Essay #1 (Narrative) Assignment Sheet The Narrative Essay: the basic task

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English 101-E

Fall 2008

Instructor Name

Essay #1 (Narrative) Assignment Sheet
The Narrative Essay: the basic task

Write an essay about a significant event in your life. Choose an event that will be engaging for readers and that will, at the same time, tell them something about you. Tell your story dramatically and vividly, giving a clear indication of its autobiographical significance. It would be natural to use a first-person, singular (“I”) narration for this essay; structuring your essay using a chronology may also be a good idea, in many cases.

Autobiography: a “story” about you

This narrative essay assignment is like a short story, except it is autobiographical, which means it is a true story about you, the writer. Pick an event in your life that seems special or important to you (but bear in mind when you select a topic you may share your essay with the class.) This should be a story that you want to tell. I only ask that you choose an event that occurred prior to one year ago. The perspective made possible by the passage of time, I believe, will help you write a more thoughtful and interesting essay. Your topic need not be overly dramatic or life-altering, although some are; instead, look for a topic that you are comfortable working with and one that lends itself to plenty of detail and description. Over the years, I have read successful narrative essays about: the passing of a loved one; a special trip or travel/adventure story; meeting new people or reconnecting with a certain person; the success or failure of one’s sport team; the success or failure of marriages or other family related topics; and, the effects of a traffic accident or other event. These are just ideas, so please think outside the bubble if you can—topic selection is key for this essay.

Study the Models in the Textbook

Essays in the textbook offer different models of successful narratives. Angelou’s “Champion of the World” describes how a public event such as a prize fight may (or may not) mirror current social and racial conditions to the author; Tan’s “Fish Cheeks” explores a teenage infatuation and angst in light of cultural traditions such as food preparation and holiday celebrations; Dillard’s “The Chase” considers an event from childhood through an adult lens of meaning making; Manning’s “Arm Wrestling with My Father” and Vowell’s “Shooting Dad” both explore, in different ways, one’s relationship with one’s father and the inevitable changes in such a relationship. Jackson’s “The Lottery” is a bit different in being a 3rd person short story, but it retains many fine elements of chronology and suspense in narrating a tale with a twisted ending. Finally, Cohen’s “Grade A” uses narrative and chronology in discussing the author’s personal experience with a controversial topic and the development of her opinions and beliefs on this topic.

It would also be worth your time to review the introductory thoughts about narrative and chronology and composing on pages 80-92 of Chapter 4.

Description and Dialogue: “showing” the story

When recounting your story, you will want the reader to “be there” with you, picturing what you saw, hearing what you heard, and feeling what you felt. It is important in your essay, therefore, to provide detailed descriptions of the places and people you involved. You may also want to include some dialogue, letting some of the characters in your story speak for themselves. We can learn a great deal about people's personalities, sometimes, by the way they talk and what they say. An exchange of dialogue can also reveal the emotions in play (two people are angry with each other), or indicate the relationships between the speakers (one dominant, the other meek), or simply provide information about past or current action (like a story within a story). You are not required to use dialogue, and in some essays, dialogue would make no sense; however, other essays may benefit greatly from having the characters speak. Don’t overdo it with dialogue; I am more interested in your composing of paragraphs and sentences then dialogue.

Significance: the “moral” of the story

In this essay, your audience will want to learn a little about who you are and, through you, something about the world or life as you see it. This “something about the world or life as you see it” is what we call the “significance” of the essay, but it need not be philosophically profound. Life is full of simple lessons and small insights. These are important, and readers appreciate little gems. But don't worry if, right now, you don't know just what makes your story special or important. If you think your story is worth telling, even if you can't say why, then most likely it is. This aspect of the essay, the moral of the story (or the implied lesson), is something that must be present for the essay to pass.

The Writing Process: not to fear

All this may seem like a lot to absorb at one time, and it is. We'll move through the writing process slowly. If at any point you get stuck, don't wait to get a hand. When working on any writing project, in fact, always use your instructor, your classmates, and your friends as resources. No writer can go it alone.

Nuts and Bolts

  • Typed, double-space, 1" margins. Use a Times New Roman, 12pt. font.

(This assignment sheet uses 1” margins and Times New Roman 12pt. font)

  • No Cover Page or use of secondary sources please.

  • Concentrate on avoiding CS, FRAG, and RTS, at all times.

  • Length: 3-5 pages.

  • Final Draft Due: *Monday, September 22nd in class.
  • This essay is worth 15pts.max, and may be revised for a higher grade.

If you have any questions, please ask in class or email me at: instructor email

*subject to change per course calendar adjustments

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