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CHAPTER TWELVE

The Narrative Essay


Narration is storytelling. Whether it tells a true story or fiction, a narrative essay gives an account of one or more experiences. It tells a story to make a point or explain an idea or event. As a result, this type of essay can be fun to read and even to write. Usually personal and often autobiographical, a narrative typically contains action, dialogue, elaborate details, and or humor. Narrative essays work best when centered on a single episode of significance to the author. In such cases, the challenge is to make the significance appealing!!even important!!to others. While inexperienced writers might assume that newsworthy events are what one logically should write about, most of us don"t experience newsworthy events. #he experienced narrative writer takes what happens every day !!whether interesting or funny or touching!!and finds a way to make it something to share with an audience beyond friends and family. $ecause of its storylike nature, the narrative is not typical of most essays. It does not re%uire the standard thesis sentence stating your main idea, nor does it re%uire the traditional introduction, body, or conclusion!!though it is certainly fine to include those items. #his is not to say that your essay does not re%uire a strong theme!!indeed it does!!but it does not have to be stated in the traditional, highly defined way. &our theme might be a lesson you have learned. It might be an awareness you have made. $y now, you have likely begun to draw some distinctions between descriptive and narrative essays. $e mindful that these kinds of writing styles are not mutually exclusive!!nor are the types of essays to be addressed in the following two chapters. &ou may write a descriptive essay that contains a narrative element. 'r you may write a narrative with descriptive elements. Writing is an art, not a science, and you may blend elements as appropriate depending on your sub(ect and audience. DON'T OVERUSE I A narrative is typically written in the first person (I did this or that), but don't go overboard. Not every sentence__or even every other sentence__should include I. All narratives have certain elements in common. #hey) Unfold over time *ave characters that display some type of emotion +enter on events more than ideas

A MODEL OF NARRATlVE WRITlNG


#he following essay does exactly what a narrative is supposed to do) It tells an interesting story with clarity, simplicity, and emotion!!bonus points for the humor. #he essay is so effective, the author used it in his application to *arvard University, where he now attends.

$aygell, ,uth -ed.. -/001. 2ssay Writing 3#245$&53#24. A Newsweek 2ducation 4rogram 6uide for #eens. 3imon 7 3chuster, New &ork

FRESH FISH
I can hear the snickers as I walk down the crowded sidewalks of +hinatown. #he gossip at the vegetable stand. #he grin of the fish man. #he chatter from the seafood restaurants. 9aughter is everywhere, like a dragon"s tail winding throughout the streets. I grew up speaking 2nglish, not +hinese, the language of my ancestors. #he first word out of my mouth was mommy, not mah mah. When I was 1, my parents flashed cards with +hinese characters at my face, but I pushed them aside. :y mom assured herself, ;*e will learn when he is ready.; $ut the time never came. A decade later, I would regret that decision. February <, 8==<, Chinese New Year: :y relatives and I gather in my grandmother"s three5room :ott 3treet apartment around the round kitchen table, half5hidden under boxes of don tot, cha sui bao and other +hinese delicacies from the local dim sum parlor. :y Uncle Alex rapidly mutters something to me in +hinese, but all I can do is stare at him %ui>>ically and scratch my head. ;3till can"t speak +hinese?; he teases me, now in 2nglish. ;*ow old are you? 81? And you still can"t talk to your grandmother, can"t even buy a fish in +hinatown. What are you waiting for?; ;*ey, this is America, not +hina,; I reply. ;&ou want fish for dinner? I"ll get some right now!!with or without +hinese.; I turn to my mom for permission, who reluctantly hands over a crisp @/0 bill. ;,emember to ask for fresh fish, sun seen yu.; she says. ;&ou know how fussy your grandmother is with her fish.; I repeat the words to my mother, who nods in approval, then dart down the two flights of dark, narrow stairs into the bright, crowded streets of +hinatown. Aollowing the foreign sounds and the smell of the ocean around the corner of :ott 3treet, I find the fish stand, submerged in a sea of customers. #here are salmon and croaker and flounder and sea bass, fish with big eyes, fish with shiny scales, and fish that I"ve never seen before. ;I"d like to buy some fresh fish,; I blurt out to the fish man. $ut he ignores my 2nglish words and turns to serve the next customer. #he cackling of the people behind me increases with their impatience. With every second, the breath of the dragons on my back intensifies!rny blood boiling!!compelling me to make my decision. What were my mother"s words again? "Seen sang yu, please,; I stutter, (abbing at the sea bass. ;Bery seen sang,; I repeat, this time, beaming at my simple elo%uence. I had spoken +hinese, used it to communicate with my own people. I had ... .... told a (oke? #he fish rnan suppresses a grin, but the crowd erupts with laughter and chuckles and snickers. #hey are +hinese I am +hinese. I should feel right at home. Instead, I am the laughingstock, a disgrace to the language. :y face turns red, like the color of hung bao, the red envelopes exchanged on +hinese New &ear. #hen, I am racing back to my grandmother"s %uiet apartment, the fish and the laughter in the distance.

