You may have heard that we have a writing contest going on right now (Deadline December 31!). In my last post I talked about writing with an honest heart; I have to say that’s still the first thing I try for when I write, that non-wallowing, non-glossing honesty.
The next thing I work on as I write is essay structure. What I mean by essay structure is this: the essay knows where it’s going, and every piece of it is placed in a way that it helps the essay reach its destination.
There is no one perfect way to structure an essay. Each one will be ordered differently, according to the needs of the story you’re telling, and the insights it brings you. Once I’ve got the heart of an essay, and all the scenes and stories that are the essay’s pieces, I have to find the way they fit together. Structure is different for every essay, but I’ve got to be aware of it. Good structure doesn’t just happen.
So, let’s look at the structure of some Segullah essays to give you an idea of what I mean.
See Your Beauty, Feel Your Power, by Angela Schulz, is structured chiastically. So is Greater Good, by Kathryn Lynard Soper. Chiastic structure is highly ordered, and each element of these two essays is clearly set off from the others. I love the elegant structure of chiasm; I’ve tried to do a piece that way, and alas, it did not turn out. It’s tricky. But worth analyzing and enjoying.
On the other hand,Barcelona, Venezuela, by Brittney Carman, is structured with deceptive chronological simplicity: it all takes place in the space of a couple of hours, and the story moves from bus, to small room, outside again. All the insights discovered happen along with the action. It has a clear beginning and a clear end: getting off the bus is the beginning, and leaving the dying boy’s home is the end. It’s a brilliant piece, and the structure seems simple enough, but the genius is in knowing exactly where to begin and where to end. Notice that Brittney does not spend two or three paragraphs talking about Venezuelan buses before she begins, or an extra couple of sections at the end discussion how terrible, and how powerful, her experience with the dying boy was. She begins and ends it where the story demands.
“Small and Simple Things,” by Brooke Benton, begins with Brooke receiving a challenging calling, playing the piano in Primary. She flashes back to help us understand why this was such a hard thing for her, and then forward again to the way she handles the calling. The final scene is her epiphany, as she discovers the interrelationship of God challenging us and blessing us at the same time. Brooke’s childhood scene helps us understand better the challenge of playing the piano as an adult; we feel her pain better. But she doesn’t stay there, she moves back, giving us enough cues to help us follow her clearly.
So: your assignment (if you want to) is to pick one of your favorite Segullah essays and think about its structure. You don’t have to get all English class detailed with it. Just think about why the scenes are ordered the way they are, and how they work together to create the essay’s overall effect. Then comment on which essay you’ve picked, and what you thought about its structure…
…and finally, go to your own essay and analyze its structure. See how the pieces fit together. Does it begin and end where it needs to? And most of all, have fun with it.