Yesterday I squished onto a big yellow school bus with a few dozen 5th graders to chaperone a field trip. The bus smelled like wet socks. The girls across the aisle nibbled bits of neon green paper. The kid behind me kept jamming his knee into my back. One girl wore a cluster of key chains on her eye glasses–and my daughter informed me that the one that said “I *heart* Justin Bieber” was meant to be ironic.
I scribbled notes about all these potential characters in my little notebook.
But my biggest writing lesson happened during the play we went to see: Honest Abe Lincoln. The actors were fun to watch, but I couldn’t imagine anyone except a school group watching this message-driven play. Abe was honest. Abe loved to read. Abe was honest. Abe loved to read. Abe was honest. Oh, and he loved to read.
Bam. Bam. Bam.
The writer hammered the message into almost every bit of dialogue, as well as dumping information into conversation, “As you know, Abe, [insert facts that no one really says in dialogue].”
I watched the sparkly-ballet flat-wearing girls, slumped in their seats, fuchsia-encased iphones resting on their laps. Earlier these girls showed off impressive dialogue skills as they flirted with the boys sitting behind them.
Kids are sophisticated these days. And smart. Even 5th graders deserve our best storytelling skills. Plus, they’re at an age when most people talk down to them. And they hate that!
If the play had focused on an interesting anecdote in Abe Lincoln’s life, it would’ve had more impact than constantly telling the audience that he loved to read and that he was *gasp* honest.
Tonight most of those 5th graders will be putting on a production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The kids have embraced the challenge of learning new vocabulary, memorizing lines, puzzling out the meaning of each scene… Because they’re smart.
Remember that in your own writing. Your readers are intelligent and sophisticated, even the ones who chew neon green paper on the school bus.