Giving it Away in the Intro Essay?

My Capstone project is about something that most people haven’t necessarily heard of before: Protagonist Disease. Basically, it involves viewing your life as a story in which you function as the central figure, or “main character.” Protagonist thinkers are in the habit of seeing their lives as plot developments, in a story so captivating, that it would surely draw an audience if ever shown in the theaters. Protagonist thinkers might even fantasize that their lives are being projected onto a screen somewhere in real time, and that the audience is rooting for them and sympathizing with them as they move through the various scenes of their lives.

Protagonist thinking can be employed in almost any situation, but it seems that we are the most susceptible to it during times of difficulty. When we’re sad, when we’re angry, or when we’re failing, we can use protagonist thinking as a sort of defense mechanism to justify ourselves. Surely, we tell ourselves, that if the “audience” had seen the entire story’s development, complete with all our struggles, then they would be sympathetic to us. Convincing ourselves (and our imagined “audience”) that we are sympathetic characters is what protagonist thinking as all about.

Anyway, I’m writing about this topic in a sort of abstract way. I feel that I was guilty of protagonist thinking this past summer, so I’m writing a bunch of independent “scenes” from my summer, but I’m writing them as if I was the main character in the movie that I was constructing to be my life. So, needless to say, the scenes are very dramatized – almost satirically so. I’m also writing them in the third person, as if this “character” version of myself is completely different from my actual person.

On its own, my piece is just a bunch of stories. I don’t mention that it’s about Protagonist Disease at all. And I don’t even reveal that the third person “character” that I’m writing about is me from this past summer until the very end. I want to give my audience enough clues as to what the piece is about, so I’m including some research artifacts that speak to Protagonist Disease in between scenes. But I feel like that might not be enough, so in my intro essay, I’m choosing to explain the concept of Protagonist Disease in a similar way to how I did at the beginning of this post.

I feel like providing context is important, but I also don’t know if it’s too much to give away before my audience even begins reading. Is there value in completely keeping them in the dark and having them figure it out as they read? Since Protagonist Disease is not a very well-known phenomenon, I feel that I have to mention it directly at least somewhere. The question that I’m struggling with is where, and to what extent. For now, it’s the intro essay, and it’s a fairly comprehensive description. But we’ll see if it stays that way.

My re-purposing project last year was not nearly as abstract of a piece, but I also had to make some choices about how much to tell the audience, and how much to keep to myself and leave unanswered. The questions that I found myself asking then was ‘is including this necessary to the reader’s understanding of the story?’ and ‘would including it add or subtract to the richness/depth of the story?’ I think that to resolve my current dilemma, asking the same kinds of questions will point me in the right direction.

One thought to “Giving it Away in the Intro Essay?”

  1. Hi Jon,

    Sounds like you’re overall in a good place for your project! I have been really excited to see your work this semester, so it is good to see that it has turned out well. Your struggle with the intro essay is super relatable in that I think all writers struggle knowing how much to give away in summaries, or in pitches. You do want to guide your readers, but on the other hand, you don’t want to give them the clif notes because then they may not read the piece itself as thoroughly and thus not get as much as you as the writer would like.

    I have been struggling with my own piece in a similar this entire semester. Since my project involved me interweaving outside research with personal narrative/story, I have to gauge how much research to “give away;” I want readers to understand my inspiration for each essay topic, but do not want them to feel as though they do not have to explore the research for themselves if they wish.

    Anyways, you might consider writing a prologue and epilogue which taken together function as your intro essay. In the prologue, maybe stick to basics. Share only what readers absolutely need to know to understand your unifying theme. Maybe ask a couple of guiding questions related to Protagonist Disease (i.e. “Have you ever felt like your life is a movie?”). Then in the epilogue, share the extra analysis. Maybe throw out a few sources that readers can use to explore the topic further.

    Good luck!


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