Author : Sabrina Amsel.
Published : Wed, Apr 3 2019 :6 AM.
Format : jpg/jpeg.
First-person essays span space, time and subject: the city dump, an obsessive bird, or a toy from the 60s--all subjects of essays I`ve published--are just one shuffle of an endless deck of compelling themes. Mongrel lot or not, it`s never the subject of an essay that tells, but the style and stance of its author--what might seem the least likely of essay subjects can be made a piquant page-turner by a writer`s winning hand. We`ll look here at choosing the topic, slant and voice of your essay, constructing a lead, building an essay`s rhythm and packing a punch at essay`s end.
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.
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).
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.
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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.
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!