Monthly Archives: February 2015

How To Write a Good Introduction For an Essay

how to write an introduction for an essay

Essay introductions can be the hardest part of the writing process. You’ve done the research, crafted your arguments but how do you begin? How do you get readers interested in what you have to say? How do you avoid being too general, too academic or too boring?

A good introduction sets the tone and context for your argument in a way that’s concise, clear and interesting. A tall order. Here are some tips for delivering a great essay introduction:

Start With an Anecdote

Stories and anecdotes lend a personal touch to an introduction. Readers would rather hear something they can relate to than jump into a sea of academic wordiness:

In 1995, when I was 22, I hiked the Appalachian Trail. Back then, there were warnings about brown bears and a set of protocols to follow to avoid running into one. When pushing through a particularly difficult day, I ended up hiking through the night to make my day’s distance goal. I broke protocol. And found myself face-to-face with a brown bear on a rock cliff in the dark. Today there’s no longer a chance for such encounters as the brown bear population has been all but decimated along the Appalachian Mountain chain.

By giving the reader a background story, they’re now emotionally invested in learning more about the topic.

Find a Killer Quote

Sometimes a quote can sum up the essence of your argument like nothing else. If this is the case, then by all means, use one. For instance, an essay that argues that Christians don’t follow Christian values could use a quote by Gandhi, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” This quote has the benefit of not only being concise and clear, but it was stated by one of the most admired public figures in history. Just make sure not to use quotes that have become cliches. That will detract from your introduction instead of adding to it.

Use Statistics and Facts

Using facts and statistics helps establish your authority on the topic. They’re also useful in getting the reader’s attention and helping them understand why something is important. For instance, “Today, there are over 15,000 child soldiers in South Sudan.” A sentence like this makes the reader understand the gravity of the situation you’ll be talking about. It gives them a sense of scope and measurement.

Ask a Question

A question has the benefit of tempting the reader to answer it. It gets them involved in your essay and makes them feel like you’re speaking to them. It’s a great technique to get people to read on. If it’s a polemical topic, even better. Ex: Are we responsible for stopping climate change? You can bet that a lot of readers will fall on one or other side of this issue. And therefore be tempted to read on to see if they agree or disagree with your take on the subject.

State Your Thesis

After you get readers interested with any of the above techniques, it’s time to hit them with your thesis. A thesis is the summary of your essay’s argument. It deserves time and attention to get it right. The thesis is a statement that is crafted so that it could be argued for or against. Ex: “The best way to prevent crime is to impose harsher sentences.” One could argue for or against this statement.

A Word About Length

An introduction should consist of about 1/10 of the total word count. So, for a 500 word essay, the introduction should be about 50 words. As you write more essays, you’ll get a feel for the appropriate length. It shouldn’t be too short, otherwise you probably haven’t worked enough on crafting the hook. Nor should it dominate the essay. The majority of your essay is going to consist of your argument and research. Find the balance.

A great essay introduction reels the reader in with an interesting story, a fact or statistic, a question to be answered or a quote that sums up your argument well. And, of course, the introduction includes your well-crafted thesis statement. Good luck and happy writing!

Why Writers Start Blogging

why writers start blogging

There are over 200 million blogs on the internet. You could call blogging an explosion – everyone has one. Many writers have jumped on the bandwagon in recent years and fired up their own blogs. But why do people blog? What benefits does blogging offer? What’s the appeal?

Here are some reasons why writers blog:

To Build Your Platform With a Blog

Blogging is an undeniably great way to build your writing platform. In fact, it’s probably the greatest modern invention for writers. Before blogging, platform building consisted of getting out from behind the typewriter and hunting down speaking gigs. Now blogging has taken the place of the speaking gigs as the number one platform-building tool for writers.

The potential reach of a blog post vs. a traditional speaking gig is astronomically higher. The more readers you have, the more chance you have of catching the eye of a publisher. The larger your following, the greater sale potential when a book of yours is published. The question isn’t why, but why not?

To Make Blogging Friends

Blogging also helps connect you to other writers. The blogging community is ever-growing. Many writers value blogging for the input they get from readers and other writers. Without blogging, writers have to rely on friends, colleagues or writing workshops in order to get their work read and critiqued. Now they can get their work reviewed without having to even ask.

