Homeward Bound

Standard

WillowsWords01My daughter, Willow, is beginning to show a real aptitude for creative writing. As a person who makes his living as a freelance writer (although mostly writing non-fiction), I get to serve as her writing coach. Willow’s Words will be a new category here on the blog where I feature a piece Willow has written, and then what advice and pointers I offer up as her writing coach. The result will a kind of writer’s workshop where we can all learn from the experiences of young developing writer.

Willow’s seventh-grade teacher is also very supportive and gives occasional writing prompts to the class to get their creative juices flowing. The class recently read Robert Frost’s famous poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, and then asked the students to each write a prose piece that captures some of the same feelings as the poem. Here’s the first draft Willow produced:

The snow lays across the land like a blanket, covering up all of the mistakes and problems of the world. I gently tug the reins on my chestnut horse, telling him to stop. I am surrounded by perfect glistening crystals dangling delicately from each twig and branch on every tall tree in the forest I am passing. The snow falls softly, bringing peace and quiet to the empty land. The only sound I hear is the tinkling bells of my horse’s harness. My golden hair is now heavy with pure white flakes. I slowly slide down from the soft saddle to gaze with wonder at the beauty of what is around me. The woods beckon me, calling my attention to the frozen lake shining with ice. I have almost forgotten to send an important message. It is getting dark and I know I have to go home. Then I remember I no longer have a home. I reluctantly turn around and lead my horse down the snow covered path.

Needless to say, I was thoroughly impressed with this first draft and its juxtaposition of positive and negative feelings. There’s an emotional heaviness to it that works well, mentioning the mistakes and problems of the world, the empty land and how the traveler has no home. But in the midst of this heaviness there is also much beauty in the glistening crystals, the peace and quiet of the snow and the shining ice of the frozen lake.

I’m a big fan of alliteration, and Willow obviously likes it as well. Here’s a good definition of what it s from Wikipedia: “Alliteration is a stylistic literary device identified by the repeated sound of the first letter in a series of multiple words, or the repetition of the same letter sounds in stressed syllables of a phrase.” Instances of alliteration in Willow’s first draft include dangling delicately, tall tree, horse’s harness, slowly slide, soft saddle and with wonder. Now let’s get into some specific ideas for taking this piece from good to great! I think it’s important for me to explain that although I make my living as a writer, I am self-trained. I am in no way an expert on writing mechanics or grammar, so I’m sure there are other things more skilled writers would flag.

The first sentence contains a usage mistake. The word lays must be changed to lies. How do you know when to use lay and when to use lie? Here’s how the Merriam-Webster website explains How to Use Lay and Lie: “Lay is transitive; it requires that the verb have an object; there has to be a thing or person being placed: Lay it down. Lie, on the other hand, is intransitive. It’s for something or someone moving on their own or something that’s already in position: You can lie down there. You can lie there all day.” Because the blanket of snow is already in place, it lies on the ground.

I didn’t like how the third sentence ended with …I am passing. To me the word pass usually implies passing by something or sometimes passing through something, but it’s unclear in the sentence. There is already a lot happening in the sentence to begin with, so I suggested just eliminating those three words at the end of the third sentence.

In the seventh sentence, I suggested deleting of what is so it would read …to gaze with wonder at the beauty around me. Those three words didn’t really serve any purpose and made the sentence clunky. In the tenth sentence, I suggested replacing have to with must because I just find it more elegant. The last sentence was the one for which I suggested the most changes. I felt like it needed one more bit of alliteration. I also didn’t want there to be any explicit notion of what direction the traveler is taking. At the end of the sentence, because the two words snow covered are serving as a single adjective to describe the path, they need to be connected with a hyphen. The suggested re-writing for the last sentence: I reluctantly return to my horse and the snow-covered path.

Finally, Willow wanted to give the piece a title so we talked about it. The notion of home seems like one of more important themes of the piece since the traveler must return home, but has no home. Homeward Bound seemed like a kind of mysterious way to capture these ideas. So here’s the final version with corrections and edits:

Homeward Bound

The snow lies across the land like a blanket, covering up all the mistakes and problems of the world. I gently tug the reins on my chestnut horse, telling him to stop. I am surrounded by perfect glistening crystals dangling delicately from each twig and branch on every tall tree in the forest. The snow falls softly, bringing peace and quiet to the empty land. The only sound I hear is the tinkling bells on my horse’s harness. My golden hair is now heavy with pure white flakes. I slowly slide down from the soft saddle to gaze with wonder at the beauty around me. The woods beckon me, calling my attention to the frozen lake shining with ice. I have almost forgotten to send an important message. It is getting dark and I know I must go home. Then I remember I no longer have a home. I reluctantly return to my horse and the snow-covered path.

Good work, Willow!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s