The Creative Spark! – A “So What?” Better Served

Who solves your problems? The Voice Magazine!

As a teen on the decline, I saw graffiti that read “Nothing is real.” It’s sandwiched in my consciousness between an image of Lady Gaga with a six-foot satanic lizard tongue and the idea of Kardashian porn distracting my one time dentist. It was like a “before” advertisement without the “after” benefit. But I needed the solution, not the pain.

What did I need? (1) to simplify my problems (while explaining them in at least a hundred ways); (2) to find the patterns in my life (while aiming to break the bad ones and build the good); and (3) to list a hundred solutions (while circling the ones offering long-term well-being).

Alternatively, I needed to figure out the results I wanted?and work backwards.

Yes, work backwards?not just in life, but also in essays. Start with your conclusion and work backwards. Our essay conclusions should answer the question “So what?”?or, in other words, solve a problem. But sometimes the “so what?” is not clear.

When is the “so what” not clear? Well, you might summarize a philosopher’s paper as focusing on three key ideas: (1) virtuous love (found outside women), (2) truth (as convergence to ideals), and (3) resistance (to authority). But, so what? Who cares?

To answer this “so what,” work backwards from your conclusion. In other words, find a hundred simplified problems your solution could solve. After that, find any patterns or overlaps in the problems?and a “so what?” theme shall emerge.

In the above example, the “so what” could be as follows: “The philosopher’s de-idealization of women co-existed with a need to resist control. A future study could examine whether the act of ?idealizing? lessens the need to dominate.”

(To get my “so what,” I combined simple ideas like “women not valued,” “women not linked to virtuous love,” “women not idealized,” “women commonly dominated,” “philosopher resists authority and probably likes to dominate.”) Easy.

Advertising often answers a “so what,” too. As an advertiser, you pick your product’s benefit (the solution) and work backwards. In some cases, an advertiser may create a problem (a “so what?”) where none exists. (Do people truly need lip Botox or bicep implants?)

Like certain ads, your essays could solve problems no-one dreamed up before.

Pete Barry, in his The Advertising Concept Book, gives the following advice on how to make ads. He helps you answer the “so what”?and accomplish plenty more. I link his tips to essays:

Give advice. Help the viewer solve a problem (you make them aware of). In essays, the problem you solve answers the “so what?” Simple.
– Use before and after shots?in other words, life sucks before; life rocks after.
Highlight the before (shortcoming) and after (benefit) of your essay insight. This discrepancy becomes your “so what.”
– Provide empathy. Show viewer you know what they’re going through without sounding obvious.
don’t say “We know It’s hard to get a job after you graduate”; instead, say, “Graduating without a job can break a spirit.” Use empathy subtly.
– Get someone to give a testimony on how they benefited from your product.
If you do research using interviews, add interviewee comments that imply benefits gained from your study. In other words, let the interviewees supply the “so what” answer.
– Position your product differently from your competitors.
If you repeat someone else’s study, find a way to make your approach unique.
– If you’ve got a glaring flaw, then use honesty.
Confess your essay limitations. But do so with humor, double-meaning, or some play on words. People will forgive your flaws if they find them funny.
– Exaggerate (a truth) about your product.
Take a truth about your essay findings and exaggerate it in your title, in your opening statement, or in your concluding zinger. Take care you use the exaggeration as a stylistic tool?and not a blatant misrepresentation of reality.

In your essays, always answer the “so what?” But, sometimes the so what’s hard to locate. So what if Lady Gaga’s got a satanic lizard tongue? (That tongue would sound better?and sell more?as a McDonalds’s crisp.)

A paradox? I call it a creative spark!