Do you know why the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series is so popular? Aside from terrific marketing and unequaled publicity, it is the stories or personal essays themselves that readers love. They are short, personal and teach a lesson or moral. If you would like to be a better writer of the personal essay, just include the following points:
1. Be brief. Many essays are 500 words or less. However, there is a general rule that an essay is between two and twenty five typed, double-spaced pages. A good essay needs to be an unbroken reading experience.
2. Tell a story. A personal essay is a story that has happened to you or that you know about. The reader assumes that it is non fiction and will contain details and descriptions we will recognize. Structure your story around examples, using a pencil as a paintbrush to evoke the images and paint a picture in the reader’s mind.
3. Make a point. You will want to tell, teach, and explain a specific topic or subject or even support or criticize something. Your aim or goal is to win sympathy or agreement. Do not make 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. Essays are often best which speak about a common but freely shared experience. It doesn’t have to be about being a survivor of the twin Towers. Tell about your reaction to 911. Or tell us about watching a sunset or baking bread.
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.
There you have it. Think about your own interests and areas of special knowledge, activities, skill, 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 and become a published author.
There are readers out there who want to learn from you.