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The Narrative Essay

Tell a compelling story The story you choose to tell should have universal appeal. In other words, the story usually is broad enough to be applied to most people at any time or place. Stories having universality reveal human nature or common truths of experience. You must have a specific purpose for telling the story. It's okay to be personal In a narrative essay personal experiences and a more familiar tone may be used. Essays need theses The narrative essay differs from other narratives in that it must contain a stated or implied thesis. The thesis of a narrative essay usually occurs in the concluding paragraph or the paragraph of reflection. Jump into the action It is wise to start the story in medias res (in the middle of the story). You dont want to tell the whole story as it often takes too much time and has unnecessary details. You must limit the scope of the story to include the parts that relate directly to your thesis. Decorate your story To improve your narrative you may use imagery or descriptive details, dialogue, and figurative language. (See the Smiley Face Tricks handout.) You can distance yourself The point of view of a narrative essay is usually first person (I); however, you may use third person (she/he). Think like a writer You should be mindful of stylistic devices such as length of sentences, repetition of key words, use of alliteration, and rhetorical questions. Every words matters Carefully select the words you choose to tell the story use strong nouns and verbs avoid using too many adjectives. MOST IMPORTANTLY: Show, dont tell.

Stylistic Devices Summary 1. Magic 3 or Parallelism- Three parallel groups of words, usually separated by commas, that create a poetic rhythm or add support for a point especially with the three words have their own modifiers. 2. Figurative Language Nonliteral comparisons-such as similes, metaphors, and personification- add complexity to the writing and can help paint a more vivid picture for the reader. 3. Specific Details for Effect- Instead of general vague descriptions, specific sensory details sight, sound, taste, touch, smell- help the reader visualize the person place, thing, or idea that you are describing. 4. Sound Devices Sound devices alliteration, assonance, consonance, cacophony, euphony, onomatopoeia- help create a poetic effect in the writing. 5. Repetition for Effect Writers often repeat specially chosen words or phrases to make a point, to stress certain ideas for the reader. 6. Expanded Moment- Instead of speeding past a moment, writers often emphasize it by expanding the actions. It is important to describe a moment using specific detail. 7. Humour- Professional writers know the value of laughter; even subtle humour can help turn a boring story into one that can raise someones spirits. Humour is often effective when it has universal appeal and makes us laugh at our foibles. 8. Hyphenated Modifiers- Sometimes a new way of saying something can make all the difference; hyphenated modifiers often cause the reader to sit up and take notice. Use this modifier sparingly- dont overuse. 9. Full- Circle Ending- Students need a special ending, one that wraps up the piece. One trick is to repeat a phrase from the beginning of the piece or to refer back to something mentioned in the beginning.

10. Dialogue- There are many good reasons to use dialogue in your story the least of which is to reveal character. Good dialogue is also effective for moving the story along. 11. Good Range of Vocabulary- Writers vary their vocabulary by using a well placed sophisticated word to emphasize an idea.

Stylistic Devices or Smiley Face Tricks


Magic 3 or Parallelism- Three parallel groups of words, usually separated by commas, that create a poetic rhythm or add support for a point especially with the three words have their own modifiers. (Make sure the groups all agree with each other. Need to know more? Look up parallelism.) Example: She showed me the creek and we spent most of our summers there, wading in the current, catching crawdads and minnows with my parents abducted spaghetti colander, building dams and then pushing out the one stone that would send the water flooding through. We dug up creek clay and made pots, and painted ourselves wildly with its blue streaks pretending to Indians, Aztecs and Mayans. Excepted from And the Summer Is Gone by Susie Kretschmer Figurative Language Non-literal comparisons (such as similes, metaphors, and personification) add complexity to the writing and can help paint a more vivid picture for the reader. Example: The CBC was the window on the world. I loved the CBC with all my heart. . . . The radio, the great storyteller of my childhood, taught me to conjure up my own images. It inspired me to speak well. Most important of all, it taught me that Canada was a large, diverse, and beautiful country peopled by interesting characters who seemed to possess the innate ability to laugh at themselves. The CBC in its Golden Era of the forties and fifties defined what it was to grow up Canadian. Excerpted from Nestled on the Edge by Carol McGirr Specific Details for Effect- Instead of general vague descriptions, specific sensory details sight, sound, taste, touch, smell- help the reader visualize the person place, thing, or idea that you are describing. Example: I reached into my moms pocketbook for a tissue. I wasnt the only one who was teary-eyed and sniffling but for me it was because of the pollinating flowers. They cluttered every corner of the cold and grey room. The threatening walls ugly with ornate trimming and the Corinthian columns added to the inelegance. The day is engraved into my memory not because of the depression but because of the boredom. I stared at a brown stain on the worn carpet hoping somebody would see how bored I was and take me home. I scratched my neck; the black woolen dress

