105182105411111CDPBy Neva Bodin

Recently an article appeared in our local paper regarding a dog shooting his owner. It seems the dog was standing in the front seat of a truck, and his master told him to get in the back. The dog complied, but shot the master in the arm. A rifle was on the backseat. It discharged. The article didn’t explain why, but it wouldn’t take much imagination to figure the dog stepped on it. I was chuckling, (I do feel sorry for the injured man of course). The county sheriff, in his wisdom, said the shooting appeared to be an accident. You think?

Immediately my mind began to look for motives from the dog. I could find some.

I went to the cupboard to grab the peanut butter to put on my toast. I wondered what all the ingredients were in the peanut butter as it boasted it was “natural.” After it listed quite a few ingredients that didn’t sound all that natural, a bigger statement warned, “Contains Peanuts.” You think? (I kind of like that new cliché.)

I began wondering if there was peanut butter for sale that didn’t contain peanuts. I’m going to have to be more observant about the products offered for sale.

This led to my thinking of the movie recently released: Dumb and Dumber 2, and to hearing the phrased “dumbing down America.” And to a statement I heard from a presenter at a writers’ conference that the average reading level for adults is fourth grade. With a little research online, I find it is grade 5.2, at least for seniors in high school. And while college may change that for some, there would be quite a few readers who will not progress above that.

According to

“• The average difficulty level of independently read books steadily increases through elementary school and peaks at 5.2 in grade 12 (see table A1 in the Appendix, p. 51).

  • The difficulty level of books read independently by high school students is roughly comparable to bestselling books that adults read; however, the average difficulty level of books students read is lower than many newspaper articles, and is considerably lower than what may be required for college and career.”

So perhaps attaching what I think of as obvious conclusions, aren’t so “dumb” after all, and I am “dumber” for not thinking of it! These facts also have obvious implications for us as writers.

I am working on a young adult novel that involves time travel. Should I include a lot of “likes” in my verbiage for today’s teen? Actually including “like” every few words, as I heard from a young female I had a conversation with recently, would make it verbiage, which can mean an excess of words. Like I don’t know what I’m doing, which is not, like, what I had in mind. But would be, like, at the level of the, like, reader perhaps.

Today I read of a man in trouble because he shot a cow with a stolen gun. While the meaning of course is clear, with common sense, I can still chuckle as I wonder why the cow had a stolen gun.

I also own the book, Eats Shoots & Leaves, by Lynn Truss—a book about punctuation and how the above sentence changes in meaning by inserting commas. I love that title.

All this rambling, and how I entertain myself with the newspaper, is really about wondering how you, as a writer, work to make your articles/books at the level of the average reader. Do you worry about that? Do it naturally? Consciously write to a fifth grade level? What’s your secret? I’d like to know.