Thursday, October 28, 2010

PENCIL TIPS: Remember the Reader

posted by Jacqueline Jules

After years of participating in critique writing groups, I have learned to spot problem areas my critique friends would question. “That part is confusing.” “This part is too wordy.” “The story doesn’t peak my interest until the fourth paragraph.” And when I miss something, I am grateful when my critique friends point it out. As an author who hopes to impress editors, I want mistakes corrected before I submit.

But students just learning the joy of putting a story down on paper can be reluctant to make changes. Many students think editing should be limited to the correction of spelling and grammar mistakes. Asking a student to re-write a story that does not make sense can be a painful experience. How does a teacher encourage a student to fix confusing or nonsensical passages without squashing creativity?

In my work with young writers, I encourage them to think of their readers. We compare writing to playing an instrument or performing in a play or dance concert. Students readily agree that they want audiences to have a good time when they perform. Using this logic, it is easier to accept why a paragraph should be changed to make a story more enjoyable. Some details distract the reader from what an author is really trying to say. Run-on sentences can be confusing. Cryptic asides can puzzle readers. And sometimes all the little things we explain at the beginning are not needed. Ask your students if they know someone who takes too long to get to the point. For instance, a woman who talks for ten minutes about what she ate for breakfast, when she is trying to tell you how she cut her finger. Most students will smile, remembering such a person in their lives, and understand why they don’t want to keep their readers from the most interesting part of a story. Thinking about the reader helps all writers do their best work.

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