$aygell, ,uth -ed.. -/001. 2ssay Writing 3#245$&53#24. A Newsweek 2ducation 4rogram 6uide for #eens. 3imon 7 3chuster, New &ork

I return to the apartment empty5handed, except for the now5wrinkled twenty5dollar bill that I clutch tightly in my pocket. ;I asked for seen sang yu, fresh fish,; I stammer when the door opens, ;(ust like you told me to!!I mean!!didn"t you tell me to say that? $ut ... but they (ust laughed.; Aor a moment, my mother simply grins to herself, saying nothing, holding me in suspense. #hen she explains, ;No, sun seen is fresh fish, not seen sang. &ou asked for a teacher fish. 2ven though fish travel in schools, you would have a really hard time trying to find the teacher.; :y (aw drops. 3hould I laugh or cry? I still walk down :ott 3treet to visit my grandmother!!past the fish man, past the vegetable stands, past the restaurant!!concealing the fact that I cannot speak +hinese. 3ometimes I laugh at my fish incident, but, in the end, the (oke is on me. 2very grin is a bond withering awayC each chuckle, a culture lostC every giggle, my heritage fading away. 55+hristopher +hin, *onorable :ention, /00/ Kaplan/Newswee :y #urn 2ssay +ompetition

$aygell, ,uth -ed.. -/001. 2ssay Writing 3#245$&53#24. A Newsweek 2ducation 4rogram 6uide for #eens. 3imon 7 3chuster, New &ork

UNFOLD OVER TIME Time (chronological order) is most often the organi ing principle in a narrative essay. !tories and events happen in a certain order, and this order must be communicated to the reader. "vents or e#periences are listed in se$uence of how they happened. !pecific scenes are set__in time and in place__and recreated for the reader. USE FLASHBACK WHEN APPROPRIATE Though less common than narratives that focus on a se$uence of time, some narratives focus on an emotion or a person. %ou'll still need to se$uence your material in some type of logical order, so a f&ashbac' techni$ue might wor' best (n )*resh *ish) the time frame is clear. The author's odyssey is chronicled vividly and in color__from apartment to fish stand and bac' to the apartment. !imple phrases such as )+y relatives and ( gather) and )( ... dart down the two flights of dar', narrow stairs) reveal the movement, and as readers, we're ta'en along. These phrases act as transitions that guide us through the passage of time. ,hile writing a narrative in the present tense is not usually recommended, -hin gets away with it. The tight, logical flow of events__which presumably too' place over the course of an hour__ reflects a careful editing process. ,hat he chose to leave out about that day is as important as what he chose to include. DISPLAY EMOTION A good narrative essay connects readers to some sort of emotion felt by the essay's sub.ect. ,hen you read the header Display Emotion above, anger, sadness, pain, or .oy may have come to mind. They're naturally the first emotions we thin' of, but they're also e#tremes. There are many other, e$ually compelling emotions that merit elaboration/ .ealousy, perseverance, loneliness, an#iety, and passion to name a few. Though these feelings are often more subtle and harder to articulate, they're powerful, and if you can incorporate them into your essay, your writing will be stronger. *eelings are the prime vehicle for creating an instant reaction on the part of your reader. They're what we all identify with. (n )*resh *ish,) the author touches on humiliation and shame. As readers, we can connect with these emotions because all 'now them. )They are -hinese, ( am -hinese. ( should feel right at home. (nstead, ( am the laughingstoc', a disgrace to the language. +y face turns red, li'e the color of hung bao, the red envelopes e#changed on -hinese New %ear.) 0ere's another e#ample. This time, the writer shows his emotions about a mote common e#perience/ choosing which college to attend. The te#t presented here is his opening paragraph. ,hen ( applied under "arly 1ecision to the 2niversity of 3ennsylvania four years ago, ( was motivated by two powerful emotions/ ambition and fear. The ambition was to fulfill my lifelong e#pectation of attending an (vy 4eague school5 the fear was that without the advantage offered by "arly 1ecision, & wouldn't ma'e the cut. A 3enn admissions officer told me that the previous year they had accepted 67 percent of "arly 1ecision applicants and .ust 89 percent of total applicants. The implication was clear/ applying under "arly 1ecision dramatically improves your chances of acceptance. At :rown 2niversity, my other favorite, applying early did not confer any advantage. ,hile :rown was my No. & choice, 3enn was a close second, and ( desperately wanted to ma'e sure ( got into one of the two. ;:en Adler, Newsweek, from ):etter Thin' :efore %ou Apply) November &<, 8==8 -hoosing to start out with a direct statement, the event is defined straight away. ,e 'now right away how the author felt, and along with a bit more detail as to what happened, the stage is effectively set for what's to come. >ften, the emotion that is shared in a narrative__or really in any type of story__is done to tell a bigger story. The narrative part of the essay serves as a lin' to the big picture. -onsider the beloved fairy tale The Three Little Pigs. ,hile children love reading about the pigs and the big bad wolf, the tale manages to impart a not; so;subtle message/ that it pays to be prepared. The narrative, therefore, serves as a vehicle for delivering the larger lesson.

