Question regarding Essays: What makes one better?

When you gave out the guidelines for the writing contest at least two years ago, you said that students could send in essays. But when you received some essays they were boring and not like you were expecting. Just out of curiosity, what were you expecting and are they different from personal narratives and short stories? If so, how?

Fatima – That is an excellent question. Oh heavens. If I said they were boring, I apologize! I MEANT that the students didn’t know what an essay was. That isn’t their fault. The teachers don’t use the word “essay” in their currciulum. We didn’t provide enough information to show what we wanted. What many students turned in were state reports or reports on Martin Luther King that were ONLY factual. An essay might take Martin Luther King and turn it into how he was your hero and why. (How something King said or did became personal for you.) How would you show this through a personal anecdote in your life? This is why we added the words “personal narrative” to our guidelines to help clarify. And it DID help! We received MANY excellent entries! And not many reports this year.

An essay is nonfiction. It can be a personal narrative – – a real experience that happened to you. Those tend to be the most fun to write! There are college-type essays too, that compare literature and convince people of opinions.

Short stories are fiction – – made up stories with a beginning, middle and end.
To the right of this section, there are some pages that detail them a little more.

Writing about your passion is a good subject for any essay. So in my case, I’ll give the example of my dog, Zoie. She is a BIG passion in my life! (see photo at the side and also on my website And more on my Facebook page, and thousands more at home. . . ahem . . .
I could TELL you all about Zoie. For instance:

I love my dog Zoie. She is cute and funny. She makes me happy when I feel sad. She loved my dad. She misses him now that he is gone. She is a smart dog too. We understand each other even if we don’t say anything. She is the best dog in the world!

Or, I could SHOW you how I feel about Zoie.

I love Zoie. Sometimes her whiskers stick out straight at the side of her face. She scrunches her head in the carpet in the morning, so that ALL her fur stands up around her head. Worse than my bed-head!

When my dad died a few weeks ago, I cried. She jumped into my lap. Placing her paws onto my shoulders, she licked my face, trying to cheer me up. She looked so sad, I felt bad for HER!

On Sunday, when we would bring Dad home in his wheelchair to visit after our trip to the farmer’s market, Zoie would greet him with happy jumps and licks. Since then, we come home laden with fresh vegetables, and no dad.

Zoie’s expressive face was worried. Where was Grandpa? She ran to the front door. She waited. Finally, after we told her Grandpa wasn’t coming, she walked back into the kitchen.

At night when we give her treats, she knows lots of tricks. She’s not sure which one we’ll ask of her so she’ll quickly do ALL of the tricks, one after another, to see if she can get a treat FAST!

Zoie and I have an unspoken language. Certain looks and motions mean certain things. “How do you know she needs to go out? How do you know she wants her SOFT blanket?” My husband is puzzled with the way we communicate, by only looks, body motions, and dog vocalizations.

“Did you see that look she gave me?” I ask.
“What look?” asks Bob.
“The sideways look?” I say.
“It means she wants to cuddle because she feels ignored.”
Bob rolls his eyes.
He doesn’t say what he mumbles any louder, because Zoie might come to my defense.


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