The Interesting Example Essay
last updated 9/22/05

How does one write interesting essays?  We talked about having tension, a change or some deeper thematic "at stakeness" in your opened-form, narrative essays.  Without the tension of a change, or a "one thing more," readers won't often want to keep reading.  They might ask, "So what?" if all they are getting are details.  They might also say, "Stop hitting me over the head," if all they are getting is simplistic meaning in the form of easy moralizing (Alexie's essay did this a bit).  Complex readers, like those you might find in academia, often want deeper, AND more complex meanings in the essays they read.  This is what it means to be interesting.

Most experienced writers are problematizers and dilemma seekers--this is one mental approach to writing that can help make a topic you are looking at more interesting (at least for a more thoughtful audience).  Writers need to spend weeks or even years thinking, writing, talking, revising, and thinking some more in order to produce a deep, even surprising piece of writing.  Less experienced writers are often impatient, and allow themselves to come to easy closure (simplistic meaning) on a topic much too soon.  They want to wrap things up with a tidy little bow much like sit coms do on TV at the end of each episode.   Life, however, and the problems we write about can seldom be taken care of in an easy-breezy, closed-minded way (complex, academic readers are especially aware of this).

Inexperienced writers also know that in order to be more interesting, concrete details, or examples, are almost always necessary.  Alexie's essay, for instance, is almost entirely made up of examples in an opened form style.

The Assignment:

Write an essay that poses a focused question/dilemma about home or homelessness or race or gender or class or art (these are the essays I have made available to us), and illustrate that dilemma with very concrete examples.  How would you uniquely define "home," or approach the sometimes tired topic of homelessness, for a complexity-minded audience?  How could you make people listen to you about these topics?   What might you know or see that others don't know or see?  Or what can you find out about the topics that surprise you?  What concrete examples do you have in your experience that you can use to illustrate the complex opinion you have about your dilemma.

You will explain your question/dilemma clearly (in closed or opened form--Ascher and Quindlen are doing something in between), and with tension (showing old vs. new awareness; showing what most people think vs. what you think etc.).  You will provide good, low-on-the-scale-of-abstraction details in the form of very specific examples (from your experiences; from your research and reading; from your deep thinking).  And you will try to show why what you are writing about is a true dilemma--something with no easy answers.

We have practiced increasing our ability to describe and tell a story.  Both these elements are very useful when trying to illustrate an interesting point (or give examples for a generalization).  Examples can be short and quick, or long and detailed.  You can illustrate a point with lists, or a series of short examples in one paragraph, or you can stick to one example and detail it out like a story.  You can have real, or "factual" examples from your live, other's lives, interviews, or research, or you can create hypothetic examples that are made up (but you must be sure to let the reader know they are made up, e.i. Speaking hypothetically...; Let's say a man walks into a room...; In the future we might...).

For instance, the two essays we read for this chapter by Quindlen and Ascher are often using narration and description to flesh out their examples and support their points.  Lahiri is writing an essay about home these ways too, but she is more opened-form and not necessarily trying to support a point.

Length: 3-5 pages, double-spaced (about 900-1500 words).

Due Date:  (see Calendar!)

Subject-Matter Choices: Frankly, you should write this as associatively as possible, allowing yourself to discover complexity as your freewrite about your own experiences and thoughts, do research, and discuss the topic with others.  If you have easy answers in advance, you don't likely have a dilemma.  You will want to focus down to a very specific hard-to-solve idea or problem or definition about the topic, one you can then illustrate with at least 2-4 detailed examples.  Here are some possible triggering questions you might want to freewrite about (see Bedford):

Rhetorical Choices:  The audience you choose to write for will determine your purpose, genre, style and structure (PAGS).  Who would you like to be writing this essay for?  How will you appeal to them (for instance, what tone will you use? serious?  sarcastic?  chatty?; what kinds of examples will you use?  personal narrative?  accounts from others?  hypothetical examples)?    FORM: You may find that this essay is more explorational than argumentative, and so you could end up writing thesis-seeking prose rather than top-down thesis-based prose (a bit more opened-form).  You may, however, end up with a focus, or thesis, that you revise very clearly back into your introduction, and thus your final draft could look more closed-form.  You can choose based on what you think your chosen audience might think is most convincing (or interesting).  Thesis-at-the-top essays can feel more forceful and organized.  Thesis at the bottom essays can seem more thoughtful.

Suggested Writing Process:  

**Save everything you do during your writing process because I will collect it when this essay is due.**

If I were doing this assignment, I might start by arguing in a freewrite against one of the ideas in the essays we read.  I could also begin brainstorming in my journal about some problems I see in the world of homelessness around me, then freewrite about those, or I might try to come up with more interesting questions (or use the starter prompts above) and freewrite about one or two of those.   I would want to think about the complexities, the dilemma aspects of these things as I freewrite.  I would also want to think about my current knowledge (or lack), my biases.  What about all my freewriting excites me the most or makes me want to keep writing?  I would focus on that.  

In order to learn more, or find other ideas or examples or deeper dilemmas, I would do research on the web ( ) or via our library's newspaper and article databases ( ).  I might also discuss my freewrite and research with others to see what they think my real dilemma is.   I would then begin to draft/freewrite with those new details and ideas in mind.  I would, of course, read the sample essays in Bedford to get ideas about structure, detail, and tension.  I would then have a peer or two review my essay, and send it to the On-Line Writing Lab (OWL) for ideas at  I would revise it again, and finally edit its surface errors (grammar) using my Prentice Hall Handbook to remind me of how to correct my major problems.  

Points Available: You can get up to 100 points on this exploratory, dilemma/example essay.