Author : Lisa Werner.
Published : Sat, Mar 23 2019 :10 PM.
Format : jpg/jpeg.
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.
Using this four-sentence structure to build the introductory paragraph, start the paragraph with a statement that clearly communicates the general topic of the paper. The topic statement developed for this example assignment as indicated previously is A review of a current newspaper article that discusses black officers in the U.S. military, so a possible first sentence might be 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 communicates up-front to the reader what is the general topic of the essay and it clearly communicates to the essay evaluator the author`s understanding of the assignment!
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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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.
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.