Wednesday, February 28, 2007
The Big Idea
Their faces were blank, eyes devoid of expression. Some had pimples. The pimples at least looked interested.
"You have to have a Big Idea. When you sit down to write an essay, you have to have something to communicate to your reader. You can't just start writing, going all over the place, and then hope that by the end of the essay that things fall together. You have to start with the end in sight. You have to have a Big Idea that you want to communicate."
Someone moved. One of the students blinked. Another one scratched herself. I could hear the sound of nail over dry skin. Some had pimples. The pimples were the only ones still looking interested.
My students struggle with non-fiction writing each year. Okay, they struggle with everything. But it occurs to me that some bloggers struggle with it as well. I won't point any fingers, but as you zip through websites, you'll find postings which meander this way, then that...finally ending, mercifully in a picture, or a meaningless quote, the author thinking that these flourishes compensate for a lack of substance. They don't, unless you are a horribly undemanding reader. Unless you are pumice.
"Once you've struck a main idea, you have to develop it intelligently and express it with clarity. That's CLARITY. In caps. It's pointless to write something unless people understand what it is you are trying to express. And you can't be clear about what it is you are writing if you yourself are unclear about what is is you are trying to communicate. In short, THE BIG IDEA."
The students have vanished. There are now only pimples and swaths of greasy hair seated where once there was flesh.
I could go on about elements of essay. I could talk about using lists, facts, opinions, story, strong voice, and elements of language as a way to communicate The Big Idea, whether they are trying to inform or persuade, but I stop. Damn it, I stop. I want to go on, but one idea at a time is a big idea.
Besides, the pimples are starting to pulsate. And I'm frightened.
Posted by Stewart Sternberg at 9:26 AM