O Level English Language 1123
Candidates answer one question from a choice of five narrative/descriptive/argumentative
essay titles and should write 350–500 words.
The term composition (from Latin com- "with" and ponere "to place"), in written language,
refers to the body of important features established by the author in their creation of literature.
Composition relates to narrative works of literature, but also relates to essay/compositions,
biographies, and other works established in the field of rhetoric. The word composition comes
from the word compose which is 'to form by putting together.' A composition is a piece of
writing formed by putting together the ideas you have on a subject. This suggests two important
points about writing a composition. The first is that you must have some ideas on the subject
about which you are going to write. The second is that you must be able to put these ideas
together in such a way that they will form an effective whole.
A composition is made up of an introduction, body and a conclusion.
Essay/composition Structure
So, if we use shapes to demonstrate the essay/composition’s content, it would look like
Thesis statement
Body of Essay/composition
Rephrased thesis statement
An introduction does not need to be long (and should not be), but it is an important part of an
essay/composition. A weak introduction can cause readers to lose interest in your
essay/composition from the start, whereas a strong introduction will engage your readers and
make them want to continue reading. Of course, the introduction is the first part of your
essay/composition that your audience will read, and it's important to make a good first
impression. This page provides suggestions to help you write strong introductions.
Introductions: An Overview
In general, an introduction needs to do three things:
1. to spark the interest of readers,
2. to move readers gracefully toward the thesis statement, and
3. to present the thesis statement of the essay/composition.
The order of items above is the best order to present each part of the introduction: get the reader's
attention, move toward the thesis statement, and then present the thesis statement. The thesis
statement usually is most effective as just one sentence at the end of the introduction, so you
should avoid presenting the thesis statement as the first sentence of the introduction, if it is a
narrative or descriptive composition BUT do so for argumentative ones, and should avoid
presenting the thesis statement in more than one sentence. Just about any kind of introduction
could work well in the hands of a skillful writer, but below are examples of a few approaches to
writing introductions that often are effective, followed by some additional suggestions for
Approaches to Writing Introductions
Each of the introductions below presents the same thesis statement: "Identify theft is a serious
problem that claims millions of innocent victims, and the government must implement better
regulations to help put an end to this crime." While the thesis statement is the same for all of the
introductions, notice how the various introductions set different tones for the essay/composition
and establish slightly different expectations for what will follow in the body of the
1. Begin with Background or Historical Information
Identity theft is not a new crime. Throughout history, unscrupulous individuals have
pretended to be people they are not, often with the goal of political, social, or financial gain.
With the right appearance and demeanor, people have falsely presented themselves as kings and
bishops. Today, in our information age, identity theft is a far more prevalent problem. With
access to names, Social Security numbers, and other personal information, thieves are able to
steal identities, leaving the victims struggling to clear their good names. Identify theft is a serious
problem that claims millions of innocent victims, and the government must implement better
regulations to help put an end to this crime.
2. Begin with a Quotation
In Shakespeare's Othello, Iago claims that he "who steals my purse steals trash / . . . But he
that filches from me my good name / Robs me of that which not enriches him, / And makes me
poor indeed" (3.3.157-161). Today, identity theft is a new way that thieves steal both the
"purses" and the good names of innocent victims, and these thieves are enriching themselves at
the expense of their victims. Identify theft is a serious problem that claims millions of innocent
victims, and the government must implement better regulations to help put an end to this crime.
3. Begin with an Interesting or Surprising Fact
Identity fraud is the fastest growing crime in the United States. In 2004, over nine million
Americans, or approximately one person in 24, became victims of identity fraud or identity theft,
at a cost to the economy of 52.6 billion dollars ("2005 Identity Fraud Survey Report"). Because
many cases of identity fraud and identity theft may go unreported, the numbers could be even
higher. Identify theft is a serious problem that claims millions of innocent victims, and the
government must implement better regulations to help put an end to this crime.
4. Begin with a Definition of an Important Term
Our identity is what makes us unique. It is "the distinguishing character or personality of
an individual," and when one is a victim of identity theft, it is this "distinguishing character" that
is stolen: one's name, address, Social Security number, employment history, credit history, and
more. It therefore is no wonder that victims of identity theft often feel a deep sense of violation
as they struggle to reclaims their good names. Identify theft is a serious problem that claims
millions of innocent victims, and the government must implement better regulations to help put
an end to this crime.
