In Brian Philips’s essay “Your Stupid Rage,” Philips talks about how our rage is sometimes displaced on things and people it doesn’t belong on. In other words, we easily and happily blame others for our misfortune…and that’s not a good thing. Except, for the most part Philips essay explains this all under the terms of soccer (between the team and the manager, or the manager and the referee). For those of you not incredibly familiar with sports or soccer teams, these read may feel a bit disconnected to you. BUT, here’s a list of things I think Philips does well:
- A Call to Attention: Philips first addresses his readers by claiming he is here to save our lives. A rather dramatic call, but yes, it does hold the reader’s attention. What this does is makes the reader ask questions within the essay, and by asking questions, the reader now seeks answers to those questions. How will you save my life? And this is where the author must then answer.
- How It Relates to Us: As readers, we don’t want to read things that seemingly have absolutely nothing to do with us. The question’s I asked myself during this reading were: How does soccer relate to me? Why is my “rage” a danger? Philips offers examples to these questions that readers could visualize and relate to.
- Transitions: Transitions are everything in a piece. As writers, we cannot simply just info-dump (drop a load of information) on our readers and expect them to digest it all. Philips slowly introduces us into the topic of soccer, so subtle, I didn’t realize I was reading about the topic until the third paragraph (up until that point, I thought it was just an example he uses).
- Book Ends: The last section of the read brings us back to the very beginning, with how all of this information is supposed to save our (the readers’) lives. He gives legitimate reasons for why our (sports) rage is an awful way to enjoy watching, well, sports.
To connect to your audience on a subject they may not necessarily be able to relate to can be difficult. There are some things I think Philips does well (Book Ends is my favorite bit), but when it comes to “uncommon sense” it was difficult to distinguish the “common” from the “uncommon”.
Using stakes in our writing is a means to remind our readers that the topic we choose to write about is more relevant than it seems. How can we make our writing relate to bigger things? The article of discussion is by George Saunders: “The Braindead Megaphone”
Hypothetical Examples: There were a lot of hypothetical examples in order to get the audience to relate to the topic of discussion. There feels like there is some sort of cohesiveness going on throughout all of the examples. One main thread is how we communicate our ideas (ex: our thinking process, how we communicate our messages to our people, etc).
New Points are Broken Up: The essay is given unconventional breaks, putting each new point into sectioned numbers. It makes the essay as a whole more digestible to the audience of readers and keeps things organized.
Concrete Evidence: The author brings in some real world examples half way through the piece. He brings in an example of O.J. Simpson that ever so slightly drifts into his topic (concerning the media and how it is “very stupid”).
So far, Saunders seems to introduce his topic in a very small way and then open it up into a more general idea. In a way, it warms the readers up to something they may not necessarily want to read about, making it interesting. As for myself, when I write unconventional essays, I like the idea of telling a gripping story first and then introducing what I wish to discuss later on. This way of writing seems more natural!
Sarah Vowell‘s nontraditional, “rule breaking”essays impact me as a reader because it offers me a breath of fresh air. Let’s be honest: History is dry to someone like me, a communications major. There is very little one can do that can help someone like me not view history as “stale literature.” Her essays reminded me of this one scene from an Addams’ Family movie (the one with Christina Ricci), where the kids are at camp and reenacting a “Pilgrims & Indians” Thanksgiving scene. Now, for those of us not familiar with the Addam’s Family, the cooky franchise family is severely untraditional. Basically, the scene plays out with little Wednesday Addams burning down the fake “set” as the scorned Indian tribeswoman who wants vengeance. Long story short, I can relate to what Vowell is talking about. This, of course, is the first step in “impacting” your readers.
What I admire about Vowell’s style is that her voice is very distinctive in that, if she were talking about the process of paint drying, I would still find myself interested. She brings readers outside of the context of “history” with smaller stories that relate to the topic of discussion. Pop culture references like the Brady Bunch (though somewhat old) or other comedy sit-coms not only help the reader relate, but give us something else to focus on besides, well, history.
An essay on Longform called The F Word is an example of how essayists aren’t limited in crafting their work.
Those 3 things are:
- Captivate. The essayist knows how to captivate. First and foremost, many people decide on what to read based on visuals and the title. I chose to read this essay because it was short and sweet: “The F Word”. The title alone left much to be discussed. What about the F-word? Is it the same F-word I’m thinking of? Also, the essay had a visual right after the title.
- A good start. The first few lines of the story reminisce that of narrative format. Opening an essay with dialogue is new to me, and it’s interesting. Things that surprise the reader will likely hold their attention better and keep them reading regardless.
- Content. An essayist can’t captivate their readers and rely alone on only a good start. What The F Word did was unexpected. Just as I mentioned earlier, I was wondering if the F-Word I thought of was the same F-word the essayist meant. It wasn’t. When writers go in a direction that catches their readers off guard, not only are we captivated, we’re actually interested in hearing what there is to say.