Ross School - Senior Projects 2012
Mentor: Alexandra Cromwell
Faculty Grader: Richard Dunn
Documentation of Product
Title: Woman Playing the Mandolin
Description: For my Senior Project I wrote a novella about a girl living in Vienna, Austria during World War I. She is born into a peculiar, dishonest, and entirely dysfunctional family. As the narrator, she describes the battle that she must fight in order to discover who she really is and where she stands in the world. In her search for the truth, she must deal with a troubled, abrasive mother, a nasty, beautiful sister who eventually falls seriously ill, an angry father who has been lost to himself since he returned from performing medical tests on soldiers during the war, a caring brother who leaves the family halfway through the novel, a mysterious uncle, and a motherly tutor. She begins to uncover these secrets that change her entire perception of herself, her family, and life as a whole. I integrated research into aspects of life during World War I. The time period throws a strong light on family dynamics and personal relationships.
-In my Power Point I added pictures of my final product as well as some edits. The first edit is the process in which I had to undergo in order to create a character. In my first draft, it was difficult to get a true sense of what my characterÕs physical appearance, personality, and overall presence was. The reader was lacking a visual image, a crucial element that is needed when it comes to character description. In my final draft, I managed to give a vivid, detailed, explanation of whom this woman was without overwhelming the reader with unnecessary descriptions. In the second edit, I show how I created a setting. In the first draft, several of the sentences were confusing, and strangely worded. In the final draft, I am able to make my writing more condensed causing the description to become more powerful without lacking vivid imagery.
Exhibition & Presentation Summary
For my Senior Project I decided to write a novella, entitled Woman Playing the Mandolin set in Vienna, Austria, during WWI. It tells the story of a young girl born into a peculiar, dishonest, dysfunctional family. As the narrator, she describes the battle that she must fight in order to discover who she really is and where she stands in the world. In her search for the truth, she must deal with a troubled, abrasive mother, a nasty, beautiful sister who eventually falls seriously ill, an angry father who has been lost to himself since he returned from performing medical tests on soldiers during the war, a caring brother who leaves the family halfway through the novel, a mysterious uncle, and a motherly tutor. My front cover is a painting by Picasso. I chose this piece for it represented my entire story. In the middle of the novella, my narrator is discussing this painting with her tutor. The geometric shapes and this womanÕs strangely proportioned body symbolizes my narrators search for her own identity and what she believes herself to be.
Originally, I was planning on creating a mixed media project. Something that had to do with the performing arts, dance, writing, and film. My intention was to combine these four elements and create a visual performance. For my modernity project, I choreographed a dance based off of the Rite of Spring Ballet by Igor Stravinsky. With my movements I used paint to create an abstract painting. I based my colors and strokes off of Nicholas Roerich, the costume and set designer for this ballet. My original idea was to take this project and stretch it ten steps further in order to create an explosion of media and art. After writing several monologues during the summer, however, I realized that my mind and heart were not entirely there. I felt stressed, and I hadnÕt even begun my actual product. I began to resent it when it should have really been an enjoyment. IÕd never experimented with filmmaking. I would have had to rely on a number of people, other than my actors and dancers. I realized that I was not interested in coordinating so many people. This was the most important change of my process for I realized that I was doing this project to please others rather than myself.
Beginning my novella was probably the most difficult part of the process. I was so worried about making each sentence perfect that it took me a good two hours to write a sentence that I allowed myself to keep. Finally, after tedious, painstaking hours in which I got upset and had private arguments with myself, I decided that I had to allow it to all pour out. I then relied on Ms. Cromwell to let me know if I was going in a compelling direction or not.
During the summer I read the novel Never Let me Go by Ishiguro as well as some poems and tales by Edgar Allan Poe. His writing was a major influence, on both my choice of topic and the way I handled it. He managed to tell the tale of a disturbing life but in a beautiful way. This allowed me to deal with a spectacularly awful subject without going into the realm of horror and the grotesque. Although I too dealt with troubling elements, I believe I managed to connect with elements of beauty as well.
I began my book in August while I was in Germany. My two-week stay had a large impact on my choice of setting. I wanted to incorporate a Germanic atmosphere into my protagonistÕs life. During my stay in Germany, I would often drive to Vienna and spend a few days observing the architecture, eating delicious food, and visiting museums. I thought that Vienna would be the appropriate city for my novellaÕs theme for not only did they have a huge role in WWI, but I also wanted it to occur in a country other than Germany. I intended on doing so for I wanted it to reflect rather than blatantly reveal what was occurring in Germany at the time. I decided to start writing a novella because writing has always been my greatest passion. IÕve written many short stories, poems, and articles, so it was time to take a step further. I also took this opportunity to learn more about myself. Being able to sit in peace and play with my imagination, to create characters and bring them to life was a rewarding and fulfilling experience.
