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Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

So what about those teenagers?

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett


Looking back at the comments to yesterday's post I have to ask if I'm being to harsh on the teenagers over at fanfiction.net. I think not. Yes, there are some teenagers over there who take the craft of writing to heart. I certainly didn't mean to paint those with my overly-broad brush, so let me trim a few bristles:

Go look at the Harry Potter section. And, I'm sorry to say, the House section. Just about any fandom save the more obscure ones if full of stories written by teenagers who either don't care about writing or haven't been taught the essentials.

I suspect that it's a mixture of both. It's trendy these days to not point up mistakes because - horrors! - it might bruise our children's fragile egos. It's one thing to encourage children to try new things. I would never tell a child that they wouldn't make a good writer or couldn't play the violin if they hadn't even tried. The truth is that writing or playing the violin or a thousand other things takes talent and practice. We praise our children for trying, but we don't give them the tools to improve.

I've lost track of the number of stories in which the author states that she wrote the tale for her English class and got an A. The mess with follows is usuall full of grammatical and spelling errors. High school students should know the difference between "they're" and "their" and "there." They should know that commas, shouldn't be placed, in random, spots. Sentences should start with capital letters and end in periods. This is basic stuff. Yet, when many are called on these errors they suddenly get all defensive, as if an A on a paper makes them great writers.

We're so afraid of bruising our children's fragile egos that they will certainly have a tough time when they get out into the world beyond public school. I wish that you could see some of the things that kids in AP English turn out. I am shocked. I see kids in the gifted program who can't spell their way out of a paper bag. But it's okay; it's the story that counts, right? The problem is that we've fed our children this line for so long that they can't accept it when someone corrects their spelling.

These teenagers congregate at places like fanfiction.net and feed off of each other. I just read a story that was written entirely in italics. Ouch. Half of the sentences were either not capitalized or were lacking a period at the end. Random commas were rampant. Typically, the reviewer stated that it was her first story and no flamez, plz. The reviews stories such as this typically get run along the lines of, "great stuff. plz continue." I suggested to this particular author that her story was difficult to read due to all italics and lack of proper punctuation, then suggested that she get a copy of Open Office, which is free. I'm sure I'll get a response along the lines of "OMG! U RE SO MEENZ! I SAID NO FLAMZ! CANT U REED?" Well, that was the problem: I couldn't read it. And if they can't tell the difference between constructive criticism and a flame then they shouldn't be posting their writing until they mature a bit.

These teens are giving the ones who can write a bad name. There are plenty of kids out there who take constructive criticism seriously and work to improve their craft. These are the teens who are going to be good writers. They may not make a living at it (they may not want to), but at least they'll go out into the world knowing how to communicate effectively.

I know that the first concrit you get can be devastating. I've been there. The teenagers with the potential to be good writers are the ones who can learn to separate the concrit from the flames and learn from their mistakes. Some of them do learn, and I've had some wonderful exchanges with teenagers who are genuinely interested in improving their writing.

Unfortunately, the bad writers seem to group together and feed each other with spelling and gramatically-challenged reviews. If their peers write like that, then it must be okay, right?

I know that it's possible to nurture and encourage a child while providing constructive critisism. What's wrong telling a second grader something along the lines of "wow, you've put a lot of work into that! I know that your teacher won't count off for spelling this word wrong because you haven't learned the 'i before e'rule yet, but wouldn't it impress her if you spelled it correctly? Let's look it up in the dictionary." That approach may not work for every child, but I can tell you that it worked for mine. I don't think that he has any ambitions to become a writer like his mom, but at least he can write clearly. I don't think that's asking too much for any teenager, do you?

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Filed under: Writing            
3/14/2006 7:14:00 AM
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