I attended some training this week on teaching literacy to teenagers. I was told that the key to persuasive writing was to remember A FOREST: Alliteration, Facts, Opinions, Rhetorical Questions, Examples, Statistics, rule of Three.
Now, I don’t disagree with this. These are all effective techniques in my opinion. More than that, there is a circularity in education which means that if someone says A FOREST is the key to persuasive writing then the markscheme in some future exam will only judge a piece of writing to be persuasive if there is A FOREST there, and who doesn’t want to do well in an exam?
I dutifully wrote up my piece of persuasive writing and was given someone else’s to check. As is always the case I was asked to suggest improvements. The piece was very good, the only remark I could make was it had used too much alliteration. I was asked what I meant, too much alliteration, and I pointed out how this technique had been used at the start, in the middle and at the end of the piece. A good 15% of the piece was alliteration, alliteration, alliteration…
And that’s when something occurred to me. The difference between teaching English and writing. Don’t think I’m having a go at teachers, I’ve been one for twenty years. The point is that a teacher will flag up all the clever stuff in a piece of writing. They will point out the techniques the writer has used and discuss them with the class. And this is the right thing to do as the pupils will learn by example.
But now look at this from the writer’s point of view. They writer will have done all of those things, but if they know their stuff they won’t make them too obvious. They’ll have buried those tricks in the flow of the text; they don’t want the reader tripping over them.
It’s good advice to any writer: don’t remind the reader they are reading. Keep it flowing, if they’re stopping to admire your wordplay they’re not immersed in the story.