In our school days, our teachers fed us the 5-paragraph essay. Like a routine evening meal, it had an appetizer, an entree and the dessert: the Introduction, Body, and Conclusion. As we expand our skills in writing, we learn how to prepare an entire buffet to satisfy our readers. If you blend your experience with other contemporary occurrences and factual information, you’ll have a fine meal fit to serve up to the masters.
All examples for this Writing Tip are from Capturing the Storm by Laura Jones, Creative Nonfiction, Issue 58, Winter 2016.
Choose a personal example or one from a lengthy interview process. You’ll want to choose a rich example that has metaphorical power to provide theme, mood, or context that can sustain interest for the entire essay—5000 to 10,000 words.
Use the technique of “bookending”–Both START and END with the same example. What I mean is, your conclusion will reference the initial example.
In this introduction, don’t be afraid to include the 4 W’s of Who, What, When, and Where. Add a face, maybe your own, and voice with dialogue. Quote real people. These combine to make up the appetizer course, becoming a promise to the reader that the whole essay from beginning to end will be as delicious as a smorgasbord.
Laura Jones in her lively piece, Capturing the Storm, does exactly what I’m trying to describe. Her introduction showcases the experiences of an expert storm chaser. In fact the THESIS STATEMENT is allusive. She hints at the thesis statement with a statement like this…
Brinkley begged to come along, and from the very first trip–which happened to be a bust, with no tornado sightings at all–she was hooked.
But Laura continued to include essential contextual information so that eventually, she gives us what I consider a concise and direct THESIS STATEMENT…
Chasing and photographing storms is her passion.
Launch into the BODY with routine and normal examples that anyone might expect, saving the more delicious examples for later.
Bradley wakes up in a second-rate hotel….
Then expand to the ideal.
Ideally, Bradley likes to set back about one or two miles, watching the twister pass from left to right in front of her, as if it’s on a movie screen.
BUILD THE BODY
Lay out more exotic dishes to your buffet table. Include more provocative or exceptional examples from an array of sources. Continue with the POV you chose from the beginning (1st or 3rd person point of view (POV) without getting heavy handed, keeping the voice of a reporter. Hold back any analysis of motive. Stay as objective as possible.
Sometimes, if they’ve guessed right, the storm pops nearby.
Like your buffet table, there will be many examples to sample. Finish the body with exotic or extreme examples on the menu. Swing far and wide through time or geography. Try for the widest range of examples as possible.
In Laura’s essay on storm chasing, her final example has plenty of dialogue to flesh out the story of that momentous day.
…The scariest day…
3/4 THRU the BODY
At this point in the Body, you’ve given many contemporary examples of other people or places that echo the example presented in the INTRO.At the three-quarter mark, you may analyze, suggest probable reasons “why,” or entertain the factors that have caused the phenomenon you’ve been describing. Adding these probabilities will keep the interest high.
All in all, Laura uses her “characters” and examples to provide a place for observation of storm chasing with a critical point of view, meaning, she clears up misconceptions about storm chasers and gives a voice to her characters as they reflect upon their careers.
Details and quotations in this section support the thesis statement and finally develop into a deepened, more mature over-arching thesis statement. Like a cheese cake baking in the oven during the entire meal, the conclusion will be the tasty dessert. Here you may allude to the first (pseudo) thesis or to the FORMAL THESIS STATEMENT and synthesize the examples into something more than you started with.
Finally, conclude your entire essay with an appeal to the future. Laura has hers…
That uncertainty, she says, will keep her chasing for a very long time.