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Narrative Essay

Page history last edited by David Hodges 14 years ago

Narrative Essays for Writing 4


     Narration is more than the reporting of what happened. After all, to thoroughly describe the events of a single day would take at least a day, if not much longer. James Joyce's Ulysses requires several hundred pages to tell the story of  Dublin resident Leopold Bloom's day. You won't be writing that much until at least Writing 5! Several techniques that will help you keep your writing to just a few paragraphs involve difficult but essential choices.


     For example, instead of trying to chronicle the history of your family since its move to America, choose the specific events of briefly losing all your luggage on the day you arrived, and the sense of loss that strained the whole family's good humor. If you paid attention to the details of that experience, it's more than enough materail for a brief narrative.

     For example, the day you bought the luggage is ancient history and must be cut. Even the day you packed is probably too far in the past. The real events begin when your luggage does not show up in the baggage claim area in the American airport. They end when the bags finally get to you later that day.


     Speaking of details, while they are essential to your good story, they must also be relevant. Every paragraph requires you to choose between details that contribute to your overall message and those that you must cut. Nonessential details distract readers from your primary message and dilute the effectiveness of your writing.

     For example, your Uncle Moshe lost his luggage along with everyone else. His had sentimental value because it was his father's luggage. Or it was brand new and for him was symbolic of the fresh start he wanted for his life. These are relevant to a poignant story. The fact that he chose yellow luggage so that he would recognize it at the airport is irrelevant and should be eliminated from your final draft.


     The rule about chronological order can be broken if you are very talented, but the safest way to keep readers from getting lost is to start at the beginning of the story and proceed to the end. Don't start with the recovery of your lost bags; instead, start with the moment you first realize they're lost.

     You may, however, give your reader a hint about the final outcome, and many good writers do so in their introductions. (In fact, the Sample Narrative Essay includes an example of this technique.)

     For example, you could say in your introduction: "Not until our luggage was safely piled into my Aunt's living room in Philadelphia did we feel our journey was over." Once that's said, you can return to the beginning and describe the distressing events.


     Narrative is nothing without conflict. Maybe the airline crew is rude and gives you a bad impression of American manners. Maybe the language you thought was odd but charming suddenly sounds hostile when all you hear is "No," or "I can't help you." One member of the family will almost always blame another relative for not labeling the luggage right, or for arriving at the airport too late, or too early, or for a million other reasons. One of your relatives will trust the airlines to deliver the luggage to your Aunt's home while others will want to wait for it there at the airport. One will threaten to sue. Another will collapse in tears. Everyone will have an opinion and, as narrator, you get to relate the most dramatic opinions to us.


     In a brief narrative, you'll probably only quote a line or two, so make them memorable. Instead of telling us how angry and frustrated and confused your uncle is about the experience, show us what he said: "How will they get our #@?% luggage to a house in a different town if they can't get it from Gate D to Carousel D?"


     From the first sentence to the last, we should be able to tell whether your ultimate goal is to criticize what's wrong with America and its institutions, its people, its language and its customs; or whether you want to share an amusing anecdote about how you learned a lesson in adapting to a new culture.


ASSIGNMENT: Narrative Essay of at least 3 paragraphs.

TOPIC: A family argument that created drama at a holiday celebration or important event.

PERSPECTIVE: You may of course write about your own family, but you may also invent any family members you like to add to the conflict. Write from the perspective of one of the family members, not an objective observer (such as a waiter who witnessed an argument in a restaurant).

ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS: Your narrative must include at least two family members in addition to yourself. It must include a situation beyond anyone's control (though one that might have been avoided with better planning). The conflict must be resolved before the end of your essay.

ADVANCE FEEDBACK: Leave me a comment below if you would like to discuss the assignment. I will answer in comments and the entire class can benefit from our conversation.




DEADLINE FOR FIRST DRAFT: WED JUN 09, 2010 in class at 9:00AM



Comments (12)

David Hodges said

at 12:59 pm on Jun 7, 2010

Nora, please don't edit the page while I'm working on it. Thank you.


at 2:07 pm on Jun 7, 2010

Hello, professor Hodges,
Please,slow down I cant go on with you!
You will grade in this essay, so you don't grade on Flight to Mars.
I did not make good in Criterion because I didn't have enough time and thought also.That means I have another chance if I will make this essay better! Thank you.

philip said

at 10:12 pm on Jun 7, 2010

Hi professor how are you?I have a question? Do I have to do again the reading "The Way to Dusty Death" before friday if I did last week.Thanks.

WeiWeiZheng said

at 10:22 pm on Jun 7, 2010

Tuesday stay at home to do homework, it will take half day to think and to write(type) in software and to print out.


at 8:10 am on Jun 8, 2010

Hello, professor Hodges,
Pretty please, can you change deadline first draft narrative essay from Wed Jun 09, to Mon Jun14!
I want to study good for next qize, professor.
Thank you.

David Hodges said

at 8:49 am on Jun 8, 2010

Hello, Nora. Comcast has been unavailable in my neighborhood since yesterday morning. I apologize for not answering sooner. I won't change the deadline for the Narrative essay, but I will be very lenient on your Criterion submissions. They were meant primarily to give you practice in the process and many of you had difficulty doing good work under the circumstances. I understand that. Put your effort into the Narrative essay, which is most important. If there is a quiz, it will be simple and brief.

David Hodges said

at 8:50 am on Jun 8, 2010

Philip, you are most welcome to make additional contributions to the discussion at "The Way to Dusty Death," but your earlier comments fulfill the homework assignment.

David Hodges said

at 8:52 am on Jun 8, 2010

Me, too, Wei Wei. Tuesday stay at home to grade homework and post new material at the wiki, write new assignments and lesson plans, read the textbook chapters and answer student emails (now that I have email again!). Give me a call: I'll be right here. :)

Baby Tanuwidjaja said

at 10:44 am on Jun 8, 2010

Prof. Hodges you work so hard for us. I really really appreciate it. I just finished my essay assignment. Honestly I got a big progession with this class; at least, it is not difficult for me to get some ideas for writing now. Since you always give us homeworks and assignments with the deadline made my brain not only wanted to explode, but also become creative in the same time. Anyway, I still need to work hard with my grammar, vocabularly.. and it is difficult and chalenging me.

David Hodges said

at 11:12 am on Jun 8, 2010

Thank you, Baby. My internet is down in the neighborhood again, so I've come to campus to work here for the day. Right now, I'm in the Academic Skills Faculty Lounge in Wilson West (where I conduct my Professor Consultations).

I'll stay as long as I can to handle questions about the Narrative Essays that are now due in less than 24 hours!

Please ask your questions before 4PM if you want to be certain of a reply before tomorrow!

Elizabeth M. Luseni said

at 12:50 pm on Jun 8, 2010

Hello Professor Hodges, I appreciate every effort you do in helping me to know what I do not know expecially through the internet.The story about Uncle Ed's painful meal,is horrible for a child to eperience.Tomorrow is my conference day after the normal class and I would like you to go back to the lab I still have problem s with the creterion. Thank you very much.

David Hodges said

at 1:21 pm on Jun 8, 2010

Of course, Elizabeth. I'll be happy to help. The Lab is not customarily open during the summer, but we can get online here at the Academic Skills Faculty Lounge where I'm sitting right now, and where our conference will be held, all the way down the hall from our classroom.

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