As for how I came to the subject of my novella, I myself still donÕt entirely know. IÕve always been interested in both world wars, the times in which they took place, and the relationship between them. Although it is set in WWI, I describe the making of a generation that will become the WWII generation. Even though the focus is on one family, the novella says quite a lot about society. The only element that I knew for sure when I began writing was that it had to be set in Europe. My father comes from Germany, and my mother is a mix of Swiss, Danish, and French. Their cultures gave me that personal connection to Europe, which then allowed me to immerse my character into that culture as well.
Researching was enjoyable. I researched for my own pleasure, which helped me and the reader to feel immersed in the Austrian life during the early 1900s. The difficult part was to write a novel set in a historical time period without it becoming a historical novel, to keep the characters in their historical situations without being overwhelmed by history. It was crucial for me to do so with this family in order that they remained foregrounded. There was so much going on to begin with, various secrets and lies, a mystery that had to unfold, that I did not want to overwhelm the reader with too much historical element. This would only distract the characters and cause the story to be less powerful.
Creating my character came naturally. There was no need to create a character outline. She was there in my mind from the start; all I had to do was project her. As for plotting, I started my story with an idea, which changed entirely by the end. It did, however, feel inevitable. I had to go back and make very few changes in order for it all to make sense. That was probably my most surprising discovery. Even though I had created many twists and mysteries, it all came together, as if it were entirely meant to be. The historical setting allowed me to maintain a useful distance from the awful situation in which the characters are placed. If I had set in the present it would have been completely out of context and would not have worked. Family dynamics are different from now compared to one hundred years ago, which was why it was crucial for me to set it in this specific time period.
Deciding on my climax was slightly more difficult. I had various options. It would occur at a funeral, or in an insane asylum, or in the familyÕs very house. I had to decide which one was most convincing. I also had to pay close attention to foregrounding or backgrounding my characters. I had to bring my characters to life, yet my protagonist had to remain central. Dialogue was also important. I was certain that I had to create dialogue that felt real, with the repetitive, inconsequential bits that you get in real dialogue. I also, however, had to keep it focused.
Whenever I would hand Ms. Cromwell a chapter or two in order for her to look over, she suggested that I chop. Later on, it was easy to tell that description slows down the writing. At times, it is necessary and can make it all the more beautiful, but when I was in a dramatic scene I needed to make it as powerful and to the point as possible. I tend to elaborate and get extremely descriptive. Figuring out what was redundant made my writing more powerful.
Other challenges were easy to overcome. One was doing a creative project while still remaining engaged and on top of schoolwork. I tried to write a little every day in order to stay connected to my characters and their lives. At times, this was difficult and I would push the novella aside in order to finish homework assignments. Another difficulty was writers block. When this happened, rather than becoming frustrated, I went to editing. This allowed me to stay connected but in a different way. It gave me the opportunity to take a step back and look at my story with a new viewpoint. I had a better judgment on what was working and what wasnÕt.
This experience has made me very thankful for all that writing has to offer and for how much I can express through a piece of paper. Throughout my entire process IÕve managed to meet all my goals. As my first extended piece of fiction, IÕve learned a lot on how to create full scale plot development, produce several characters, evolve themes, and balance dialogue and description. IÕve always aspired to be a writer; this process only confirmed my ambition. I intend to major in writing in college and go in some direction with it, if not professionally, then surely as a passion. My novella has definitely fulfilled my hopes for it.
Bibliography or Works Consulted
Duffy, Michael. "First World War.com - Feature Articles - The Causes of World War One." First World War.com - A Multimedia History of World War One. Web. 06 Feb. 2012. <http://www.firstworldwar.com/origins/causes.htm>.
"HowStuffWorks "Europe After World War I: November 1918-August 1931"" HowStuffWorks "History" Ed. Legacy Publishers. Web. 06 Feb. 2012. <http://history.howstuffworks.com/world-war-i/europe-after-world-war-1.htm>.
Jon, Daggar. "Austrian Currency." DaggarJon.com Home. Web. 06 Feb. 2012. <http://daggarjon.com/Currency_Austria.php>.
Lambert, Tim. "Life in the 20th Century." A World History Encyclopedia. Web. 06 Feb. 2012. <http://www.localhistories.org/20thcent.html>.
Silva, Brett. "Causes of World War I." Web. 06 Feb. 2012. <http://www.pvhs.chico.k12.ca.us/~bsilva/projects/great_war/causes.htm>.
Thomas, Pauline. "1914-1920 Towards Dress Reform in 1920s Fashion History." Fashion History Costume Trends and Eras, Trends Victorians - Haute Couture. Web. 06 Feb. 2012. <http://www.fashion-era.com/1914_1920_towards_dress_reform2.htm>.
Thomas, Pauline. "Social History 1920s to 1940s. Life between the Wars in England." Fashion History Costume Trends and Eras, Trends Victorians - Haute Couture. Web. 06 Feb. 2012. <http://www.fashion-era.com/1920s_life_between_the_wars.htm>.