Is there a fundamental difference in the best ways to structure factual essays and fictional stories? Recently I’ve begun to wonder if they are closer than I thought.
I have a spiel I give to students. It goes like this: An essay, paper or presentation is not like a story or a novel. You are not spoiling it for me if you start by telling me how it ends. I do not want to be surprised by your conclusions. Instead, I want to know where you’re going right from the first paragraph.
We’ve all heard the saying “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you’ve told them.” But what are you supposed to tell them? A lot of students lapse into vague generality; “I’m going to talk about such and such” or “I’m interested in this and that.” But the most important part of a paper isn’t the theme, it’s the idea – in the same way that the most important part of a story is not the genre but, well, the story! If you aren’t telling me the story, or your idea, then why am I reading your paper?