Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Personal Experience Essay (Mini-Memoir)

"Brevity publishes well-known and emerging writers working in the extremely brief (750 words or less [sic]) essay form. We have featured work from two Pulitzer prize finalists, numerous NEA fellows, Pushcart winners, Best American authors, and writers from India, Egypt, Ireland, Spain, Malaysia, and Japan. We have also published many previously unpublished authors, and take a special joy in helping to launch a new literary career."
That’s what the editors at Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Fiction have to say about their online literary journal.

Here’s your assignment: Write a concise personal essay (750 words or fewer) about a significant relationship in your life. It could be a relationship with a person, a group, a place, an object, or something else. In writing your essay, consider using the literary elements that we have investigated, particularly voice, organization, storytelling, description, and reflection. All of these elements should contribute to characterizing the relationship and to thematic development. (Use the class readings as models.)
A complete first draft is due by class time on Wednesday, October 7.
The final draft is due before pumpkin time on Friday, October 9.

What makes a personal essay successful?
* Title (explicit? suggestive? symbolic? ironic?)
* Voice and style (“a living voice” that uses “verbal nuance” and shows “self-awareness”)
* Detail (create detail that is vivid and suggestive: emotional detail; physical description of people (characters), places, and objects; literal and figurative imagery; dialogue; the exact name of people,
places, things)
* Storytelling (compelling, suggestive events with “tension”)
* Reflection (“constructing meaning” with “unreconciled tension,” “complexity” and “self-awareness”)
* Organization (chronological, episodic, spatial, circular, etc.)

Below are some prompts that will help you with the self-assessment and peer-assessment of your draft. Start with a self-assessment that you'll complete in class Wednesday, October 7. Use the prompts below to guide peer feedback too. Make sure it is clear to your peer what you want feedback on and what, if anything, you don't.

What's the best way to do this?

1. Use the color coding on the website to highlight words, phrases, sentences in your essay that address the prompts: Title, Voice and style (“a living voice”), Storytelling/anecdote/vignette, Details, Reflection, Organization.
To highlight in Google Docs click on the A to the right of the B I U near the top of the page. After clicking select "highlight." (Or, similarly mark up your paper draft.)

2. Click on the "Comments" button in the upper right corner. To respond to questions about title, voice, storytelling, details, reflection, and organization. You don't have to answer all the questions but you want to do an awesome job being thoughtful, reflective, and specific about the questions you do answer. (Or, similarly comment on your paper draft.)
It's a good idea to start each comment with the area(s)  you are addressing; for example: Storytelling and Reflection--I think I did a good job making my story about the first time I came to Gloucester vivid but I'd like some feedback on how I could do a better job reflecting on exactly how the experience affected me and, in many ways, changed my life. Or, here's another example: Organization/Reflection--I like the ending that I've written; it puts closure on the story, but I'm wondering if I need more reflection in the end. Have I done a good enough job drawing out the significance of the story I've told?

Give a sense of the relationship between the title and the essay.

Explain how it is either explicit (stating something about the essay directly) or suggestive (implying a more symbolic and/or playful relationship with the essay).

Voice and style (“a living voice”)
Describe the voice and style of the essay.

Mark or write down places where the voice and style is particularly apparent and effective.

Explain how the voice and style suit the topic and themes.

Are there any dead metaphors or clichés? ("At the end of the day..." "When all is said and done...") Or phrases that might be clichés? Where? (Note: Playing with clichés, using them ironically, or bringing them back to life can be an effective technique, but this is hard to do.)

Are there any immature language patterns? (“In this essay I will…”) Where?

Does the essay show signs of “verbal nuance”? Where? What words seem very precise and suggestive? What words might be reconsidered and sharpened?

Describe the tone. How do you know? Does the tone suit the topic and themes?

Where do you see evidence of storytelling? 

Where is the storytelling vivid? Where might it be more vivid? 

Where does it create tension or drama? Where might the tension or drama be heightened? 

Where is the storytelling suggesting something about the relationship? What is suggested?

Details: emotional detail, physical description (imagery) of people and places, precise names for people and things, dialogue
Where do you see vivid, precise detail that suggests something about the relationship (or that characterizes the relationship)?

Where could the detail be sharper, more suggestive?

Has the writer helped the reader experience her/his world? Where?

Reflection: what does it all mean? why does it matter?
Where are the compelling insights into the relationship? 

Are they implied? Where? Are they stated? Where? 

What theme or themes seem to emerge from the essay?

Describe the organization and how it contributes to the essay’s effectiveness.
Is the organization straightforward? Inventive? Explain.
Is the opening effective in relation to the purpose?
Is the end effective in relation to the purpose?

1 comment:

  1. This looks and sounds very educational. But around 750 words to write about a significant relationship is a bit of a stretch, don’t you think?