Do you know why the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series is so popular? Aside from terrific marketing and unequaled publicity, readers love the stories and personal essays. They are short, personal and teach a lesson or moral. If you would like to be a better writer of the personal essay, opinion pieces, reports and letters to the editor just follow the suggestions listed below:
1. Be brief. Many written reports or stories are 500 words or less. However, there is a general rule that an essay is between two and twenty typed, double-spaced pages. The most important criteria to remember is that a good piece needs to be an unbroken reading experience. The reader will lose interest if it is too long or wordy.
2. Tell a story. A personal essay is a story that has happened to you or that you know about firsthand. The reader assumes that it is nonfiction and that it will contain details and descriptions with which we are familiar. Structure your story around examples, using a pencil as your paintbrush to evoke images and paint a picture in the reader’s mind.
3. Make a point. You will want to illustrate your point, teach a lesson, explain a specific topic, or even support or criticize an idea. Your goal is to win sympathy or agreement. Do not turn it into a sermon or a soapbox to present the superiority of your ideas by including “shoulds” or “musts” aimed at the reader.
4. Use your senses. Enliven your essay with sensuous detail like how it smelled, tasted, sounded or felt. Make the reader feel like they are seeing and experiencing it through your body.
5. Tell about the ordinary. Personal essays are often best when they describe a common but freely shared experience. It doesn’t have to be about being a survivor of the Twin Towers. Talk about your reaction to 911. Or tell us about watching a sunset or baking bread. When you talk about walking your dog, take us along.
6. Make it engaging. An essay should arouse curiosity about life. Instead of preaching, invite us to consider your point of view by sharing the particular experience that brought you there, describe what happened, how you reacted, and why you interpret your experiences the way you do.
Think about your own interests and areas of special knowledge, activities, skills, attitudes, problems as well as typical obstacles faced in life. Teach us what you gained or lost in your life lesson. It is much easier to be convincing when you can draw from personal and firsthand information. Write it today. Submit it to Chicken Soup for the Soul or your local newspaper and become a published author. There are readers out there who want to share your slice of life.