Writing Essays – Using Cultural Patterns to Create Newness

Do you know of any formally published process for ensuring that you have the most important feature—–newness—–in the thesis for your essay? Thought so. Me neither.

Textbooks and teachers just show you pieces of writing that have newness in them, and then they say, “Do it like that.” Oh, sure, they give you isolated examples of the forms you should use, such as Introductions, Thesis Statements, Topic Sentences, Body Paragraphs, and Conclusions. But they never give you a specific, reusable p-r-o-c-e-s-s for creating any of them, do they?

It’s kind of like a shoemaker showing an apprentice a box full of shoes and saying, “Here’s what they look like. Now make some like these.” Huh? Yeah, right!

That’s why I’ve written this—–to share with you a proven process for creating newness for your essays.

What’s amazing about our not being taught newness in writing is that newness is all around us-on the Internet, in bookstores, in clothing stores, in automobile showrooms, in politics, and especially in movies. Either movies provide us with a new thrill, a new heartwarming or heartrending story about some likable or hate-able character, a new view of the universe (science fiction), some new and interesting insight into society or history, or some novel combination of these patterns of newness—–or we stay away in droves, don’t we?

What’s fascinating to me is what I see as the reason we’re not taught about generating newness in writing. Seems to me that newness is such a vast concept that no one has ever gotten a good handle on it, a good way to talk about it without having to refer to a zillion different new things. And none of us can really relate very well to a zillion different things. In short, what has been lacking is a very short list of the categories of newness that we can all cope with.

I’ve got a solution for that. I’ve researched this for years, and I’ve found that there are only five different kinds of newness:

  • Reverse
  • Add
  • Subtract
  • Substitute
  • Rearrange

Of course, that’s meaningless unless you realize that what’s new always depends on what’s already old. Everything new is new compared to something else that’s old or already known and familiar. That’s a pretty big group of things—–what’s already known and familiar—–so that needs to be broken down into a small, manageable set of categories, too.

So here’s my thoroughly researched, small, manageable set of categories of what’s old that can be made into something new:

  • Values
  • Expectations
  • Experiences
  • Reasoning
  • Language

Pretty short but thorough list, right? Can you think of anything that doesn’t fit in that compact little list? Me neither. Glad we agree on that.

‘Okay,’ you’re probably thinking, ‘sounds good—–but just how does this old-new thingy work with those two short sets of categories, anyway?’ Good question.

The most important thing to start with is Values from the set of old view categories. Think positive and negative, good and bad, like and dislike-these are the essence of Values because they are things we feel about, and things we feel about are values.

Marketing people have this whole thing down pat. They know that customers will buy things that they have good feelings about, and so marketers make advertisements that-

  • add to customer positive feelings,
  • subtract from feelings of insecurity or distrust,
  • substitute good feeling and ideas for old negative feelings and ideas,
  • rearrange old ways of sequencing things,
  • reverse the negative feelings customers have about an idea or product.

I could spend a lot of time on all that, but since you’re reading this, then you’re probably smart enough to bring to mind examples of advertising that use those new view options.

What I’m going to discuss with you right now are cultural patterns that put some of those categories into everyday usage. Once you’ve got them in your box of writing tools, you can use them as templates to come up with thesis statements that have newness built right into them.

The kind of cultural patterns I’m talking about are everyday sayings or stories that give insights about life and contain the element of newness, such as these two:

  • The Lion Roars, But Has No Teeth – “Something or someone may seem great or powerful, but they don’t perform that way,” which means: The person with all the influence, all the brains, all the friends, all the power, or the great past track record may not perform as well as their track record indicates.
  • Columbus Breaking the Egg – “It may look really easy or really hard, but just the opposite is true,” which means: Instead of something being difficult to do, it’s really very easy to do; or something looks very easy, but it’s really very hard to do.

Let’s look at that cultural pattern of The Lion Roars, But Has No Teeth.

