Thoughts on editing, inspired by “A Christmas Story”

One of my favorite Christmas movies is “A Christmas Story.” Although we don’t like it enough to sit through TBS’s annual 24-hour marathon of the film, one of our traditions is to watch it once at this time of year.

In case you haven’t seen it, the movie is about 9-year-old Ralphie Parker and a central plot line is his quest to get a Red Ryder BB Gun. Whenever he asks for the gun for Christmas, he invariably is told, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

In one sequence in the movie, Ralphie’s fourth-grade class is told to write “a theme” on the subject, “What I Want for Christmas.” Ralphie, who ordinarily doesn’t like theme-writing, views the assignment as a primo opportunity to end the “conspiracy of irrational prejudice against Red Ryder and his peacemaker.”

As he turns in his theme, he fantasizes about garnering an A+ (make that multiple plusses) on it.

“I knew I was handing Miss Shields a masterpiece,” says the narrator, the adult Ralphie. “Maybe Miss Shields in her ecstasy would excuse me from theme writing for the rest of my natural life.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work out that way. Miss Shields gives him a C+ on the essay and notes at the bottom, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” As you might imagine, Ralphie is devastated.

This sequence made me wonder, did Miss Shields give him the C+ because his theme was poorly written or because she was anti-BB-gun? Has that ever happened to you? You get your article or press release back, and it seems as though it was picked apart more for the content than for the quality of the writing. Have you ever edited an article and found yourself picking it apart because you disagreed with the content?

So PR Daily readers, let’s put our BB gun biases aside, take an objective look at Ralphie’s theme, and see whether it deserves a C+.

What I Want for Christmas

By Ralphie Parker

What I want for Christmas is a Red Ryder BB Gun with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time. I think that everybody should have a Red Ryder BB Gun. They’re very good for Christmas. I don’t think that a football is a very good Christmas present.

Before I grade Ralphie’s paper, I must admit that I am anti-BB-guns. If my 9-year-old son asked for a BB gun, my response would be: “No. They’re dangerous.”

However, if I were to give Ralphie a grade, it would be a solid B. He’s writing in clear and complete sentences, and he covers the topic.

He might have expanded the essay to include why he wants the gun—as well as to replace “which” with “that”—but that might be a little advanced for a fourth-grader. (Actually, he should have just called it a clock, but maybe the theme had to be at least 50 words long.)

So, what grade would you give Ralphie? How would you edit it—regardless of your feelings about BB guns?

This article was first published on Ragan Communication’s PR Daily.

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