Author : Lena Wagner.
Published : Mon, Mar 25 2019 :6 AM.
Format : jpg/jpeg.
Leads are big. If your first bite of a meal is bitter, you`re likely to put the fork down and call for take-out. You`ve got to grab readers from the get-go. One method is direct address. Here`s the lead from an article of mine about dictionaries: Think of your favorite book. No, better yet, go and get your favorite book, feel its heft in your hand, flip through its pages, smell its bookness. Read a passage or two to send that stream of sparks through your head, the alchemy that occurs when the written word collides with the chemicals of your consciousness. Delight is the fruit of that collision. It tells the reader to do something, with a visual and sensual context. It`s hard for a reader not to read that lead and avoid doing what it requests, at least in the reader`s imagination. Here`s another lead of mine that takes a different tack, one of identification or empathy: Scuttlebutt had it that Barbara Cartland, the doyenne of romance writers, did much of her early writing at the piano, stark naked. However that strains credibility, everyone`s heard of writers who insist they can`t write without their ancient manual typewriters with the missing keys, or their favorite fountain pens (or maybe even a stylus and hot wax). Writers can be a peculiar lot, and it`s not surprising that their composing methods can be all over the map.
Essays are literally at your fingertips: consider a piece on how fingerprint technology evolved. Or at your nosetip: my most recently published essay was about a lurking smell in my house that led to a mad encounter with attic rats. Humble topics can spur sage tales: Annie Dillard`s recounting of seeing a moth consumed in a candle flame morphs into a elegy on an individual`s decision to live a passionate life. You don`t need glasses to find your topics, just a willingness to see them. Which way should your essay tilt? Some essays wrap blunt opinions in layered language, ensnaring a reader with charm, not coercion. Louis Lapham`s essays often take a political angle, but any advocacy is cloaked in beguiling prose. A how-to essay might explain a process, but its steps wouldn`t be the mechanistic ones of a manual, but more the methods of throwing procedural doors open, lighting from within. Personal-experience or confessional essays done well deftly get away with impressionistic strokes: words evoking sensations, scents, and subtleties. Consistency in tone is compelling: leading your reader through your essay with sweet conceptual biscuits only to have them fall hip-deep in a polemical cesspool at essay`s end is counter-productive. Essays need elasticity-they can feint and jab at ideas, but shouldn`t sucker-punch.
Essays are personal--the best of them can seem like conversation with an intelligent, provocative friend, but one with remarkable discretion in editing out the extraneous. Whether the word I appears at all, you must be in your essay, and pungently. It can`t be simply How I Spent My Summer Vacation; it must be How I Spent My Summer Vacation Tearfully Mourning My Dead Ferret. Never hide in an essay. Essays aren`t formless dough, they are the baked bread, hot and crusty. Cranky, apprehensive or playful, your candid voice should be a constant: you don`t want your essays to roar like a lion in one paragraph and bleat like a mewling lamb in another (unless it`s done for effect).
In a cultural diversity class the author had an assignment to write an essay to ...review a current article that discusses or illustrates the portrayal of some aspect of cultural diversity in U.S.society. One current article which appeared to meet the assignment directions concerned black officers in the U.S. military -- it illustrated an aspect of cultural diversity in U.S. society. So the general topic of the proposed essay became A review of a current newspaper article that discusses black officers in the U.S. military illustrating an aspect of cultural diversity in the U.S. This statement of the general topic of the proposed essay serves as the basis for the first sentence in the introductory paragraph. The first sentence of the example introductory paragraph might be something like The media addressing some aspect of cultural diversity that was selected for this paper is a newspaper article discussing black officers in the U.S. military. Notice how this sentence clearly states what is the general topic of the essay which IS the main point of the introductory paragraph. Also notice how words from the assignment directions are used in this sentence -- communicating to the essay evaluator that the writer is paying attention to the assignment directions.
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Because one of the great appeals of the personal essay is the conversational tone essayists take, it seems a given that it`s best to be conversant with your subject. But write what you know can also be an inkless cage; some of the best essays are a voyage of discovery for both writer and reader. You might accidentally flip some breakfast cereal with your spoon and have an epiphany about the origins of catapults. That little leap might take you seven leagues into the history of siege engines and voila!--a piece for a history journal comparing ancient weapons to new. Subjects sit, stand and float all around you: should you write about baseball, bacteria or bougainvilleas? The key is engagement with your topic so that the angle your writing takes is pointed and penetrating. You don`t write about cars, you write about the fearful symmetry of a 1961 T-Bird. The essayist should be, to paraphrase Henry James, one of the people on whom nothing is lost. Idly looking over at a fellow driver stopped at a traffic signal might be a moment to yawn, but it might also be a moment to consider how people amuse themselves in their vehicles. An essay here about new car technology, an essay there about boredom and its antidotes.
This same four-sentence paragraph structure may be used to develop the expected three main paragraphs in the example essay (one main paragraph for each of the three main points in the thesis statement) as well as any subparagraphs for each main paragraph. Using the example introductory paragraph developed in this article, might the reader have developed an effective understanding of the four-sentence basic paragraph structure illustrated to create the expected three main paragraphs for this essay example? Try it!