"History is past politics, and politics present history." John Robert Seeley

"The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see." Winston Churchill

"What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing." Aristotle

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Personal Essays

Walking-the-dog    “I think, therefore I am” 

John Bennett via Compfight

A personal essay is an essay about the writer’s thoughts, feelings & ideas. It is important to be both descriptive and analytical.
A personal essay should deal with the writer’s:

  • Thoughts“I think…..”
    – perception – reflection – reaction – 
  • Feelings“I feel that….”
    fear – wonder – love – hate – apprehension – curiosity – amazement – doubt – chagrin – regret – indifference – uncertainty – anger – ambivalence – hesitation – resolution (irresolution) – delight – expectancy – hope – misery – faith – enthusiasm – ambiguity – indecision – belief – 
  • Ideas“I know/ understand/ discovered/ came across…..”
    revolutionary – controversial – ground-breaking – interesting – seminal – far-sighted – useful – interesting – worthwhile – realistic – utopian – 
  • Opinions“I believe…..”
    controversial – myopic – counter-productive – far-sighted – divisive – unsubstantiated – objective – subjective – bias – 

 

Karlovy Vary Plaza #2
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The Canvas of Time

A good personal essay has temporal variation i.e. connects the past with the present and projects into the future:

  • Dreams & hopes for the future (Utopian)
  • Nightmares & fears for the future (Dystopian)
  • Memories of the past
  • Feelings of the present

 


Rhonegletscher, Swiss Alps
weesam2010 via Compfight

 

  • I: Introduction

The introduction to any personal essay should motivate and elicit feelings in the reader. It must be personalised (to some extent) and reflective of the subject matter you are attempting to discuss. It should be thought-provoking and ask questions (rhetorical) surrounding the deeper meaning of the given title:

 

Example:

“There is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face.” (Othello, William Shakespeare) So Shakespeare said, and never a truer word was spoken in reference to how we sometimes conceal our true feelings in moments of stress and pressure. But what does a face reveal? Is it merely a hybrid of shared characteristics inherited from our biological parents? Or is it a reflection of how we have lived, our triumphs and failures, our darkest fears and most sought after desires? I can conceal my true feelings with effort, if not with ease. But can I ever put on a truly different face?
 
 Eslabones / Links --- [EXPLORE]                                                                                               Juan Ramón Martos via Compfight
  • II: Linkage

It is important to connect your ideas, paragraph to paragraph. This helps to connect one idea to another, maintaining a ‘stream of consciousness’ throughout the essay.

Example:

“But can I ever put on a truly different face?

Faces describe people, but often conceal their motives. Motivation is key to understanding any person, in any context. If we could truly know how and why one ‘puts on’ a face, then we would be a step closer to understanding that person’s motivation.”

In this example, we see how the idea being discussed at the end of the paragraph ‘flows’ naturally into the beginning of the next paragraph, yet the subject matter being discussed has altered and progressed (evolved) to a certain degree.

 

  And Then Left
Lotus Carroll via Compfight

  • III: Origin Anecdote

A very useful and indeed necessary technique is that of the anecdote. An anecdote can serve to highlight the relevance of the topic, its inspiration for you personally or as a pertinent example of the complexity of thoughts and feelings with regard to your chosen subject matter.

Example:

 “Thirteen years ago, as I was travelling through Northern Ireland, I was struck by the extraordinary number of murals on gable end walls. All of them declared defiance and solitary pain, yet each demanded universal attention.. Art as a mirror of reality, not in spite of it.”

“It is extraordinary how some memories stay with you a lifetime. Some of them seem entirely innocuous, even banal. Upon closer introspection, however, they reveal something seminal of my childhood; a rare moment of joy in difficult times, a Christmas tree finally assembled after many false starts or a bicycle – my first – finally given the all-clear by a meticulous and caring grandfather.”  

 

I am ... the Dragon's Daugther ~ Explore #5
Theen Moy via Compfight

  • IV: Engaging Opening Statements

At the beginning of some paragraphs, sharpen the reader’s focus by making bold, sweeping statements OR personal confessions of unusual habits or behaviours. Brutal honesty is often the key to making a suitable opening. Some examples of this method are:

 – “I hide things. A lot of things. I hide them all the time. Why? When I figure that out, I suppose I’ll lose the habit. Maybe I know why, but I’m hiding the answer from myself.”

– “I make deals with my conscience. Shady deals. I promise altruistic behaviour in the future if he’ll only look the other way when it comes to my secret pleasure.”

– “Freedom? I expect it, demand it. Without it, life would be intolerable. But I rarely feel free. Constraints, rules and barriers are what make life sensible, practical, even bearable. Is real freedom a feeling of separation, dislocation or even disorientation? The freedom to be cut loose, separated and lost?

 

  •  V: Personification
  • VI: Contrast 
  • VII: Describe, don’t Explain!
  • VIII: Quotation
  • IX: Similes
  • X: Metaphors 

 

– Cast & Hook –

– Describe & Develop –

– Theorise & Justify –

– Deepen & Widen –

– Flourish & Finish –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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