Mar 5, 2008

What makes an "A" Paper?

I make an "A" paper! Remember that post? Well, the teacher LOVED my paper on what makes it an "A." He loved it so much, he asked me to email him a copy of it so he can frame it. Well, ok. The framing part was made up, but the asking part was real. I haven't had a teacher ask me for a copy of my writing since in creative writing in Virginia when my teacher (and several other students, I most unhumbly say) asked to keep a poem I wrote. Just in case you're wondering, I got an "A" on my "A" paper.

I wasn't sure if I should post it on this or glassofrandom, but, since it's not fiction, I'm posting it here:

4 x C = A

Stephen King said the writer performs a form of telepathy by inserting his own thoughts into the reader’s head. A writer is successful when his thoughts and those of his reader align. How does one accomplish this? King never answered that. How does one merit an “A” on their paper? Everyone has written at least one paper in which they practically vomited information and received a high grade. And everyone (I hope I’m not the only one) has worked and revised and rewritten a paper only to see an “F,” or worse, a “C” when passed back to their crestfallen hands.

Effort therefore seems to be irrelevant, or at least not as important. I’ve thought about what makes an “A” paper, and I’ve come up with four principles—four things that every “A” paper has. They are, perhaps inappropriately, all “C’s”: Clarity, Concision, Concrete imagery, and Collection of thought.

An “A” paper is clear. It speaks the writer’s intent without ambiguity or uncertainty. It is what it is. Without clarity, even if the writer speaks into the mind of the reader, the reader will not be able to interpret any more than a Spanish-speaking reader will understand Japanese. Clarity also includes proper spelling and grammar. These are the laws of language, and the writer becomes a criminal upon violating these laws. While the writing of a criminal may hold some macabre fascination, its purpose of entering the reader’s subconscious fails.

An “A” paper is concise. It has no filler. As Will Strunk Jr. said, “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” Without concision, the meaning and intent of the paper will be muddled and weakened.

An “A” paper also contains concrete imagery. Without concrete images, a paper remains a paper, firmly held in the reader’s hands, but not fluttering into their minds and stroking their thoughts, stirring emotions and sense memories like madeleines did for Proust, illuminating new and familiar landscapes to explore.

Finally, an “A” paper requires a collection of thought. This is achieved through structure and order. Point A leads to Point B. Collection of thought pulls the paper’s controlling ideas together, like a knot tightening. Without this, any imagery transplanted into the reader’s head will leave just as quickly as it entered—like water poured into a cup with no bottom. Collective thought causes the reader to lose consciousness of self through rationality—at times called sucking them into the story. The reader must never be consciously reading; they need to enter the place of imagination, no matter the subject.

Once there, in the realm where we dream and imagination is king, the reader’s mind is a sponge eager to absorb—and the writer’s work reaches completion. The reader’s thoughts and memories belong to the writer. And if that’s not worth an “A,” I don’t know what is.


lynette said...

Way to go! I knew you could do it!

Ross & Amanda Goodman said...

Wow- I thoroughly enjoyed this, which is surprising, because when you wrote about the topic earlier I thought it would turn out some pretty uninteresting and vague papers. I think it takes a lot of talent to make such a concrete topic so literary and memorable. By the way, I am a friend of your fabulous wife and have been blog stalking you for some time now- I guess everyone has to come out of the closet at some point. :)

Austin said...

well welcome! and thanks for the praise, it means a lot to me!

Charlo said...

That was the shortest A paper I have ever seen

Charlo said...

excuse me, concise.