Model Essay on a Character in Fiction

An Essay by Eileen for Option #4 of The Common Application

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Grove, Allen. "Model Essay on a Character in Fiction." ThoughtCo, Mar. 12, 2016, thoughtco.com/model-essay-on-character-in-fiction-788373. Grove, Allen. (2016, March 12). Model Essay on a Character in Fiction. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/model-essay-on-character-in-fiction-788373 Grove, Allen. "Model Essay on a Character in Fiction." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/model-essay-on-character-in-fiction-788373 (accessed September 19, 2017).
Wallflower
Wallflower. 5mal5 / Flickr
More Model Essays: an ethical dilemma | an important issue | an influential person | a fictional character | diversity | the open topic | a supplemental essay

The model essay below comes from Eileen in response to question #4 (pre-2013) on The Common Application: "Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence." Eileen applied to four New York colleges that vary widely in size, mission and personality: Alfred University, Cornell University, SUNY Geneseo and the University of Buffalo. Here's her essay...

Wallflower

I wasn't unfamiliar with the word. It was something I remembered hearing since I was able to grasp the fine art of polysyllabic language. Of course, in my experience, it had always been subtly laced with negativity. They told me that it wasn't something I was supposed to be. They told me to socialize more -- okay, maybe they had a point there -- but to open up to strangers I didn't know from Adam? Apparently, yes, that was exactly what I was to do. I had to 'put myself out there,' or something. They told me I couldn't be a wallflower. Wallflower was unnatural. Wallflower was wrong. So my impressionable younger self tried her best not to see the inherent beauty in the word. I wasn't supposed to see it; no one else did. I was terrified to recognize its rightness. And that was where Charlie came in.

Before I get any further, I feel obligated to mention that Charlie is not real. I question whether that makes a difference -- it shouldn't, really.

Fictional, factual, or seven-dimensional, his influence in my life is indisputable. But, to give credit where credit is overwhelmingly due, he comes from the brilliant mind of Stephen Chbosky, from the universe of his novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. In a series of anonymous letters to an unknown friend, Charlie tells his story of life, love, and high school: of skirting the fringes of life and of learning to make the leap.

And from the first sentences, I was drawn to Charlie. I understood him. I was him. He was me. I felt acutely his fears of entering high school, his just-barely-perceptible separation from the rest of the student body, because these fears were mine as well.

What I didn't have, the singular distinction between this character and myself, was his vision. Even from the very beginning, Charlie's innocence and naiveté gave him an unparalleled ability to see beauty in everything and to acknowledge it without hesitation, exactly as I'd longed to allow myself to do. I had been scared to be the only one to value being a wallflower. But with Charlie came the promise that I wasn't alone. When I saw that he could see what I wanted to see, I suddenly found that I could see it, too. He showed me that the true beauty in being a wallflower was the ability to acknowledge freely that beauty, to embrace it for everything it was while still managing to 'put myself out there' on a level I hadn't thought myself capable. Charlie taught me not conformity, but the honest, open expression of myself, free from the vise-like fear of being judged by my peers. He told me that sometimes, they were wrong. Sometimes, it was okay to be a wallflower.

Wallflower was beautiful. Wallflower was right.

And for that, Charlie, I am forever in your debt.

Read the discussion of Eileen's essay

More Essay Essentials: Common Application Tips | 9 Essay Style Tips | 5 Tips for a Winning Essay | 10 Bad Essay Topics

Here I'll discuss the strengths and weakness of "Wallflower," the model essay by Eileen.

The Topic

The minute we read her title, we know that Eileen has chosen an unusual and perhaps risky topic. In truth, the topic is one of the reasons I love this essay. So many college applicants think their essay needs to focus on some monumental accomplishment.

After all, to get admitted to a highly selective college one needs to have single-handedly rebuilt a hurricane-ravaged island or weaned a major city from fossil fuels, right?

Obviously not. Eileen tends to be quiet, thoughtful, and observant. These are not bad traits. Not all college applicants need to have the type of exuberant personality that can psych up a gymnasium full of students. Eileen knows who she is and who she is not. Her essay focuses on an important character in fiction who helped her be comfortable with her own personality and inclinations. Eileen is a wallflower, and she is proud of it.

Eileen's essay readily acknowledges the negative connotations bound up in the term "wallflower," but she uses the essay to turn those negatives into positives. By the essay's end, the reader feels that this "wallflower" could fill an important role within a campus community. A healthy campus has all types of students including those who are reserved.

The Tone

Eileen may be a wallflower, but she clearly has a sprightly mind. The essay takes its subject matter seriously, but it also has no shortage of wit and humor. Eileen takes a self-deprecating jab at herself for needing to socialize more, and she plays with the idea of what is "real" in her second paragraph.

Her language is often informal and conversational.

At the same time, Eileen is never flip or dismissive in her essay. She takes the essay prompt seriously, and she convincingly shows that fictional Charlie had a profound influence on her life. Eileen strikes that difficult balance between playfulness and seriousness. The result is an essay that is substantive but also a pleasure to read.

The Writing

Eileen has accomplished an impressive task by covering her topic so well in under 500 words. There is no slow warm-up or broad introduction at the start of the essay. Her first sentence, in fact, relies on the essay's title to make sense. Eileen jumps into her topic immediately, and immediately the reader is drawn in with her.

The variety of the prose also helps keep the reader engaged as Eileen makes frequent shifts between complex and simple sentences. We move from a phrase like "the fine art of polysyllabic language" to a deceptively simple string of three-word sentences: "I understood him. I was him. He was me." The reader recognizes that Eileen has an excellent ear for the language, and the essay's pacing and rhetorical shifts work well.

If I have one criticism to offer, it's that the language is a little abstract at times.

Eileen focuses on "beauty" in her third paragraph, but the exact nature of that beauty is not clearly defined. At other times the use of imprecise language is actually effective -- the essay opens and closes with reference to a mysterious "they." The pronoun has no antecedent, but Eileen is abusing grammar deliberately here. "They" is everyone who is not her. "They" are the people who don't value a wallflower. "They" are the force against which Eileen has struggled.

Final Thoughts

While "I'm a wallflower" may be a conversation stopper at a social event, Eileen's essay is remarkably successful. By the time we finish the essay, we can't help but admire Eileen's honesty, self-awareness, sense of humor, and writing ability.

The essay has accomplished its most important task -- we have a strong sense of who Eileen is, and she seems like the type of person who would be an asset to our campus community.

Remember what is at stake here -- the admissions officers are looking for students who will be part of their community. Do we want Eileen to be part of our community? Absolutely.

Read the results of Eileen's college search.

Eileen wanted to be in Western New York State, so she applied to four colleges: Alfred University, Cornell University, SUNY Geneseo and the University of Buffalo. All schools are selective, although they vary greatly in personality. Buffalo is a large public university, SUNY Geneseo is a public liberal arts college, Cornell is a large private university and member of the Ivy League, and Alfred is a small private university.

Eileen's essay is clearly strong, as were her test scores and high school record. Because of this winning combination, Eileen's college search was highly successful. As the chart below shows, she was accepted at every school to which she applied. Her final decision was not an easy one. She was tempted by the prestige that comes with attending an Ivy League institution, but she ultimately opted for Alfred University because of both the generous financial aid package and the personal attention that comes with a smaller school.

Eileen's Application Results
CollegeAdmission Decision
Alfred UniversityAccepted with merit scholarship
Cornell UniversityAccepted
SUNY GeneseoAccepted with merit scholarship
University of BuffaloAccepted with merit scholarship