5. Begin with a Short Narrative
Joe Stevens was finally ready to purchase a home. He spent years putting money into a
savings account, paid off his credit cards, and diligently paid every bill on time. Confident of his
good credit rating, Joe visited the bank to inquire about a mortgage, but he discovered startling
information: Joe defaulted on a home loan, had $40,000 in credit card debt, and had a car
repossessed for lack of payment. Joe Stevens, like many Americans, is a victim of identity theft.
Instead of preparing to move into a new home, Joe began the long journey to restore his good
name and to reclaim his identity. Identify theft is a serious problem that claims millions of
innocent victims, and the government must implement better regulations to help put an end to
this crime.
6. Begin with a Question
How would you feel if you knew, at this moment, that some criminal is writing your name,
address, and Social Security number on credit card applications and plans to charge thousands of
dollars worth of merchandise on those credit cards? More importantly, how do you know that
this is not happening? Millions of people have become victims of identity theft, and they often
find out only after thousands of dollars have been stolen using their names. Identify theft is a
serious problem that claims millions of innocent victims, and the government must implement
better regulations to help put an end to this crime.
Introductions, what to Avoid
Some approaches to introductions almost always fail to be interesting or engaging. Below are a
few approaches to introduction that should be avoided. They are just about guaranteed to give an
essay/composition a weak beginning.
1. Avoid Beginning with Overly Vague and General Statements or Broad
Example: Crimes are committed every day by different people, and there are many different
kinds of crime. Some crimes are more serious than others. One serious crime today is identity
theft. (Can you hear the readers already starting to snooze? The first two sentences to this
introduction are far too vague and general to get anyone interested in what the writer is going to
say in the paper.)
2. Avoid Beginning with Dictionary Definitions Obvious to Readers
Example: According to Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, the word "steal" is defined as "to
take the property of another wrongfully." Identity theft is one form of stealing. (The writer of
these sentences seems to assume that the readers are idiots, which is not a good impression to
give readers. Who would not already know this definition of "steal"?)
3. Avoiding Beginning with a Direct Statement of What You, as the Writer, are Doing
Example: In this essay/composition, identity theft will be explained. I will discuss why it is such
a big problem and what the government should do about it. (Such an introduction might be
appropriate for a writer in junior high school, but mature writers use much more effective
rhetorical strategies to begin their essay/compositions.)
Introductions: A Few Tips
Write the introduction after you have written the body of your essay/composition.
Writers often sit down to an empty computer screen and struggle to write an introduction,
and understandably so: they do not yet know what exactly it is that they are introducing.
You should have a thesis statement in mind as you write an essay/composition, but there
is no reason to have to write the introduction before you begin writing the body
paragraphs. It is often much easier to write an introduction when you can actually see
what you are introducing.
Avoid long introductions.
Introductions generally are not long, certainly not longer than body paragraphs. Avoid
going into depth developing ideas in the introduction. That's for the body paragraphs of
an essay/composition, not for the introduction. The primary purpose of an introduction is
just to introduce your essay/composition.
Experiment with more than one type of introduction for the same essay/composition.
As the examples above illustrate, different introductions can give an essay/composition
quite a different tone. You might try writing a few different introductions, using the
approaches above, and you could then choose the introduction that you think best fits
your paper.
Avoid the approach to introductions sometimes taught to young students.
Some young students are taught to begin an introduction with a thesis statement, followed
by separate sentences that indicate the topics for the body paragraphs of the
essay/composition. Avoid this approach. It helps young writers organize an
essay/composition and stay focused, but it is rhetorically weak.
Body paragraphs (composition)
A paragraph is a group of closely related sentences that develop a central idea.
Adjective: paragraphic.
A paragraph conventionally begins on a new line, which is sometimes indented.
The paragraph has been variously defined as a "subdivision in a longer written passage," a
"group of sentences (or sometimes just one sentence) about a specific topic," and a
"grammatical unit typically consisting of multiple sentences that together express a complete
The part of an essay/composition, report, or speech that explains and develops a main idea
(or thesis).
Body paragraphs come after the introduction and before the conclusion. The body is usually the
longest part of an essay/composition, and each body paragraph may begin with a topic sentence.
The middle paragraphs of the essay/composition are collectively known as the body paragraphs
and, as alluded to above, the main purpose of a body paragraph is to spell out in detail the
examples that support your thesis.
