The college essay Expository Writing
Under pressure? • “Write about your trip to Mexico,” offers your mom. “You can show that you’ve broadened your horizons.” • “Community service always looks good,” says Dad. “Talk about your work with Habitat for Humanity.” • “Make yourself stand out,” says your guidance counselor. “In a pile of one thousand essays, yours should be the one they remember.”
Under pressure? • How, exactly, do you accomplish that one – unique? • Have you scaled Mount Everest? • Overcome a terminal disease? • Have you saved a child from a burning building? • Of course not! Neither have 99.9% of the rest of us.
Stand Out by Being Yourself • Dramatic v. Interesting • Tell about a trip, describe a community service project, analyze a political issue, or talk about the significance of your sport • How interesting would these topics be in the hands of an admissions officer? • Think about People: Why is this magazine so popular?
Details, Details Writing a good essay: • Need concrete evidence to back up whatever you say • Use details: anecdotes, thoughts, and observations unique to you In writing about a trip… • Generic: “the ancient splendor of Westminster Abbey.” • Unique: “moved almost to tears while wandering through Westminster Abbey, seeing the stained glass windows that had been pieced back together with such courage and diligence after being smashed during the bombings of the Second World War.”
Details, Details Writing a good essay (continued): • When stories involve people, the story will be more concrete if you use dialogue • Concrete details: show don’t tell the reader • Writing about the “256 steps” it takes a girl to walk from her mother’s house to her father’s house: “Twelve steps up the road, I see the crack in the pavement and I remember the first time I road a tricycle – a hot pink contraption with a white wicker basket.”
Telling a Story • Do good essays use adjectives or nouns and verbs? • Good essays describe action; weak essays present a series of static images • Adjectives should serve nouns and verbs • What is meant by describing your friend as “crazy” or “off-the-wall”?
Telling a Story • It was a chilly, grey twilight as the enormous stadium scoreboard announced the fourth quarter. I felt a damp, cool hint of dew under my aching feet. My muscles were tired but taut. • My friend grabbed a rebound, raced to the wrong basket, and sank a shot, then froze in her tracks and exclaimed “Oh s---” loud enough for everyone to hear. • Verbs drive interesting writing!
Think Metaphorically • Have a boring life? Feeling like you have nothing to write about? • Metaphors (and similes) make for interesting writing • Think of analogies that apply to your life • Comparisons can transform mundane events into interesting ones • Demonstrates big-picture thinking
The Best Essays Are about Nothing • Seinfeld is known as “the show about nothing” • Because it is about “nothing,” it has much more room for creativity • The college essay: talking about yourself versus describing the championship game you won and when your teammates carried you off the field • Seinfeld is really about the human condition and the wacky details of everyday life • Good college essays tend to flow from the routine of daily living
Brainstorming a Topic • An article of clothing: It’s possible to spin stories around an item that has been with you through many experiences, or that can be made to represent truths in your life. • The groups in your school and where you fit it: jocks, musicians, Goths, skater, cheerleaders, “smart” kids, etc. • Have you ever tried to bridge the groups? Ever gotten caught up in a test of loyalty between them?
Brainstorming a Topic • A family gathering or tradition: From the family dinner table to an annual trip to the beach • Your walk or ride to school: a walk through your neighborhood would allow you to reflect on experiences that you have had in places you pass by. Your backyard may offer an opportunity to describe a family party or a moment where you buried something only to uncover it years later. • Your favorite things: An opportunity to drop out a factual description and probe your thoughts and feelings