Things Our Seventh Grade Teacher Was Right About

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Essays, articles, screenplays, and most anything worth writing can generally be divided into three parts: Beginning, middle, and end.

No doubt you've heard that before are probably tired of hearing it because everyone says it. Well, everyone says it because no one realizes it. Simple as the three-part piece sounds, most folks would prefer to just sit their computer and start pounding out their thoughts.

That's fine if you're writing out a packing list, but if someone other than you is supposed to read it, it helps to constantly remind the reader what your piece is about. It may be stupefyingly clear to you, but yeah, of course it's clear to you, you're the one writing it, but it's not obvious to your reader--that's largely why they're reading your piece. Readers need to be guided through the dark forest of your mind, so your writing should provide plenty of markers to keep them on the path--or, as our seventh grade comp teacher would say

Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em,
Tell 'em what you tell 'em, and
Tell 'em what you told 'em
In the Beginning, give your reader a quick summary of what you plan to say, and maybe include an anecdote to indicate why they should read your piece.

In the Middle, elaborate on your points and offer proof to back them up. If you're writing a magazine or (especially) newspaper article, it's probably best to put the most convincing evidence/arguments first, the reason being that space in periodicals is generally less flexible than in a book, and oftentimes large portions end up getting cut.

The End is more like a reinforcement of the Beginning--recap and once more touch on why whatever it is you're writing about is relevant to the reader--while you're at it, feel free to speculate on the implications of your argument. The poor sap's probably stopped reading anyway, so go hog wild!

After that, read over your piece and make sure your points are clear and rife. After all, you don't want your reader to forget them, do you? Then identify your piece's Beginning, Middle, and End and ensure that each clearly performs its proper function.

Do that, and you're sure to be on your way to wherever!