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Portfolio Assignment 8.3: Edgar Allan Poe Story Analysis
You will be reading a short story of Edgar Allan Poe’s called “William Wilson.” He wrote the classic suspenseful story in 1839. I don’t want to give anything away, so we’ll discuss literary terms after you have read the story. I have broken the story up into three parts and edited parts of it to make it a little shorter. The main character, William Wilson, goes through a dramatic change in characterization in the story. As you read, there are several things I want you to do:
- Read the section once through for comprehension.
- On the second reading, underline or highlight any words you don’t understand and look them up using another resource, such as a dictionary and write definition you find in the space provided. I want you to highlight at least one word per page, but my guess is there will be more than one word you want to look up.
- In each part of the story (so a total of three times), write any questions you have about what is going on in the story in the space provided, and then write the answers to those questions as you find them in the story.
- Underline or highlight the point in the story when William Wilson loses his sanity.
- Make a note at the point in the story when you have what I call the “aha!” moment, when you understand what exactly is driving William Wilson insane.
Portfolio Assignment 8.4: “William Wilson” Opinion Essay
“William Wilson” is a frightening tale of a school boy slowly and steadily falling into insanity while being haunted by his doppelgänger. Yet, this is just one small view of a much larger picture that Edgar Allan Poe is trying to reveal to the reader. You will be writing a short one-page essay on the following prompt:
What statement is Poe making in “William Wilson” about human nature and society in general? Explain how events in the story prove and support your opinion.
Portfolio Assignment 8.5: Poe’s Narrative Style, and Your Own
Despite how you might feel about Poe’s work yourself there is no denying the brilliance of his writing. His ability to weave a tale which toys with our imaginations is nearly unsurpassed. Think back on his stories which you’ve read and see if you can remember these hallmarks of his style. In fact, these are generally good traits for any narrative.
- An opening which introduces the audience to some or all of these elements: narrator, setting, the problem, characters. (Think about the opening of “William Wilson”—which of these were introduced?)
- Notice how he uses reflection to get the reader inside the head of the narrator.
- Poe varies the pacing of his stories, often using dialogue to slow time down and insert the reader into the story.
- Description which does not detract from the story. Good detail and sensory description (description using the five senses) is key to a story but if it is done with a heavy hand it can ruin the story.
- Poe’s conclusions, while often surprising, still feel as if they flow naturally from the previous scenes and details of the story.
Instead of relying upon one specific literary style or trick, Poe uses these and other techniques in combinations to draw the reader deeper into the story. Now that you’ve recognized these techniques and seen them used by a master, you get to implement them yourself.
Poe uses his excellent prose and narrative style to write fictional tales of suspense. You will do the same. I will walk you through the process of pre-writing then leave you to write your story. The first thing you’ve got to determine is what kind of scary or suspenseful story are you going to write. Will it be a supernatural thriller, or a suspenseful murder mystery, will there be ghosts, or an insane asylum? Use the following activity to get some ideas on what to write your story about.
Get out a sheet of paper and a pencil, along with a timer. Set the timer for one minute. For each of the topics, you are going to do a free write. Start the timer, choose a topic and start writing everything that comes to mind. The goal is to never let your pen/pencil stop writing for the full minute.
- Write about some scary dreams or day dreams you’ve had.
- List some suspenseful movies you’ve seen. What made them intense?
- Many people believe that Poe’s worst fear was being alone; others think it was being buried alive. What do you think his worst fear was? Why?
- What is your worst fear?
Read over your writing, look for things that are similar in each list, or items that stick out and catch your interest. These might be things that would make a good story. Here are some ideas to keep in mind when brainstorming and writing your story: Poe’s stories were scary without being overly gory. There are horrific images in his stories but they aren’t necessary described in ways that make them bloody and gruesome. In other words bloody doesn’t equal scary. Most of his stories only give enough detail to let the reader’s imagination take over and make it truly scary.
You now have an idea for your story. The last bit of prewriting to do is to create a brief outline. This is a short story; it will be a maximum of two pages single spaced. Use the basic elements of plot to create your outline.
- Rising action
- Falling action
- Protagonist (person who moves the plot forward; many of Poe’s protagonists were murderers)
- Antagonist (the force which works against the protagonist)
Now you have an outline you are ready to go for broke and write your suspenseful story. Here is the rubric which will be used to grade your story. Please read it before you start writing your final draft.
Portfolio Assignment 9.3: Analyzing War of the Worlds
When reading texts that fit the suspense genre, it is easy to only think of stories that fit a certain stereotype. However, Edgar Allan Poe is not the only author who fits the genre, and narrative texts are not the only texts that fit the type. The War of the Worlds is a perfect example for both the suspense genre and informational text, because it terrified a portion of the nation in a unique way. It has all the elements necessary to fit the suspense genre, and it is written as a radio play and presented as a news broadcast. Sometimes, what makes suspense genre so terrifying is that you legitimately don’t know when and where it will pop up.
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