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You Can *Know* It… Doesn’t Mean You’re Doing It

So last week, as part of my English tutoring for teens at Key Stage 3 and 4 level, I did some revision on apostrophe use. I’d noticed many of them were using apostrophes incorrectly and correct punctuation is a great way of picking up extra points at GCSE; it can even make the difference between grades. It’s a lesson I’ve taught a million times before. First, I looked at *how* apostrophes were used in various ways, then we looked at some incorrect use of apostrophes and corrected them. Afterwards, we did some grammar quizzes where the students were asked to choose “it’s” or “its” or “whose” or “who’s”, depending on the context of a sentence.

I was very pleased when every single student got 10/10 on both quizzes and pronounced apostrophe use “easy”. I was less pleased when, twenty mins later, I looked in their books and discovered, despite the focus on apostrophes for the first half of the lesson, nearly all of them were using apostrophes incorrectly when writing notes on their English Lit texts. At first I figured, “oh it’s just rough work”, but then, when I pointed out the incorrect apostrophes in their work, I was met with blank looks. “That’s not incorrect,” One girl even insisted. I asked her the various questions I’d used during the grammar exercises and eventually her blank look finally turned to recognition and she corrected them. Yet she had needed in-depth prompting to facilitate that correction, despite having been immersed in the learning objective less than half an hour earlier, getting all the answers right.

How is it possible to *know* something and yet still *not use* it? I’m sure that’s a question that has baffled teachers for centuries the world over, but from a script reading/writing and craft point of view, I think the answer is simple:

Writers *think* they know it, so they figure they’re *doing* it.

Craft is a learnt skill, so it’s easy to assume we *know* something – structure, for instance – and nine times out of ten, we would be right. We’ve done this before. We know the alternatives, we know what works for us, we know what our story needs.

But I think writers drop the ball when they feel too sure of their scripts, their ability and/or their story. And yes, I include myself on this. There have been moments when I’ve become too cynical for one reason or another and I’ve written scripts that can only be described as crud, purely on the basis I’ve thought, rather arrogantly,“Well it’s still better than most of the scripts in the pile.” Even if that script was somehow better (and I’m still unconvinced: where’s the heart??), it still wasn’t GOOD. And why? Because just KNOWING craft, doesn’t mean you’re DOING the story justice and telling it “right” (whatever that means). And story really is king or queen of this process I reckon.

But I think “good” writers are not cynical. Instead, they never stop learning and they never stop looking for alternative ways of telling the SAME story. They know feedback improves their work; they know two heads are better than one (but conversely, that 300 heads are a disaster). They know a good script or piece of work means hard slog; that the easier it is, perhaps the more difficult they should make it – either for them or for their character. They know the hard questions should not be automatically dismissed. They know they should look at genre & audience but not write purely for the market, either. They know they should be receptive to the world around them, but also not let the world take them over. Beyond the actual script itself, they know it’s about getting themselves out there, too.

Yes, we *know* all this…

… But are we doing it?


But I *Know* It – do you?

How It’s Possible to Read A Script And have NO CLUE What It’s About

Apostrophes Explained: handy PDF worksheet

Grammar Revisited – Issues Re: Apostrophes & Mixed Tenses

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