first five

Writing Advice from Jorge Bergoglio

first fiveWhen we write or speak a single sentence, we arrange words in such a way as to present a clear thought to those who read or hear them.  A book or a speech is a collection of sentences assembled to deliver an idea.  A sentence or a collection of sentences, written or spoken, creates an image or images in our mind.  The sentence creator is successful when his words evoke the image he intended to create with his words.

Stores and libraries are filled with books to help us communicate effectively.  Story by Robert McKee is one of the most popular for screenwriters and novelists.  My personal favorite is The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman; it is always within arm’s reach of my desk.

Pope FrancisYesterday, I read a few sentences that gave me great insight to writing more effectively, and the advice came from a rather unlikely source, Evangelii Gaudium by Pope Francis, The Joy of the GospelEvangelii Gaudium is a 2013 Apostolic Exhortation by Pope Francis, a communication from the Pope to encourage people to undertake a certain activity, in this case the proclamation of the Gospel.

In paragraph 158, Pope Francis quotes Pope Paul VI (1897 – 1978), “The faithful … expect much from preaching (and writing), and will greatly benefit from it, provided that it is simple, clear, direct, well-adapted.”  He then adds his own advice,

“Simplicity has to do with the language we use.  It must be one that people understand, lest we risk speaking to a void.  Preachers (and writers) often use words learned during their studies and in specialized settings which are not part of the ordinary language of their hearers … The greatest risk for a preacher is that he becomes so accustomed to his own language that he thinks that everyone else naturally understands and uses it.”

Pope Francis presents the basic framework for all effective communications:  SIMPLICITY.

I set my word processor to give me ‘readability’ statistics when I review spelling and grammar.  There was a time when I inadvisably wrote to achieve a ‘double digit’ grade level thinking that it would lift my writing to greatness because only ‘educated people,’ could understand my ‘word collections.’  I’ve long since abandoned that practice.  My current working manuscript, for example earns a 6th grade Flesch-Kincaid readability level.  I am satisfied because that means it will make sense to a broader range of readers.

As you speak or write, take advice from Pope Francis.  KISS …. Keep it simple.

By the way …. I blew it on this one … it’s at grade level 10.


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