"The body paragraphs are the 'meat' of your work. Each paragraph should be composed
of related sentences that make a single point. Together they should develop your
controlling idea or thesis and maintain unity by supporting the claim made in your topic
"Each paragraph should have a topic sentence that provides a supporting idea for the
thesis and indicates to the reader what the paragraph will discuss."
Structure of a Body Paragraph: TAXES
"The following acronym will help you achieve the hourglass structure of a welldeveloped body paragraph:
Topic Sentence (a sentence that states the one point the paragraph will make)
Assertion statements (statements that present your ideas)
eXample(s) (specific passages, factual material, or concrete detail)
Explanation (commentary that shows how the examples support your assertion)
Significance (commentary that shows how the paragraph supports the thesis statement)
TAXES gives you a formula for building the supporting paragraphs in a thesis-driven
Key Traits of an Effective Body Paragraph: DUCTT
"Here is an acronym for remembering some key traits of an effective body paragraph: DUCTT.
Topic Sentence
[U]sing the DUCTT acronym will remind you to put features into your body paragraph to make
them more effective."
Each body paragraph will have the same basic structure.
1. Start by writing down one of your main ideas, in sentence form.
If your main idea is "reduces freeway congestion," you might say this:
Public transportation reduces freeway congestion.
2. Next, write down each of your supporting points for that main idea, but leave four or five
lines in between each point.
3. In the space under each point, write down some elaboration for that point.
Elaboration can be further description or explanation or discussion.
Supporting Point
Commuters appreciate the cost savings of taking public transportation rather than driving.
Less driving time means less maintenance expense, such as oil changes.
Of course, less driving time means savings on gasoline as well.
In many cases, these savings amount to more than the cost of riding public transportation.
4. If you wish, include a summary sentence for each paragraph.
This is not generally needed, however, and such sentences have a tendency to sound
stilted, so be cautious about using them.
Once you have fleshed out each of your body paragraphs, one for each main point, you are ready
to continue.
For the first body paragraph you should use your strongest argument or most significant example
unless some other more obvious beginning point (as in the case of chronological explanations) is
required. The first sentence of this paragraph should be the topic sentence of the paragraph that
directly relates to the examples listed in the mini-outline of introductory paragraph.
A one sentence body paragraph that simply cites the example of "George Washington" or
"LeBron James" is not enough, however. No, following this an effective essay/composition will
follow up on this topic sentence by explaining to the reader, in detail, who or what an example is
and, more importantly, why that example is relevant.
Even the most famous examples need context. For example, George Washington’s life was
extremely complex – by using him as an example, do you intend to refer to his honesty, bravery,
or maybe even his wooden teeth? The reader needs to know this and it is your job as the writer to
paint the appropriate picture for them. To do this, it is a good idea to provide the reader with five
or six relevant facts about the life (in general) or event (in particular) you believe most clearly
illustrates your point.
Having done that, you then need to explain exactly why this example proves your thesis. The
importance of this step cannot be understated (although it clearly can be underlined); this is, after
all, the whole reason you are providing the example in the first place. Seal the deal by directly
stating why this example is relevant.
Here is an example of a body paragraph to continue the essay/composition begun above:
Take, by way of example, Thomas Edison. The famed American inventor rose to prominence in
the late 19th century because of his successes, yes, but even he felt that these successes were the
result of his many failures. He did not succeed in his work on one of his most famous inventions,
the lightbulb, on his first try nor even on his hundred and first try. In fact, it took him more than
1,000 attempts to make the first incandescent bulb but, along the way, he learned quite a deal. As
he himself said, "I did not fail a thousand times but instead succeeded in finding a thousand ways
it would not work." Thus Edison demonstrated both in thought and action how instructive
mistakes can be.
A Word on Transitions
You may have noticed that, though the above paragraph aligns pretty closely with the provided
outline, there is one large exception: the first few words. These words are example of a
transitional phrase – others include "furthermore," "moreover," but also "by contrast" and "on the
other hand" – and are the hallmark of good writing.
Transitional phrases are useful for showing the reader where one section ends and another
begins. It may be helpful to see them as the written equivalent of the kinds of spoken cues used
in formal speeches that signal the end of one set of ideas and the beginning of another. In
essence, they lead the reader from one section of the paragraph of another.
