Author : Yvonne Winkel.
Published : Fri, Mar 29 2019 :8 AM.
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!
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.
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.
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Following the four-sentence process for paragraph development, the second sentence is expected to provide some information that illustrates or supports the point stated in the first sentence. For this example essay assignment, the located newspaper article that discusses black officers in the U.S. military IS the support or evidence to present in the second sentence -- and the article located, via some online research is titled After 60 years, black officers rare by L.C. Baldor, published in The Times Herald, 7/28/08. So the second sentence of the example introductory paragraph might be something like In the newspaper article `After 60 years, black officers rare,` the author of the article indicates that although `Blacks have made great strides in the military since it was integrated 60 years ago, but they still struggle to gain a foothold in the higher ranks [in the military]`. Of course, at the end of this sentence is expected a citation to show the source of the information presented in the second sentence -- like (Baldor, 2008, ¶ 1). Please note the role of a citation is to point the reader to the related reference that is expected on the References page at the end of the essay -- and note the citation consists of last name of the author, year of publication of the article, and, in this case, a number indicating the specific paragraph in the article where the cited information may be located (because this online article did not provide page numbers). What to notice in this second sentence is how the information presented in the sentence directly supports or MAKES the point stated in the first sentence, BUT, don`t leave it up to the reader to make that connection on his or her own -- in the third sentence, communicate explicitly to the reader how YOU, the writer, understands the information in the second sentence demonstrates the point stated in the first sentence.
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.