Narration, or telling a story, is probably the oldest and certainly the best known
method of development. Epics, myths, legends, and folktales are all narratives.
Although narratives, or stories, may be used simply for entertainment, most
narratives have a main point, which can be stated or implied. Narration can be
used for many purposes, such as telling an entertaining story, presenting
historical events, or explaining what happens in a scientific process
QUALITIES OF EFFECTIVE NARRATION 1. High interest for its readers. Although all essays should be interesting to read,
many expository (explanatory) essays are written primarily to present information. The purpose of a narrative may also be to present information, as in narrating the events of a battle or the steps in photosynthesis. However, as illustrated in this unit through the essays by Soto, Logan, and others, a successful personal narrative usually relates to personal experiences and goals that are close to the writer and that can be presented to the reader in a highly interesting way. Reader interest is created not only by the personal style of this kind of essay but also because the reader is often able to identify in some way with the events in a personal narrative.
2. A thesis, or main idea, that is clearly stated or implied. Although some stories
are written primarily for entertainment, the purpose of most narratives is to make a point or reveal a truth about life. This point may be stated in a thesis statement, or it may be implied, or suggested, by the events of the narrative. Most narratives in literary or academic writing—do more than entertain. They illustrate a point, develop a theme or an idea, explain a process, or provide information.
3. Clear chronological organization and effective transitions. A narrative tells
what happened; that is, it relates a sequence of events, usually in chronological (time) order, or in the order in which they occurred.
4. Descriptive details and comparisons. The use of vivid details makes a
narrative come alive. Also contribute clearly to the main point or tone, help set the context, or move the narrative along to its climax (or high point of action). (For examples and an explanation distinguishing between factual and sensory details, see Lesson Two on description on this same student website.)
Although it is not absolutely essential to narratives, dialogue is an element that can make a good narrative even better. Probably the most effective part of Logan’s “Zero” is the scene in the Sam’s Club parking lot (paragraphs 11-20). Six paragraphs in this section (13-18) are comprised of dialogue between Logan and his former classmates—dialogue that to the turning point in paragraph 20 in which Logan realizes that he “wanted to do more with [his] life than push shopping carts.” Narratives (and all other kinds of essays) also need to maintain consistency in point of view and in tense, unless there is a change in time that justifies a tense change.
SAMPLE STUDENT ESSAY As you read the following essay by Ronnie Stotts, look for the qualities of effective narration that you have studied in this lesson. We suggest that you print
a copy of the essay and the questions that follow it and that you annotate the essay during your reading process. (Remember that the process of reading includes previewing and reviewing as well as actually “reading” a selection. If you need additional explanation of this reading process, see pages 2-6 of the Introduction to Interactions: A Thematic Reader, eighth edition. Pages 54-59 of Interactions provide helpful hints for “Annotating a Text.”)
From Wishing to Hoping to Reality
What do you wish for when you see a falling star? Many people wish
that they were rich or that they had a new car, a house, or something of
material value. Other people in the world wish for happiness, health, love,
peace, or equality. Different things are important to different people, so their
wishes are going to be as different as they are. Everyone needs something to
wish for, but sometimes wishes are unattainable. For example, no matter how
hard we work to change the past, it can never truly be reversed. Then some
people have a sickness that cannot be cured. Since all wishes cannot be
granted with a magic lamp or a star, people may feel helpless and want to give
up. This is where hope comes into our lives. As long as there is hope, people
will not give up on their wishes. And with hard work and sometimes a little
good fortune—as I believe my life shows, our hopes can become realities.
When I was quite young, I was diagnosed with acute asthma. Doctors
said that I should not run or play because it would worsen my condition. So, it
was best to avoid any physical activity. I would lie awake at night wheezing; the
sound reminded me of Thomas the Tank. It sounded like an engine, and I could
never fall asleep. I would cough sometimes until I vomited, and I could not
breathe. My throat would tighten. I would be scared for my life. Was this the
end of my short existence? My parents took me to one doctor after another. I
would have nightmares about the next doctor’s visit. It was always the same:
the doctor would come in, ask my parents about my condition, and I would sit
lifeless in the chair. The doctor never asked me any questions. It seemed as if I
didn’t matter. They would prescribe numerous varieties of drugs, and then I
would be sent home. During this difficult time, my parents read me many fairy
tales, including some about magic lamps that could grant a wish. I particularly
liked the story of Pinocchio and how he wanted to be a real boy. To truly live
was my wish; I wished that I could be a real boy. I wanted to play baseball and
basketball and to run on the playground like all the other children. Could my
wish ever come true? Sometimes I doubted that it could. I knew that Pinocchio
could not be a real boy, so I thought this wish could never come true either.
Then one day, I was staying at my grandparents’ house when I had the
worst asthma attack yet. I could not breathe, and I started gasping for air. My
grandmother rushed me to the doctor’s office, to a doctor I had not seen before.
