By Katrin Freeh on March 11 2019 07:28:34
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.
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.
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).