Friday, July 18, 2008

(22) Establish Focus

Conventional views of writing require that writers directly state a thesis within the first paragraph. A conventional thesis is a sentence that identifies the central purpose for a text. However, all writing establishes focus in a wide variety of ways. Rarely do writers begin with clearly stated thesis sentences, except in traditional academic settings. [ADD/EDIT]

The conventional and traditional view of academic and scholarly writing holds that essays must begin with an introduction that includes a highly mechanical thesis sentence identifying the main focus of the essay. For an on-line resource related to traditional thesis development, see the following links:

Crafting an Effective Thesis Sentence

However, this mechanical view is highly limited and misleading. In the academic and scholarly worlds, most writing is far more creative and engaging than the staid introduction with an overt thesis sentence.

Writers establish focus and invite the reader to continue reading with hundreds of different techniques. Consider some of the following techniques to establish focus:

Begin with a powerful question or series of questions that your essay will address.

Begin with a personal narrative that relates to your main focus.

Begin with a quote or paraphrase from a major source related to your focus.

Begin with a literary quote, reference, or allusion related to your focus.

Begin with and develop an ironic course that contradicts your focus, saving your focus until the end.

For a more direct discussion of beginnings, see Reading, Learning, Teaching Barbara Kingsolver, Chapter Two, pages 36-42, 58-59 (Thomas, P. L., Peter Lang USA, 2005). Also consider this excerpt from that book:

Reconsidering Beginnings—Barbara Kingsolver

Considering these beginnings from Kingsolver’s non-fiction:

• “June is the cruelest month in Tucson, especially when it lasts until the end of July” (Kingsolver, 1995, “Creation Stories,” p. 17)—allusion, wit.

• “When I left downtown Tucson to make my home in the desert, I went, like Thoreau, ‘to live deliberately’” (Kingsolver, 1995, “Making Peace,” p. 23)—literary quote.

• “Maybe this has happened to you: You are curled up on the sofa, with an afghan maybe, and the person you love is there too” (Kingsolver, 1995, “Semper Fi,” p. 66)—hypothetical “you” situation.

• “As I walked out of the street entrance to my newly rented apartment, a guy in maroon high-tops and a skateboard haircut approached, making kissing noises and saying, ‘Hi, gorgeous’” (Kingsolver, 1995, “Somebody’s Baby,” p. 99)—narrative technique, purposeful misdirection. [Misdirection is also employed in her “Lily’s Chickens” from Small Wonder.]

• “In the catalog of family values, where do we rank an occasion like this?” (Kingsolver, 1995, “Stone Soup,” p. 135)—question.

• “The drive from Tucson to Phoenix is a trip through merciless desert, where tall saguaros throw up their arms in apparent surrender to the encroaching cotton fields” (Kingsolver, 1995, “The Spaces Between,” p. 146)—figurative language (personification).

• “Once upon a time, a passing stranger sent me into exile” (Kingsolver, 1995, “Jabberwocky,” p. 222)—manipulation of genre.

• “I have places where all my stories begin” (Kingsolver, 2002, “Knowing Our Place,” p. 31)—one-sentence beginning paragraph. [Also employed in “Flying,” in the same collection.]

• “’Nobody ever gets killed at our house,’ begins a song by Charlie King. . .” (Kingsolver, 2002, “The One-Eyed Monster, and Why I Don’t Let Him In,” p. 131)—opening with a song lyric.

• “My daughter came home from kindergarten and announced, ‘Tomorrow we all have to wear red, white, and blue’” [followed by four paragraphs of dialogue between Kingsolver and her daughter] (Kingsolver, 2002, “And Our Flag Was Still There,” p. 235)—dialogue.