Thursday, January 14, 2016

What’s the point?

Let me tell you about three men who try my patience.

Two of them, authors (as part of their professions), are famous throughout North America and Britain. You'd recognize their names but I won't identify them because one is a friend and I don't want to embarrass him.

The third is a friend and, because there's no way he'll ever read this blog post, I'll tell you his name: Len.  

What drives me crazy about these three is a little flaw in communication style.

Let's start with Len. Dozes of times my husband and I have sat around a dinner table with Len and his wife. Len has A Point to make but instead of stating it, he lists stats and tells an interesting little story and gives out more stats and tells another story, all the while circling around and around The Point—but he never states The Point.

A legendary cross country coach, Len often talks about a runner's performance but, since I'm only slightly acquainted with cross country, I can't figure out if Len's stats and tales make The Point that the runner is a potential Olympic athlete or a pathetic has-been with no future in cross country. Len talks all around The Point but never states The Point. It's clear to him, but not to every one of his listeners.

The two authors do the same in their writing. They are passionate about their messages but, like Len, they approach The Point from various angles and talk circles around The Point without ever stating The Point. The point is obvious to them, but not to every one of their readers.

Recently I read a memoir by my friend and in numerous places I struggled to make sense of it. I read many passages several times but rarely figured out the guy's Point.

Honestly, I was worried: Was I showing the first signs of dementia?

I persevered to the end, though, and set the book aside, befuddled. And worried about my brain.

I've read several books since then and had no trouble comprehending them.

Now I'm reading my friend's book again. I'm still having trouble figuring out The Points but this time I'm not worried about dementia. Now I know the problem: It's his communication style.

He doesn't realize he's not fully communicatinghe has a blind spot.

We all have blind spots. That's why we need others to read our rough drafts and give us honest critiques.

So here's My Point: Spell out Your Points.

The vignettes—the stories, the accounts—that you write into your memoir are important: They illustrate a principle or lesson you learned, something valuable you want to share with your readers.

It’s fine to list stats and include anecdotes and examine Your Point from various angles but, when the time is right, draw everything together in a specific statement that makes Your Point clear for readers. Jesse Hines says it this way: “… crystallize it in one short, snappy sentence.”

“Many writers have a general idea of what they want to say….
[T]hey start out writing,
touching on their topic from different angles,
and including every bit of information
they think is relevant.
The writing may end up readable
and professional sounding,
but the readers will come away thinking that,
while they understood the gist of the author’s intent,
they can’t precisely say what the take-home point was.
This is usually because the writer
never really knew what it was either.”
Jesse Hines (emphasis mine)

So, while you revise and polish your memoir, focus on clarity: Ask yourself: 
  • Do I know what My Point is?/Points are?
  • Does my vignette/chapter/entire memoir state The Point?
  • Will my readers grasp the take-home point, the takeaway?

When you’ve finished your manuscript, or a vignette or a chapter, ask a fellow writer to critique it. Ask him or her to check for clarity.

Critique partners are valuable allies in this often-mysterious journey called writing. Their blind spots are different from yours, which is a blessing because they help you discover parts of your stories that need changes. Your goal is to make your stories as clear as they can be for the sake of your readers, and a critique partner can help you do that.

Your memoir can serve as:
  • a bridge between you and others,
  • a way for others to benefit from lessons you’ve learned and insights you’ve gained,
  • an instrument to promote forgiveness and understanding,
  • an means of offering hope,
  • a way to comfort others with the comfort God has given you (2 Corinthians 1:4).

"At times our own light goes out and is rekindled 
by a spark from another person. 
Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude 
of those who have lighted the flame within us." 
Albert Schweitzer

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