Doing the Narrative Essay
I. Setting up the narrative essay.
A. The first step is to decide what you want to write about.
1. Select an experience that you know will meet the requirement of giving you a thesis.
a. You want an experience that you can draw a lesson from.
b. The lesson can be either for you or it can be a revelation about humanity in general.
c. Richter essay
i. The lesson is that drinking and driving isn’t fun, but rather dangerous.
ii. The lesson is for humanity.
d. Swanson essay
i. The lesson is that he doesn’t have to kill to enjoy hunting.
ii. The lesson is about himself only, but readers can also learn something about hunting.
e. Castro essay
i. Be careful about whom she dates.
ii. The lesson is for her, but it could work for everyone.
2. Select an experience that can be covered in two to five pages.
a. If the experience can’t be stretched into two to five pages, then you have not selected a proper topic.
b. Keep in mind that you must have lots of details in telling a story, so most topics will work.
B. The second step is to decide who is included in the essay.
1. Don’t include too many characters.
2. Include only those main characters who have a real part in the story.
3. Analyze the sample essay.
a. Characters in the Richter essay
b. Characters in the Swanson essay
c. Characters in the Castro essay
iii. Their mothers
C. The third step is to establish the setting of the essay.
1. The setting is the time and place for the story.
a. The setting can change as action changes.
b. However, the setting doesn’t have to change if the action occurs in a single time and in a single place.
2. Sample essays
a. Setting for the Richter essay
i. The place changes from the funeral to Troy’s apartment to the funeral.
ii. The time changes from present to a flashback.
b. Setting for the Swanson essay
i. The place is a hunting stand and stays there.
ii. The time is a September evening and remains the same.
c. Setting for the Castro essay
i. Her home which moves to the car, the theater, the car, her home, the prom, the after-prom party, the car, her home.
ii. The time changes as she describes the two dates to indicate how the prom was “doomed” to failure.
iii. The time shift also is a flashback since she opens and closes in the present.
D. Finally establish the sequence of events—as much as you can before writing.
1. Follow chronological order once you start to tell the story.
a. You may need a general paragraph to set the time and place before actually beginning the action.
b. That setting of time and place can come in the introduction or in the first paragraph in the body of the paper.
2. If you use a flashback, begin the chronological order once you start the flashback.
3. Tell the events in order so that readers can follow the sequence of events.
a. If you must go back to describe action that happens at the same time as other action, make clear to readers what you are doing.
b. Always make sure that readers know where and when the action is occurring.
4. Sample essays
a. Sequence of events in the Richter essay
ii. Flashback to setting of characters and their relationship to each other.
iii. Sean’s birthday
iv. Back to funeral
b. Sequence of events in the Swanson essay
i. Setting of Saturday evening in hunting stand.
ii. Deer come into clearing.
iii. Fawn stares at him.
iv. He stares at fawn.
v. Fawn leaves.
c. Sequence of events in the Castro essay
i. She describes how the date was set up.
ii. Horseback riding.
iii. They go on a first, “get acquainted” date.
iv. They go to the prom.
v. They go to the after-prom party.
II. Writing the narrative essay
A. Once you have written a good outline that sets up setting, characters, and sequence of events, you have done much toward writing the paper.
B. Follow the outline carefully.
1. The outline is an indication of your good ideas for the paper’s content.
2. However, logic would also dictate that you may need changes as you write.
a. For example, you may decide that your opening is weak and would be better if you used a flashback or some other technique.
b. You may decide that you have too many characters and, thus, want to omit a detail or two.
3. Do not paragraph based on the outline.
a. Paragraph when you have a significant change in time and place.
b. Paragraph when you have a change in action.
c. You need to be careful about your paragraphs since you don’t want to run too much action together in one paragraph.
d. Remember that paragraphs give readers’ brains a chance to catch up, even if for the millisecond that it takes them to pass over the paragraph indentation.
e. However, if you see that you have a number of short, choppy paragraphs, look to combine some of them.
f. Too much paragraphing creates a lack of continuity.
C. Use transitions so that readers can move smoothly throughout the paper from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph.
1. Transitions make a narrative flow, so they are essential to keep readers in the story.
2. Lack of transitions will mean lack of connections for readers.
3. See transitions.
D. Read the sample essays with comments: Castro essay, Swanson essay.
D. Proofread your paper very carefully.
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