To further illustrate this, consider the second body paragraph of our example essay/composition:
In a similar way, we are all like Edison in our own way. Whenever we learn a new skill - be it
riding a bike, driving a car, or cooking a cake - we learn from our mistakes. Few, if any, are
ready to go from training wheels to a marathon in a single day but these early experiences (these
so-called mistakes) can help us improve our performance over time. You cannot make a cake
without breaking a few eggs and, likewise, we learn by doing and doing inevitably means
making mistakes.
Hopefully this example not only provides another example of an effective body paragraph but
also illustrates how transitional phrases can be used to distinguish between them.
DO: Tie Things Together
The first sentence – the topic sentence - of your body paragraphs needs to have a lot individual
pieces to be truly effective. Not only should it open with a transition that signals the change from
one idea to the next but also it should (ideally) also have a common thread which ties all of the
body paragraphs together. For example, if you used "first" in the first body paragraph then you
should used "secondly" in the second or "on the one hand" and "on the other hand" accordingly.
DO NOT: Be Too General
Examples should be relevant to the thesis and so should the explanatory details you provide for
them. It can be hard to summarize the full richness of a given example in just a few lines so
make them count. If you are trying to explain why George Washington is a great example of a
strong leader, for instance, his childhood adventure with the cherry tree (though interesting in
another essay/composition) should probably be skipped over.
Writing a Conclusion
It’s important to write a good introduction. It’s important to keep things organized in the main
body of your writing. And it’s important to write a good conclusion. In a nonfiction piece, the
purpose of a conclusion is to tie things up, summarize what has been said, and reinforce the main
idea. In a creative writing piece, it also helps tie things up and might also leave the reader
thinking or wondering.
A good way to get started writing conclusions is to give yourself a starting point. You can begin
with any of the following: to sum up, in conclusion, in summary. Make sure these sound
appropriate and fit well with what you’ve written. As you grow as a writer, you might want to
leave these behind and try other strategies.
Use what you’ve written to help you write your conclusion. You can often rephrase what you
included in your introductory paragraph. If you began with, "The colors of autumn make it my
favorite season," then you can include a similar sentence in your conclusion. For example, "It is
the orange, red, and brown of the leaves that make me love the fall."
You can also end with a question. This may or may not be effective, depending on the content
and style of your writing. For a story about a boy who gets a new puppy, you might end with,
"Can you imagine all the wonderful things to come?" For a piece on the importance of brushing
your teeth, you might make the reader think with something like, "You don’t want all of that on
your teeth all night long, do you?"
However you choose to write your conclusion, be sure that it fits well with your piece. It should
flow naturally and remind the reader of the wonderful things you’ve written.
What is a conclusion?
A conclusion is what you will leave with your reader
It "wraps up" your essay/composition
It demonstrates to the reader that you accomplished what you set out to do
It shows how you have proved your thesis
It provides the reader with a sense of closure on the topic
A conclusion is the opposite of the introduction
Remember that the introduction begins general and ends specific
The conclusion begins specific and moves to the general
What to include
Your conclusion wraps up your essay/composition in a tidy package and brings it home
for your reader
Your topic sentence should summarize what you said in your thesis statement
This suggests to your reader that you have accomplished what you set out to
Do not simply restate your thesis statement, as that would be redundant. Rephrase the
thesis statement with fresh and deeper understanding
Your conclusion is no place to bring up new ideas
Your supporting sentences should summarize what you have already said in the body of
your essay/composition. If a brilliant idea tries to sneak into the final paragraph, you must
pluck it out and let it have its own paragraph in the body, or leave it out completely
Your topic for each body paragraph should be summarized in the conclusion. Wrap up
the main points
Your closing sentence should help the reader feel a sense of closure
Your closing sentence is your last word on the subject; it is your "clincher"
Demonstrate the importance of your ideas
Propel your reader to a new view of the subject
End on a positive note
Your closing sentence should make your readers glad they read your paper
Strategies for an effective conclusion
Play the "So What" Game.
When you read a statement from the conclusion, ask yourself, "So what?" or
"Why should anybody care?"
Ponder that question and answer it
Basically, I’m just saying that education was important to Douglass
So what?
Well, it was important because it was a key to him feeling like a free and
equal citizen
Why should anybody care?
That’s important because plantation owners tried to keep slaves from
being educated so that they could maintain control. When Douglass
obtained an education, he undermined that control personally.
