Originally created 09/29/05

Writer's craft explained to River Ridge pupils



Grave-robbing had never before entered the language arts lesson plans of River Ridge Elementary School pupils.

That changed Friday when aspiring author Janis Krauss discussed writing techniques with about 100 fifth graders at River Ridge. She also read excerpts from and answered questions about her novel Gravely Mistaken.

Set in the mid-19th century, the unpublished novel centers on two Medical College of Georgia students playing a prank on a slave who is stealing cadavers for the school from a local cemetery. One of the students winds up buried alive.

"Directing the shovel with a forceful downward thrust, he located both top corners of the pine box and uncovered enough soil to direct the strike," read Ms. Krauss, a clinical decision support analyst for MCG Health Systems Inc. "Switching tools, he wielded the ax, like so many times, smashing and scraping to pull back the top half of the coffin and remove the grisly contents."

At that point, English teacher Angie McQuaig stepped in to teach her pupils about some of the figurative language used by Ms. Krauss in the passage.

"We all know what's in a coffin," Ms. McQuaig told her pupils. "She didn't have to tell us it's a dead body. You can make the writing more interesting by calling it 'grisly contents.' "

Ms. McQuaig said she found Ms. Krauss through the Author's Club of Augusta.

"I have some talented writers in my class," Ms. McQuaig said. "I thought bringing in an actual writer would make more of an impression on them than just telling them about writing."

For Ms. Krauss, lecturing the class offered a chance to discuss the writing process.

"Do a lot of reading. A lot, a lot of reading," she answered when one of the pupils asked for writing advice. "Also do a lot of writing. It takes time. Be patient."

Ms. Krauss also discussed creating characters, writing subplots, using simile and metaphor, research and historical accuracy.

"A lot of research went into this," she said. "Even though it's fiction, you want to have facts of the time right. You want it to be believable. If I write that someone was putting bodies into a Cadillac Escalade in 1850, you know that's not right."

Reach Donnie Fetter at 868-1222, ext. 113, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.