Ross School - Senior Projects 2012
Mentor: Mark Foard
Faculty Grader: James Earle
Documentation of Product
I wrote a novella focusing on the themes of coming of age as a teenager in suburban America for my Senior Project. I wished to capture the feelings that I, and many of my peers, experience during this time in our lives. I looked at a number of writers, from John Updike to Bryan Charles, and examined how to write an effective story, construct subtext and develop themes. The story is based in a fictional town with many similarities to the Hamptons. It focuses on two teenagers, Tom and Mary, who are adrift in their affluent world, each looking for some unknown thing. Their paths cross, and a bond is created. But, like two trains passing each other in the night, Tom and Mary can never truly come together because their destinations differ. It is a story of love, between family members and the opposite sex, and of being adrift in a constantly moving world with seemingly no way to set a course.
I decided to present my project like it was an actual application to college. I used the familiar Common Application motif throughout the entire story. In the end, I put the work in an envelope, continuing the theme of application that I had maintained throughout the story. The second page of the novella is actually very similar to the front page of the actual common app, and it provides the same sort of information for Tom Landers, my main character, that all students applying to college put into the common app.
Exhibition & Presentation Summary
I wrote a coming of age novella focusing on a high school senior, going through much of the same things that IÕve gone through this year. The main character is very much like myself, and lives in a fictional place very much like the Hamptons. In the story he deals with all of the problems that arise during this time in a teenagers life. He applies to college, fights with his parents, and has certain experiences with girls. Today IÕm going to talk more about the process more than the actual product, because for me, the writing was the actual fun part, and most of my challenges came before and after the actual writing. I can talk more about the text if you have questions about it.
This entire process really started last spring in the basement of the senior building. We sat in groups in the comfy couches of the high school library, talking about what we were thinking about doing for our senior projects. I sat there, staring blankly at Carry Clark, and realized that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do for my senior project. The only thing I really knew I wanted to do was to do something amazing, something that would make people say wow. I started thinking about things that I loved to do, like blow stuff up, but after talking it over with my parents, I decided against my plan. Then I thought about building something awesome, but after going downstairs and looking at the workbench that I built, or rather the broken pieces of the bench scattered around the floor, I decided against that also. Then I thought about history, which I really love, but I just couldnÕt feel inspired about that. Then I started thinking about creative writing, which is something that IÕve always loved, and have often pursued. I love reading literature, and creative writing is something that IÕve always really loved doing, but haven't really pursued seriously. So, after talking to my parents a lot, I decided that this project presented a great opportunity for me to improve my creative writing skills and to create a piece of writing that I would be really proud of.
So after deciding that I wanted to pursue creative writing for my project, I tried to lay out some basic goals. I knew that whatever happened, I needed to actually write and finish something. My next goal was to actually write something awesome, because I still wanted to create a product that made people go ÒwowÓ. I also wanted to actually learn something during this process. I didnÕt want this to become just some ÒthingÓ that I had to do for six months to get a good grade. I wanted to make this a process where I learned how to become a better writer, and if everything went according to plan, I learned more about myself. And of course, I was really excited about all of this, hence the exclamation points. The next step in my process was to select a mentor, and after a lot of thought an deliberation, I chose a teacher who IÕve always been close to and who I liked a lot, and I think he liked me to, Mark FoardÉ.
After Foard became my mentor we sat down, and he looked over the goals I had sort of set for myself. The only input he ad to offer at that point was to get rid of the exclamation marks. According to him, theyÕre grammatically incorrect here, and they just made me look stupid. This was the first, and definitely not the last time, that Foard taught me something during this process, and is just an example of how lost at times I could be without Foard.
I ended the school year still not knowing really what I wanted to actually write, and then the summer rolled around. It was a very fun summer, and to be honest, I didnÕt focus much on my senior project, which, to all you underclassmen out there, is not a good idea. I met with Foard a few times during the summer, and since I still didnÕt really have a clear picture of what I was going to do, he gave me a few writing exercises to keep me busy, and to possibly inspire me. One of the two exercises that I really focused on was to write a series of vignettes, short snapshots, of characters living in a place very similar to the Hamptons. This turned out to really help me in my final product, because my entire novella is essentially comprised of a series of vignettes, which was a skill I really honed during the summer, especially while lounging on the beach in Southampton. The next exercise he gave me was to watch five episodes of the HBO show The Wire, and select ten scenes, and write an analysis of each scene, from the point of view of a writer. This exercise really helped me understand the construction and format of good scene writing, which once again helped me a lot in my final product. Plus, The Wire is an amazing show.
By the end of the summer, I still hadnÕt really done all that much, and I still hadnÕt settled on an actual product. I started to panic, and then I realized that I just needed to start writing anything, at this point it didnÕt really matter what exactly, as long as I was writing something.
With that in mind, I decided to make a new list of goals. I kept the same goals that I had established at the beginning of the entire process, but to motivate me to actually write something, I decided to add one more goal to my list. And that was, to beat Henry Lee. Last year, Henry wrote a novella that was 110 pages double spaced. It was a good enough piece of work, I actually enjoyed it, but whenever I would make fun of Henry Lee, all friendly of course, he would make attempt to make fun of me back, and he would often say that whatever happened, I could never wrote more than him for his senior project. Well, as a way to motivate me to actually write something, anything, I thought about HenryÕs challenge, and vowed that I would write more than him.