Return to the theme or themes in the introduction
This brings the reader full circle
If you begin by describing a scenario, you can end with the same scenario as
proof that your essay/composition is helpful in creating a new understanding
Refer to the introductory paragraph by using key words, or parallel concepts and
images that you also used in the introduction
Include a brief summary of the paper’s main points, but don’t simply repeat things
that were in the paper
Pull it all together
Show your reader how the points you made and the support and examples you
used fit together
Include a provocative insight or quotation from the research or reading you did for the
Propose a course of action, a solution to an issue, or questions for further study
Point to broader implications
A paper about the style of writer, Virginia Woolf, could point to her influence on
other writers or later feminists
Concluding strategies that do not work
Beginning with an unnecessary, overused phrase
*These may work in speeches, but they come across as wooden and trite in writing
"in conclusion"
"in summary"
"in closing"
"as shown in the essay/composition"
Stating the thesis for the very first time
Introducing a new idea or subtopic in your conclusion
Making sentimental, emotional appeals that are out of character with the rest of the paper
Including evidence (quotations, statistics, etc.) that should be in the body of the paper
Ineffective conclusions
"That’s My Story and I’m Sticking to It"
Restates the thesis and is usually painfully short
Does not push ideas forward
Written when the writer can’t think of anything else to say
In conclusion, Frederick Douglass was, as we have seen, a pioneer in American
education, proving that education was a major force for social change with regard
to slavery.
"Sherlock Holmes"
State the thesis for the first time in the conclusion
Writer thinks it would be more dramatic to keep the reader in suspense and then "wow"
them with the main idea, as in a Sherlock Holmes mystery
Readers want an analytical discussion of the topic in academic style, with the thesis
statement up front
"America the Beautiful"
Draws on emotion to make its appeal
Out of character with the rest of the paper
"Grab Bag"
Includes extra information thought of or found but couldn’t integrate into the main body
Creates confusion for the reader
Effective Way
The Simple Summary
If you choose this common type of conclusion, be sure to synthesize, rather than merely
summarizing. Avoid a dull restatement of your major points. Don't monotonously restate
your major ideas; instead, show your readers how the points you raised fit together and
why your ideas matter. Also, try to avoid the phrase, “and in conclusion.” This can insult
the reader's intelligence: After all, if you've organized your paper well, it will be obvious
that you have begun your concluding remarks.
The Frame or Circle Technique
Here, a writer circles back to the beginning, returning to the metaphor, image, anecdote,
quotation, or example he or she used in the introductory paragraph. Echoing the
introduction gives essay/compositions a nice sense of unity and completion.
The Panning to the Horizon Technique
This technique moves the reader from the specifics of a paper or essay/composition to a
larger, perhaps even universal, point. It redirects the readers, giving them something
meaty to chew over. You can demonstrate the importance and broad significance of your
topic by using an appropriate analogy, tying the topic to a larger philosophic or political
issue, posing a challenging question, or encouraging the reader to look to the future.
The Proposal or Call to Action
Especially useful in a persuasive or argumentative essay/composition, in this type of
conclusion the writer makes a proposal and/or asks the readers to do something, calling
them to action. It is frequently seen in sermons and political speeches.
The Concluding Story Technique
Here, the writer sums up the essay/composition by sketching a scene or by telling a brief
anecdote that illustrates the topic's significance. Often, this approach makes an emotional
connection with the reader.
The Delayed Thesis Conclusion
In some essay/compositions, the writer takes an exploratory approach, perhaps dealing
with a variety of proposals and solutions. The conclusion states the thesis almost as if it is
a discovery, allowing the reader to make the discovery along with you. However, this can
be a difficult technique to carry off. The thesis, even though it may go unstated until the
very end, should nevertheless serve as the inevitable controlling force for the entire
Conclusion outline
Topic sentence
Fresh rephrasing of thesis statement
Supporting sentences
Summarize or wrap up the main points in the body of the essay/composition
Explain how ideas fit together
Closing sentence
Final words
Connects back to the introduction
Provides a sense of closure
Introduction and Conclusion Checklists
A good introduction should…
A good conclusion should…
Describe what you plan to write
Remind the reader of the main ideas
that were discussed in the
Give the reader some idea of how
you plan to discuss or approach your
Tie up any loose ends by resolving
any unresolved questions,
statements, or ideas
Give background information on your
topic (when appropriate)
Discuss what can be done about your
topic in the future (when appropriate)
Include a clear, concise thesis
Offer suggestions on ways that the
reader can get involved with your
topic/cause (when appropriate)
Establish a connection between the
writer and the audience
Try, one last time, to convince the
reader to agree with you (when
Essay/composition types
Descriptive writing
The primary purpose of descriptive writing is to describe a person, place or thing in such a way
that a picture is formed in the reader's mind. Capturing an event through descriptive writing
involves paying close attention to the details by using all of your five senses.
