October 28, 2010 Archives
I have no idea what your favorite flavor of ice cream, but that's not a misconception, because I have a blank in the space where that information should be. It's a misconception if, because one day I bumped into you while you were carrying a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream, I wrongly believe it's your favorite flavor. In the example I'm using, we'll say you were holding someone else's ice cream. I had a perfectly good reason for assuming you liked mint chocolate chip, but I didn't have a crucial piece of information that you do have.
I might likewise have a good reason to believe that you like vampire stories, but you wouldn't really correct my misconception if you listed all the things you hate about vampires. When you correct my misconception, you focus on giving an alternate explanation for the evidence that I used to come to my perfectly reasonable -- but ultimately faulty -- conclusion.
1) List examples of misconceptions.
2) Choose one, and associate it with a specific source. ("Some people" (as in "some people might say...") is not a specific source. "My cousin Shirley says..." is a specific source.)
My wife believes that sending children out into the cold will give them an infection. My wife would say that I had the misconception that sending a child out without a coat on a chilly day has nothing to do with whether they catch a cold. She would use as evidence in her favor specific memories of a time a child 1) went outside without a coat and 2) caught a cold. I would mention that our children also catch colds during the summer, when they never need to wear a coat, and in the deep winter, when they always wear a coat, and I would point out to her that the incidents of catching a cold aren't strictly related to incidents of going outside on a chilly day without a coat.
Words like "although" and "because" and "nevertheless" -- words that connect chains of thoughts in complex, logical ways.
I'm about to suggest a formula -- and remember, this is just a tool that you can use to make sure you are ready to start writing. Please don't just fill in the blanks and call it a day -- remember everything else you've learned about showing instead of telling, surprising the reader, using powerful verbs, avoiding filler, and going in depth with a small set of carefully-chosen examples, rather than giving a long list of the kinds of things that would "always" happen.
Okay, here's the formula, which is just a tool to help you make sure you are ready to start writing.
A specific, trustworthy, well-meaning source says X because of factors A, B, and C; however, source X is wrong, because D, E, and F.
"Some of my friends" is only barely better than "some people," but you don't necessarily have to say "Sally Smith of 123 Maple Street says...." You can say "A cousin of mine..." or "A guy I met on a bus last week said..."
My point is that I want you to write about a specific expression of the misconception -- some action or speech or writing that you witnessed that SHOWS the misconception in action.
You don't need exactly three reasons. Your paragraph could change that formula, so that you say "X is true because of D, E, and F, even though person Y says X is false because of A, B, and C."
Avoid simplistic, one-sided statements such as "Hitler was evil" or "Water is wet," because there's nothing controversial or complex about those ideas.
Hitler and water may be perfectly fine as TOPICS, if you can find a more nuanced STATEMENT -- the actual claim that you want to make.
I recently spoke with a student who kept referring to her rough drafts as errors. "I did that assignment wrong," she said. "I can never figure out the right way to do it." She was probably thinking of high school in-class essays, where the student's job is to spit back as many facts and vocabulary terms as possible, and where the teacher is willing to give points for almost any sign of cleverness, memory, or a willingness to apply the material to the student's own life. But a rough draft isn't meant to be perfect. The reason the portrait hanging in the art gallery looks so life-like is because the artist made numerous charcoal sketches, trying out and rejecting many different possibilities, before settling on the best pose. Your rough draft is a dry run; it helps you and your teacher see what strengths you can build upon, and what needs more work. Just as a lightening rod keeps the house safe, a good rough draft lets you channel the flow of your teacher's criticism, so you can get that feedback early, while there's still time to learn from it (and revise accordingly).
Note that the paragraph above does not follow the rigid pattern of the formula I suggested, but it should be fairly easy for a reader to fill it in.
To keep this example under 200 words, I had to cut this example:
The reason a summer blockbuster is paced so well, is that the director used a storyboard - a series of rough sketches to illustrate the script, rather like a comic book - in order to predict how much time and money to invest in crafting each scene.
Should I have kept the film example instead? I'm not sure. Now that I look at what I just wrote, I wonder if instead of comparing a teacher's criticism to a lightening strike (which is certainly how it feels sometimes), I should instead try to emphasize the idea that the rough draft is like the key that Ben Franklin sent up on his kite. He wanted that key to be struck by lightening, so that he could attract a bolt and learn from it. In fact, his experiment led him to invent the lightening rod, but I couldn't work that detail into that paragraph without going way over the word count.
So... it seems I've got more to say about the lightening example. Should I expand it, cutting something else to make more room? That's what writing a rough draft is all about -- it gives you the opportunity to decide what you can change, in order to make your good ideas better.
I think my paragraph would be stronger if I cut a few more words, in order to make room for some final statement that brought that specific student back into the story. I could do that by changing the last sentence so that it begins like this:
When I see that student again, I will tell her that, just as a lightening rod protects the house...