Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Knowing the Rules vs. Understanding the Rules

I frequently get submissions from writers that clearly tell me the writer is a beginner. This does not mean it is a personal slam against the writer, but the writer shows a clear immaturity. Where do I see this? In the use of techniques and rules that are taught in writing courses.


Please don’t get me wrong. I am a firm believer in writing seminars and workshops. I am a firm believer in seeing those established writers getting out there and working with those new writers. What I am dealing with today is the level of understanding a writer has.


To understand where I am coming from, I want to begin first with Bloom’s Taxonomy. For those of you familiar with teaching and learning, this is something that is embedded in our learning early on. Bloom identified different levels of learning, each progressively getting more and more complex. He noted the following:


  1. Knowledge: arrange, define, duplicate, label, list, memorize, name, order, recognize, relate, recall, repeat, reproduce state.
  2. Comprehension: classify, describe, discuss, explain, express, identify, indicate, locate, recognize, report, restate, review, select, translate,
  3. Application: apply, choose, demonstrate, dramatize, employ, illustrate, interpret, operate, practice, schedule, sketch, solve, use, write.
  4. Analysis: analyze, appraise, calculate, categorize, compare, contrast, criticize, differentiate, discriminate, distinguish, examine, experiment, question, test.
  5. Synthesis: arrange, assemble, collect, compose, construct, create, design, develop, formulate, manage, organize, plan, prepare, propose, set up, write.
  6. Evaluation: appraise, argue, assess, attach, choose compare, defend estimate, judge, predict, rate, core, select, support, value, evaluate.


Most writers remain at that first 2-3 levels. They can repeat with enthusiasm terminology we use in publishing, but a full understanding of why it works the way it does, or the impact on the reader and the story is not there. For example, we can use the idea of high concept. Think about it for yourself. If you understand the term and you can tell me what it means, you are simply at the second level. If you can create a high concept without using a formula or a fill in the blank worksheet, you may be moving into the application level. But do you know what you are doing and why?


Understanding that why element is what moves you into the 4th level. You can see the purpose and what all of the components are of the puzzle.


Moving into the higher level of synthesis means you can create a high concept as well as a high concept story from scratch that stands out as being truly unique and being a high concept. I have to actually say, in my humble opinion, there are a few “published authors” out there that are not at this level. These are the writers that still believe that their query letter alone was what sold the story. These are the writers that really don’t know what it is that makes their story sell. And yes, these are the writers that will likely disappear when the editor says the publisher is bored with the writing.


I have to say, again, in my humble opinion, writers that want to teach others about the process should really be at the evaluation level. Anything lower becomes more of the blind leading the blind.


Now, why did I bring this up? I want you to think about your writing. Where do you fall and really look at that big question of WHY? Move yourself further up that taxonomy.






Scott C. Eagan




  1. I want to thank you for this always thoughtful, teaching blog. I know I can learn something when I come here, which makes it one of the few blogs I visit frequently. BW in IL

  2. I learn so much and respect the advice you write, but really...how are we meant to achieve these higher concepts if we cannot learn them in classes?