Here’s a news item for you: a 51-year-old essay is soon to become a film. Ok, so it’s Gay Talese’s legendary 1966 Esquire essay, “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold,” a journalism school staple and generally stellar piece of writing, which makes it somewhat less surprising. According to Deadline, though Sinatra hated the essay when it first came out, his daughters have recently optioned the film rights, and asked Talese and Goodfellas writer Nicholas Pileggi to whip them up a screenplay. Essays, it’s true, don’t get turned into films quite as often as other kinds of literature, but maybe they should. After all, there are quite a number that could make for a great cinematic experience. A few of my nominations for the movie treatment are below—these are skewed, naturally, by my own taste: the essays I’ve read and those that have stuck in my head, so feel free to add your own to the list in the comments.
“The Aquarium,” Aleksandar Hemon
If this essay were a movie, it would be total Oscar-bait—but actually I mean that in the least cynical way possible. Hemon’s essay is about his youngest daughter’s illness and eventual death, but also, of necessity, about the way his family deals with this most horrific of all horrors, including the imaginary little brother his older daughter, Ella, creates—a little brother who also becomes sick. Hemon writes: “I recognized in a humbling flash that she was doing exactly what I’d been doing as a writer all these years: the fictional characters in my books had allowed me to understand what was hard for me to understand (which, so far, has been nearly everything). Much like Ella, I’d found myself with an excess of words, the wealth of which far exceeded the pathetic limits of my own biography. I’d needed narrative space to extend myself into; I’d needed more lives.”
“A Girl’s Guide to Sexual Purity,” Carmen Maria Machado
I love everything Machado writes, but this one would make a particularly good film—it takes a typical setup: young girl with religious sensibilities but burgeoning sexuality meets older, handsome spiritual leader, but then turns into something much, much subtler than you are expecting right now. The essay is so full of expectation and desire and the unknowability of others—also qualities I find very compelling on film.
“Long Distance,” Victor LaValle
“The most loving relationship of my early twenties cost me 99 cents per minute,” this essay begins. This is LaValle’s sometimes-funny, sometimes-raw story: a 350lb 21-year-old college student in a two-year phone-hotline-relationship with a 50-year-old woman named “Margie”—and then moving on to another kind of hotline, that let him meet and sleep with real women, before finally losing the weight he’d aggressively put on like a suit of armor—to find that this does not, of course, solve all of his problems with love. In a film, this would make for the perfect blend of humor, transformation, and strange, ever-so-human sex, if you ask me.
“Mister Lytle,” John Jeremiah Sullivan
Sullivan’s story of his apprenticeship to the writer Andrew Lytle in the last year of the latter’s life is brilliant and tender, and so beautifully rendered that I already see it as if on film—this would be a quiet one, but a heartbreaker nonetheless.
“Shipping Out,” David Foster Wallace
Trust Wallace to take a surreal American artifact—the luxury cruise—and make it even more surreal, and at the same time, distinctly more human. The first few paragraphs of this essay—a list of things he has seen and learned during his week at sea—could really be their own kind of film, if a bizarre one. Okay, a plot would probably have to imported into this essay to make it into a viable blockbuster, but that’s not very difficult. Perhaps it could be directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, or at the very least, the Coen brothers.
“Black Girls Don’t Get to Be Depressed,” Samantha Irby
I’ve seen a number of essays on this topic (here’s another good one, an excerpt from Margo Jefferson’s Negroland) but very few films that touch on the actual lives of depressed black women, despite the fact that the rates of depression among the group are unusually high. As far as films go, Moonlight seemed to me to be in large part a story about depression and masculinity in a particular African-American community; since that was the best movie of 2016 (by some margin), I think a film about the female experience is primed to come right along next.
“Documents,” Charles D’Ambrosio
This one’s not totally intuitive, told as it is in fragments of memories surrounding various documents (poem by father, letter from younger brother, etc), but I actually think in the hands of a capable director this could make for an entrancing framing device—or at least a kind of charming theme. After all, at its core it’s a family tragedy—and film always has room for another one of those.
“The Empathy Exams,” Leslie Jamison
The already refracted perspectives and lenses of this essay would only be amplified by its translation to screen: an actor playing a writer—who has, or will have, medical needs of her actual own—playing a sick person, but only so doctors-in-training can pretend to treat her, so that their performance can be analyzed by their teachers. Not to mention the fact that even without all of this, it’s a captivating story.
“American Hippopotamus,” Jon Mooallem
On the very real plot to “turn America into a nation of hippo ranchers”—yes, for meat—and the two rivals, one a “freelance adventurer” and the other a con man, who come together to try and make it happen. That’s a genius idea for anything, right there.
