Author : Lisa Werner.
Published : Wed, Apr 17 2019 :12 AM.
Format : jpg/jpeg.
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).
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.
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.
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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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.
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.