Author : Yvonne Hertz.
Published : Wed, Apr 3 2019 :12 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.
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.
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.
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.
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Although there are many resources available via the Internet describing how to build paragraphs, this author uses a simple four-sentence method for constructing a basic paragraph. In a basic paragraph, first sentence, often labeled the topic sentence, states what is the main point of the paragraph. Second sentence provides some evidence that demonstrates or supports the main point. Third sentence describes for the reader how the writer understands the information provided in the second sentence DOES demonstrate or support the main point stated in the first sentence. Since the first three sentences DO communicate the main point of the paragraph, provide evidence to support or make that point, and explain how the evidence provided DOES support the main point according to the writer`s understanding, then by the end of the third sentence, the point of the paragraph HAS BEEN MADE. Therefore, sentence four is designed to communicate to the reader that the point of the paragraph has now been made AND introduce the reader to the main point of the next paragraph. This four-sentence structure may be used to develop the three main paragraphs in an essay (and any subparagraphs for the main paragraphs) as well as developing the introductory paragraph.
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!