Remember the first two old view categories, Values and Expectations? They are the key. When they get reversed, then you’ve got newness, a new view. And that’s exactly the pattern of The Lion Roars, But Has No Teeth. Normally, we expect a roaring lion to have power to harm and kill, but when we find out that a roaring lion has no teeth, that expectation is nullified and reversed.

So let’s put that in very general terms-when people are aware of a great strength or a great talent, they expect that the person or thing with that strength or talent will keep right on doing things using that great strength or talent. When that great strength or talent doesn’t come through as expected, then it’s a new view reversal, like a lion roaring when it has lost its teeth and so has lost the power to back up that roar, the opposite of what you usually expect when any lion roars.

For example, one student had the experience of being disappointed on a date by not being kissed. Expressed that way, that student’s disappointment does not have any sense of newness. But she plugged her experience into The Lion Roars, But Has No Teeth cultural pattern and expressed it as a reverse of old view expectations. She ended up writing an interesting new view for her essay:

  • One of the stars on the football team asked me out, a guy with a reputation with all the girls. I expected to have fun making out with him and making him behave. But we went to the movies and then straight home, where I got a peck on the cheek and a lame, “That was fun, Wendy! Let’s do it again some time. Good night!” What a wimp!

Let’s see how things work with that other cultural pattern of Columbus Breaking the Egg, which is in the form of a story that has become part of the thinking pattern of our Western culture.

This is based on a popular story about Christopher Columbus. Columbus challenged some Spanish noblemen to make an egg stand on its end with no support. It was too difficult a task for them, and none of the nobles could do it. So Columbus simply tapped one end of the egg on the table, which allowed the egg to stand upright on its own crushed parts. So the task seemed hard, but was actually very easy to do, which is the essence of this cultural pattern.

One student wanted to write about learning to get dates by talking with girls. Said like that, there was no sense of newness to it. But when he learned about the Columbus Breaking the Egg cultural pattern, he came up with this for his essay:

  • I used to think getting a date was hard. I got turned down all the time. Like other guys, I thought girls wanted to date only athletes, big achievers, rich guys, or really good looking guys. But then I learned that a lot of girls like guys they can talk with – just talk with! How easy! Now I never get turned down for a date!

Many cultural patterns of newness exist ‘out there’ for us to piggyback on, both for generating new ideas and as pre-existing formats for conveying our strong positive or strong negative ideas.

Can you think of any others from your own experiences?

Here are a few more cultural patterns you can plug your strong negative and strong positive experiences and views into in order to create and convey newness:

  • David versus Goliath—–Little guy unexpectedly beats big guy.

EXAMPLE: The IRS hauled my uneducated, meek little aunt into court last year to take her car away to pay her back taxes. I just knew she would lose. Was everyone surprised—–my sweet, mousey little aunt got angry and beat the IRS!

  • Chicken or the Egg—–Cause and effect are reversed or switched.

EXAMPLE: Does my boyfriend like science fiction movies, books, & things because he has a creative mind? Or does he have a creative mind because his whole family spends a lot of time on all things weird and science fiction-ish?

  • All Work, No Play—Wrong!—–Platitudes don’t always work right in real life.

EXAMPLE: Two nights before finals, I went to movies and relaxed, as they say you should. Bad advice! I bombed it! The next semester, I studied two weeks AND the two nights before finals—–and aced them!

The big idea here, of course, is that newness is all around us, particularly in published commercial works, such as short stories, novels, essays, and movies. So we need to write down our strong positive and strong negative personal experiences and then look around for cultural patterns that we can relate them to. We can use those cultural patterns to strengthen, clarify, or reword our initial ideas. We can even use them as the patterns to compare to when hunting for ideas in our own experiences.

Because newness is all around us in cultural patterns, we need to sensitize ourselves to those patterns of newness and starting zeroing in on the #1 focus of all successful communications, whether they are published, commercial, or not–

…………………………………………………….What’s new to the reader

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