Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Unofficial Sequart Author Bootcamp: "70/30" Rule

Following my new workload rules that I’ve set for myself, I regret that I wasn’t able to get this article up yesterday. It’s the way it is now, my ambrosia to avoiding panic attacks.

Remember book reports?

I did lots of book reports when I was a kid. My teachers would have me pick out a book, and I would give a little presentation on what I read. I would tell them my favorite part, wait for my peers to clap, and then I would go sit down. It didn’t dawn on me until now that these projects laid the foundations required to understand essays and other forms of high level writing that I would encounter later on in my schooling. Sequart writers aren’t the only ones that benefited from their reading assignments. All students, professionals, or politicians use these foundations.

Without needlessly complicating this, I will refer to my “70/30” rule. This rule dictates the proportion of commentary to summary any one piece should have, and it all can be derived from our primitive intellectual pursuits, what we learned from them in particular. Imagine yourself standing in front of your peers at school. You hold out a pastel red piece of cardboard covered with hasty scrawls. It’s shaped like an apple, because in the story you read, the caterpillar finds a new home, inside of the apple. (The green sticking out of the apple, that’s supposed to be the worm.)  You announce to the class that this is what the story is about and then move on to what you liked about the story. It was a nice story, with cool pictures, and the caterpillar gets a new home, which you think is nice for the caterpillar. It’s your favorite story you’ve read so far from Ms. Peterson’s bookshelf. When you’re done, you answer some questions and go sit down. What this little story demonstrates is the importance of interpretation.

As a child, you’re bound to be very limited when it comes to your power of interpretation. Whether or not a child can even “interpret” is still out with the jury. But were I to ask my son or daughter, “So, what did you think about the movie/book/show?” Their response would be an interpretive one. Consider interpretation in your pieces at Sequart. Do you follow the 70/30 Rule? Everyone that reads your article has a limited awareness of comic books. (One must assume that they understand the story of the comic you’re writing about as well.) So pushing out that summary of the basic gist of the comic, while important for establishing the premise that drives your piece, I would limit to only 30% of your paper. People generally aren’t interested in your summary of the comic book. They want to know how you felt about it. Rodger Ebert would describe in his reviews a basic outline of the plot, but he would also critically assess the story. He would isolate its strengths and weaknesses. 70% of your piece should discuss your thoughts on the work, and your thoughts should be backed by evidence and examples. Returning to our elementary school tale, I would point out that when the caterpillar found his way to the thorn patch, he was able to get away from the sparrow because he was real smart and thought that the thorns would protect him. I would say, “The caterpillar liked the thorns because they made him feel safe.” That’s a critical assessment. These kinds of observations are the ones that drive your work.

The bottom line is that people don’t want to hear about the story. They already know a good deal about it. Readers care about what the story discusses and, by extension, what you think about it. So focus your pieces on the critical assessments. Look at how Superman reacts when he is presented with a problematic choice, or how Batman uses his intelligence to find the most expedient way to solve a puzzle. Why are these details important? If you ask those questions and really dig in to them, you will understand why the 70/30 Rule works.     


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