The personal essay is a favorite of mine, and I hope it will be an assignment you enjoy and learn from. Here are some things to keep in mind.
Word count: 800 - 1500. Try to keep it to five pages max.
Include a title
Make sure you have one clear focus, and a point in telling the story.
Reflect on what you know now compared to the person you were then.
Questions? Don't wait 'til Saturday to ask me!
Workshop Monday, June 8, Final due Wednesday, June 10.
Nonfiction = True!
Make sure your essay doesn't take liberties with actual truth or the larger Truth. As a general rule, your goal is to paint as true a picture as possible with your details and scenes. If you can't remember specific details, you can leave them out, or you can use your best guess -- but if you do so, you should call attention to it by using one of these disclaimers:
“As I recall…”
“Perhaps this is the way it happened…”
“I don’t recall exactly….”
“This is what it was like…”
If you want your story to convey more depth or emotional truth than the mere facts can express, you may want to use fictive techniques, such as recording your interior monologue, or imagining what are people are thinking, as Norman Mailer does here:
“Lowell’s eyes looked up from the shoe, and passed one withering glance by the novelist, saying much, saying, ‘Every single bad thing I have ever heard about you is not exaggerated’” (1968, p.41).
You can also use imaginings -- but you must call them out:
"I remember kissing those lips once, at the end of summer. In the tall grass of the unmowed football field, with the sweet sunny smell of hay in our noses and the slow brush of his boyish stubble against my cheek, under my chin, I kissed him. He kept his eyes open, brought one hand to cup my face while I tasted him: sunlight on his lips, a warm tang of beer, and then the rank piney sweetness of good pot. Once, twice. I leaned my body into his lanky frame, and inhaled the worn musk of his leather jacket between sips. It was long and smooth and succulent, and when we finished he gave me a wide-mouthed smile, lit a cigarette.
Or at least that’s how I imagine it would’ve been. But of all the boys I did kiss in high school (in spite of my braces), Derek wasn’t one of them."
Start Vivid, End with a Bang
Make sure your introduction sets the scene, and your conclusion ends with a bang: there should be some kind of emotional effect from reading your story.