More Advice for the Textually Challenged

February 13, 2009 at 11:28 pm Leave a comment

For the past two weeks, I have offered tips, advice, and even prize-driven quizzes to my blog’s hypothetical readers, all in an attempt to shed some light on any linguistic or communication issues any such readers might struggle with. In the following weeks, I will be taking a different route for the rest of this blog’s life. Even though I will still occasionally post pedagogical materials, I will also include more things that are pertinent to fiction writing, more examples of my own work, and, as appropriate, interesting things I find in the media. In this respect, any readers are welcome to forward to me anything that they might consider noteworthy. I have already received one such invitation, which I am grateful for, and which I shall discuss sometime next week, when I have more time to properly digest it.

What follows is an initial template for would-be essayists. That structure, organization, form are critical to successful writing should be as obvious in writing as in home construction. Just as a pile of bricks and wood and nails and cement does not make a house, so a pile of words and sentences and ideas does not make a story.
The idea of organization is as simple as 1,2, 3. Ever since Aristotle, writers have noted that, rhetorically(which is to say, persuasively)a beginning, middle, and end of anything contain necessary, unique elements. This simple rubric, however, is never easy to achieve without diligent practice and focused attention to the logic of communication. A significant chunk of everything I teach concerns the straightforward complexity of structure. I take apart introduction, body, and conclusion for students and help them gain an organizational facility that is the first step toward mastery.
One of the ways that I do this is to “model” essays for folks. Below, readers will find such an effort. In one of my classes, pupils had an hour, more or less, to answer a two part question. “Why is peace so hard to achieve? Who or what is the greatest threat to world peace?” Clearly these are pertinent questions just now; but relevance and even interest do not necessarily guarantee an easy writing assignment.
Many of my young writers struggled with this topic. As is my wont, I also put myself under the gun in this case. I finished the overwritten, clunky, and otherwise far-from-perfect missive below in just over an hour. I worked for almost five minutes on a slip of an outline prior to starting. This step, one that is central to my teaching, guarantees, whenever a writer follows the steps as instructed, that he or she will produce something organized, something that a reader will find comprehensible if not elegant, polished, and piquant.
Thus, I do not recommend the writing in this draft. I would contend though that the ideas and development are both understandable and plausible here, precisely because I know how to create, and to teach, the simple profundity of beginning, middle, and end. So saying, I’ll hope to hear from some people who look this site over. I love thinking about language generally, and find myself inveterately excited about English in particular.

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Advice to a young scribe Ducks

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