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Tim Bascom Picturing the Personal Essay: A Visual Guide A design professor from Denmark once Personal essay nonfiction for me a picture of the creative process, which had been the subject of his doctoral dissertation.
Aha, I thought, as we discussed parallels in the writing process. Although I may start an essay with a notion of where I am headed, inevitably I veer away as I get new ideas or encounter dead ends. Sometimes I even seem to go backward, losing all direction.
Nothing is wasted though, said the design professor, because every bend in the process is helping you to arrive at your necessary structure.
By trying a different angle or creating a composite of past approaches, you get closer and closer to what you intend. You begin to delineate the organic form that will match your content.
They refuse to limit themselves to generic forms, which, like mannequins, can be tricked out in personal clothing. Nevertheless, recognizing a few basic underlying structures may help an essay writer invent a more personal, more unique form.
Here, then, are several main options. Narrative with a lift Narrative is the natural starting place since narrative is a natural structure for telling others about personal events. We instinctively turn to chronology as a way to recreate the past, putting our lives into a neat moment-by-moment order.
The march of time can be methodical—first this, then this, then this. If unrelieved, it becomes the ticking clock in the jail or, worse, the flat line of death. Savvy essayists, as a result, twist their chronology, beginning at the end or breaking to a moment in the past, even weaving together several timelines.
More crucial, though, is their use of tension, which changes the flat line of chronology into a rising line—a plot. Such tension forces the reader into a climb, muscles contracting.
Will we reach the top? And what will we see from there?
The sequence of scenes matches roughly the unfolding of real events, but there is suspense to pull us along, represented by questions we want answered.
The tension begs for resolution. We keep on reading unless the writer stops stair-stepping upward toward the critical moment when change becomes necessary.
If she flatlines on an emotional plateau, not raising the tension, then we are likely to lose interest and walk away. Jo Ann Beard, while clearly wrestling with the immobilizing impact of her own trauma, found a way to keep the reader moving both forward and upward, until the rising tension reached its inevitable climax: I have seen less-experienced writers who, by contrast, seem almost to jog in place emotionally, clutching at a kind of post-traumatic scar tissue.
Instead, they meander around their subject until arriving, often to the side of what was expected.In the wide world of writing prompts, the options are slim for creative nonfiction writers. Even the relevant prompts are often jumbled together with essay and fictional prompts, making it hard for writers to find what they really want.
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As a result, nonfiction creativity is best demonstrated by what has been left out. The essay is a figure locked in a too-large-lump of personal experience, and the good essayist chisels away all . For an overview, check out Phillip Lopate’s The Art of the Personal Essay.
Linger over 50 lovelorn stories in Modern Love, edited by Daniel Jones. Memorize Daphne Merkin. Creative Nonfiction – “We’re open to all types of creative nonfiction, from immersion reportage to personal essay to memoir.
Our editors tend to gravitate toward submissions structured around narratives, but we’re always happy to be pleasantly surprised by . As a result, nonfiction creativity is best demonstrated by what has been left out.
The essay is a figure locked in a too-large-lump of personal experience, and the good essayist chisels away all .