My son is using Don and Jenny Killgallon’s Paragraphs for Middle School as part of his writing curriculum this year. The idea is to introduce writing concepts, illustrate them with passages from literature, have the student identify and imitate the techniques used in the passages, then have the student practice the techniques in their own writing. I was a little skeptical of the approach at first, but it really seems to be working for my son.
From the moment he first grabbed a marker and wrote his name on the dining room wall, writing has always been his thing, but he’s not always been keen on exploring the mechanics of the process. Paragraphs helps him learn about the nitty-gritty while doing the writing that he enjoys, which is mostly epic battle scenes a la Lord of the Rings and D&D. I’ve included an example below from an assignment to practice a variety of sentence openers while narrating a scene with a lot of action. I don’t understand all of it, but I think he’s succeeded. I also think I’m going to encourage some more gentle reading. (I only counted the final paragraph for his assignment, but he feels that the lead-in is necessary to set the mood.)
The sounds of war thundered through the huge keep of Nerdath,
a skullcracking wave of sound from tens of hundreds of destrachans blazing
sound pulses at the walls from all directions.
Those were Asmodeus’s legion devils, the more powerful ice,
bearded, and bone devils, a few archdevils, and half a million imps.
That was the orcs and the hobgoblins, leading behemoths and titans
to batter down the walls.
Those were more orcs and those uruk-hai, with their fearsome
worg and guulvorg mounts.
Giant goristros and other brutal battlebiars, destroying
everything in their path as they dragged huge clubs and siege machines, charging
towards the castle.
Those were the flittering beholders, with clouds and clouds of
harpies, imps, and all manner of rocs, phoenixes, and giant eagles.
And those were the enormous, terrifying spiders and snakes,
with little yuan-ti dragging anathemas and hordes of drow, closing the gaps
between the orcs and the hobgoblins.
I averted my eyes as a wave of red ooze covered in eyes and
fanged mouths rolled across the ground, enveloping everything edible in their
path. These were the gibbering beasts of the Far Realm, paving the way for a
thundering, rampaging battle-host of beholders, foulspawn, balhannoths,
destrachans, chuuls, carrion crawlers, mind flayers, aboleths, and swarms of
kuo-toa with harpoons and spears and sahuagin guards to go along.
With a tremendous roar and a slam, all the beasts of burden
charging the walls met with a thunderous crash, which split the battlements
asunder. The evil armies poured in, in the tens of thousands. I found myself
locked in combat with five evistros and a huge minotaur, only to find them
hushed away by the pointing finger of a large blue humanoid. Where he pointed,
men shouted in agony and fell dead. Savage balor demons, vast titans, spiders bigger
than elephants, and dragons swinging claws and tails, stood out sharply among
the dull, armored mass of orcs, legion devils, and foulspawn. I lopped off a
carnage demon’s head, and narrowly missed a stream of acid from a huge dragon
lumbering toward me, heedless of the dozens of creatures caught below its
stabbing claws. It fired another jet of acid at me, which I barely dodged, and
I found myself in the middle of a mass of orcs. I sliced through them and won,
but then I saw that the demonic foes were swarming through the outer city. They
were a wave of creatures, breaking through Nerdath’s defenders like water
dislodging rocks from the ground. Skilled gnome archers were knocked from the
splitting walls, and I swung my sword with all my force. It tore through the
body of a vast minotaur with a critical blow that sundered the bestial creature
into two pieces. But I felt my strength begin to lag. First, the minotaur’s top
half swung an arm and knocked me back twenty feet, into a horde of thirty
legion devils. Their eyes were without feeling or senses, their faces dull,
almost bored, as they hacked me with their blades and trampled me beneath their
iron-shod heels. I was in a swirl of pain. The world faded to black around me.