Wednesday 3 June 2015

The Art of the Personal Essay

"...all essays are an expression of the human voice addressing an imagined audience, seeking to shift opinion, to influence judgement, to appeal to another in his or her common humanity." 
(Joyce Carol Oates)

Yesterday I blogged about the educational or formal essay.  Today I am writing about the personal or informal essay.  If the goal of the educational essay is to inform the reader, the goal of the personal essay is to move the reader.  Joyce Carol Oates points out that "art should not be should provoke, disturb, arouse one's emotions..." (  

The personal essay writer shares his personal experience or opinion about a topic.  The topics can vary, but the theme should be universal.  Rather than a formal tone, the writer adopts a conversational tone.  The discourse should be natural.  The personal essay should be like a personal narrative which includes dialogue and characterization.  The writer should use scene building techniques.  The writer's emotions and feelings should be transparent.  It is an exercise in self-reflection for the writer.

While an article should be objective, a personal essay should be subjective.  It offers the reader "a glimpse into the writer's life", according to blogger Dave Hood (  Pay attention to the writer's unique use of language, or voice.  It is not what is said, but how it is said.  The reader needs to engage the writer's voice.

For more information, read Joyce Carol Oates' book The Best American Essays of the Century.


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