Agonizing Essays

1242 words - 5 pages

AP students agonize over essay writing, knowing that their essays account for a major portion of their score on the exam. Understandably, there is concern. They want to do well. I wish there were a magic formula to essay success, but there isn't. I have tried to come up with a essay planner that works, but the trouble with something like that is that it cannot possibly account for all the variables that exist when a particular student reads and responds to a passage. Therefore, this little essay is an attempt to steer my AP students towards a philosophy of essay writing instead of trying to have an approach or a system.Where to begin? A few thoughts on beginning any essayBefore all else, as writers we must have something to say. And if it's not important or significant, then it is not generally worth saying. From what I can tell, all passages used on AP tests have something to reveal to readers. Before we write one single word about imagery or diction, we MUST figure out what that something is. What does this author have to say to us about being human, about our shared experiences, about our fears, our sorrows, our victories? Find this and you will have something to say. This something is what I call the "So What" and without it, your essay will be meaningless.So, if there is a step one, it is this: read and understand the passage given. This understanding of the meaningful, of the So What, is what will allow you to write an insightful essay. When you have something to say, your voice will be heard in your writing and you will have a place to go. When you have something to say, all else falls into line to fit that purpose. When you realize, for example, that the passage from Obasan is about (for one thing) heroism in small acts of kindness, then you can write about the images that helped you see that. When you realize what the author wanted you to know, it suddenly becomes easier to see how she/he crafted the work to reveal the truth to you. You will see, almost as a revelation, that the structure of the passage gives us the universal contrasted with the individual. The hopelessness of the whole is contrasted with the hopefulness of the one. But until you see the human purpose in the writing, you won't have anything to say.It seems the hardest thing for AP students to do is write literary analysis. Okay, then lets not call it that. Let's just say we're writing our ideas about a particular piece of writing. Why is it that when I supply thought-provoking questions about a novel or other work that the answers (small little essays, really) are often well-developed, thoughtful, empathetic responses that are, essentially, literary analysis, but when I present students with an essay prompt designed to effect the same result, the results are dismal and disappointing, not only for me but also for the writer. I am disappointed because I know what you can do. You are disappointed because you don't understand why you can't write.You can write. You have...

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