Developing Specific Ideas, Characters & Events in a Text

Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

Writers use several tools to develop ideas within their texts. Those tools are how the elements of the text interact with each other, and even with readers. However, the tools a writer uses depends on the genre and purpose of their text.

The Development and Interaction of Ideas in Text

When you read any great piece of writing, you know it. You get lost in the words, whether it is a classic novel from Steinbeck or an article in The New York Times. Those pieces catch our attention because of the way the author develops ideas or characters with the written word. And those interactions within the text occur because of the techniques writers use when developing their ideas.

Elaboration Builds Interactions

When you are writing, it is not uncommon for the ideas in your mind to not quite make it to the page. Professional writers can struggle with the same issue. You stare at a sentence on the page and think that what you are trying to communicate should be obvious to the reader, but of course that's not really true until you explain your ideas. To engage the reader, you have to elaborate on ideas to build interactions within the text.

If you pick up any well-written piece of text, the author begins by developing their ideas through elaboration. In writing, elaboration is when the author expands on their ideas by going into more detail on the ideas they're presenting. Take, for instance, a paragraph in an article in a magazine. Within the first few sentences, the author will propose an idea. It could be purely factual, or it might be more argumentative, but the process that follows is the same. Once an idea is thrown out in a concise statement, the author builds interactions in the text by elaborating on that idea in the sentences that follow.


For example, if an author was writing an article about the history of woman's suffrage, he might start by stating that Susan B. Anthony was a key player in the institution of woman's suffrage. Each sentence after that interacts with the initial idea in some way. For example, the author may first elaborate by talking about how she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton at an anti-slavery conference. Then the following sentence might elaborate further, describing how their meeting would change the suffrage movement, and so on. Each sentence interacts with the one before it by expanding on the previous idea.

Illustrate with Examples

Sometimes the interactions within a text can't be built upon elaboration alone. When the ideas you're developing are very concrete, such as events in history or the plot points of a novel, elaboration alone may be enough to build interactions between the ideas in the text. However, often the ideas being developed in a text are more abstract, requiring the author to incorporate examples to illustrate her point. Those examples help the author build interactions within the text, which in turn help develop the author's ideas to increasing levels of depth and complexity.

Let's say the author is writing an argumentative essay on why plastics are bad for the human race. Her claim might be that plastics are so dangerous that they should be banned altogether. (A claim is a belief that the author may be trying to prove or disprove in their writing.) It is easy in this sort of essay to go on about the chemicals in plastic, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, PBDEs, or BPAs. If the essay were written for chemists, the author might build interactions within the text by giving examples of how the chemical structure of these chemicals causes them to interact with the human body, nature, etc. Each example further develops the main idea, and they interact with one another by building evidence towards the author's initial claim.


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