Monday, April 23, 2012

Identifying key features of a compelling narrative

To start class today, I’d like you to get into pairs (and one group of three) and using Kozol’s book and the selections from Deborah Connolly’s work on homeless mothers (especially the chapter on Kristy), please identify 3-5 key features of what makes for an effective and compelling narrative. As you explain these features, be as specific as you can and include reference to a few examples. Last, please feel free to discuss any additional features that you as a writer think makes for a strong narrative that these two examples don’t include.


  1. One compelling feature of Kristy’s narrative involved Connolly’s reflections on her mannerisms, such as her laugh, and what it means about her life.
    She also used long quotes, which showed Kristy’s personality as well as the full scope of her story. An example of this would be the quote in which she discusses being dressed in jeans and high heels at the funeral when her water breaks.
    Connolly did not edit grammar; she took the quotes verbatim so that they could accurately and fully showcase the person’s story.
    We noticed how she discussed her relationship with Kristy and how it changed over time, particularly in the context of losing and regaining trust.
    In the second chapter, she discusses society’s notion of the “perfect” mother in contrast with extreme examples of what is “disgusting” in the view of society in terms of mothering. The Susan Smith case is used to draw the reader in, and she compares this case with the experiences of the three other mothers, particularly in the light of expectations vs. reality.

  2. Compelling features which both Kozol and Connolly used seemed to be points which focused on enhancing and providing perspective framed around the discussion from the women they interview. For example, Kristy's discussion about how easy it is to get on welfare, where she states that "all you have to do is pretend like your retarded or an alcoholic or illiterate. If you're illiterate you can get like $600 or $700 a month just for not knowing how to read or write or spell- and how they gonna know if you really know and you're just saying you don't?" (11)is monitored by Connolly, who tries to diminish the narrative that might oppose her argument. She seems to elaborate or clean up the statements to make sure what is expressed is accurate to the intention. We also thought that the authors provided an effective backdrop on those they were interviewing as people to enhance what we read in the interviews. They also selected complex narratives instead of easy narratives that may not have had as much of an effect, such as telling the story of Kristy, whose house burned down. They must go through a careful selection process to determine which narratives to use which are most effective.

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  4. The thing that both authors did exceptionally well was use a good mix of narratives and quotes. They respected the women’s boundaries by allowing them to tell the harsh and raw parts of their stories in their own words through direct quotes. They are also skillful in summarizing the more routine or factual parts of women’s experiences by summing it up in a narrative.

    One other good skill that manifests in Kozol’s work, but not so much in Connolly’s work, is a good introduction. Kozol starts by giving statistics about homelessness and outlining policies and programs which serve the homeless. This allows the reader to settle in and being conceptualizing the topic at hand before he jumps into the heavier and more emotional aspects of the homeless’ stories. Kozol thus utilizes a great mix of logos and pathos. Connolly’s introduction, on the other hand, awakened emotions right off the bat and seemed more tangentially related to her topic and point.

    In presenting his narrative Kozol does a very good job of presenting his complex position in the situation of writing his book. This complex position consists of the fact that he is a well off writer coming into a homeless hotel in order to have them tell him his stories. Throughout the interview process there is a constant validity threat that he could be bribing the residents with needs such as food in order to get the story. By mentioning the few times that he does give help to these people the reader can understand that Kozol performs his work in an ethical standpoint. In addition to his ability to bribe the residents the reader must also worry that Kozol is writing his paper with a bias that can lead him to tell an unfair and unbalanced story. Kozol combats this by presenting stories that air on the side of the good and the bad in the ways that his narrative really does come off as a balanced set. Connolly contrasts this idea by entering into her work with a set goal of studying these mothers in order to show their difficulties. With this kind of presentation we can see an obvious bias in her point of view that can sometimes serve to cloud the validity of her opinion and argument.

    -Michaela Diamond and Skyler Meyer

  5. 1. Connolly not only includes details about Kristy’s current situation, but also gives us an in depth look at her past. This fosters a further connection to the narrative, and makes the current events more understandable.
    a. “While it is clear that Kristy’s childhood was not idyllic, it was apparently not marked by significant violence.”
    2. Connolly takes a situation that is generally thought about in one perspective and presenting another perspective. She does this in presenting the Susan Smith case.
    a. “The romanticization of the ‘good mother’ is so pervasive that it impacts women in all social strata.” P 41
    3. Kozol does an excellent job of painting vivid descriptions of the surroundings the women live in, making the narrative not just about story but scenery. His rich description of the bleak, and at times, dangerous, living conditions of these families helps us to better understand their lives and struggles.
    4. Kozol also does an excellent job of taking the dialogue from his interviews that is very powerful and descriptive.
    a. “Oh, you had another baby? Yeah! I had another baby! What about it? Are you goin’ to kill that baby? I don’t say it, but that’s what I feel like sayin’. You learn to be humble” (p 84).

    Julia and Lizzie

  6. Both Kozol and Connolly work to evoke emotions from their reader with their narratives. They are empathetic and understanding which shows and makes for a compelling narrative.
    1) evoking empathy- you need to humanizing someone before you'll be able to get through to someone and learn about them.
    "When I first met Kristy....I thought she was a drug addict" (1). You realize that she's just a person afraid of her homelessness. As Connolly gets to know Kristy she realizes that Kristy is just an ordinary human being who has fears just like we all do.
    2) spending time- if you spend more time with people it makes everyone more comfortable. spending time helps people open up. To have a good narrative if you show that you have been able to connect in an in depth way it's more compelling
    3) being unbiased- in the introduction is clear that Connolly isn't here to judge. She is trying to change that motherhood isn't a fixed way. with Kristy's story Connolly is unbiased and is here to tell the story and evoke emotions from the reader. She doesn't put in any opinions or persuasive arguments.
    -Hannah Pepper, Rylie Davis, Erin Orchard