THE WRITING PROCESS
Invention: Invention Techniques
A writer must have something to write about (a topic or subject), some purpose for writing about the topic (an aim), some statement of the aim for the reader (a thesis), and material to support the thesis. The name that rhetoric gives to the activity of discovering material about a topic is invention. Included here are some techniques you may use to probe any subject--to see it from several points of view and to generate ideas about it. Brainstorming Brainstorming is an activity (often done in groups) in which you free associate on a topic and create a list of details which occur to you. While developing the list, you should not worry about the validity or relevance of any particular item on the list. But you should not settle for cliche or generalization; you should pursue an association until it yields vivid and concrete detail. When the list seems sufficiently long, you can proceed to group items together, using any principle of classification which you choose. This process ought to help you limit a subject to manageable size, to develop a thesis, and to select material relevant to your writing. Do not feel obligated to include every item on your brainstorming list, and feel free to brainstorm again on a new subject suggested by your first effort. Freewriting You may use freewriting in two ways. First, freewriting can serve as a warm-up, allowing you to begin a writing session easily and to free your mind of distractions. Write for a short period of time (usually 5 to 15 minutes) without stopping on whatever comes into your mind. If at any point you have trouble continuing, merely copy the last word you wrote repeatedly until a new thought comes. The writing you do may suggest a topic you want to investigate further, but it need not. The purpose of this kind of freewrite is to write without worrying about unity, coherence, or correctness. Second you may use freewriting to define a topic and a possible thesis for yourself. To do this, choose a subject on which to freewrite (but do not worry much about sticking to it). When you complete the freewrite, try to write a sentence which formulates the most important point you made about the topic or which suggests a line of development for the topic. Use that sentence to begin a new freewrite, and repeat the process until your topic clarifies itself. Aristotle's Topoi Aristotle developed topoi ("places") for invention. These topoi were ways of reasoning which could be applied to any subject to generate material about it. Gregory and Elizabeth Cowan in their book Writing present a system of inquiry derived from some of Aristotle's topoi. To use the system, ask yourself questions about a subject you want to explore, making notes on ideas and points that occur to you. If you get stuck on a question, move on. The point is not merely to come up with an answer for each question, but to probe your subject in as many ways as are useful to you. Definition: 1. How does the dictionary define _________________? 2. What earlier words did _________________ come from? 3. What do I mean by _________________? 4. What group of things does _________________ seem to belong to? How is _________________ different from other things in this group? 5. What parts can _________________ be divided into? 6. Does _________________ mean something now it didn't years ago? 7. What other words mean approximately the same as _________________? 8. What are some concrete examples of _________________? 9. When is the meaning of _________________ misunderstood? Comparison: 1. What is _________________ similar to? How? 2. What is _________________ different from? How? 3. _________________ is superior to what? How? 4. _________________ is inferior to what? How? 5. _________________ is most unlike what? How? 6. _________________ is most like what? How? Relationship: 1. What causes _________________? 2. What are the effects of _________________? 3. What is the purpose of _________________? 4. Why does _________________ happen? 5. What is the consequence of _________________? 6. What comes after _________________? 7. What comes before _________________? Testimony: 1. What have I heard people say about _________________? 2. Do I know any facts or statistics about _________________? What? 3. Have I talked with anyone about _________________? 4. Do I know any well-known saying about _________________? 5. Can I quote proverbs or poems about _________________? 6. Are there any laws about _________________? 7. Do I know any songs about _________________? Have I read anything about _________________ in books or magazines? 8. Do I want to do any research on _________________? Circumstance: 1. Is _________________ possible or impossible? 2. What qualities, conditions, or circumstances make _________________ possible or impossible? 3. Suppose that _________________ is possible. Is it feasible? Why? 4. When did _________________ happen previously? 5. Who has done or experienced _________________? 6. Who can do _________________? 7. If _________________ starts what makes it end? 8. What would it take for _________________ to happen now? 9. What would prevent _________________ from happening now? Burke's Pentad Kenneth Burke suggests a scheme for examining people's actions. He asks, "What is involved, when we say what people are doing and why they are doing it?" To answer this question, he says, requires answering five more particular questions: . What was done in thought or deed? (Act) . What was the background or situation in which the act occurred? (Scene) . Who did the act? (agent) . How was the act done? (agency) . Why was the act performed? (purpose) Larson's Problem Solving Confronting a problem--choosing between alternate courses of action, resolving an inconsistency or conflict in an idea or between ideas-- suggests possibilities for writing. Richard Larson offers a procedure with which to think about problems and their solutions. 1. What is the problem? 2. Why is the problem a problem? 3. What goals must be served by whatever action or solution is taken? 4. What goals have the highest priority? 5. What procedures might attain the stated goals? 6. What can be predicted about the consequences of each possible action? 7. How do the actions compare with one another as possible solutions? 