Descriptive writing shares the following characteristics:
1. Good descriptive writing includes many vivid sensory details that paint a picture and
appeals to all of the reader's senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste when
appropriate. Descriptive writing may also paint pictures of the feelings the person, place
or thing invokes in the writer.
2. Good descriptive writing often makes use of figurative language such as analogies,
similes and metaphors to help paint the picture in the reader's mind.
3. Good descriptive writing uses precise language. General adjectives, nouns, and passive
verbs do not have a place in good descriptive writing. Use specific adjectives and nouns
and strong action verbs to give life to the picture you are painting in the reader's mind.
4. Good descriptive writing is organized. Some ways to organize descriptive writing
include: chronological (time), spatial (location), and order of importance. When
describing a person, you might begin with a physical description, followed by how that
person thinks, feels and acts.
The ability to describe something convincingly will serve a writer well in any kind of
essay/composition situation. The most important thing to remember is that your job as writer is
to show, not tell. If you say that the tree is beautiful, your readers are put on the defensive: "Wait
a minute," they think. "We'll be the judge of that! Show us a beautiful tree and we'll believe." Do
not rely, then, on adjectives that attempt to characterize a thing's attributes. Lovely, exciting,
interesting – these are all useful adjectives in casual speech or when we're pointing to something
that is lovely, etc., but in careful writing they don't do much for us; in fact, they sound hollow.
Let nouns and verbs do the work of description for you. With nouns, your readers will see; with
verbs, they will feel. In the following paragraph, taken from George Orwell's famous antiimperialist essay/composition, "Shooting an Elephant," see how the act of shooting the elephant
delivers immense emotional impact. What adjectives would you expect to find in a paragraph
about an elephant? big? grey? loud? enormous? Do you find them here? Watch the verbs,
instead. Notice, too, another truth about description: when time is fleeting, slow down the prose.
See how long the few seconds of the shooting can take in this paragraph.
Do not forget that the business of the essay/composition is to make a point. In his
essay/composition, Orwell succeeds in portraying the horrors of an imperialist state, showing
how the relationship between the oppressed Burmese and the British oppressor is dehumanizing
to both. When writing a narrative, it is easy to get caught up in the telling of the story and forget
that, eventually, our reader is going to ask So What? — and there had better be an answer.
Tips on Writing a Descriptive Essay/composition
Writers use the descriptive essay/composition to create a vivid picture of a person, place, or
thing. Unlike a narrative essay/composition, which reveals meaning through a personal story, the
purpose of a descriptive essay/composition is to reveal the meaning of a subject through detailed,
sensory observation. The descriptive essay/composition employs the power of language and all
the human senses to bring a subject to life for the reader.
If readers come away from a descriptive essay/composition with the feeling that they have really
met a person, gone to a particular place, or held a certain object, the writer has done a good job.
If readers also feel an emotional connection and deep appreciation for the subject’s significance,
the writer has done a great job.
How to Write a Descriptive Essay/composition
One of the keys to writing a descriptive essay/composition is to create a picture in your reading
audience’s mind by engaging all five of their senses – smell, sight, touch, taste and sound. If you
can do this, then your essay/composition is a success, if not, then you have a lot of work to do.
The first steps in writing a descriptive essay/composition will lay the groundwork for the entire
Step 1: Choose a topic
A descriptive essay/composition will usually focus on a single event, a person, a location or an
item. When you write your essay/composition, it is your job to convey your idea about that topic
through your description of that topic and the way that you lay things out for your reader. You
need to show your reader (not tell them) what you are trying to describe by illustrating a picture
in their mind’s eye very carefully.
Your essay/composition needs to be structured in a manner that helps your topic to make sense.
If you are describing an event, you will need to write your paragraphs in chronological order. If
you are writing about a person or a place you need to order the paragraphs so that you start off in
a general manner and then write more specific details later. Your introductory paragraph sets the
tone for the rest of the essay/composition, so it needs to set out all of the main ideas that you are
going to cover in your essay/composition.
