Jan 28

Getting the point across

Yesterday I saw this article about how children often miss the moral of a story. The article is true whether we’re talking preschool children or whether we’re talking kids in the 6-10 age group. Time after time, children walk away from a story having completely missed the message. Or worse, having badly misinterpreted the message.

The reasons for this are numerous. As the article points out, understanding the outcome requires stages of judgement throughout the story as cause and effect is revealed. As we approach stories as writers, we often work under the assumption that children know why characters are doing certain things whereas it is common that the audience hasn’t looked for a why. The why can be integral to understanding the final message.

Then there is that issue itself – that the moral or main message usually comes at the end. Your one-line sum up about how great it is to be yourself is simply not as likely to stick as the lead-up where each character wants to be just like the other kids and we get a song about trying not to stand out. In providing the negative example to lead to your wonderful positive message about life, chances are you may be planting that negative as the key takeaway of your story.

And then there is the fact that, as covered here recently, kids often miss bits. They’re busy, busy little people and they may not get a key line required for that “aha!” moment.

So what do we do? Well the one place I disagree with that article is the idea that we can’t predict whether a message will stick. I think it’s more likely that people just don’t ask the question. If we accept that getting the point across is difficult, we can do many things to ensure the success of that message. Many are already covered on this blog already so here are just some key suggestions:

– Make sure the message is itself simple and easily illustrated.

– Ensure that your moral/message realisation is as big and exciting as any negative parts.

– Really take the time to celebrate that message.

– Have your message run through the entire story, not just the end. Make it a running theme.

– Remind and recap, as per this post.

– State any key message clearly without surrounding clutter. Leave no ambiguity.

– Find a way of asking the audience to pay attention. It’s a simple trick but it works.

Do these things and the chances of your core message sticking will increase dramatically. And at that part of the process, there is one great way to know whether it is working: try it out on children and talk to them about your story.

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