8. Which course of action is best? Young, Becker and Picke's Tagmemics Young, Becker, and Pike have developed a complex system for examining reality. They suggest that anything--an object, event, or concept--can be understood from three perspectives: 1. as a particle, that is, as an isolated, static entity 2. as a wave, that is, as a process in time 3. as a field, that is as a system From any of these perspectives, we may ask a series of questions about the thing we are examining: 1. How is it unique? How does it differ from everything else? (contrastive features) 2. How much can it change and still be the same thing? (range of variation) 3. How does it fit into larger systems of which it is a part? (distribution) Perhaps an example will clarify the use of such a scheme. If we look at an oak tree (Young, Becker, and Pike's example), we may understand it as a particle: a particular tree; a wave: a participant in the natural growth cycle which begins with an acorn and ends when the tree rots or is cut into lumber; or a field: a system of roots, trunk, branches, leaves. Journalist's Questions One of the simplest schemes for generating material is used by reporters, the 5w's (and an h). Reporters are taught to include in their stories a first sentence which identifies the "who, what, when, where, why (and how)" of any story. The rest of the article develops information about these elements. Larson's Catalogue of Questions In addition to his problem-solving scheme, Larson has developed a series of questions for examining different kinds of possible subjects. Topics are grouped into two major divisions, each having several subdivisions: first, topics which invite comment by the writer; second, topics which have comments attached to which writers must respond. I. Topics which invite comment A. Single items that presently exist (e.g. your home, your car, the building you work in, the program of study you're taking) . What are its precise physical characteristics? . How does it differ from things that resemble it? . What is its range of variation? (how much can it change and still be the thing you started with?) . Does it remind you of other objects you have observed? How? Why? . From what points of view can it be examined? . What sort of structure does it have? . How do its parts work together? . How are the parts proportioned? . To what class or sequence of things does it belong? . Who or what produced it? Why? . Who needs it? . Who uses it? For what? . What purposes can it serve? How can it be evaluated? B. Single, completed events, or parts of an ongoing process (These questions can apply to scenes and pictures, as well as to works of fiction and drama.) . Exactly what happened? (Tell the exact sequence: who, what, when, why, how? Who did what to whom? Why?) . What were the circumstances in which events occurred? . How was the event like or unlike similar events? . What were its causes? . What were its consequences? . What does its occurrence imply? What action (if any) is called for? . What was affected by it? . To what group or class might it be assigned? . Is it good or bad? By what standard? . How do we know about it? What is the authority for our information? How reliable is the authority? . How might the event have been changed or avoided? . To what other events was it connected? C. Abstract concepts, such as love or sportsmanship . To what specific items or events does the word or words connect in your imagination? . What characteristics must an item or event have before the name of the concept will apply to it? . How do the things you associate with the concept differ from things you associate with similar concepts? . How has the term been used by writers you have read? . Does the word have persuasive value? Does its use in connection with another concept seem to praise or condemn the other concept? . Are you favorably disposed to all things included in the concept? Why or why not? D. Collections of items, such as your book or record collection, television programs you watch . What do the items in the group have in common? . How do they differ? . How are the events related to each other, if not by common characteristics? What is revealed about them by grouping them in different ways? . How can the group be divided? On what bases? . What correlations, if any, may be found among various possible subgroups? . Into what class can the group as a whole be put? E. Groups of completed events, including processes. (These questions may be applied to literary works, principally fiction and drama.) . What do the events have in common? . How do they differ? . How are the events related to each other (if they are not part of a chronological sequence)? What is revealed by the possibility of grouping them this way? . What is revealed by the events when taken as a group? . How can the group be divided? On what basis? . What possible correlations can be found among several subgroups? . Into what class, if any, can the events taken fit as a group? . Does the group belong to any other structures than simply a larger group of similar events? (Is it part of a more inclusive chronological sequence? one more piece of evidence that may point toward a conclusion about history? and so on.) . To what antecedents does the group of events look back? Where can they be found? . What implications, if any, does the group of events have? Does the group point to a need for some sort of action? II. Topics with comments already attached which invite response A. Propositions, that is statements to be proved or disproved . What must be established for the reader before he/she will believe it? . What smaller assertions does the statement contain? . What are the meanings of key words in the statement? . Can you trace back the line of reasoning that led to this conclusion? . How can we contrast this statement with other propositions? . To what class of propositions does it belong? . How inclusive is the statement? . How can the statement be illustrated? . What kinds of evidence will support the statement? . What can be said in opposition to it? . Is it true or false? How do we know (direct observation, authority, statistics, other sources)? . Why might someone not believe it? . Does the statement take anything for granted? . What does the statement imply? Does it follow from the proposition that some sort of action must be taken? . Can the action be taken? Will it work if taken? B. Questions . Does the question refer to a past, present, or future time? . What does the question assume? . Where might answers be sought? . Why does the question arise? . What exactly is in doubt? . What propositions might be advanced in answer to the questions? Is each proposition true? if it is true, what will happen in the future? What follows from it? What predictions are possible? probable? What actions should be taken or avoided in consequence? Remember that there are no right or wrong answer to these questions. They are tools for you to use in your investigation of a subject. Using them to structure a discussion with another student may help you to use them more effectively. Let your mind play with the possibilities in a subject before you commit yourself to a thesis or conclusion. Other Invention Tools 1. Journals. Many writers keep journals in which they regularly record observations of and reactions to their daily experiences. Some use a journal to sketch out promising ideas or to examine intellectual or emotional problems they are working through. Your private journal entries may or may not feed material directly into your public writing, but making regular entries will provide you with the opportunity to practice and sharpen your powers of observation, speculation and analysis. Writing about your own life will help you to write about other lives, real and fictional. 1. Winterowd's linkages. Winterowd suggests using the logical connections indicated by coordinating conjunctions to generate material on a subject: And links suggest what is similar to your subject. But links suggest exceptions and qualifications to your subject. For links suggest possible causes which resulted in your subject. So links suggest consequences resulting from your subject. Or links suggest alternatives to your subject. Colon links suggest items included in your subject.
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