First-person essays span space, time and subject: the city dump, an obsessive bird, or a model from the 60s–all subjects of essays I’ve published–are just one single shuffle of an endless deck of compelling themes. Mongrel lot or not, it’s never the topic of a composition that tells, however the style and stance of its author–what might seem the least likely of essay subjects may be made a piquant page-turner with a writer’s winning hand. We’ll look only at choosing the topic, slant and voice of one’s essay, constructing a lead, building an essay’s rhythm and packing a punch at essay’s end.
Tackling a Topic
Because one of the great appeals of the personal essay could be the conversational tone essayists take, this indicates certain that it’s better to be conversant along with your subject. But “write that which you know” may also be an inkless cage; some of the best essays certainly are a voyage of discovery for both writer and reader. You might accidentally flip some breakfast cereal along with your spoon and have an epiphany concerning the origins of catapults. That little leap might get you seven leagues into the real 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 along with your topic so that the angle your writing takes is pointed and penetrating. You do not write about cars, you write about the fearful symmetry of a 1961 T-Bird. The essayist must 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. A composition here about new car technology, a composition there about boredom and its antidotes.
Essays are actually at your fingertips: consider a piece how fingerprint technology evolved. Or at your nosetip: my most recently published essay was in regards to a lurking smell in my house that resulted in 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 right into a elegy on an individual’s decision to reside a passionate life. You do not need glasses to find your topics, merely a willingness to see them.
Slant and Voice
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 function as 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 escape with impressionistic strokes: words evoking sensations, scents, and subtleties. Consistency in tone is compelling: leading your reader throughout your essay with sweet conceptual biscuits only to possess 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.
Essays are personal– write my essay for me cheap the best of them can seem like conversation having an intelligent, provocative friend, but one with remarkable discretion in editing out the extraneous. Whether the term “I” appears at all, you have to 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 within an essay. Essays aren’t formless dough, they are the baked bread, hot and crusty. Cranky, apprehensive or playful, your candid voice must be a continuing: that you do not want your essays to roar just like a lion in a single paragraph and bleat just like a mewling lamb in another (unless it’s done for effect).
Lead or Lose
Leads are big. If your first bite of a meal is bitter, you’re likely to put the fork down and demand take-out. You’ve got to seize readers from the get-go. One method is direct address. Here’s the lead from a write-up of mine about dictionaries:
Consider your preferred book. No, better yet, go and get your preferred 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 throughout your head, the alchemy that occurs once the written word collides with the chemicals of one’s consciousness. Delight could be the fruit of that collision.
It tells the reader to do something, with a visible and sensual context. It’s hard for a reader not to see that lead and avoid doing what it requests, at the very least in the reader’s imagination. Here’s another lead of mine that has a different tack, among identification or empathy:
Scuttlebutt had it that Barbara Cartland, the doyenne of romance writers, did a lot 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 quite a peculiar lot, and it’s not surprising that their composing methods may be all around the map.