“Goodbye to All That,” Joan Didion
I mean, I’d watch a film about Didion doing just about anything—I almost gave “The White Album” pride of place here because I kind of can’t imagine a more compelling movie than one in which Joan Didion carefully packs and unpacks her suitcase with skirts, leotards and bourbon—but given how much everyone seems to adore the loving-and-leaving New York City story, why not simply take the next step?
Writing an essay often seems to be a dreaded task among students. Whether the essay is for a scholarship, a class, or maybe even a contest, many students often find the task overwhelming. While an essay is a large project, there are many steps a student can take that will help break down the task into manageable parts. Following this process is the easiest way to draft a successful essay, whatever its purpose might be.
According to Kathy Livingston’s Guide to Writing a Basic Essay, there are seven steps to writing a successful essay:
1. Pick a topic.
You may have your topic assigned, or you may be given free reign to write on the subject of your choice. If you are given the topic, you should think about the type of paper that you want to produce. Should it be a general overview of the subject or a specific analysis? Narrow your focus if necessary.
If you have not been assigned a topic, you have a little more work to do. However, this opportunity also gives you the advantage to choose a subject that is interesting or relevant to you. First, define your purpose. Is your essay to inform or persuade?
Once you have determined the purpose, you will need to do some research on topics that you find intriguing. Think about your life. What is it that interests you? Jot these subjects down.
Finally, evaluate your options. If your goal is to educate, choose a subject that you have already studied. If your goal is to persuade, choose a subject that you are passionate about. Whatever the mission of the essay, make sure that you are interested in your topic.
2. Prepare an outline or diagram of your ideas.
In order to write a successful essay, you must organize your thoughts. By taking what’s already in your head and putting it to paper, you are able to see connections and links between ideas more clearly. This structure serves as a foundation for your paper. Use either an outline or a diagram to jot down your ideas and organize them.
To create a diagram, write your topic in the middle of your page. Draw three to five lines branching off from this topic and write down your main ideas at the ends of these lines. Draw more lines off these main ideas and include any thoughts you may have on these ideas.
If you prefer to create an outline, write your topic at the top of the page. From there, begin to list your main ideas, leaving space under each one. In this space, make sure to list other smaller ideas that relate to each main idea. Doing this will allow you to see connections and will help you to write a more organized essay.
3. Write your thesis statement.
Now that you have chosen a topic and sorted your ideas into relevant categories, you must create a thesis statement. Your thesis statement tells the reader the point of your essay. Look at your outline or diagram. What are the main ideas?
Your thesis statement will have two parts. The first part states the topic, and the second part states the point of the essay. For instance, if you were writing about Bill Clinton and his impact on the United States, an appropriate thesis statement would be, “Bill Clinton has impacted the future of our country through his two consecutive terms as United States President.”
Another example of a thesis statement is this one for the “Winning Characteristics” Scholarship essay: “During my high school career, I have exhibited several of the “Winning Characteristics,” including Communication Skills, Leadership Skills and Organization Skills, through my involvement in Student Government, National Honor Society, and a part-time job at Macy’s Department Store.”
4. Write the body.
The body of your essay argues, explains or describes your topic. Each main idea that you wrote in your diagram or outline will become a separate section within the body of your essay.
Each body paragraph will have the same basic structure. Begin by writing one of your main ideas as the introductory sentence. Next, write each of your supporting ideas in sentence format, but leave three or four lines in between each point to come back and give detailed examples to back up your position. Fill in these spaces with relative information that will help link smaller ideas together.
5. Write the introduction.
Now that you have developed your thesis and the overall body of your essay, you must write an introduction. The introduction should attract the reader’s attention and show the focus of your essay.
Begin with an attention grabber. You can use shocking information, dialogue, a story, a quote, or a simple summary of your topic. Whichever angle you choose, make sure that it ties in with your thesis statement, which will be included as the last sentence of your introduction.
6. Write the conclusion.
The conclusion brings closure of the topic and sums up your overall ideas while providing a final perspective on your topic. Your conclusion should consist of three to five strong sentences. Simply review your main points and provide reinforcement of your thesis.
7. Add the finishing touches.
After writing your conclusion, you might think that you have completed your essay. Wrong. Before you consider this a finished work, you must pay attention to all the small details.
Check the order of your paragraphs. Your strongest points should be the first and last paragraphs within the body, with the others falling in the middle. Also, make sure that your paragraph order makes sense. If your essay is describing a process, such as how to make a great chocolate cake, make sure that your paragraphs fall in the correct order.
Review the instructions for your essay, if applicable. Many teachers and scholarship forms follow different formats, and you must double check instructions to ensure that your essay is in the desired format.
Finally, review what you have written. Reread your paper and check to see if it makes sense. Make sure that sentence flow is smooth and add phrases to help connect thoughts or ideas. Check your essay for grammar and spelling mistakes.
Congratulations! You have just written a great essay.
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