Because It’s the New Journaling

Writers used to journal. Carrying a pen and notebook with them everywhere to record thoughts, impressions and ideas. Now they blog. Though public and not private like a journal, blogging has become the daily practice of many writers. And though the personal secrecy of a hand-written journal has it’s own value, a newly published blog post looks and feels more official. Also, when writing in a journal, you know that the only reader is you.

While blogging, you know you’re writing for an audience which ups the ante and, for some writers, makes them write better, cleaner and tighter prose.Having an audience and knowing that people will be disappointed if you don’t publish a new blog post can also serve as a huge motivation. Devoted readers are like cryptonite for writer’s block.

Because Who Needs a Website When You Have a Blog?

A lot of writers forgo building a website and subsequent costs and upkeep in favor of a blog which they control and maintain. Keeping a blog is often cheaper than a website or even free. And instead of hiring someone to maintain it, you maintain it yourself. No muss, no fuss.

Because It’s All Yours

Blogging gives you full control. You write what you want. You publish when you want. There’s no editor. There are no niches that you fit into or don’t. There are no rejection letters. All the publishing rights belong to you. Blogging is you taking the reigns and getting your voice heard. For many writers, both professional and budding, this is a huge plus. It’s the dream of many writers – to enjoy full artistic freedom.

To Publish Something

A lot of newbie writers who long to be published choose to blog so that they can be part of the published writer community. It’s a great way to practice writing and get your work seen. It allows you to access an audience that used to be only for those who had published a book or article. Now anyone who wants to be published, can be.

For Professional Growth

Publishing a blog can lead to other opportunities whether it’s a book contract or a job as a writer for a magazine or for someone else’s blog. It’s a great way to get a foot in the door for those who want to earn a living writing. Few people make a good living from blogging alone. If people are making money from it, it’s usually supplemental income. Blogging can be more like your writer’s resume. When you’re hunting for writing jobs, including your blog address is a quick, easy way for people to see your writing.

To Learn a New Skill

Some writers use their blogs informally and without a specific intention or market. Others delve into the mechanics of SEO and conversions. For those who focus on the business of increasing their blog traffic, they’ve learned valuable marketing skills. They can apply those skills to their own work, or get hired to help other bloggers. Writers who become blogging experts are in high demand and often offer their expertise for a good price.

To Establish Expertise

If you claim to be an expert on something and you’ve written a blog about it, that’s usually enough for people to believe you. A blog is a way to showcase your knowledge and background in a certain area. Next time you claim to be an expert in Japanese tattoos or French cuisine and someone raises an eyebrow, just direct them to your blog.

To Increase Your Confidence

Blogging is different from traditional forms of published writing in the sense that it’s likely that your friends and family will have access to your blog first. Instead of an anonymous readership, your immediate circles are the ones you’re letting into your blogging world. This can be very intimidating and requires courage to put your thoughts and voice out there for others to criticize. It will force you to build your confidence.

To Stay Productive

Blogging is one of the few beneficial ways that a writer can spend time online. Spending time blogging will make you feel better and more productive than spending hours scrolling through your Facebook feed. Instead of reading what other people think, you’re developing your own ideas and opinions. Most people are online to consume the ideas of others. If you’re online to offer your ideas, you’re in the minority.

If you’ve been considering blogging, surely there’s something on this list that appeals to you. There are a lot of benefits to blogging whether it’s building your platform, giving yourself a daily writing practice or just for the pleasure of having finally published something. Whatever your motivation, blogging has a lot to offer to writers.

How To Write a Love Story To Avoid Vanilla Cliches

how to write a love story

Writing a love story that doesn’t smack of cliché is a lot harder than you might think. Ask any writer and they’ll tell you that love stories and love scenes are in fact very challenging to narrate. Many actors also express difficulty in nailing love scenes. They fear they’re being melodramatic and not genuine.

What is it about love stories that makes them so tricky to get right? The biggest factor is that love stories hinge on the intangible. It’s all about emotion and emotional build-up. And the inexplicable connections that make people fall in love. How do you capture that without sounding corny? Here are some tips on how to deliver the goods the right way:

Focus on the Characters

It’s easy to overdo the emotional narrative of a love story. But, in the end, that actually makes the reader less emotionally invested. As in any story, the characters have to have something that anchors them to this world. Who are they? What drives them? What makes the reader able to identify with them? When you develop characters who look, act and talk like real people then you have a chance at writing a good love story between them.

