Australian English teachers have not flocked to twitter in the way I envisaged back in early 2008.
I have been guilty of spamming email distribution lists, evangelising at conferences and publishing traditional print based articles in professional journals, all with very limited success in convincing my colleagues, in any great numbers, to tweet. There are some notable exceptions, tweeple I admire greatly, like Kelli McGraw, Troy Martin, Bianca Hewes, Jo McLeay, David Chapman and others who are all passionate about their English teaching. Our cleverest practioners have quietly resisted the lures of social media for many reasons not understood by me but I somewhat ’courageously’ posit, in the Sir Humphrey Appleby sense, some suggestions as to why:
- time – they would rather do other more ‘grown-up’ things
- not keen for the populist social media bandwagon - they never envisaged twitter would ever be as big as it is for EVERYONE and it is just too late to start
- technophobia – many, many neo-luddites reside in English faculties
- demographics – the average age of our teaching profession means they are just simply not online like Gen Y or even Gen X
- the penny hasn’t dropped – people just don’t “get it”
- what else (feel free to comment)?
This is NOT another attempt to convince my colleagues of the importance and usefulness of the site. Quite simply, it is an anecdote about twitter’s usefulness to an English teacher and a student.
Firstly, there are many writers and literary groups who are on twitter. Here’s my ‘literary’ twitter list, if you would like to check out which of your favourite authors tweet. Margaret Atwood, Steven Johnson, William Gibson aka @GreatDismal, Doug Coupland, Brett Easton Ellis, James Bradley aka @cityoftongues, Cory Doctorow and John Birmingham are some of my favourite tweeple. There are many writers of young adolescent fiction such as Nick Earls, Wendy Orr, Margo Lanagan and Penni Russon, who tweets as eglantinescake, to be uncovered here too.
Recently, a colleague brought a young student to me who was seeking feedback on ‘her book’. I mentioned this too Penni Russon via twitter and she was generous enough to assist this student with some pertinent comments about the story. The fact that Penni is a successful, published author made the critique powerful and has inspired this girl to re-draft her work with renewed enthusiasm.
Don’t panic authors, I am not suggesting every teacher in the state contacts you with their marking!
There are many ways to connect using twitter and many teachers are doing that in unique ways.
What (lateral?) ideas do you have about the usefulness of twitter for English teachers?
Here’s an excerpt from Penni’s critique:
The novel has a very strong beginning and I get the sense that you are very sure of your characters and the world they inhabit. I really liked the hint of magic in the relationship between the girl and the raven, there’s heaps of potential there.
I am going to offer a few criticisms, just to give you something to think about as you develop your writing. My first novel I had to rewrite about 4 or 5 times to get it right. The novel I am working on at the moment is my ninth and I have lost count how many times I have rewritten it! This doesn’t always happen – sometimes novels come out almost right the first time. However, fantasy is particularly complex because you have to create your whole world for the reader, as well as the characters and the story, and you have to be able to manage the logic of your world (which is exceptionally tricky). Even if your world is this one (as in urban fantasy), as soon as you introduce magic or a fantasy element, you really need to build a new world from scratch and ask yourself certain questions – who else has magic? Where does the magic come from? Does your magic have rules? What are they? You need to know ALL these things, even if they are only hinted at in the novel. I get the sense from the prologue that the necklace is a magical object – what is its history? Will it work for everyone? How does that relate to the raven?
A prologue can be a great hint at what’s going to happen in the future, later in your novel and your prologue is packed with mystery, intrigue and excitement. But they usually work best as a COUNTERPOINT or contrast with the present – eg Chapter One could give us a glimpse into Kai er Sai’s domestic life with her fake parents, before she feels the need to kill them (so we understand what them being fake means). Going from one very violent scene to another doesn’t give your reader much of a chance to identify with the characters (though I am intrigued to discover the relationship between Melissa and Kai er Sai).
So much happens in this chapter! It is full of blood and bodies and incident, which of course is always compelling. But at the same time I got to the end and I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to care about. Are we on Kai er Sai’s side – were her “fake parents” bad? Or is she mentally unstable and unreliable? Why did her fake parents want her so badly? If you began with a more domestic scene you could show us some of these things through dialogue and scene setting.
Her pleasure in killing the stranger makes her impossible to like or empathise with. Maybe this is your intention? But it might be a good idea for your first chapter to show the character we are supposed to care about most, the one who’s journey we will eagerly follow. When you write a novel you are asking your reader to invest time and energy into following your story, and to deny all the other distractions – other books, facebook, tellie, the radio! So you need to give them someone to care about, to want to invest themselves in. A protagonist should be flawed definitely, but we should know and understand their flaws. Bloodlust is perhaps too big a flaw to be able to truly forgive a character and care about them anyway, unless we know the reason why she takes pleasure in killing.
A few little points:
*You and I share a bad habit! We both use the word ‘but’ when it’s unnecessary. Go through and make sure all your buts are doing what they are meant to do!
*Be wary of using “Chinese” as an adjective. You need to avoid stereotypes, or they can seem racist.
*Don’t be scared to slow down and set the scene, or focus in on your character. A lot of action is great, but it can be exhausting to read about things happening all the time.
Who are your favourite writers who tweet?