Segmented essays seem to be a big trend right now, especially in creative nonfiction. My personal theory for this is the freedom; segmented essays can be approached in so many ways. However, because of this, the distinction between different forms of segmented essays can be confusing. I hypothesize that if a writer zones in on a particular approach to the segmented essay, they will better understand how to effectively use one of them to tell a compelling narrative. In this lab report, I will be focusing on the braided essay and what it needs to be well-executed.
The braided essay is often used to juxtapose two different, but related, strands of narrative. As Tom Bascom discusses in this invaluable article on different formats of personal essays, the braided essay allows “one strand [to] surface, while the other is momentarily submerged.” I have yet to find a more eloquent way to explain the braid.
Similarly, this text from Grand Valley State University shows this same idea simply by instructing you to think of your strands in terms of A and B, and then go back and forth from them. This allows easy planning and, in my opinion, a way to almost think of them in terms of poetry; you have your separate rhymes, but they compliment each other well in the piece as a whole.
Data and Observation:
Now, we know the basics about the braided essay, but we still have to make some distinctions from similar formats. One format that is sometimes used as interchangeable for the braided essay is a collage essay. However, as Waverly Fitzgerald points out in an article on his site, the difference between a collage and braided essay can be easily determined by order: the braided essay is typically chronological as it moves through the separate tendrils of narrative, while the “vignettes are usually assembled out of order” in an essay following the collage form.
Fitzgerald also gives his own distinction of the braid from subplots; subplots “give depth or contrast to the main plot,” also in chronological order, however, they are obviously less important than the narrative’s main plot. In the braided essay, the plot of each strand has “equal value.”
What I take from all of the gathered data is that both strands of the braided essay stand alone, but together, they tell a more complete and compelling story. They can work really well for virtually any genre; in fiction, the braid is used when an author tells the story from two different character’s viewpoints (as Fitzgerald mentions). In nonfiction, which is my concentration and has subsequently been a large focus of this report, the braid can really allow two separate instances or stories to play off of each other to give the reader an even fuller experience of each in the way that they fit together.
The braided essay is a very simple, straightforward form of writing that manages to leave a lot of room for creativity. If you find yourself with two stories that your brain is somehow linking together, I would suggest weaving them together on a page. It’s also worth noting that like any segmented essay, you still get to play with white space between narrative strands, which is fun and leads to interesting effects each time. This form is one of my personal favorites, and I think it’s one that every writer either has, or should, attempt in their career.
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Kristen Nichols is a sophomore at Columbia, majoring in Creative Nonfiction. She is also working on a minor in Professional Writing, and enjoys spending her time wandering between shelves of books in those magical places we know as libraries.