The Details Are the Spices

After spending two years begging and pleading with young writers to add more detail to their essays, I finally met one who added far too many details in the wordiest way possible. I spend four hours a week begging and pleading with her to either cut excessive details or state them more concisely, but she really struggles. As she said recently, her words are her babies and it hurts to cut them out.

I sympathized. I’ve been writing in one form or another since I was in elementary school. Learning to revise and edit wasn’t easy for me because I could turn out a paper that would earn top scores without even trying. It wasn’t until I got to grad school that someone (the department chair) sat me down and explained that while my writing was exemplary, it lacked any sense of finesse.

I’m still trying to find that finesse, actually.

But that wasn’t going to help this student. Since she responds well to metaphors, I told her that essays are like a dish. You follow the recipe to a point, and then you add and subtract spices to suit your own taste.

In her case, there are too many spices and the flavor is so overpowering that no one can enjoy the delightful ideas she’s writing about. Where many students serve a bland essay in need of those spices, hers is almost spice with a side of essay.

A well-written essay is like a well-executed dish. Through the right blend of basic structure and attention to spices, it catches the attention and makes the consumer want to stay with it to the very end. If it’s done just right, the consumer even regrets when it’s over.


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