Author : Vanessa Richter.
Published : Tue, Apr 2 2019 :9 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.
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.
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.
In general, an essay is structured in three parts -- an introduction, the body, the conclusion. Think of the introduction as a single paragraph designed to introduce the thesis statement. Often persons build an introductory paragraph before having developed an effective thesis statement indicating less than the most effective organization of thinking about the topic of a paper! In this article, using an example thesis statement, the development of an introductory paragraph for an actual essay assignment is described.
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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.
Leads are big. If your first bite of a meal is bitter, you`re likely to put the fork down and call for take-out. You`ve got to grab readers from the get-go. One method is direct address. Here`s the lead from an article of mine about dictionaries: Think of your favorite book. No, better yet, go and get your favorite book, feel its heft in your hand, flip through its pages, smell its bookness. Read a passage or two to send that stream of sparks through your head, the alchemy that occurs when the written word collides with the chemicals of your consciousness. Delight is the fruit of that collision. It tells the reader to do something, with a visual and sensual context. It`s hard for a reader not to read that lead and avoid doing what it requests, at least in the reader`s imagination. Here`s another lead of mine that takes a different tack, one of identification or empathy: Scuttlebutt had it that Barbara Cartland, the doyenne of romance writers, did much of her early writing at the piano, stark naked. However that strains credibility, everyone`s heard of writers who insist they can`t write without their ancient manual typewriters with the missing keys, or their favorite fountain pens (or maybe even a stylus and hot wax). Writers can be a peculiar lot, and it`s not surprising that their composing methods can be all over the map.