Once you’ve come up with a great thesis for your essay, you need to give it credibility by supporting it thoroughly with-
You see, it won’t matter much that you’ve got a fantastic thesis if you’ve got lousy support for it in the form of thinly developed stories, weakly described examples, and faulty reasoning. If that’s the case, then you’ll be lucky to get a grade of C on your essay!
Let’s talk about stories, and what makes good story support for your essays. To help us, we’ll use the memorable story of Archimedes in Isaac Asimov’s lively essay, "The Eureka Phenomenon," as our example (to access Asimov’s essay, type "The Eureka Phenomenon" at Google Search).
"The Eureka Phenomenon"
Before we start, let’s review the beginning of the historically real story about Archimedes in Asimov’s essay.
Archimedes lives in the city of Sparta, Greece, circa 250 B.C. His cousin, Hieron, is the king of Sparta. Now, Hieron has given a goldsmith a certain amount of gold to make a beautiful new crown, and the goldsmith returned a beautiful golden crown to him, which the king loved. But Hieron doesn’t trust the goldsmith, thinking the artist may have pocketed some of the gold and substituted another element into the crown so it weighs the same as if all the gold were there. He calls for Archimedes and asks him to determine whether the beautiful crown is, in fact, pure gold.
Now, Archimedes makes a statement about what is already familiar to scientists, that is, that the crown would have to be melted down to get Hieron’s answer. But the king doesn’t want to destroy his beautiful new crown, so he provides the old view strong value statement when he orders Archimedes to solve ‘The Problem‘ without melting down his new crown:
Archimedes would have had to say, "There is no known way, sire, to carry through a nondestructive determination of volume." "Then think of one," said Hieron testily.
Archimedes then worked hard on The Problem until he was "worn out with thinking."
Now let’s get into our discussion on how to use stories to support your essay’s thesis.
There are three must-have qualities for good stories used in essays:
- STRUCTURE: beginning, middle, ending
- PROGRESS: from old view to new view
- IMAGE: vivid, emotional, memorable, symbolic
STRUCTURE-Beginning, middle, ending
To be a quality story, a story must have, like the Archimedes story, a clear structure of:
- a beginning,
- a middle, and
- an ending
Beginning-The beginning of a story sets up an old view strong value statement either by, about, or relating directly to, the main character.
Since the reader is a learner, then you want them to remember the main points of what you say in your essay, right? Then use a few-not a lot, mind you-emotionally laden words in the mini-stories within your essays that get your readers to interact emotionally and therefore help them more easily remember your ideas.
Those three features-
- describing lively, strong images or suggesting familiar images that encourage your readers to supply the intense details,
- attaching or suggesting an emotion of some kind along with it,
- provoking the reader’s mental interaction with the image in some way to make it memorable
-are the key ingredients for a successful image, whether it’s in a story or not. When you get the reader’s mind involved with lively, familiar images and stimulate emotional feeling as well and provoke interaction that makes remembering it easy, then you are truly helping readers to learn and remember the new view you are sharing with them.
Symbolic-Even more than all the above, though, the "Eureka!" image represents and symbolizesthe new view reverse of the essay, in this way-
The old view was the tedious plodding of scientific voluntary thought, with its meticulous working out of consequences from assumptions- it was the mostly unstated, implied ‘restrictive clothing’ of thought.
That plodding, scientific old view is reversed by the new view symbol of Archimedes as the swift, smooth running of involuntary thought without the restrictions of the ‘clothing’ of methodical scientific thought.
That’s the power of a great image-you can use it in an essay to capture a new view vividly, emotionally, memorably, and symbolically.
The stories you use in your essays won’t be as long as Asimov’s story about Archimedes. They will be much shorter, but they still should have the same qualities of Structure, Progress, and Image that Asimov gave his story.
You can see a much shorter story with all those qualities in Carl Sagan’s fascinating essay, The Abstraction of Beasts (to access it, type "The Abstraction of Beasts" at Google Search). Look for the three short paragraphs and just fourteen sentences that he uses to tell a very brief, but very good, story about Helen Keller.
You won’t be able to forget the image he shares. Why? Because Sagan follows all the rules I’ve shared with you here about Structure, Progress, and Image.