Each fall, as my students embark on their first narrative writing piece of the year, I am reminded of the importance of (re)teaching the art of elaboration.
My students will (fingers crossed) tell you that when narrative writers elaborate, they provide the reader with a more complete picture of who they are.
For instance, my students understand it’s more powerful to show, than to tell.
My body shivered uncontrollably, as the northwest wind sliced through my one-size-too-small Under Armour sweatshirt, and the icy slush seeped into my well worn Converse tennies.
I was cold and wet.
They will tell you that inner thinking provides valuable insight into the motivation of a character.
I just can’t win. If I say something, everybody will call me a nark. And what if I am wrong? I’ll look like a complete idiot; nobody will ever trust me again. What do I do? How do I get myself out of this mess?
I didn’t know what to do.
And word choice? Word choice also provides the reader with a better understanding of who the character really is.
“Leave me alone, you insolent little monster!” my sister shrieked.
“Please stop bothering me,” my sister said.
As writers, we elaborate because it creates a more complete picture…
I believe the same holds true in the real world–although in the real world, we may not realize it.
Each day we elaborate on who we are; our actions, our thoughts (even though we may succeed in keeping them safely tucked away), our choice of words and the tone in which we speak, combine to provide the world with an undeniably accurate picture of who we are.
Which leads me to this…
What happens when our actions, our thoughts, our words and the tone in which we speak, are in opposition of who we say we are?
As a teacher, I am a role model every single day whether I’m feeling it or not. Each and every day, my students watch my every move and listen (optimistically speaking, of course) to my words.
Am I conveying conflicting information? Do I teach the importance of failure, and then hide my own? Do I encourage curiosity, but rigidly stick to my lesson plans or teach the same thing every single year? Do I expect my students to be problem solvers, but then solve all of their problems for them? Do I preach independence, but make them feel like my way is the only way? Do I stress the importance of reading and writing and then not read or write myself?
I’m also a Christian.
Familiar with Matthew 22:36-40?
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Do my actions demonstrate that I love my neighbor as myself? Do my words? Do I treat everyone, regardless of religion, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation or political affiliation, with love? Am I allowing negative, unloving thoughts to reside in my head and influence my actions? Do I acknowledge that loving someone may mean I need to make some difficult decisions and take unpopular actions?
Then there’s the vegan hat I wear. While a vegan is defined as someone who does not eat or use animal products, at its heart, it’s really about kindness and compassion. Do I browbeat humans about being compassionate to animals? Am I sensitive to the beliefs of others? Are my actions motivated by kindness?
I blog about health. If I engaged in unhealthy behaviors would the words I write mean anything? What if I stressed the importance of listening to your body, but then ignored my own? What if my food choices weren’t making me feel healthy? What if I jumped on every ‘latest and greatest’ get fit or weight loss bandwagon known to mankind?
See what I mean?
Ultimately, I believe it comes down to is this…
I am a teacher; therefore I need to love and value learning.
I am a Christian; therefore, I need to love all others.
I am vegan; therefore, I need to be compassionate to animals and humans.
I advocate optimal health for everyone, therefore, I need to model a healthy lifestyle.
If I truly want to make a positive impact upon this world, my actions, my thoughts, my words and tone, should encourage and inspire.
It’s up to me to elaborate upon who I am accordingly.