Thursday, October 18, 2012

Alamak, English! week 4, beginnings and ends.

It was a dark and stormy night. As the rain poured down and gusts of wind whipped the branches off the dead and gnarly trees, periodic flashes of lightning illuminated a shadowy and gloomy castle at the top of a lone hill. During the brief seconds when the building was made visible by the flashes, one noticed several things about the castle. First, that it seemed to be very ancient and ill-kept - there was not a brick in the building that was clean of clefts and cracks - and second, that there was someone in there, in an upper room, where a dim candlelight darkened his silhouette against the window...

I'm afraid I'm a bit dishevelled right now - if you are wondering why, then check the post before this one - and in any case I'm sure my lessons have ceased to be of benefit to anyone but myself, as I rapidly run out of interesting things to write, but I'll try my best anyway.

You may ask yourself now, what was the whole point of that first paragraph up there. Well, today's lesson is on writing the first and last paragraphs of an essay - that is, the introduction and the conclusion. That whole "dark and stormy night" business was my feeble attempt at writing an interesting and attention-gripping introduction.

Of course, you introduction should be connected to the paragraph after. That is to say, you shouldn't use the dark and stormy line for every kind of story you write.

How to explain the fundamental difference and respective importance of an introduction and a conclusion? We start by understanding what they are important for.

The introduction of any essay should be interesting and attention-gripping. It should make your reader want to read the rest of your essay. In the case the examiner, the intro must leave a good first impression on him, so that he is in a good mood when he reads the rest of your essay. Remember, the examiner has never met you before. To him, the introduction for your essay is like a first smile or handshake, through which he evaluates you decides what kind of work he can expect out of you.

The conclusion, on the other hand, is quite the reverse. Aside from being on the other end of the essay, it should be conclusive and final. It should leave your readers satisfied and thinking to themselves, "Wow, what a great essay that was!" The conclusion should also leave a good final impression on the examiner. Remember, and this is very important, your conclusion is the last thing that he reads before he decides how many marks you get. You must leave him feeling like you deserve the marks.

I would like to introduce two analogies in relevance to the role of introductions and conclusions. The first is that of a conversation.

Have you ever experienced one of those moments when you say "hi" to someone or call out their name, but they don't hear you? Instead they walk right past you without realising you said anything, or they just keep doing what they were doing without hearing you. That is the kind of introduction you want to avoid. You want to walk up to him, pat him on the shoulder from behind, greet him with a laugh, and begin chatting with him. Write it in such a way that when the examiner reads it, there can remain no doubt that "This is your intro." You don't want him to read the whole first paragraph and think, "What? That was an intro?" Make yourself bold and write your introduction with confidence, as if to say, "Yes, this is my intro, and I'm proud of it."
Likewise, partings are also important. What you want to avoid is one of those partings where neither person really knows what to say, and the whole thing turns awkward. What you want to do his shake him by the hand and say "Well, I had a great time talking with you, but I'm afraid I really must go now. I hope we can have another little chat some other time." That is the kind of conclusion you want. Firm, decisive, and leaving the other fellow thinking "Yes, that was a rather nice chat, wasn't it?" Try not to leave the last thread of the conversation dangling, as it were.

The second analogy is that of a magic show.

Magicians often begin their tricks with something fancy. They come up on stage and bow to the audience. They show that they have nothing hidden in their sleeves or their hat. Then they take off their hat, whisk out a magic wand, wake it around in the air above the hat for a while - maybe recite a few magic words - and hey presto! A rabbit jumps out of the hat! How fabulous! The audience laughs a cheers and applauds.
His bold declarations as to the emptiness of his sleeves and headpiece mainly serve one purpose: To establish interest and credibility. Not only do they establish a connection between the magician and the audience, these formalities also show the audience that "Hey, I'm a real magician! No funny tricks here!" The introduction of the essay should make the examiner interested in the essay ahead, it should also give him the impression that this student is really good at writing.
Now what would happen if the magician stepped briskly on stage, took of his hat, tapped the hat with his stick once, and voila! rabbit? That would not be much of a show now would it?
Or what if he went through all that bowing and sleeve-pulling and magic incantations, just to produce a puff of colorful smoke from his hat? The finale is certainly lacking something there. The conclusion should leave the examiner applauding and saying "That was truly impressive. I'm glad I sat through the whole thing."

Now, how to write a good introduction? As always, it depends on the type of essay. For Argumentative and Factual essays, a standard "In this globalised era..." introduction should work fine, but it must link to the last sentence in the paragraph in which you emphasise on the main focus of the essay; for Factual, whether you're writing on the causes or effects of the topic, and for Argumentative, which side you support. For Descriptive and Narrative essays, a description of the scene works well, such as "Darkness covered the entire land as the clock struck midnight," or "The sun was shining brightly in the sky." Also for Narrative essays about yourself, you can introduce yourself a bit in the introduction, such as "I have always been a very forgetful person, but I can never forget the day when..." or "As an ordinary teenager leading an ordinary life, I could never have expected anything extraordinary to happen on that day...". For some Narrative essays, these first lines will be given. As for the introduction for Reflective and Open essays, well... use your imagination a little.

As for the writing of conclusions, now that can be a tricky one. For Argumentative, you should continue to assert your opinion, and end with hope. For instance, "In light of all this evidence, I remain convinced that smoking is bad for your health. Therefore, I hope that students will learn to avoid it and lead healthy lives." Factual essays can also go something along those lines. Come on, you guys are great at writing Malay essays, aren't you? The general style is the same. Attention should be paid towards the endings for Narrative and Descriptive essays. You should always try to have a happy ending, although... a dramatic, tragic ending can be good too, if you know how to do it properly. But since ending on a high note is easier, I'll focus on that. If you describe a person, you can end with hopes that the person will continue to be an inspiration to those who know him. If you describe an event or experience, write about how much you learned from it, and what it left you with. In a Narrative, the story should come to a nice close, and leave the reader glad with each character's fate (except when the reverse is required). For some Narratives when the last line is provided, it provides you with an idea of how the story should end, so you should build up to it appropriately.

That is all I can say on this topic for now. However, I feel as if I have not covered all the corners, and some questions may not have been answered. This is because of lack of time. If I were to explain every single bit of intro-and-ending writing in minute detail, the post would be too long and boring. If you need help writing an intro or an ending for a particular kind of essay which I have not explained sufficiently, I would be honoured if you would ask me about it.

...As all of those joyful moments returned to his memories, and as he remembered all his old friends and experiences, he could not suppress a minute smile that formed on his dry and cracked lips. He stroked his grandson's hair as the little boy lay on his lap, sound asleep. It was strange, he thought, but when he had looked into his grandson's innocent blue eyes, he saw reflected in them the kindness and purity of heart that had once belonged to his late wife. "Oh well," he thought to himself, "That's genetics for you." Although he was an old man with nothing left for him in the world, he was glad to be able to meet his grandson at least once while he was still alive. At that very moment, he decided that he would spend the rest of his life making sure that the boy received everything he needed to grow into a fine young man. With these comforting thoughts in his mind, he closed his eyes and went to sleep.


  1. hey pass your brain to me during exam so I can write like you okay? XD

  2. Hahaha... Really, you shouldn't try to write like me... Just be yourself and write like yourself, and don't belittle yourself by comparing yourself to others. :)