When I entered his office, I could tell Dr. Brock was different from the other
doctors I had seen. First, he shook my hand and asked me, “How are you
feeling?” Then he asked me more specific questions about my feelings and my
condition, such as, “Where, exactly, does your chest hurt?” He seemed very
interested in me, and he called me “blue eyes.” I told him that I wished to play
like other kids, but I could not because of my asthma. Then he gave me my
wish; he told me that I could become normal with time and the right treatments.
That day, my life changed forever. I realized that someday I might be able to
play sports or even run on the playground. I had the chance to truly live. How
can one man affect someone’s life this much? I cannot answer that question.
But, I know that Dr. Brock gave me my wish. I did nothing but take a breathing
treatment every night, and I was magically cured. This is what the gift of a wish
truly is—something that comes from nothing. It is not earned or worked for, and
it is always unexpected when it happens. A wish just seems to happen.
A year or two later, when I started kindergarten, the teacher asked us
what we wanted to do when we grew up. I said I wanted to be a doctor like Dr.
Brock. My teacher told me I would need to be smart if I wanted to become a
doctor. I listened to those words, and I started reading every book in the library
that I could find. I had heard that people who read were intelligent. At the end of
the year, the teacher tested me on my reading skills, and I was on a
second-grade reading level. I was working toward my dream. Not long after the
year started, I had my birthday party at McDonald’s. When I was about to blow
the candles out on my Lion King cake, everyone said, “make a wish!” I wished
to be a doctor just like Dr. Brock when I grew up. My wish to become a doctor
has been something that I have wanted for every waking moment from then on.
As I grew older, I began to realize that wishes were something magical
and hopes were something that could become real. My dream of becoming a
doctor has become more than just a child’s wish. Instead of just expecting my
desire to magically happen like a wish upon a star, my aspiration of becoming a
doctor has become a lifelong hope. Everything from the time I wake up to the
time I fall asleep is focused on that goal. I push myself in everything I do to
become stronger, faster, and more knowledgeable and determined than I have
been in the past. I still remember an assignment in eighth grade. My teacher
asked us to pick two careers and explore both of the careers. I told her that I
was going to be a doctor, and, more specifically, a pediatrician. She chuckled
while telling me how impossible it was for a person like me to become a doctor
and that I would have to choose a second career option. So I chose another
career and did the task.
The teacher’s chuckles and doubt made me start questioning myself for the
first time. Was it really possible for me to become a doctor? Was this just some
Discussion Questions on “From Wishing to Hoping to Reality”
silly childhood wish? What if no matter how hard I tried, it was not possible?
These were some of the questions I started to ask myself. Then I found my
answers by thinking about my uncle. He also had started out in a poor family
with little hope of a bright future. Yet, he fought through the low expectations of
the world to achieve his goal. My uncle worked hard to make good grades and
did without material items to achieve his dream. He graduated from Chapel Hill
in North Carolina with a Ph.D. in chemistry, and he now works for Merck
Pharmaceutical in Pennsylvania. He showed me how a hope can become a
reality. I realized that—even though it will be difficult sometimes, if I believe in
my dream enough, it can and will happen. He taught me that my own decisions
would decide my future. My uncle made me believe that I can become a doctor.
He is a great inspiration and model for me to base my life upon because he has
been in the same situation that I am. Today I am working on my bachelor’s
degree, and, in a few years, I plan to enter medical school and turn my dream
of becoming a doctor into my own reality. As a pediatrician, I believe that I can
give children the hope that Dr. Brock gave me and maybe grant a few wishes.
Over many years, I have come to realize people rarely appreciate a
wish that is too easily granted. If something is handed to us on a silver platter,
we don’t really recognize the value of it; if something is not earned, it is not
valued. A diamond, for example, takes millenniums to form, decades to mine,
and years to be refined. A diamond is like the reality that comes from a great
hope that is earned through hard work and a little bit of luck.
Use the annotations you made during and after reading Ronnie Stotts’s essay to answer the following questions.
1. What is the main point, or thesis, of Stotts’s essay?
2. What are the major events in the narrative? Write these events in the space
provided. (Hint: Look for the one or two major events in each paragraph of
the body of the essay.)
_______ Paragraph 4:
________ Paragraph 5:
_______ Paragraph 6:
3. Two important crises, or turning points, occur in this essay. What is the
What is the second crisis, or the climax in which Stotts overcomes his
doubts about his ambition and finds his answers for the future?
4. Identify five transition words or phrases that move the narrative along and
write them in the space below, including the number of the paragraph in
which each occurs.
5. What are three of the most effective details and/or comparisons in the
6. What dialogue is used in the narrative? How does it make the narrative
ASSIGNMENT Write a personal narrative essay in which you show how a particular experience or series of events led you to make an important life decision, such as the ones made by Logan and Stotts in this lesson. Be sure to include in your essay all of the good qualities of narration discussed in this lesson.
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