Essays —

3 Apr

Not necessarily on purpose, but for whatever reason, since the beginnings of this blog – lo, those many years ago – it has been mainly been directed towards writing fiction. Obviously, there’s a huge wide world of non-fiction out there, as well. So, this week, we’ll take a brief look at one form: The Essay.

First off – just what is an essay, anyway? I was amazed to discover nearly as many definitions of the term as there are people who write them!

Did you ever have to write about a summer vacation when you returned to school in the fall? That was an essay. Length and content (not to mention quality!) are extremely variable.

One very famous writer of the 20th century, Aldous Huxley, noted that “the essay is a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything”, but briefly.  Although primarily known for his novels, he also wrote a bunch of essays. So I would take his word for it.

Unlike novels of any sort, essays benefit from the lack of length requirements. They can be whatever length the author likes, but are most likely to be less than 10,000 words. Way less. An essay can be motivating or instructive – or simply entertaining, as long as it is interesting – to the reader. I would think a primary requirement would also be similar to any work of fiction – it needs a beginning, a middle and an end. The end may be ambiguous, but there must be an element of finality. Or closure.

An essay is quite different from an article. An article is (usually) non-fiction, but based on fact, whereas an essay is also usually non-fiction, but is based on an opinion by the author. Or maybe the point of view of the author on a possibly controversial topic. It might be criticism, observation, recollection, reflection, and could even bridge the gap between an article and a short story (fiction.)

From my research on the topic, it appears that a good length for an essay (on average) would be 1500 to 5000 words, but probably best at about 2500. A collection of essays for publication would probably begin at 50,000 words, and go to 70,000. Beyond that, it might be better to break the collection into two volumes, although an e-book could certainly incorporate that many words with no difficulty, whatever. It would be pointless to look for an agent or publisher until you have a completed (book-length) manuscript available for reading.

The collected essays might have a connecting thread running through them, or not. They may be a demonstration of how the author’s opinions changed as he or she grew and matured. What was great fun as a ten-year-old might not be all amusing at one’s fiftieth birthday party!

The essays must be engaging – quickly grasping the reader and keeping him or her in the moment. I think blog posts fall into that category, don’t you? I’d really be interested in your opinion!


2 Responses to “Essays —”

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    • Site Admin April 29, 2013 at 4:12 pm #

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