Where’s the Tension?

Who’s watched a film about a love story where there’s no sexual tension between the main characters? Isn’t it painful to watch? Doesn’t it make your skin crawl? Or make you wish you had the power to be in the room to shout “No!” when the casting director made this awful mistake? Well, reading a love story can be exactly the same. That is, if the characters haven’t been given the emotional build-up they deserve in order to make their story exciting.

Creating tension has a few different elements. Whether this is a doomed romance or one with a happy ending, this is love we’re talking about and therefore it should have that feeling of jumping off a cliff. Even if the characters live in suburban Pennsylvania and drive SUV’s, the vulnerability and emotional risk of falling in love should be present in the story. In fact, please do write about people who live in Suburban Pennsylvania and drive SUVs. Writing about ordinary people having an extraordinary experience by meeting each other and falling in love is a great way to build tension.

Throw In Some Conflict

Maybe your protagonists aren’t Romeo and Juliet, but it wouldn’t hurt to throw in some conflict to spice things up. Maybe one of them has a jealous ex. Or a child who won’t accept the new partner. Maybe they’re colleagues at work. Or she’s his boss (avoid stereotyping!). Or one of them is a priest or a nun. What are the hurdles they have to get over in order to be together? Big or small, conflict makes the story tellable. Nobody rushes to call a friend to say, “I just couldn’t wait to tell you how incredibly easy my day has been!” Conflict makes things interesting and makes the reader beg to discover how it’s going to be resolved. If your characters just fall perfectly into each other’s lives and every page is about how smoothly everything is going, don’t be surprised if you have some angry readers on your hands by the end.

Don’t Go There

Avoid stereotyping both the men and the women in your story. You know what I mean: the helpless woman and the manly man. Corseted damsels and sword-bearing knights, princesses and princes. Make your characters as real as you can. Avoid these cliches, unless you’re doing a unique spin on a tired theme – then it’s okay.

Dare To Be Different

So what should you write about? Good writing is original yet familiar. Realistic yet surprising. Woody Allen’s Annie Hall includes a scene where he asks a couple on the street what the secret to their happiness is. The woman replies that “I’m really shallow and empty and have nothing interesting to say.” And the man adds, “I’m exactly the same way.” Let’s hope that your characters go beyond that. Check out this list of unusual love stories for some inspiration.

Get the Language Right

Avoid the romance novel cliches that involve words like moaning, groaning, rippling, aching, burning, urging, yearning etc. This is perhaps the biggest challenge in a love story – to describe the characters’ feelings without resorting to any of these cheesy terms. If you can’t think of original ways to express these things, take a different angle. Focus on the events, the conflict, the characters and tell the story from that perspective without the emotional interludes.

There’s a Thin Line Between Love and Porn

Okay, it’s a love story, so we all know that the characters love each other and want to rip each other’s clothes off. That’s a given. But when it comes time for them to actually do that (that is if you even choose to write the love scene at all) be careful not to be too graphic, crass or pornographic. Otherwise, it’s not really a love story, but more of a story for Penthouse. While writing the love scene, ask yourself: does it deepen the reader’s understanding of the characters? Has something changed between them after this scene? Does it help move the story forward? Does it help the reader understand more about love, sex and relationships?

Keep It Real

If you want to be graphic, try another tack. Take author Rachel Toor’s advice, “I think love scenes are better with farts – or fear of farts, worries about bad breath, wondering about the state of one’s underthings, concerns about parts left too long un-groomed…in life getting jiggy entails the incredible and terrifying act of coming this close to another person that can be messy, smelly and often pretty darned funny.” Being ultra-realistic is certainly a way to avoid cliché. Author Caitlin Moran’s autobiography How To Be A Woman also has some hilarious chapters that deal with the physical paranoias that come with sex and dating. Check it out for more reality-driven inspiration.

How To Teach Creative Writing: Tips For A Great Lesson

how to teach creative writing

Have you hit the wall trying to come up with new ideas to inspire your creative writing students? Maybe your own enthusiasm is waning a bit, and it’s rubbing off on your students. After all, it’s not always easy to stay motivated when repeating the same lessons over and over again. So perhaps a fresh outlook will help to rekindle your passion for teaching creative writing, and spark greater interest in your students.

