Can you bake a cake or build Lego houses? Of course, you can. Now, let’s up the stakes: a chiffon cake; a Trump tower. You’re going to build them?essay style. That is, Natalie Portman-at-Harvard style.
First, we’ll put some passion into your essay outlines. Like fun with custom stonework or lifelike teddy-bear cake molds. You can make your essay-outlines thrilling. Impossible?
Well, we’re going to take the icing sugar and quartz?your essay’s ingredients?and plunk them in the cinemas.
Yes, we’ll use screenwriter’s tricks to make your papers shine like the silver screen. Your Screenplay Sucks! by William M. Akers shows us how to structure screenplays and I bleed Akers? ideas for essay drama: A-plots, not B-roll. With exceptions, of course?for exceptional structures. (Akers is the bold-font text below; I am the plain-font parody.)
Take notes. Use tape recorders, 3X5 cards, or even napkins. Record everything that crosses your mind about your topic or theme. Then write everything you know about the people you cite. Look those creatures up on Wikipedia. Profile them.
What’s at stake? Ask yourself why your research question is important. Ask yourself what “so-what” the people you cite give your topic or question. Steal (but cite) their “so-what” reasoning.
Make them cry, laugh, and shudder. Add emotion. Whenever something in your essay stirs the emotions, dwell on it. But puff up the emotional stuff with lots of support.
Tape your theme to your computer screen. Put your thesis statement in clear view?like a daily reminder to make it fun.
Make your heroes sympathetic. If you write about people or objects or events that suck, make those subjects a tad likable. When you write about tornadoes, cite those storms? beauty. When you write about Peter the Great’s wars, cite how he wooed his people. When you write about Judas, cite how Jesus loved him.
Put the hero in conflict. Put your tornado at risk of slaughtering whole villages. Put Peter the Great at risk of hearing “boos” from the crowds. Put Judas at risk of getting sucked into hell. Make the issue so big it could destroy your hero.
Make your scenes rise in tension. Order your arguments from the least controversial?the least exciting?to the most. Jokesters, though, say start with your second-best argument and end with the zinger. Slip the trash somewhere in the middle?or take it out.
Burst open with the initial incident. Lead up to your research question. And make your research question a thriller.
Make a one-page outline. Take the big themes (and surprises) of your topic. Put them on a blank page as headings with some space following. Then, fill in each space with supporting quotes. Make sure the themes (and surprises) tie into your thesis statement.
Too many themes? Then, combine themes under more general headings. That way, you can cram more material into your thesis statement. And cut out the junk.
Use a subplot. You can slip in a subplot if it ties into your main plot. If you talk about earthquakes, maybe have a subplot about the people in Japan, and then tie the Japanese into a major life-taking earthquake. Use imagery like “moving refrigerators” to capture intensity. Consult your professor before you make subplots.
Hide backstory with an argument or a joke?or skin backstory to its bare bones. If your thesis is about Peter the Great’s biggest battle?and you need to tell backstory?trim the fat. Even tell the backstory with conflicting views for fun. Take a position, though. And cite.
Sprinkle in surprises or twists every fifteen pages. In your essay, slip in a surprise or twist every half a page. Build up to the surprise, but support the surprise. Maybe your disabled athlete had a run-in with alcoholism?a run-in that trashed his global fundraiser. That’s a surprise. Or play up a twist. Here’s a twist: the FBI reopens the Clinton case?just before the election.
Surprise! You can now turn boring outlines into eye-poppers. A parodox? I call it a Creative Spark!
Akers., William M., Your Screenplay Sucks!: 100 Ways to Make it Great., Michael Weise Productions, 2008, Studio City, CA.