Using dialogue in college essays
Presumably, you eat as well. Food is a universal experience that is interwoven with countless memories and emotions.
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When you write about gnocchi dripping in browned butter with sage, the reader might not share that precise experience, but they certainly had one that is analogous to it. By writing about food, you can share your family, your heritage, and yourself, while giving the reader a seat at the table. Unless they are a professional writer, you have probably done more creative writing in the last six months than they have in the previous six years. In addition to your superior expertise, they are probably completely over-invested in your essay.
Even if your parents are professional writers, the combination of not being an expert in college admissions and being totally over-invested does not make for a positive experience. The bottom line: leave them out. Sure, that sounds boring, but there is so much that goes on in the in-betweens. Maybe you are super particular about your cereal to milk ratio after spending months testing different combinations. Perhaps you share a bedroom with a sibling so have had to orchestrate a precise routine. The small things are interesting, even if they seem average to you.
Please don't write about your boyfriend. Write about connection. One of our best essays about tackled complex relationships Nothing salacious here, but see 6 for details. Write about your favorite brand of Listerine, why you brush your hair times, or what it is about having your dad turn off the light instead of doing it yourself that is so special to you.
However , if there is something or somethings that you collect, or a piece you inherited, or those old t-shirts your mom designed in college then forgot about for two decades until you pulled them out of a musty duffel bag — write about them. Even Furbies are fair game. We all observe rituals. For some, they are religious, but every family and community has things that started as habits, became traditions, and have ascended to the level of ritual.
Show the reader what life is really like: the cracks in the faux-leather couch, the one pan that will never get perfectly clean because you made scrambled eggs in it once and burnt them beyond recognition, or the place on the wall where your mom measured your height alongside the fading marks from when she was a child standing against that same wall. See 10 and 5.
Food is fascinating, family is fascinating, and there is a reason that dinner scenes are used in films as a way of developing characters. People emerge over dinner. When we have a mouth full of food, who we are really shows through. One of our best essays of took place at the dinner table And please remember that you're applying to college, not grandpa. What we mean is that we want our students to free themselves from the confines of the five paragraph essay form. Throw it out of the window and consider trying something entirely different.
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Write a scene, write a poem, write your story as a series of vignettes. Think of it as a story, not just an essay. Break form, have fun. One of our favorite essays of played with form and is a rare example of a successfully executed semi-grandparent essay There is a reason that the demise of in-person conversations and the rise in texting and email are hurting human connection. Reading dialogue is a way to help the reader hear you. Sometimes it can be excruciating, but if you like plays and are willing to put in the work, writing dialogue can be the tool that bumps your essay to the next level.
It means you must have a story. If you are thinking that you will repurpose an essay you wrote for English class as your college essay—STOP. Another reason not to write a school essay? We know, we know, you want to get this done, but the college application process is just that, a process. This is not a one and done experience. The first draft of anything is, by definition, not all that spectacular. The second is a step in the right direction. I need to illustrate for a student exactly what her own voice sounds like. A student needs to find her speaking voice and integrate that into the essay.
Some students think their essays have to sound impressive and scholarly. If a student is being overly general in his descriptions, I help him take the leap towards specificity. Describe the experience to me vividly. Take me there. Show me what you experienced. Recreate it for me. Focus on the details that add character and personality. Stay in the weeds, in the sights, sounds, and physical memories of the experience. Focus less on abstraction and more on tangible details. Playing it safe is rarely the recipe for a successful essay. Write from your experience and your reality.
If you are funny, use humor to round out your essay. If you write from a place of integrity, your essay will be more impactful. Many students could prime the pump of self-expression by looking to authors who have previously inspired them. The college essay is not a good time to attempt to mimic or imitate a favorite author, but reviewing some well-crafted prose can certainly stimulate and prime high-level self-expression.
Perusing the output of authors who take risks, who are playful, who explore the possibilities of language can inspire courage in students about to take some literary risks of their own. I advise students to get into a groove and just write until every detail is on the page. I tell them not to worry so much about the structure, as that will come later.
Knowing When to Use Dialogue in Your Essay and Why You Should Bother
What we want is to see all the content in one document. Once everything is laid out before us, we will begin to winnow out the most salient ideas and select the details around which we will build the essay. Structure will come eventually, but typically content comes first. To engage a reader, a student must abandon the simplistic five-paragraph structure and drop any formulaic devices that may have helped her in class, on the AP exam, or on the SAT. Writing an essay that consists of an introduction, several body paragraphs, and a conclusion is a sure-fire way to craft a flat, uninspired essay.
Students should view the admissions essay as a chance to experiment and try out alternative structures. With the limited space allotted in an admissions essay, it is pivotal to involve the reader as quickly as possible. If a student is stuck with the introduction, I tell her to start with the 2 nd paragraph , find the anecdote, and do away with the introduction altogether. Immediately dive into the most interesting details. Start in medias res , in the middle of the action.
Or better yet, start with a hook — a provocative first sentence to capture the attention of a bleary-eyed, application-weary admissions officer. A solid first sentence will engage the reader so she will want to learn what you are talking about. When students bring in their essays for editing, we often immediately cut the first two paragraphs and begin with the rich, riskier content. When students bring in content-rich essay drafts, it is time to begin to separate the really juicy content from the flat, uninspired material. A good editor has to be willing to cut away everything that weakens an essay.
This often means striking down whole paragraphs at a time. Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones , helps writers hone this skill in her writing workshops.
A writer must learn to cut away the dross, the dead parts. In a good essay, every sentence feeds the whole of the essay. Nothing is extraneous. If you only have words, each one must count.
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A single outstanding sentence can raise the bar for an entire essay. Either that exceptional sentence must go, or all the mediocre sentences must go. The courageous student takes on the challenge and uses that solitary, illuminated sentence as the cornerstone of a riskier and more engaging essay.
I aspire to teach my students fearlessness. Let it go! Make room for something vital and alive! I have even asked students to commit the ultimate sacrifice and offer up their favorite line to the editorial sword. But in the name of creativity, a writer must withhold nothing. Other questions that help students with editing include: What is the weakest part of this essay? Is any part of the essay vague or general? Is every sentence necessary?
Is every paragraph necessary? Does each paragraph support the main argument I am trying to make? Is there a better or more powerful way to say this? If you model good editing to the students and show them how to get rid of the weaker parts of the essay, they will learn how to do it themselves when they are working on the essay at home. The essay needs to work organically and progress logically.
Whenever I make a change, I read the paragraphs preceding and following the change in addition to the change itself in order to check the flow.