There are those who argue that creative writing can’t be taught at all. And while that may or may not be true, certainly the techniques for developing creative expression are learnable skills. Ones that can be honed and refined through a variety of practices and exercises.

Creative writing is much more than merely a descriptive process, it involves a number of elements that need to be explored in order to refine our thoughts, so we can communicate them to others. Elements such as idea development, motifs or themes, arguments and questions, plot development, characterization, dialogue and narration.

These elements are some of the fundamentals of creative writing. And to get students involved in the exploration of these fundamentals, to really spark their interest with tangible results they can consistently repeat, try out the following tips for a great creative writing lessons.

The Elements of Storytelling

Effective fiction writing shares common elements across all genres – whether the story is told in the form of comic books, movies, novels, mythology or the performing arts, they all contain the basics of setting, plot, characterization, theme and conflict with dramatic action.

Introduce your students to these basics by encouraging them to develop and connect these writing fundamentals with storytelling. Great storytelling has the ability to “capture, direct and sustain the attention of others”. It’s what gives a memorable story presence – that ineffable quality that stays with a reader long after the novel or performance is finished.

Storytelling also develops the subtler elements of tone and atmosphere as these are the components that flesh out the bones, or underlying structure of a story.

The Hook

The hook is a problem introduced at the beginning of a story that triggers curiosity. Compelling the reader to keep turning pages all the way to its successful resolution somewhere near the conclusion of the story.

Encourage your students to write engaging hooks by tapping into an emotion we all share – fear. Fear, in its many disguises, forms the crux of all the introductory problems contained within the great novels of literature throughout the ages. And each generation updates the story form to fit the appropriate fears of the day.

Use the tool of comparison to demonstrate to your students how these fears, the problems that form a good hook, are easily applied to contemporary storytelling. For example, the fear of monsters (within and without) that make Frankenstein and Dracula such timeless classics is the same fear that makes today’s zombie and vampire franchises so popular. And the fear of loss found in the themes of unrequited love and rejection so prevalent in 21st century song lyrics and music videos, are simply condensed versions of the same problems that made 19th century Italian opera wildly popular in that days.

As an exercise, present your class with some of the common hooks found in the great novels, plays or librettos of the past and have them write a short story around it – updated to contemporary issues, themes or current events.

Questioning Minds

The power of questions is a great way to teach students how to develop narration, characters and atmosphere.

At the start of class, present your students with a series of questions that, when answered, will progress into a paragraph that establishes setting, motivation, action and tone. The key aspect of these questions is to design them “so that they always lead on from the previous, regardless of how that question has been answered.”

This exercise is easily adapted to suit the specifics of the individual classroom, as long as the primary aspects are maintained:

  • Instruct the students to write a paragraph that tells a story.
  • The paragraph will be their responses to the posed questions.
  • All sentences they write are acceptable, as long as they follow the sequence of questions.
  • Pertinent inquiries regarding the exercise are permitted.

For a more detailed explanation and examples, please visit Adam Simpson’s blog post “The greatest creative writing activity ever”.

The Tickle Trunk

While writing prompts such as sentence snippets, magazine clippings and old photo albums are well established techniques to engage the imagination, they limit creative exploration to two dimensional images and the sense of vision.

Open up a broader sphere of tactile stimulation that encompasses smell, touch, sound and taste by having students dip into a “tickle trunk” of costume pieces and props to write a paragraph or short story around. A trip to the local thrift store or garage sales will quickly and inexpensively provide plenty of pieces to fill your tickle trunk, and unleash your students’ imagination.

This exercise is appropriate for “children” of all ages and is particularly well suited to character and setting development. With thanks to Mr. Dressup.

Park Perfectionism at the Door

Yours, and your students. There’s nothing that will squash imaginative endeavors such as creative writing quite like the belief that it should come easily and perfectly the first time it’s attempted.

Introduce your students to the concept of the “shitty first draft” so eloquently explained by Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird to get them beyond the terrifying expectations of the inner critic’s perfectionism. Rather, teach them the skills of evaluation, objective criticism and revision to shape their writing into polished material suitable for publication.

Give these ideas for intriguing lessons a try and see if they inspire your students (and you) to greater heights of imaginative discovery in creative writing.