providing voice to characters. This makes a lot of sense I think, and the familiar “quote sandwich” format of academic writing usually provides plenty of information in the framing and contextualizing of the quote.

In the History of Publishing class, we were talking about the difference between magazine covers and book covers. It became apparent that the hardback book covers are generally less sensational and less busy than magazine covers. The busyness of magazine covers makes sense because they have a lot of varied content to highlight. But what about the sensationalism? Leroy Fulwiler pointed out that this may be because of the shorter shelf life of a magazine. Perhaps magazines have to compete harder for eyeballs because buying or even picking up a magazine is a less intentional action then buying the book or committing the time to read a book.

I need to learn more about how cover artist changed over time and the difference between paperback covers and hardcovers and the differences from genre to genre.

One last interesting tidbit from the Advanced Composition class. We were looking at the different things that happen in a paragraph – making claims, giving reasons, providing evidence, etc. It became clear that as you move from an academic style to a more journalistic style, interpretation of a sentence might change. In a more expansive and documented academic style, a particular paraphrase, summary, or quote might be seen as evidence for a larger claim. In a shorter and less documented journalistic style, that same paraphrased summary or quote might come across as a mere assertion or claim. This shift is something everyone should watch out for.

About Ed Battistella

Edwin Battistella’s latest book Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels was released by Oxford University Press in March of 2020.
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