Author : Lena Wagner.
Published : Sun, Mar 24 2019 :3 AM.
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Notice the four-sentence structure of this introductory paragraph. Notice how the general topic of the essay is clearly stated in the first sentence and notice how the supporting evidence in the second sentence and the explanation of how that evidence does support the general topic of the essay leads the reader to the statement of the thesis -- the last sentence in the introductory paragraph. Notice how the last sentence in this introductory paragraph (the thesis statement) communicates to the reader a clear outline of what the reader may expect in the essay, thus providing the reader an opportunity to develop an initial structure of thinking in his or her own brain to use to build an effective understanding of the main points the author of the essay intends to communicate to the reader.
Most essays aren`t built on journalism`s inverted pyramid, stacking essential information up front and moving to leaner layers as factual momentum fades. Instead, essays often take elliptical paths that meander around in a subject`s fields, picking its flowers, discarding them, looking to metaphoric hills beyond, then up-close at the ground below. An accomplished essayist like Edward Hoagland wends his way through paragraphs, often taking a quick conceptual turn that might seem a misstep or a dead end, but he always re-establishes his rhythm, much like a jazzman vamping and then returning to the deeper theme. Hoagland is a good study on the magic of cadence and the musicality of words; he makes the difficult art of weaving layered points of view with bright language seem easy. That`s not to say that a more straightforward path through your essay isn`t the best course. Mark Twain`s The Private History of a Campaign That Failed essentially plots a chronological rendering of the hapless-and hilarious-exploits of a band of Civil War bumblers, Twain prominent among them. Determine if your material is the sort that should sneak up on readers to win their confidences or overwhelm them with the sustained march of topic vigor.
Besides beginning with a memorable bit about Ms. Cartland, it invites the readers to consider their own pecadillos about favorite objects and fetishes, whether they are writers or not. You want the reader here to nod yes, agree that people are odd, and move forward into the piece. Sometimes a question that has a universal appeal can do the trick. Consider this: Could listening to a barking dog actually drive you mad? I fear it could. Worse yet, I fear this not in theory, but in fact: barking dogs are making me a sweaty mess. The statement shapes my own problem into one that might apply to many. You`ll drag a dog lover or hater (and that`s a broad audience) deep into the essay by this lead leash.
So the third sentence in the example introductory paragraph is expected to clearly communicate to the reader how the information in the second sentence does support the main point of the paragraph as stated in the first sentence. For this example, a third sentence might be something like This information clearly indicates the selected newspaper article presents some aspect of cultural diversity, that aspect being blacks in the U.S. military still struggling to achieve higher ranks. Notice how this sentence communicates explicitly to the reader the writer`s understanding of exactly how the information presented in the second sentence supports the main point stated in the first sentence. At this point, the main point of this paragraph HAS BEEN MADE.
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).
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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.