my mother had vested me in felt like steel wool. I looked at my gawky knees. The dress use to cover them when it was new, but my nine-year-old body was too big for it now. Excerpted from The Man in the Casket by Beth Cassavell Sound Devices Sound devices alliteration, assonance, consonance, cacophony, euphony, onomatopoeia- help create a poetic effect in the writing. Example: Bang! In my memory, Ive listened to the screen door shut behind my best friend a thousand times. It was the last time I played with her. Excerpted from When Television Ate My Best Friend by Linda Ellerbee At that moment the bird began to flutter, but the wings were uncoordinated, and amid much flapping and spray of flying feathers, it tumbled down, bumping through the limbs of the bleeding tree and landing at our feet with a thud. Its long, graceful neck jerked twice into an S, then straightened out, and the bird was still. A white veil came over the eyes and long white beak unhinged. Its legs were crossed and its claw-like feet were delicately curved at rest. Even death did not mar its grace, for it lay on the earth like a broken vase of red flowers, and we stood around it, awed by its exotic beauty. Excerpted from The Scarlet Ibis James Hurst Repetition for Effect Writers often repeat specially chosen words or phrases to make a point, to stress certain ideas for the reader. Example: It was probably quite a time, because I know that Id got to that sort of stage myself, where I was wondering all the time when some boy would want to take me out, and feeling sure none of them ever would. So perhaps I didnt notice so much about Tossie: or it may have been that if something goes on long enough, you dont notice all at once if it stops. Like a headache. You suddenly realize you havent been noticing it for the last quarter of an hour, which means it is gone. I suddenly noticed Tossie that way. Not that shed gone, but that she was different. Excerpted from Surprised by Catherine Star Expanded Moment- Instead of speeding past a moment, writers often emphasize it by expanding the actions. It is important to describe a moment using specific detail.

Example: Three days after watching The Ed Sullivan Show, my mother told me what my schedule would be for piano lessons and piano practice. She had talked to Mr. Chong, who lived on the first floor of our apartment building. Mr. Chong was a retired piano teacher and my mother had traded housecleaning services for weekly lessons and a piano for me to practice on every day, two hours a day, from four until six. When my mother told me this, I felt as though I had been sent to hell. I whined and kicked my foot a little when I couldnt stand it anymore. Why dont you like me the way I am? Im not a genius! I cant play the piano. And even if I could, I wouldnt go on TV if you paid me a million dollars! I cried. My mother slapped me. Who ask you be genius! she shouted. Only ask you be your best. For you sake. You think I want you be genius? Hnnh! What for! Who ask you? So ungrateful, I heard her murmur in Chinese. If she had as much talent as temper, she would be famous now. Excerpted from Two Kinds by Amy Tan Humour- Professional writers know the value of laughter; even subtle humour can help turn a boring story into one that can raise someones spirits. Humour is often effective when it has universal appeal and makes us laugh at our foibles. Example: Never forget that fiction writers are entertainers. Fiction writing comes from the days when the cavemen were gathered around a campfire and Ugh stood up, pounded his chest and said, Listen to me! I want to tell you a story! If his story wasnt interesting and suspenseful, his companions soon wandered off to their caves. Excerpted form How to Write Fiction by W.P. Kinsella Hyphenated Modifiers- Sometimes a new way of saying something can make all the difference; hyphenated modifiers often cause the reader to sit up and take notice. Use this modifier sparingly- dont overuse. Example: Little did I know that when Mom asked if I liked the new neighborhood in town that one innocent question would be the beginning of the destruction of my life. I was going to choose yes as my answer, but I had one of those I-dont-want-to-lose-myfriends look. Full- Circle Ending- Students need a special ending, one that wraps

up the piece. One trick is to repeat a phrase from the beginning of the piece or to refer back to something mentioned in the beginning. Example: Heather birds eyebrows, the little man explained. Heather birds live on the mythological moors and fly about all day long singing wild and sweet in the sun. They are purple and have very tasty eyebrows. (beginning) Within Millicent another melody soared, strong and exuberant, a triumphant answer to the music of the darting heather birds that sang so clear and lilting over the far lands. And she knew that her own private initiation had begun. (end) Excerpted from Initiation by Sylvia Plath

Dialogue- There are many good reasons to use dialogue in your story the least of which is to reveal character. Good dialogue is also effective for moving the story along. Example: He held his father in the bend of his strong arm and they looked at each other. Their heads were very close. How old are you? his father said. Seventeen, Barry said. Near enough seventeen. Youre young, his father said, to have this happen. Not too young, Barry said. I am bigger than most men. I think you are, his father said. He leaned his head tiredly against the boys shoulder. He was without strength, his face was cold and smooth. He had let go all his authority, handed it over. He lay back on his pillow, knowing his weakness and his morality, and looked at his son with wonder, with a curious humble pride. Excerpted from Shaving by Leslie Norris

Prompts for a Personal Narrative If you're having trouble choosing an experience to write about, take a quick glance through these prompts. They might help you remember or identify a particularly interesting or significant e experience to focus on. A childhood event. Think of an experience when you learned something for the first time, or when you realized how important s someone was for you. Achieving a goal. Think about a particularly meaningful achievement in your life. This could be something as seemingly minor as achieving a good grade on a difficult assignment, or this could be something with more long-lasting effects, like getting the job you desired or getting into the best school to w which you applied. A failure. Think about a time when you did not perform as well as you had wanted. Focusing on an experience like this can result in rewarding reflections about the positive emerging from the n negative. A good or bad deed. Think about a time when you did or did not stand up for yourself or someone else in the face of adversity or c challenge. A change in your life. Think about a time when something significant changed in your life. This could be anything from a move across town to a major change in a relationship to the birth or death of a loved one. A realization. Think about a time when you experienced a realization. This could be anything from understanding a complicated math equation to gaining a deeper understanding of a philosophical issue or life situation.

Stylistic Devices or Smiley Face Tricks Reminder Find as many of the following stylistic devices or smiley face tricks as you can in the following story. Underline and label them. 1. Magic 3 or Parallelism 2. Figurative Language 3. Specific Details for Effect 4. Sound Devices 5. Repetition for Effect 6. Expanded Moment 7. Humour 8. Hyphenated Modifiers 9. Full- Circle Ending or Paragraph of Reflection 10.Dialogue