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Author Topic: show, don't tell  (Read 1875 times)

casino

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show, don't tell
« on: July 23, 2004, 08:25:49 PM »
all of the examples of PSs that i have read try to do the same thing -- to "capture" the reader with an striking first sentence.  i have to admit, i have pretty much finished mine and have tried to do the same thing.  i also have to admit that some of the examples on the web -- including some of the edited examples on essayedge -- have failed to capture my attention.

does anyone think that this strategy is a bit cliche?  i wonder if adcoms joke amongst themselves wondering what kind of first sentence the next application will present.

certainly, "i have wanted to be a lawyer since..." type beginnings are played out.  but does anyone believe that starting a personal statement with something conservative along the lines of "i seek admittance to your law school, and feel that i would be an excellent fit because of x,y,z," and then expounding on those reasons in the essay a bad idea?  i know there are no set formulas to these things, but the trend of the examples i have seen seem to suggest to show, not tell.

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EnglishToLaw

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Re: show, don't tell
« Reply #1 on: July 23, 2004, 08:31:55 PM »
Showing and not telling is the advice par excellence of every first-year composition course. (It's the mantra of the rhetorical mode known as description.) I think you're right that this strategy is transparent by now, but the example you gave would put fatigued ad comms right to sleep.

Your best bet, I think, is to grab the reader in the first few lines, steering way clear of cliches and platitudes. Descriptive language is one effective way to do this, but there are others. If you're not "telling a story," at least say something provocative (not necessarily controversial, but that can work, too). Then again, I'm having a hard time striking this balance, so who the hell am I to talk?  ???

lexylit

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Re: show, don't tell
« Reply #2 on: July 23, 2004, 08:38:28 PM »
what are you, a @#$% english prof?!?

oh wait.

i remember now ;)

EnglishToLaw

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Re: show, don't tell
« Reply #3 on: July 23, 2004, 08:45:07 PM »
I do play one on TV.

swifty

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Re: show, don't tell
« Reply #4 on: July 23, 2004, 09:03:00 PM »
Lexylit,

I am not a English Prof, and I don't play one on TV.  However
I dress up as one when I am alone.

Question:  I see a lot of slang in PS's, a big no no as far
as I am concerned.

Your thoughts?

I mean on the slang, not my dressing up.
And the sign said "Long-haired freaky people need not apply" So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why. He said "You look like a fine outstanding young man, I think you'll do.  So I took off my hat, I said "Imagine that. Huh! Me workin' for you!"Sign, sign, everywhere a sign..

lexylit

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Re: show, don't tell
« Reply #5 on: July 23, 2004, 09:22:44 PM »
to me it's a question of consistent tone. if your subject matter is all straight-up serious, then your grammar and syntax need to reflect that. if your ps is more playful, colloquialism can be ok at certain times and add to your effect. you have to have a light touch with it.

i'm sure this will get followed by 7 "oh noooo slang, what are you, crazy?" posts, but i think a more casual tone done well always outshines a ps that's overwritten or stiffly formal, plus it lets the real you come out and play a little more  ;)

dta

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Re: show, don't tell
« Reply #6 on: July 24, 2004, 11:43:00 PM »
Hey casino. I know what you're talking about - the 'shocker' first sentence describing something off the wall. While I agree with you that such blitzkrieg tactics are probably not endearing to adcoms one need not resort to blitzkrieg to be compelling in the first paragraph.

Along the lines of what EnglishToLaw gets at I use my first paragraph to describe an interesting work setting in which one of the actors in the 'story' is exhibiting leadership ability. I don't ever say "man X is doing leadership stuff", rather i give concrete examples of actions, expounded upon in 'story' fashion, which any reader would clearly recognize as a demonstration of good leadership.

After the first paragraph I never explicitly mention that "man X" is myself, but the implication is clear - that man is none other than myself.

I think this, and similiar tactics, are a good way to begin one's PS. Everyone likes a good non-blitzkrieg story. And if you tell an honest an interesting story of yourself there is truly no underhanded 'tactic' at work and adcoms will recognize this. Further, if you can accomplish the second goal I set for myself I think your story is especially non-invasive. That is, i set up a description of a situation in which there is a clear hero, but I then never explicitly say to the audience (adcoms) "Now, that hero leader type guy you read about in the first paragraph - that's me. Cool huh? That's me! I really did that cool leadershipt stuff in the first paragraph!".

I think by not actually declaring I am the hero of the story I, in a certain way, honor my audience by not stating the obvious and allowing the audience to conclude for themselves I am said hero. Further, if they deduce this themselves it is much more powerful than were I to tell them and ruin the mystery.

Anyway, I really do think you can begin you PS in attention grabbing 'story' fashion yet still be creative and not seem like you're giving into to the typical blitzkrieg gimick. Try out a couple experiments. That fact that you've identified the blitzkrieg gimmick is itself indicative that you've got a keen eye as to what's going on here. I'm sure with a few attempts you can find an honest and intriguing way to begin the story of your PS.