Step 2: Create a statement
The next step is to create a thesis statement. This is a single idea that will be prominent
throughout your essay/composition. It not only sets out the purpose of the essay/composition, but
regulates the way that the information is conveyed in the writing of that essay/composition. This
is an introductory paragraph that sets out your topic framework.
Step 3: Get the senses right
Next, create five labelled columns on a sheet of paper, each one having a different of the five
senses. This labelled list will help you to sort out your thoughts as you describe your topic – the
taste, sight, touch, smell and sound of your topic can be sketched out among the columns. List
out in the columns any sensation or feeling that you associate with the topic that you are writing
about. You need to provide full sensory details that help to support the thesis. You can utilize
literary tools such as metaphors, similes, personification and descriptive adjectives.
Once you have the columns laid out you can start to fill them with details that help to support
your thesis. These should be the most interesting items that you have noted in your columns and
will the details that you flesh out into the paragraphs of the body of your essay/composition.
Topics are set out in each separate paragraph and a topic sentence begins that paragraph and need
to relate to your introductory paragraph and your thesis.
Step 4: Create an outline
The next step is to create an outline listing the details of the discussion of each paragraph.
Students in high school are generally asked to write a five paragraph essay/composition while
college students are given more freedom with the length of their piece. The standard five
paragraph essay/composition has a particular structure including the introductory paragraph with
the inclusion of a thesis statement, followed by three body paragraphs which prove that
Step 5: Write the conclusion
Finally, the conclusion paragraph makes a summary of the entirety of your essay/composition.
This conclusion also needs to reaffirm your thesis (if necessary). Your conclusion needs to be
well written because it is the final thing to be read by your reader and will remain on their mind
the longest after they have read the remainder of your essay/composition.
Step 6: Review your essay/composition
It is important to take a break from your writing once you have completed the work. By stepping
away from the work for a short time you can clear your mind and take a short rest. You can then
take a look at the essay/composition with fresh eyes and view it in much the same way that a
person reading it will when they first see the piece.
After you have taken a short break or a walk (or whatever the case may be), read the entire
essay/composition again thinking about your reader. You should ask yourself if you were the
reader, would the essay/composition make sense to you? Is it easy to read so that anyone can
understand what the topic of the essay/composition is? Do any of the paragraphs need to be
rewritten because they are confusing and need to be better written to be descriptive?
Your choice of words and language need to convey what you are trying to describe when you
talk about a particular topic. The details that you have provided should give your reader enough
information that they can form a complete picture. Any details in the essay/composition should
help a reader to understand the meaning of the topic from the writer’s point of view.
Read your entire essay/composition over again, out loud this time. Sometimes reading something
out loud can help to identify any issues that should be worked out. Read the essay/composition
again to a friend or family member and have them give you any criticisms that they might have.
Have someone else ready your essay/composition and then ask them if anything needs to be
clarified or if they received a clear picture from the details given in the essay/composition.
Step 7: Finish it up
Finally, read your essay/composition again very carefully and check for any grammar,
punctuation or spelling errors that are obvious within the essay/composition. If you find any
clichés, be sure to delete them, they certainly do not belong in your essay/composition. If there
are any parts that are not completely descriptive or don’t make as much sense as you would like
them to, rewrite them once again and then follow the proof reading and reading aloud process
again to ensure that the final product is exactly as expected. You can never be too thorough when
it comes to reading the essay/composition over again and checking for any areas that need to be
The Five-Step Writing Process for Descriptive Essay/compositions
Professional writers know one thing: Writing takes work. Understanding and following the
proven steps of the writing process helps all writers, including students. Here are descriptive
essay/composition writing tips for each phase of the writing process:
1. Prewriting for the Descriptive Essay/composition
In the prewriting phase of descriptive essay/composition writing, students should take time to
think about who or what they want to describe and why. Do they want to write about a person of
significance in their lives, or an object or place that holds meaning? The topic doesn’t have to be
famous or unusual. The person could be a grandparent, the object, a favorite toy, and the place, a
tree house.
Once a topic is chosen, students should spend time thinking about the qualities they want to
describe. Brainstorm about all the details associated with the topic. Even when not writing about
a place, reflect on the surroundings. Where is the object located? Where does the person live?
Consider not just physical characteristics, but also what memories, feelings, and ideas the subject
evokes. Memory and emotion play an important role in conveying the subject’s significance.
