Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Signal Your Intentions

turn signalIt wasn’t so unusu­al that my teenage nephews were send­ing me sig­nals that trans­lat­ed to: “Will you take us to the store right now so we can spend these Christ­mas gift cards from Grand­ma?”

What was new this year was that they also want­ed to do the dri­ving. Brand-new per­mits in their pock­ets, I agreed to let one twin dri­ve us there, and the oth­er dri­ve us home. And one of the things that most struck me was how care­ful they were to use their turn sig­nals, even with no oth­er cars for seem­ing­ly miles around.

It made me real­ize that as a sea­soned dri­ver I am some­times a lit­tle lax about using my blinker—but that sig­nal­ing one’s inten­tions is a real­ly good habit to devel­op in stu­dent writ­ers as well as in stu­dent dri­vers.

When kick­ing off a sto­ry, or titling it, send­ing the read­er a sig­nal about what to expect promis­es them a pay­off. For exam­ple: “Hey, read­er, do you love fan­ta­sy? Do you see how in Chap­ter One I’ve snuck in this bizarre detail? It’s a lit­tle hint that the world of this book is going to hold a lot more sur­pris­es than the every­day ‘real’ world that you’re used to.”

Fore­shad­ow­ing is anoth­er effec­tive use of sig­nal­ing: a shad­ow (metaphor­i­cal or not) falling across the character’s sun­ny day can send a li‚ttle shiv­er down the spine of a read­er as they antic­i­pate that as-yet-uniden­ti­fied trou­ble is com­ing.

And when I review the work of writ­ers at all stages and ages, one of the most com­mon things I see is that there are obvi­ous holes in the infor­ma­tion pre­sent­ed to the read­er. Not inten­tion­al holes, meant to build ten­sion. But unin­ten­tion­al holes, because the writer has things clear in their own head and doesn’t see that the read­er isn’t being told enough. This is why peer review can be so valu­able a part of your classroom’s writ­ing process. You don’t even need to ask stu­dents to offer each oth­er full-fledged cri­tiques; sim­ply encour­age them to ask each oth­er ques­tions about their sto­ries, and to point out where they are con­fused in their read­ing. These are great sig­nals to the writer about where they might have unin­ten­tion­al­ly left holes in their sto­ry.

Flip­ping that blink­er on is so easy—I find myself doing it much more often now that I’ve seen the stu­dent dri­vers in action.

No comments yet.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.