That’s what the editors at Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Fiction have to say about their online literary journal.
Here’s your assignment: Write a concise personal essay (750 words or fewer) about a significant relationship in your life. It could be a relationship with a person, a group, a place, an object, or something else. In writing your essay, consider using the literary elements that we have investigated, particularly voice, organization, storytelling, description, and reflection. All of these elements should contribute to characterizing the relationship and to thematic development. (Use the class readings as models.)*******
For revision ideas the memoir-essay vocabulary might help. Click here.
What makes a personal essay successful?
- Title (explicit? suggestive? symbolic? ironic?)
- Voice and style (“a living voice” that uses “verbal nuance” and shows “self-awareness”)
- Detail: emotional detail, physical description, literal and figurative imagery, dialogue, the exact name of people, places, things
- Storytelling (compelling, suggestive events with “tension”)
- Reflection (“constructing meaning” with “unreconciled tension,” “complexity” and “self-awareness”)
- Organization (chronological, episodic, spatial, circular, etc.)
Here are some prompts that will help you with the self-assessment and peer-assessment of your draft.
Give a sense of the relationship between the title and the essay.
Explain how it is either explicit (stating something about the essay directly) or suggestive (implying a more symbolic and/or playful relationship with the essay).
Voice and style (“a living voice”)
Describe the voice and style of the essay.
Mark or write down places where the voice and style is particularly apparent and effective.
Explain how the voice and style suit the topic and themes.
Are there any dead metaphors or clichés? ("At the end of the day..." "When all is said and done...") Or phrases that might be clichés? Where? (Note: Playing with clichés, using them ironically, or bringing them back to life can be an effective technique, but this is hard to do.)
Are there any immature language patterns? (“In this essay I will…”) Where?
Does the essay show signs of “verbal nuance”? Where? What words seem very precise and suggestive? What words might be reconsidered and sharpened?
Describe the tone. How do you know? Does the tone suit the topic and themes?
Where do you see evidence of storytelling? Where is the storytelling vivid? Where might it be more vivid? Where does it create tension or drama? Where might the tension or drama be heightened? Where is the storytelling suggesting something about the relationship? What is suggested?
Details: emotional detail, physical description (imagery), precise names for people and things, dialogue
Where do you see vivid, precise detail that suggests something about the relationship (or that characterizes the relationship)?
Where could the detail be sharper, more suggestive?
Has the writer helped the reader experience her/his world? Where?
Reflection: what does it all mean? why does it matter?
Where are the compelling insights into the relationship? Are they implied? Where? Are they stated? Where? What theme or themes seem to emerge from the essay?
Describe the organization and how it contributes to the essay’s effectiveness.
Is the organization straightforward? Inventive? Explain.
Is the opening effective in relation to the purpose?
Is the end effective in relation to the purpose?