Project 1: Narrative and Description



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Prof. Howe


Project 1: Narrative and Description*
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.


    1. Principles of Writing Narrative Essays


Once an incident is chosen, the writer should keep three principles in mind.

  1. 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. This is the difference between mimetic and diegetic writing. Mimetic writing shows, whereas diegetic writing tells.

  2. 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. The generalization may not appear in your essay, but it should inform your essay.

  3. Remember that although the main component of a narrative is the story, details must be carefully selected to support, explain, and enhance the story. For this assignment, you are being asked to find a story in a very small moment, so the details will be perhaps the most important part.
    1. Conventions of Narrative Essays


In 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, as can the second person (“you”). Shaking things up by doing something unexpected can really help your essay show rather than tell.

  • 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.

Using Descriptive Writing in Your Narrative Essay

Descriptive writing portrays people, places, things, moments and theories with enough vivid detail to help the reader create a mental picture of what is being written about—the most effective descriptive writing can convince the reader she is actually there, really experiencing the moment you're describing. This is called mimetic writing, or writing mimetically. In analytical essays or summaries, we write more diegetically.



  • Think of an instance that you want to describe.

  • Why is this particular instance important?

  • What were you doing?

  • What other things were happening around you? Is there anything specific that stands out in your mind?

  • Where were objects located in relation to where you were?

  • How did the surroundings remind you of other places you have been?

  • What sights, smells, sounds, and tastes were in the air?

  • Did the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes remind you of anything?

  • What were you feeling at that time?

  • Has there been an instance in which you have felt this way before?

  • What do you want the reader to feel after reading the paper?

  • What types of words and images can convey this feeling?

  • Can you think of another situation that was similar to the one you are writing about? How can it help explain what you are writing about?

  • Is there enough detail in your essay to create a mental image for the reader?
    1. Conventions of Descriptive Essays Illustrated by Sample Paragraphs


Appealing-to-the-Senses Description: Let the reader see, smell, hear, taste, and feel what you write in your essay.
The thick, burnt scent of roasted coffee tickled the tip of my nose just seconds before the old, faithful alarm blared a distorted top-forty through its tiny top speaker. Wiping away the grit of last night's sleep, I was momentarily blinded by the starched white sunlight, and I slung my arm like an elephant trunk along the top of the alarm, searching for the snooze button. While stretching hands and feet to the four posts of my bed, my eyes opened after several watery blinks. I crawled awkwardly, reluctantly out of the comforter like a butterfly from a cocoon, swinging my legs over the side of the bed. The dusty pebbles on the chilled, wood floor sent ripples spiraling from my ankles to the nape of my neck when my feet hit the floor. Grabbing the apricot, terri-cloth robe, recently bathed in Downy and October wind, I knotted it tightly at my waist like a prestigious coat of armor and headed downstairs to battle the morning.
Spatial-Order Description: Show the reader where things are located from your perspective.
Billy Ray's Pawn Shop and Lawn Mower Repair looked like a burial ground for country auction rejects. The blazing, red, diesel fuel tanks beamed in front of the station, looking like cheap lipstick against the pallid, wrinkled texture of the parking lot sand. The yard, not much larger than the end zone at General G. Patton High School on the north end of town, was framed with a rusted metallic hedge of lawn mowers, banana seat bicycles, and corroded oil drums. It wasn't a calico frame of rusted parts, but rather an orchestra of unwanted machinery that Billy Ray had arranged into sections. The yellow-tanked mowers rested silently at the right of the diesel fuel. Once red, now faded orange, mowers stood at attention to the left. The oil barrels, jaded and pierced with holes, sang like chimes when the wind was right. The bikes sat sporadically throughout the lot. In the middle of it all was the office, a faded, steel roof supported by cheap two-by-fours and zebra paneling. Billy Ray was at home, usually, five blocks east of town on Kennel Road.

*adapted by T. Howe from:
Everett, Heidi and Judith Kilborn. “Descriptive Essays.” LEO: Literacy Education Online at St. Cloud State University. 28 September 1997. 27 July 2007. <http://leo.stcloudstate.edu/acadwrite/descriptive.html>.

---. “Narrative Essays.” LEO: Literacy Education Online at St. Cloud State University. 28 September 1997. 27 July 2007.<http://leo.stcloudstate.edu/acadwrite/narrative.html>.

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