After challenging myself by thinking about Henry Lee, I began to seriously write. I sat down one day, late at night, after all of my homework was done, and just started writing a scene. At the time, I sort of thought that it was going to be the beginning of a short story. At the time, I was thinking that my final product would be a collection of short stories. But, after reading it out loud to Foard, we both realized that this was the beginning of something much longer and more significant then a short story. We both agreed that I would just keep writing this scene, and expand on the characters in the story, and essentially see where the writing takes me. It was at this time that an image of the final product began forming in my mind. I realized that the product would be something truly shaped by the actual writing. I didnÕt want to have a clear ending mapped out in my head, rather, I really wanted to let the story evolve upon itself. I was essentially figuring out the story as I was writing it, which in my mind really added to the plot, and at the same time, made me learn a lot about myself, which was one of my initial goals. In terms of the actual writing process, I followed a usual pattern each time I would sit down and write a scene. I would initially handwrite it, just like the picture you see here. I would do this to first and foremost eliminate the distraction presented by a computer, and also so that I had a built in stage of editing very early in the process. When I typed up the handwritten works, I was able to edit what I had written, and look at my work from a different perspective then when I had written it. Once I had typed up the work, I would read it out loud to Foard, usually during period four lunch. This was a pretty tedious process, but again, it was really invaluable to the process. Reading it out loud gave me an opportunity to really see the work from a different perspective, and both Foard and I could really see what worked and what did not work in the writing. The actual writing of this novella actually turned out to be one of the easiest parts. Once I established what I was going to do, the writing of it was very enjoyable, and it was really fun to feel myself improve significantly throughout the process.
But, there were a lot of time when I got bogged down while writing. When this happened, I had a large amount of outside inspirations to help me out. I read a lot for this project, in fact, one of the very first things that Foard told me to do was to start reading this as a writer. I read a lot of fiction that inspired me, from Bryan CharlesÕs Hold on to Me as If I Knew the Way, to a short stories by Ernest Hemingway and TC Boyle. I learned a lot from these works and they really inspired me. Foard also gave me a lot of nonfiction to read that I learned a lot from. The Art of Fiction and How To Write a Sentence were just a few of the books that I read, and which really improved my writing. I also listened to a lot of music while writing. To be honest, Arcade Fire, Neil Young, and The Clash were very integral to my entire writing process, and I donÕt know what my novella would be like without their music.
I wrote a coming of age story, a term that I frankly cringe at whenever I hear it, because this time in my life a IÕm sure many of the students sitting in this room today can attest to, is just really weird. Things are happening that none of us can fully grasp, and it just feels like a time in our lives where nothing is normal. So once I finally settled on what to do, I realized that I really wanted to write something that is not only good, which hopefully my story is, but that also helps me understand this point in my life. This story is really about self exploration for me, IÕm essentially just trying to figure out whatÕs going on at this point in my life. ThatÕs why I wrote about a kid going through his senior year of high school, applying to colleges, interacting with girls, and living life in a place very similar to the Hamptons. But, at the same time, I didnÕt want this to become fully autobiographical, so in many ways the story is not. Tom, the main character, is not me at all. And this, in my mind, is very important. This enables me to explore my life at this point, but because the character is far enough away from me, I donÕt feel awkward or embarrassed, and thus I can write a story that is that much deeper.
The editing process was surprisingly easy, mainly because of the two levels of editing that my story had gone through already, when I had typed it all up, and when I read it out loud to Foard. I edited the completed story myself, but I also employed my mother, my sister, Julia Lewis, and Tina Boszik to help out in the entire process as well. All four of them were such great helps, I just want to thank you all again for helping me. It was great to get so many different perspectives on my story. They not only helped with the actual editing of the piece, but also provided a lot of creative feedback that really helped me in the final stages. Here is just one of my sixty or so pages, pretty heavily marked up by both my mother and sister. This entire editing process was really a learning experience for me, and it was pretty tough sometimes, but at that point I was really happy about my product, and I just wanted it to turn out as well as polished as possible.
In the end, IÕm really happy about how it turned out. One of my main concerns was how the actual product would look like in the end. . Foard and I decided to present it in an envelope, continuing the theme of application that I had maintained throughout the story. Thanks to some heroic printing jobs by Foard and Julie Iden, I was able to present the story very much like how the common app is presented when it is fully complete. One of the things that I actually learned from this project is that I am a writer. Not only did I learn a lot of new skills, but I also learned how to be confident about what I wrote. I also learned self awareness from this project. One of my initial goals was to become more self aware from my writing, and to explore my life by writing about it. Made me rethink everything from a different perspective, not just a writers perspective, but the perspective of a person trying to understand their world by writing about it.
Foard and I decided to present it in an envelope, continuing the theme of application that I had maintained throughout the story. The second page of the novella is actually very similar to the front page of the actual common app, and it provides the same sort of information for Tom Landers, my main characters, that all students applying to college put into the common app.
My biggest challenge throughout this process, as you can probably tell from my previous slides, was actually deciding what to do. Once I made a decision, and actually started writing, my main difficulties would be the times that I got down on myself. I would often have little panic attacks, where I would complain and freak out a bit about the fact that IÕm not a good writer. Initially, I had a lot of trouble showing my work to other people, and to be honest, I was afraid of criticism. And, one of my major challenges, just like many other people, was time management. I didnÕt even start writing until the beginning of this school year, and once I did finally start writing, I still had trouble meeting some deadlines. But I did definitely improve my time management skills throughout the entire process.
Bibliography or Works Consulted
Baxter, Charles. The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot. Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf, 2007.
Charles, Bryan. Grab on to Me Tightly as If I Knew the Way: A Novel. New York:
Harper Perennial, 2006. Print.
Forster, E. M. Aspects of the Novel. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985.
Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers. New York:
Vintage, 1991. Print.
Hannah, Barry. Ray. New York: Grove, 1994. Print.
Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-five: Or, The Children's Crusade, a Duty-dance with Death.
New York: Dell Pub., 1999. Print.
Walter, Jess. The Financial Lives of the Poets: A Novel. New York: Harper Perennial, 2010.