These writing ideas were part of my Writing for Life: Public and Private Worlds for those seniors completing the English Studies course of the NSW HSC. There are opportunities to include the study of novels within this course, and although a little dated, Raw by Scott Monk (first published in 1998) certainly engages many students. These images of Mungindi make the novel come alive, but combined with extracts from the text, students could continue to write creatively.
Consider Monk’s description:
A small town of less than a thousand people, it had died about twenty years ago but no one had told the locals. The main street stretched with about about a dozen verandahed shops, while the rest were lined with scores of raised single-storey houses capped with corrugated roofs. A handful of couples and farmers travelled past in their dusty utes, trucks and station wagons, but not in any rush. A teenage mother and father pushed their child along a footpath in a stroller – the only young people Brett could spot. To the right, two lost travellers looked over the bank of a twisting river called the Barwon that marked the state border, before their friend came back with the right directions.
p. 5, 2005
Brett Dalton, the ‘tough guy’ protagonist, arrives in town via a police escort to be placed in a juvenile detention centre. His perspective of Mungindi is deliberately negative. Students could complete these activities:
- extend this description through the inclusion of imagery – initially use adjectives and adverbs, then create a simile, metaphor and/or personification that supports the mood of Mungindi as a worn out town.
- write three lines of dialogue for the ‘lost travellers’ and/or a couple and/or farmer – maintain the mood
- how do these additions suggest a structural shift away from a single paragraph?
Students share their writing and ideas by reading aloud and giving feedback. Consider writing a collaborative piece where each student ‘gifts’ their favourite sentence/s.
- challenge students to write a glowing and positive description of the town. Use the image to tease out specific aspects of the streetscape.
In Raw, adolescent males are challenged to change their lives by making different choices. Several representations of masculinity offer the reader their own choices in who makes sensible moral or ethical decisions. This involves conflict between characters, and strong images of action.
A familiar rural setting is the town’s show ground, and the adjoining stables are part of the rodeo action in Chapter Fourteen:
The big brahman bull bolted from the holding chute, kicking and rearing to buck the rider clinging to its back. Hot rage snorted from its rubbery snout as it snapped its muscles up and down. Dust choked the air already thick with the cheering of the crowd. Clowns scrambled for their lives. The announcer’s ringing voice counted the seconds. One. Two. Three. Another five and the cowboy would be a thousand dollars richer tonight. But no man had bested Sweety Pie the nine hundred kilogram bull yet. With one last flick, the animal shook the rider off smack onto the hard ground. The crowd sat down again with a disappointed sigh then clapped politely at the announcer’s begging. the bull won again. But that didn’t stop other suckers lining up to have a shot at the unattainable prize.
The rodeo was in town and all the town was at the rodeo … Brett had never been to a rodeo before.
Monk is effective in taking readers into the action of his narratives. Students should consider how the use of onomatopoeia and short sentences maintain interest and pace. This should be read aloud, fairly quickly, to make these ideas clear.
- using this extract as a starting point, students could describe the setting in no more than three or four sentences. these should contrast with the short, truncated sentences of the extract – it could be written according to a formula, such as
- simple sentence
- compound sentence
- complex sentence, followed by a final
- simple sentence.
- consider beginning with word banks developed in small groups, or the whole class, from the images that represent the five senses (taste could be tricky)
- focus on imagery by choosing one word and create a simile, then another to write a metaphor, or perhaps think of a symbol or motif that invites its own lexical chain
- refresh student knowledge about aural imagery with the aim of editing similes and visual imagery with alliteration, sibilance, assonance and onomatopoeia
Of course, later on page 152, Monk includes Brett’s perspective of the rodeo:
He always thought they were for hicks, country singers and wannabe cowboys: sideshows of Wild West freaks. And he was right. Young and old men dressed in jeans, checked shirts, boots and big, broad hats circled the main arena shoulder-to-shoulder, talking wisely about the world. Bow-legged riders flailed their bodies back and forth in remote corners, readying themselves for their turn on Sweety Pie. Linedancers bootscooted in front of a stand, clapping and kicking. Vendors sold leather goods and pictures of John Wayne, while nearby handlers steadied fretting steeds. The salty smell of battered PlutoPups mingled with the stink of musty animals. Light towers glared warmly down on the centre ring in the fading purple twilight.
This example of listing or accumulation shows how an image can be built up through sentence structure and punctuation. It is a useful model for editing, when students have a few paragraphs, and would work well as a peer-to-peer feedback task.
Consider how images could be used to support student writing that is linked to the novel being read in class. With English Studies, it is about taking creativity beyond literacy learning. Perhaps a class might like to take their own photographs or create images that represent different aspects of a text and use these as writing prompts.
The images included in this post are were taken by Owen Hasler, Teachers Federation organiser and advertised in the union’s regularly printed paper in 2005.