A lotto-winner who tosses her winnings into the trash and covers it with dog scats? What if that was you? You might not know how that person feels, but you’ve felt burdened before, haven’t you? We all have.
When writing stories, your own feelings and experiences can breathe life into characters you normally wouldn’t understand. Through story-writing, you could live the life of a Prime Minister, a CEO, an astronaut, even a hit-man. However far-fetched this may seem, your emotional range can capture all of these people’s experiences. But what about building characters through essay-writing? Characters do happen in essays, after all.
Writing about Plato? A character. Writing about a non-character? You serve as a third-person narrator: another character. And you cite academics: more characters.
And some of the authors you cite disagree: villains and heroes clashing swords. The heroes agree with your views, of course. And in essays, you and your allies always win. And if your characters? arguments all advance your thesis, you’ve bagged an A.
(As a disclaimer?and these Creative Spark! articles beg for disclaimers? you need the buy-in from your prof before stirring in the fun. After all, original ideas ignite the Creative Spark!)
Nancy Kress in her book Characters, Emotion, & Viewpoint reveals character secrets. I stretch her truth into an original idea: building story-like characters in essay-writing. (Kress’s views are in bold. All parallels to essay writing are my attempts at synthesis.)
Fascinate with your characters. Sometimes an author you cite has a Wikipedia or Facebook bio. Note the author’s biasesor any cutting-edge ideas. Any intrigue. The more familiar you get with the “big players” who warrant Wikipedia pages, the better off you’ll be come grad school time. Add depth to your cited authors with relevant biographical info.
Your Story Structure Depends on Your Characters. Similarly, your narrator point-of-view, the people you discuss, and the authors you cite?they all shape the direction of your essay. Pick them wisely. Make it a story, sorry, essay, that you can’t wait to write. Who you choose to cite alters your essay.
Characters React to Setting. If You’re talking about Plato, know something about Ancient Greece. Ancient Greece made Plato who he was. If it were modern times, Plato might be a former philosophy major hit hard by the economy, now employed by The Voice Magazine. Your setting has significance for your essay’s cited authors and historical figures. Reveal that significance.
Be the Writer, the Reader, and the Character. Write away. Then imagine how the reader (your prof) responds to your narration, your cited authors: your characters. Then imagine yourself as the authors you cite or as the Plato’s you discuss. Switch from writer to reader to character: become all three.
Even imagine yourself as the people who oppose your views. Become them. As if their blood warms your heart. Cry when you defeat them.
Emotionally Become them. To identify with the authors you cite, or the central people you discuss, emotionally become them. If Plato marvels about humankind’s limited awareness of beauty, imagine a time when beauty welled emotion in you and you longed for more. What did you feel?
Identify with your characters emotionally. By doing so, you’ll up your pathos. But don’t distort the truth.
Wow with Your Stars; Spend Less Time on Your Extras. Some of the researchers you cite will form the crux of your argument: your stars. Laud them. Give them high word count.
If you can, weave in bits of their bios that move your argument forward. Do you cite a star author?a Jewish Holocaust survivor?who argues against oppression?
Sometime in your life, you felt oppressed. Call up that experience. Relive it. Then write on behalf of your Jewish Holocaust survivor author. Give him not just a voice, but your inner world.
And make sure your star author has some wow! Ideas. Who you choose as your star will create a different story; choose wisely.
You’ll have bit players, too: the unknowns, the ones with thin arguments?the ones you don’t develop beyond one or two citations. These bit players serve as your extras. No emotional arc needed.
So, stun with your stars but lower the lip-service on your extras.
Are Your Stars Fascinating? Relevant? If not, search the literature for better stuff to cite. If You’re not excited about the ideas, neither is your prof. Seek to sizzle.
So, become every author you cite?become even your prof. Puff up your pathos, but don’t distort the truth. A paradox? I say, a creative spark.