$aygell, ,uth -ed.. -/001. 2ssay Writing 3#245$&53#24. A Newsweek 2ducation 4rogram 6uide for #eens. 3imon 7 3chuster, New &ork

USE ANECDOTES Anecdotes (short accounts of interesting events) are a good way to ma'e your thoughts more concrete to the reader. ?oing bac' to the )*resh *ish) essay above, how does -h@n share his emotionA 0e does so with humor__a humorous tale and a bittersweet tone. ,hile no doubt this is a reflective essay that reveals a sense of regret, the author has the presence of mind to reali e that, from the perspective of an outsider, his story is amusing. 1eftly balancing the two perspectives of personal embarrassment with lighthearted humor, -hin poignantly illustrates an intimate event. ,e're allowed to laugh at the incident along with him. ,ith a self;deprecating approach, he .o'es about his decision to eschew the -hinese language. 0e ta'es ris's in his language, revealing his sorrow at how things transpired. !till, today, when he wal's down the street in -hinatown, he hears )snic'ers) from those around him. DETAILS ARE IMPORTANT -onsider how the following sentence ta'es us to the scene of -hinBs embarrassing encounter/ )There are salmon and croa'er and flounder and sea bass, fish with big eyes, fish with shiny scales, and fish that ('ve never seen before.) CENTER ON EVENTS As we have said, a narrative tells a story. :ut more precisely, it is a story that recounts events as they happened__in order to ma'e a point. %ou aren't .ust reporting the details of what happened, you want to apply a broader meaning to the event. (n order to do this effectively, you must focus on events more than ideas. ,hether you start in the middle of the story or at the beginning doesn't matter. %ou want to focus on the events that were meaningful to you. The shorter the time;span you write about, the narrower your focus will be. DON'T TAKE THE CONCEPT OF AN EVENT TOO LITERALLY %es, most often narratives focus on a specific episode in time, but it can also be a feeling you e#perienced in time. Cust remember the events that prompted you lo feel that way. (t is important that you describe your story as it happened. The reader should understand clearly how and when things happened. >n the other hand, do not .ust recite the events in se$uential order as if you're reading a list. 3ic' and choose your details. ,hile you want to convey the full imagery of the story, too many details will be distracting. As you describe your story in the manner it happened, ma'e sure you 'eep your verb tense consistent and dear. Deread your wor' several times to ma'e sure that there is no confusion about when things happened and what you might be feeling now. DEVELOPING YOUR NARRATIVE ESSAY -onsider the following $uestions when you thin' about the topic. +aybe there was a time when things didn't turn out as e#pected. +aybe you recently had a great accomplishment. +aybe you witnessed something troublesome. What happenedA (n what order did it happenA Who was involvedA Where were youA How did you feeBA ,as there something to be learned from the e#perienceA

Now clarify the two things about this event/ the se$uence of what happened and the way you felt. ,rite a list of words that create a picture in your head__words that bring colorful details to mind. Then, draw on your word ban' to start writing your essay.

$aygell, ,uth -ed.. -/001. 2ssay Writing 3#245$&53#24. A Newsweek 2ducation 4rogram 6uide for #eens. 3imon 7 3chuster, New &ork

$aygell, ,uth -ed.. -/001. 2ssay Writing 3#245$&53#24. A Newsweek 2ducation 4rogram 6uide for #eens. 3imon 7 3chuster, New &ork