Writing Project 2: The Scary Stories We Tell
I have never been interested in horror films or anything spooky. But from the very first episode of The Walking Dead I realized something: It’s not about monsters. It’s about people.
Scary stories reveal our fears. You’ll learn more about what I mean by this with this unit’s readings: “Windigo Footprints” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, and “Exploring the Undead,” by Daniel DeVise. Kimmerer discusses at length what fears the Windigo represents to her people, and she uses this to make a case for the Windigo-like consumption of corporations and the impact they have on the environment. DeVise, on the other hand, focuses on zombie films, discussing many films, with only a brief discussion of each. Thus, he provides a catalog of the possible interpretations of these various films. You can look to these two essays for examples of the type of interpretation I’d like you to practice with this essay.
The essay fits in with our course theme about “place,” because we start with the film Night of the Living Dead. While it’s set and filmed in the late 1960s, it also contains a familiar scene from the early 2020s: a group of people trapped in their homes, avoiding a mysterious threat outside. As we’ve learned over the course of the pandemic, the threat “out there” (the virus) has never been our only threat; the politicization of our measures to mitigate it (masks, closures, vaccines) are the human-created element in this scary story. It’s not about monsters (or viruses). It’s about people.
In addition to extending our theme about place, WP2 also asks you to continue your practice of close observation and thoughtful inference, as you gather evidence and develop your interpretation. You are also practicing the MLA elements of incorporating quotes and creating a Works Cited page, and strengthening your essay-writing skills.
First, choose a scary story to analyze–a film or written or oral story. If you’re having trouble deciding, choose the film assigned in class, Night of the Living Dead.
Pre-writing: As you read or watch the film/story, watch closely. Notice details, and notice what you notice by keeping a Metacognitive Reading Log. Try to “read” those details to develop an interpretation: What does this story mean? What does it say about what we actually fear? What does it say about the culture in which it was developed? Try to answer these questions in your notes as you watch/read.
As your ideas begin to develop, work on drafting a thesis statement, and then perhaps consider the organization of your ideas by creating an outline. As you pre-write, consider how you can shape your essay around the basic elements of an argument.
Drafting: When you have a clear picture of where your essay is going, develop a first draft. To make the best use of your revision process, your draft should be as complete as possible, and over 1,000 words! The first draft is due February 25.
Revise and edit: Work on developing a revision process that works for you, remember to both focus on the big picture and zoom in on the details. I strongly recommend that you get feedback from a tutor in the Success Center as part of your revision process. When you submit your final draft, please also submit the Writing Process Reflection form.
Develop an essay of 1,000 to 1,500 words analyzing a scary story. It can be an oral tale from your culture, a scary story you shared with friends as a kid, a horror film, or any other spooky tale that has been familiar to you at some point in your life. (If you have trouble thinking of a story/film, use the film we watched in class, Night of the Living Dead.) The essay should be an argument that answers the following question (in other words, your thesis statement should answer this question): What lesson is the story meant to teach, and how is this reflective of the culture in which you encountered it? Support your interpretation (your argument) with evidence. “Evidence” here means specific details from the story that help support your claims. If it’s a written story, include direct quotes, in quotation marks. You may also include direct quotes from a film or an oral tale. Also, you must include at least one quote from Kimmerer or DeVise.
A note: If you’re writing about an oral tale from your culture, what I’m asking you to do here is look past the surface for a deeper meaning of the story. For example, if you’re writing about “La Llorona,” on the surface, this is obviously a story about listening to your parents, or not going out alone at night. If you choose to analyze this, though, think about a deeper meaning: What does it say about your culture that a story like this exists? Is it about family loyalty and the importance of obedience? Does it show how much parents value their children? Take a step back and try to look at the story within the culture more broadly. Kimmerer’s essay provides an example of this.
Summary of requirements:
To be considered for full credit, your essay must demonstrate the following:
1,000 to 1,500 words
Develop an argument about a scary story that answers this question: What lesson is the story meant to teach, and how is this reflective of the culture in which you encountered it?
Include evidence (concrete details) from your observations of the story
Evidence should also include at least one quote from Kimmerer or DeVise
Format your document according to MLA guidelines, and follow MLA guidelines for integration of quotes and paraphrases.
When you submit the final draft, include an MLA Works Cited page for the film or story, and the essay you quoted (Kimmerer or DeVise). If it’s an oral story, try to find a written version online, and cite that.
You’ll also need to submit a Writing Process Reflection when you submit the final draft.
First draft due February 28
Final draft due March 4
Audience and Purpose:
For this essay, I’ll let you decide on the audience: Who do you think will be most moved by your argument? Is it the same audience as that of the original story? Determine your target audience in order to make rhetorical choices to best suit that audience. Your purpose, as with any argument, is to persuade. However, you may have another purpose. What do you want to achieve by writing this argument? Answer this question and have the audience and purpose in mind as you write.
SLOs (Student Learning Outcomes) that you’ll practice:
Employ a writing process in order to understand and complete the writing task.
Integrate research from experiential knowledge as well as digital, print, and multimedia sources for synthesis in compositions and projects for various purposes, audiences, and contexts
Write a multi-paragraph essay with specific details, examples, and illustrations to fulfill a purpose.
Evaluate and engage critically with outside sources.
Write in prose style characterized by clarity, complexity, and variety.
Adhere to the conventions of standard written English in accord with instructor-approved documentation style (e.g. MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.).
Writing Project 2: The Scary Stories We Tell