Paint Me a Picture: The Illustrative Paragraph Eng 050 Illustration We’ve done description, narration…now it’s time to start illustrating. Illustration is what it sounds like—you are painting a picture using words. Specifically, it is using examples to make a point. So what’s so hard about that, you ask? The trick is the find the correct examples to “illustrate” your points, and to word them in a way that is clear and easily understood. Illustration You generally use examples to support an assertion. For example, you may assert that “Professional athletes train long and hard to maintain their skills.” You should then use an example after this to prove your point. “Peyton Manning spends three hours a day practicing football with his team.” “Maria Sharapova trains three to four hours a day all year long.” “Ryan Howard spends five hours a day in training trying not to hit a baseball.” Illustration Not giving examples for an assertion is the surest way for your assertion not to be taken seriously. Another example: You go to your boss and say “I deserve a raise.” If you leave it at that, you most likely will not get a raise. But if you follow it with examples of why you deserve one, you increase your chances. “I deserve a raise because I have the highest sales average each month, and I never take any sick days.” This sentence is much more likely to get you what you want. Illustration Illustration goes back to the “show don’t tell” we discussed when we talked about description and narration. We’re now going to read some examples of good illustration paragraphs on pages 139-. While you are reading, think about why they are good, and what they are communicating to you. Illustration Paragraph Now we’re going to begin about thinking how to write such a paragraph. It sounds more difficult and intimidating (assuming you are finding it intimidating at all). Let’s take an example of something I just wrote for my own college class. The assignment was to write a letter to the editor on an education topic I feel passionately about. Illustration Paragraph Now we’re going to begin about thinking how to write such a paragraph. It sounds more difficult and intimidating (assuming you are finding it intimidating at all). Let’s take an example of something I just wrote for my own college class. The assignment was to write a letter to the editor on an education topic I feel passionately about. Illustration Paragraph I chose the topic of why teachers need unions. It wasn’t enough for me to say “Teachers need unions.” It wouldn’t even be enough for me to say “Teachers need unions because unions protect their rights.” Instead I had to give examples. A few included “Teachers need unions to protect their benefits from getting cut”; “Teachers need unions to help preserve their jobs from getting eliminated.” Illustration Paragraph I also had to explain why teachers work many more hours than some people realize. But again I couldn’t just say that. Here’s a sample of the letter I wrote, giving examples to my assertions. Yes, some teachers take their summers off, but critics forget that teachers don’t generally take vacation during the school year, and sick days cause so much extra work to a teacher that many don’t bother to take them. These “free” summers for teachers are often spent developing lesson plans, sharpening skills, attending workshops, taking classes and--just as often-teaching summer school. A teacher’s free summer most likely ends up being six weeks, which is pretty much the same amount of time off (if you consider sick time as well as vacation time and holidays) as the average corporate employee. Illustration Okay, let’s get started putting a paragraph of our own together. The prompt here is “who is a special person in your life.” Let’s start thinking about the prompt. Remember, we can think “outside of the box.” The prompt did say “person in our lives,” but if we want, we could choose a pet, a person we don’t know, or even someone we don’t like. These answer the prompt but stretch the boundaries a bit. Illustration Special person in my life…Brother? Sister-in-law? Aunt? Cousin? Niece? BFF Rebecca? BFF Erin? BFF Barb? Cat Miranda? Hmmm, let’s brainstorm on Barb. Known her for 20 years; same sense of humor; on my side even when she thinks I’m wrong; never fails to make me laugh; I even love her mother and her husband is like a big brother to me. Now for the reporter’s formula for brainstorming (my preferred…but use whichever works). Who: My BFF Barb (one of my three BFFs). What: Our friendship Where: Met her at office of TV GUIDE magazine When: The early 1990s Illustration How: We sat across from each other and realized we had a lot in common. Why: She’s non-judgmental, we have the same sense of humor she looks out for me like a big sister, she’s always supportive. Okay, good brainstorming right? But we’re not done in terms of an illustrative paragraph because I have not given examples of the “why.” I have not “illustrated” my point. How is she non-judgmental? How has she always supported me? How has she been a big sister? How do we have the same sense of humor? Illustration We’re done our prewriting activities and brainstorming. Now it’s time to write. State your main point in your first sentence. First I need to think about the point I want to make, and that’s the fact that Barb is a special person in my life. A sample first sentence: “Barb is a special person in my life because even when she thinks I’m wrong, she’s still on my side.” A solid first sentence. But some of those items weren’t in my brainstorming, and I have other reasons for thinking she’s special. So it’s back to the drawing board. Illustration More ideas on a