Articles / On Writing

Quick Tips: Avoid The Rut

of Thesis Statement Writing

 

A few years ago I was helping out in one of the fourth grade classes at my local elementary school. The teacher instructed the students on how to write a paragraph. Part of my job was to help these students organize their ideas and correct their mistakes. A match made in heaven, right? The teacher passed out the four-square method of writing, and began teaching the very basic model of thesis statement writing. This visual method for students to learn about constructing paragraphs was wonderful and something I don’t remember learning as a kid. I’m sure I learned the basic concepts of paragraph construction because my teachers seemed to give me a passing grade for my essays.

Four Square Writing Method

The refresher course that day as I helped out the fourth grade served as a reminder that most of us were taught how to organize our ideas as we write. Once we hone our skills with the paragraph, we move up to the essay, and on to research papers, thesis papers, and beyond. This simple model we learn in grade school expands to become thesis statement writing and allows us to present complex ideas with all the pros and cons to argue our point.

So what’s the problem with thesis statement writing? Nothing, unless you’re writing fiction.  Using the thesis statement tells the reader what’s to come. It tells the reader what the paragraph is about, leaves no mystery, and is generally boring. For example, take this thesis statement paragraph:

Marianne hated the rain. It made her normally cheerful one-mile walk to her apartment an arduous chore. Her hair frizzed, her shoes squeaked, and her glasses always fogged up.

In this sentence, the thesis statement is “Marianne hated the rain.” What follows next are all the reasons or arguments to prove the thesis statement.

Instead of telling the reader Marianne hates the rain, show it.

The first drop landed on Marianne’s scalp where her hair naturally parts. It veered off and swirled around the crown of her head. Maybe it was a just teaser, but she picked up her pace. She stopped for the light and caught the next drop on the lens of her glasses. She cleaned it off using the bottom of her blouse and hoped she didn’t scratch the lens. The light changed and she hurried across the street. The faster she walk, the more it rained. She knew this tune. In three more blocks, her blouse would stick to her back. At five blocks, her feet would slip around like wet seals in her strappy sandals. At eight blocks, the hairdo she’d spent all morning on to look extra nice for Mark in accounting would look more like a poodle’s after a wash and fluff.

“Marianne! Do you need a ride?”

“Hello, Mark.”

While this paragraph is full of information, it sets the scene and it doesn’t feel as if I’m giving my readers a list of facts. The idea here is to give bits and pieces about the character that shows how much she dislikes getting caught in the rain. Reveal things slowly and don’t reveal too much, too soon. Do you use thesis statements in your writing? What have you done to eliminate it from your manuscript? Please share your experience in the comments. Now, go write something!


Comments

  1. Great way to describe telling vs. showing, Janine! I’ll be sharing this!

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