|LEO: Literacy Education Online|
As a mode of expository writing, the narrative approach, more than any other, offers writers a chance to think and write about themselves. We all have experiences lodged in our memories which are worthy of sharing with readers. Yet sometimes they are so fused with other memories that a lot of the time spent in writing narrative is in the prewriting stage.
In this stage, writers first need to select an incident worthy of writing about and, second, to find relevance in that incident. To do this, writers might ask themselves what about the incident provided new insights or awareness. Finally, writers must dredge up details which will make the incident real for readers.
Principles of Writing Narrative EssaysOnce an incident is chosen, the writer should keep three principles in mind.
- Remember to involve readers in the story. It is much more interesting to actually recreate an incident for readers than to simply tell about it.
- Find a generalization which the story supports. This is the only way the writer's personal experience will take on meaning for readers. This generalization does not have to encompass humanity as a whole; it can concern the writer, men, women, or children of various ages and backgrounds.
- Remember that although the main component of a narrative is the story, details must be carefully selected to support, explain, and enhance the story.
Conventions of Narrative EssaysIn writing your narrative essay, keep the following conventions in mind.
- Narratives are generally written in the first person, that is, using "I." However, third person ("he," "she," or "it") can also be used.
- Narratives rely on concrete, sensory details to convey their point. These details should create a unified, forceful effect, a dominant impression. More information on sensory details is available.
- Narratives, as stories, should include these story conventions: a plot, including setting and characters; a climax; and an ending.
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Last update: 28 September 1997
This is the VOA Learning English Education Report.
A student from overseas did well on a research paper for an American college. She said, “Research takes up space, and the words in the research are correct because the writing is in English.” Now, however, she has to write a narrative essay in her own words.
She is afraid she does not know enough English.
Such a paper can be hard for anyone. Experts at Purdue University in Indiana define a narrative essay as “often anecdotal, experiential and personal.” In other words, this kind of essay usually tells a story from the writer’s experience. It is about something the writer has lived.
A narrative essay usually provides an insight. For example, such essays might be named “How I Won the 100-Meter Dash” or “How I Came to Study in the United States.” It is often written in the first person – the “I” form. And it offers a chance for creative writing, for expressing yourself about yourself in the paper.
The Purdue experts say that if your narrative essay is written as a story, you need to provide an introduction, a plot, a setting, a climax and a conclusion or ending. Often the narrative essay requires characters as well. And this essay usually follows events in the order they happened.
Judith Baumel is a poet and a professor at Adelphi University in New York.
“Sometimes I ask students to remember an early moment with their parents and sort of think about where they were physically. Think about what was in front of them, what was behind them, what was above them, below them. Just describe it out.”
Professor Baumel describes the exercise as remarkable. Says she learned it from another writer, graphic novelist Lynda Barry.
Ms. Baumel also has advice for English students who worry about not using the right words. She says the language has a great vocabulary.
“And that’s a real bonus for students who are just learning English. You really can play around with the vocabulary pretty early (in the process of learning the language).”
She says she introduces language learners to the thesaurus, which she calls “a great resource.” A thesaurus is a kind of dictionary. It can help you replace a word with a synonym, another word having the same or similar meaning. Sometimes it also provides antonyms -- words with opposite or nearly opposite meanings from the word you are replacing.
Judith Baumel notes the example of words that all describe a place to sit, words like chair and sofa and couch and chaise.
“All of this is available online now. Anybody in the world can just go online and get an online thesaurus.”
And that’s the VOA Learning English Education Report for today. I’m Jeri Watson.
Words in This Story
narrative – adj. of or relating to the process of telling a story
insight - n. the ability to understand people and situations in a very clear way
plot – n. a series of events that form the story in a novel, movie, etc.
climax – n. the most important part of a story, play, or movie that usually occurs at or near the end
visual – adj. relating to seeing or to the eyes
graphic – adj. a picture, drawing, or graph used as a decoration, or to make something, such as a magazine article, easier to understand.
graphic novels – n. drawings that tell a story and are published as a book.
Now, it's your turn to use these Words in this Story. In the comments section, write a sentence using one of these words and we will provide feedback on your use of vocabulary and grammar.