September 20, 2011

The Point of the Personal Essay

Last weekend I went to a writing workshop. The topic was personal essays. After spending three minutes writing one we were asked to share it with the person next to us.

“You first,” says Stobby.

“Ok. Last summer I went to the United States to attend a jazz concert given by a friend of mine.”


“He was really good.”

“So you thought he was bad?”

“No. I had never heard him play before.”


“I guess that’s not really a story,” she says finally.


Despite attending these workshops for the last four years, I was reminded again of something I had forgotten. Personal essays need a point, a revelation. You can’t just write about a trip to bank….you have to discover that someone’s been stealing from you, too.

Then I started wondering if that was really true. How come I can’t write an entertaining story with no point? What if I met a clown, found a $100 bill and picked an old lady up off the sidewalk while on my morning jog? Would it be entertaining enough if I added a few laughs or would I also have to cure cancer by the time I got home? 


  1. You can write an entertaining story with no point. It's called literary fiction. Think of the Cider House Rules, The World According to Garp, Michael Chabon's "The Wonder Boys".

    Whoever told you that all stories must have plot sold you a bag of goods, man.

  2. @ Michael.....touché. Maybe I'll just lay that down bag, then...right next to the compose.

  3. I think it's in how you view the essay. I've spent numerous hours checking out this site, that site, heck even the dictionary and thesaurus because I couldn't remember what an essay was. Teehee. I've been writing essays all along. My friends like them. And that's what counts for me. Do my readers like what I have written?

    I just write until I think I've said what I want to say. Length doesn't matter aside from short and sweet. One can get sidetracked analyzing too much. [once a year blogging vs writing short and sweet.]

  4. @ niiganab...true but I've also read stories that had no construction and read more like a manual. I think it's important to understand who your audience will be to make it compelling.