What the Heck is a Braided Essay?
I was scrolling through Facebook a few months ago when a writer friend's post caught my eye:
"Does anyone have any good braided essays to share?"
Braided essays? I thought. What's a braided essay? And why haven't I heard of this before?
Through Google, I learned that a braided essay weaves two or more narratives together. "Often, the threads seem very disparate at first," instructs the Purdue Online Writing Lab, "but by the climax of the essay, the threads begin to blend together; connections are revealed."
Roxane Gay uses a braided form for many of her blog posts, weaving her adventures in cooking together with other details from her day. I've always wondered what kind of magic she used to make the disparate topics work so well together. Now I finally have a name for the technique, and a better understanding of how it works.
Shortly after I learned the meaning of "braided essay," I stumbled upon Mira Jacob's "37 Difficult Questions from my Mixed-Race Son." Jacob interposes line drawings of herself and her son, along with cartoon-like conversation bubbles, onto Michael Jackson album covers—sort of like a visual braided essay.
It's awesome. And until I found it, I'd never considered this blend of storytelling and collage a possibility. But then, everything's a possibility, isn't it?
There are so many ways to tell a story.
Sometimes I have to be reminded of this. I get into a routine of clacking at the keyboard, stringing words together on a screen, and I forget to step back and consider the possibilities.
You could tell your story in the form of a diagnosis, as Randon Billings Noble did in "The Heart as a Torn Muscle." You could use collage to take a layered look at memory, like Lynda Barry's book What It Is. You could paint a meditation on American democracy, a la Maira Kalman's And the Pursuit of Happiness.
When you start thinking of all the possibilities, you start running out of excuses for not telling your story.
What unconventional stories—or storytelling methods—have you enjoyed lately? Share them with me.
Photo of woman with braids courtesy of AnyJazz65 and used under a Creative Commons license.