The goal of this paper is to begin to learn to deal with ideas that come from people outside you.  You’ve been doing this informally in class throughout the class, through general discussion and the Fishbowl assignments.  You’ve also done it informally through learning to read and understand our classroom texts, and figure out what you think in relation to them.  Now you’ll do it more formally by choosing a topic, finding one research source on that topic, and then literally having a conversation with that source by writing a short story dialogue.

Stage 1: Choose a Topic

The topic you can be big or small, relevant to millions or discussed only by a small subset of interested folks.  Whatever you choose, it should have three qualifications: 1) it should be personally relevant to you, 2) it should be researchable, and 3) it should not necessarily be a binary opposition.  Let’s look at those three qualities:

  1. It should be personally relevant to you, something you’re actually, truly interested in. This means that you may not choose an abstract topic like “abortion” or “gun control” unless it is a real problem or issue in your personal life: for example, if your sister has asked you to make her a concealed-carry purse, or if your roommate has recently had to deal with reproductive issues and you’re worried about him/her.  Instead of those “expected” topics, choose something that is an active presence in your life, something you spend a lot of time thinking about.  Are you interested in classic cars, and you have really strong feelings about restoring to factory spec versus gutting and installing modern engines?  Do you love horror movies and wonder why?  Can’t stop eating cough drops and wonder whether that’s a good idea or not?  If you choose something that you really love and that’s active in your life, research will be way more fun and way more successful.
  1. It should be researchable. We’ll do an activity on researchable topics in class, but essentially this means that it is a question with a “big” answer (rather than yes/no), is something that you will be able to find information on (for example, AP’s  music collection is not researchable because no one has written on it, but music itself is very researchable), and involves more than just a simple opinion (“which is tastier, peanut butter or chocolate” is not researchable b/c it’s just someone’s opinion).
  1. The goal of good discussion is to talk about something interesting and relevant to all parties, not just to fight like angry politicians—that discussion is interesting to almost no one. Your topic should allow its interested parties room to explore and discuss.  For example, “Is learning to read a good thing?” is probably not going to generate useful discussion both because no one is going to be anti-reading and because it’s phrased as an either/or question.  However, two horror movie fans, for example, may both really love the genre/a specific movie for different reasons, and that can be a hugely fruitful discussion.  Think less “politicians arguing” and more “fishbowl discussion topic.”

Stage 2: Do Some Research

For this paper, you will need one resource: a voice that comes from outside you.  That source should be what we call “substantive”—it should not be either scholarly (too hard) or informal/personal (too easy).  We will discuss what makes a source “substantive” in class.

The first draft of this paper will be a source review.  In this document, you will give me the following, which should take about a page:

  1. A summary of what your source believes
  2. A discussion of the reasons your source has for believing that thing
  3. How believable you find what your source is saying (different than “do you believe it too”—something can be totally believable even though you personally disagree)
  4. The Works Cited entry for the source

The goal here is to understand not just the small details of your source, but the worldview your source ascribes to.  How does this article want you to understand the world of your topic?  This will prepare you to reinterpret the article as a character in your paper.

Stage 3: Write the Short Story

To literally put your source into conversation, you will imagine that it is a character or a person you invent.  This character should be fleshed-out: you should know his/her name, what s/he is like, what s/he thinks about the world, how s/he sounds when s/he talks.  But regardless of what “surface” details you create, your character should be the embodiment of your source, and should understand the world/topic in a way consistent with your source.  The other character in your short story is you.

Your characters, once invented, will participate in a short story scene where they have a conversation about the topic you’ve chosen.  What would you like this to look like?  Is it a formal panel discussion?  A casual conversation over coffee?  A couple bickering on a tense car trip?  Friends trash-talking over Xbox Live?  Let your choices of topic and your sense of who you want your characters to be help dictate your scenario.  Please remember that your goal is not to set up a binary opposition (like a political debate), but to tell us a story involving two “real” people having a conversation about something they’re mutually interested in.  We will discuss more about dialogue formatting as we move into Draft 2.

In your short story, the not-you character will argue not just for, but as the source, saying what the source would say if it were present.  You may include quotations and paraphrases from your sources, citing them as follows:

Candi: Dude, just because people do stupid stuff doesn’t mean video games are at fault; what about that kid who brought his dad’s arsenal to class and they blamed Minecraft? There’s a lot of distance—and parenting—between Minecraft and bringing guns to school (Good).

Here’s what would be on your Work Cited page:

Good, Owen.  “Now We’ve Heard It All: Minecraft Blamed in School Violence Case.”  Kotaku. 28 Sept 2013.  Accessed 8 Oct 2013.  <>.

In this dialogue, you can choose what you want to happen: do the parties reach an agreement of some kind?  Entrench?  Change their minds in ways big or small?  Decide on an entirely new way of understanding the topic?  The outcome should be based on the results of your D1 source analysis and your own ideas about the topic.

Things I’ll Be Looking For:

  • Well-Chosen Topic: Did you successfully choose something you invest in personally, narrowing the field down to something both manageable and concrete? Or did you default to a stereotypical abstraction, a false binary (either/or) argument, something unconnected to you?
  • Source Understanding/Use: From your dialogue, is it clear that you really understand the overall argument your original source was making? Have you successfully realized that argument as a worldview/way of seeing things/”character”?  Or are you using “bullet quotations” out of context?  Is it obvious that you don’t understand your source clearly?  Are you having trouble relating what they say to larger ideas or topics?
  • Short Story Format: Real conversations feature give-and-take, an exchange of ideas and points of view. People offer and understand and learn.  Is your scene realistic, or does your story happen nowhere?  Does your conversation feel like an actual exchange with its back-and-forth qualities?  Or is it degenerating into one-sided lecture, shouting match with no real points being made, digressing significantly off-topic, etc.
  • Revision/Workshop Process Document: Do you demonstrate all the drafts, Zero through Final, and are they workshopped as appropriate? Or are you missing some part of this process (remember that your grade goes down one letter—B to C—for each missing component).
  • MLA Citation: Is your source correctly paraphrased or quoted and cited? Is your Work Cited page complete and correct?
  • MLA Style/Formatting: Is your paper in correct MLA style format? Are you using correct dialogue format (see relevant Visual Tutorial Guide/s on Bb and relevant pages in the writing handbook)?

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