first sentence. “Barb is a very special person in my life because she’s always supportive, is never judgmental and looks out for me as though I was her sister.” Okay, I think that’s more like it. It doesn’t narrow it down to just the fact that she’s supportive even when I make mistakes. Instead it opens up other details I wanted to mention, such as being supportive of me, being non-judgmental even when I make mistakes, and always looking out for me. Illustration We’ve got a topic sentence. Now it’s time to develop examples that will support, backup, and explain that first sentence. Remember, if your details don’t support your topic sentence, you need to either rewrite your topic sentence, or develop new details. Here’s a few examples on the points. Remember to ask yourself “why” and have an answer. How was Barb always supportive? She encouraged me in my desire to go back to school even when others said I was taking too much on; she told mutual friends to leave me alone if she felt they were being unfair to me. Illustration How was Barb like a big sister? She helped my brother and sister-in-law throw a party for a milestone birthday; she’ll tell me if she thinks I’m doing too much and say that she’s worried about my health. How is she non-judgmental? She never told me I was making a foolish decision unless I specifically asked her; she never put down my choice of boyfriends even if she specifically didn’t like them. Illustration Now I’ve got examples that illustrate all of her good qualities. But do I have enough examples? The answer to is this our usual “it depends on the subject.” A good rule of thumb for the paragraph is to have at least three well-developed examples. I have two examples for each point. This is sufficient for a paragraph. A caution about examples: it is easy when giving examples to mention ones that aren’t logical and that don’t support your point. Don’t fall into this trap: make sure your examples are factual. Illustration Giving examples that use faulty logic do not help your case. An example: A man is working on his computer, and accidentally deletes a file. Frustrated, he directs this anger toward his wife, telling her that his deleting the file is her fault (because she left the window open, which irritated him, which caused him to lose the file). See how this is faulty logic? Leaving a window open and deleting a computer file have no relation to each other. Illustration So we’ve developed our ideas, wrote a topic sentence, and wrote examples. The next step is to organize the paragraph so it is logical. When you have a prompt like this, chronological is a good way to go (for example, I can trace my friendship with Barb back to the beginning). But there’s other choices. In the example paragraph on page 138, the author uses a few techniques. His order is chronological, but he also discusses the subject of his paragraph going from general to specific. Illustration Now it’s time to put all of the pieces together. Here’s a sample paragraph, using my topic sentence and many of my examples. “Barb is a very special person in my life because she’s always supportive, is never judgmental and looks out for me as though I was her sister. She encouraged me in my desire to go back to school even when others said I was taking too much on, and she’s defended me when she feels that our mutual friends are being unfair to me in an argument. Since neither one of us have biological sisters, we’ve become sisters to each other. She even helped my brother and sister-in-law throw a huge party for a milestone birthday a few years back, getting together friends from all aspects of my life. She also tells me if she thinks I’m doing too much and offers to help where she can. Best of all, she is completely non-judgmental. I’ve never felt looked down upon even when I’ve made foolish decisions, and she’s never put down any of my boyfriends even when I knew she specifically didn’t like them.” Illustration There’s one thing missing in this paragraph. Anyone care to take a guess? Illustration It’s a concluding sentence! Remember (and this cannot stressed too many times) that your concluding sentence has to relate back to your opening sentence. Our opening sentence: “Barb is a very special person in my life because she’s always supportive, is never judgmental and looks out for me as though I was her sister.” Let’s brainstorm now on how we could conclude the sentence. Illustration Here’s one attempt: “The two of us look nothing alike, but we are truly sisters under the skin.” This sentence isn’t bad…but it introduced a new idea (about us not looking alike. It never came up in the rest of the sentence, and might be jarring to the reader). Also “sisters under the skin” is an old-fashioned term; most likely my readers wouldn’t know what I mean by that. Illustration How about this one? “Barbara and I aren’t related. Heck, we don’t even look anything alike! But I couldn’t have a better sister and friend than I do in Barb.” Illustration And let’s not forget our checklist: Subjects and verbs Does each sentence have one of each of these? And do the tenses of the sentence and verb “agree”? Pronouns Do your pronouns “agree” with each other? More on that in the coming weeks… Modifier Errors Are your modifiers as close as possible to the words they modify? More on that in the coming weeks… Illustration Checklist continued Punctuation and mechanics Are your sentences punctuated correctly? Are your words capitalized when necessary (and not capitalized when not necessary)? Word choice and Spelling Did you choose the correct words? Remember, when it doubt look them up, or use another word. Spelling—Again, look up words you aren’t sure of.