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Writing for the 5th Grader
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There is a reason that the television show, “Are you Smarter than a 5th grader” was developed. Most people are not any smarter than the average 5th grader; I know, most people have graduated from the 12th grade, but most never got any smarter than they were in the 5th grade.
That is why I write with the 5th grader in mind. No big words, no complicated sentences. Simple: With simple description, simple dialogue, simple word pictures.
I remember nothing from my graduate school days except the following story.
One of my weekly assignments for a particular professor was to write exactly one page, to be turned in every Wednesday. It could be on any subject using any style. I typed out my best writing, only to get my paper back on that first Friday with an F on the top. I was crushed. My professor said, “You have a second chance to take it home over the weekend, rework it, and turn it in on Monday.” I took on the challenge.
I turned in the rewrite on Monday morning; on Wednesday, I received it back with an A and a note: “Great rewrite!! Congratulations!” I learned the lesson quickly: tight, simple writing without much fluff and unnecessary adjectives won the teacher over.
Don’t get me wrong; I like words: big words. I speak with big words and enjoy watching my fellow workers scratch their heads at my description of life; I just don’t like to write as if every word was looked up in the Thesaurus to discover a more complicated sounding thought.
Jerry Jenkins, the author of the “Left Behind” series, which has sold over 60 million copies, had his writing analyzed; he was surprised to find out that he also writes on a 5th grade level. His success should say something to writers of Christian fiction: don’t make it too complicated if you want people to buy and read your writing.
When I write, I view words not as children, but as employees; if an employee doesn’t work, I get rid of them: treat words the same.
Put up a picture of a little 5th grader above your computer and after every write say, “Will she get it?”
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08 Mar 2010
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