Ah, yes. The always classy Robert Baratheon, ladies and gentleman! Though slightly crass, this drunken fool of a fictional king embodies my view of the five paragraph essay. For someone who likes a set of, erm, set rules, I sure don’t follow them very well. My memory is quite poor when I think about the specifics of my time in middle school and high school. I can say with confidence that I most certainly wrote essays in the five paragraph style during middle school. Towards the end of my high school career, I found myself distancing myself from that format more and more. I can’t remember if I received this advice from a teacher, or if I discovered this idea myself, but I began writing as much as I needed to write to get my point across. Gone were the days of frustration over the inability to create that last paragraph. Gone were the days of the mass-produced cut-and-file jobs I used to do. I began to write bespoke, meaningful pieces with their own flavor. I felt free from the shackles of the five paragraph style.
For fear of sounding as if I am out to bash the five paragraph essay into oblivion, let me state right now that I do not hate it. I do think it is a great tool to teach beginning writers to focus their writing. I think it serves a superior purpose as guidelines than actual rules. If I were teaching students the basics of writing an essay, I would say that the five paragraph style is more of a jumping off point than an actual requirement. Just as the Marines are not looking for robots, I am not looking for facsimiles disguised as serious essays. I feel that constraining students to the five paragraph style harms their ability as writers. They will be more focused on how to fulfill the requirements to a T. Instead of giving me an engaged, passionate piece of literature, I get a drab and dreary econobox when what I really want is a fine Rolls-Royce. I do not want a “one size fits all” paper. I want a paper that is not only tailored to my needs, but also to the author’s. The mark of a great author is their willingness to break the rules. To transcend the conventions expected of them is no different than what the Dada artists of post-World War I Europe did. To be remembered means to break the mold and bring something new to the table. Trying to smother that inhibition with a nanny blanket will stifle any aspiring author and snuff out a potential Hemingway or Cummings.