Plan the focus of each paragraph and create an outline that puts these details into a logical
2. Drafting a Descriptive Essay/composition
When creating the initial draft of a descriptive essay/composition, follow the outline, but
remember, the goal is to give the reader a rich experience of the subject. Keep in mind, the most
important watchword of writing a descriptive essay/composition is show, don’t tell. One of the
best ways to show is to involve all of the senses—not just sight, but also hearing, touch, smell,
and taste. Write so the reader will see the sunset, hear the song, smell the flowers, taste the pie,
or feel the touch of a hand.
Don’t Tell…Show!
Use descriptive and figurative language, as well as concrete images to describe the subject.
Similes and metaphors work well. Here are some examples:
The house was old.
The house frowned with a wrinkled brow, and inside it creaked with each step, releasing a scent
of neglected laundry.
He was smart.
If you had to pick a study buddy, you would pick this guy.
The clock had been in our family for years.
The clock stood by our family, faithfully marking the minutes and hours of our lives.
Enjoy the process of describing the subject—it can be a rewarding experience. A descriptive
essay/composition doesn’t rely on facts and examples, but on the writer’s ability to create a
mental picture for the reader.
3. Revising a Descriptive Essay/composition
In the revision phase, students review, modify, and reorganize their work with the goal of
making it the best it can be. In revising a descriptive essay/composition, students should reread
their work with these considerations in mind:
Does the essay/composition unfold in a way that helps the reader fully appreciate the
subject? Do any paragraphs confuse more than describe?
Does the word choice and figurative language involve the five senses and convey
emotion and meaning?
Are there enough details to give the reader a complete picture?
Has a connection been made between the description and its meaning to the writer? Will
the reader be able to identify with the conclusion made?
Always keep the reader in mind from opening to concluding paragraph. A descriptive
essay/composition must be precise in its detail, yet not get ahead of itself. It’s better to go from
the general to the specific. Otherwise, the reader will have trouble building the image in their
mind’s eye. For example, don’t describe a glossy coat of fur before telling the reader the
essay/composition is about a dog!
4. Editing a Descriptive Essay/composition
At this point in the writing process, writers proofread and correct errors in grammar and
mechanics. It’s also the time to improve style and clarity. Watch out for clichés and loading up
on adjectives and adverbs. Having a friend read the essay/composition helps writers see trouble
spots and edit with a fresh perspective.
5. Publishing a Descriptive Essay/composition
Sharing a descriptive essay/composition with the rest of the class can be both exciting and a bit
scary. Remember, there isn’t a writer on earth who isn’t sensitive about his or her own work. The
important thing is to learn from the experience and take whatever feedback is given to make the
next essay/composition even better.
George Orwell's "The Political Writings of George Orwell."
When I pulled the trigger I did not hear the bang or feel the kick–one never does when a shot
goes home–but I heard the devilish roar of glee that went up from the crowd. In that instant, in
too short a time, one would have thought, even for the bullet to get there, a mysterious, terrible
change had come over the elephant. He neither stirred nor fell, but every line of his body had
altered. He looked suddenly stricken, shrunken, immensely old, as though the frightful impact of
the bullet had paralysed him without knocking him down. At last, after what seemed a long time–
it might have been five seconds, I dare say–he sagged flabbily to his knees. His mouth slobbered.
An enormous senility seemed to have settled upon him. One could have imagined him thousands
of years old. I fired again into the same spot. At the second shot he did not collapse but climbed
with desperate slowness to his feet and stood weakly upright, with legs sagging and head
drooping. I fired a third time. That was the shot that did for him. You could see the agony of it
jolt his whole body and knock the last remnant of strength from his legs. But in falling he seemed
for a moment to rise, for as his hind legs collapsed beneath him he seemed to tower upward like
a huge rock toppling, his trunk reaching skyward like a tree. He trumpeted, for the first and only
time. And then down he came, his belly towards me, with a crash that seemed to shake the
ground even where I lay.
My Watch by Mark Twain
My beautiful new watch had run eighteen months without losing or gaining, and without
breaking any part of its machinery or stopping. I had come to believe it infallible in its judgments
about the time of day, and to consider its constitution and its anatomy imperishable. But at last,
one night, I let it run down. I grieved about it as if it were a recognized messenger and
forerunner of calamity. But by and by I cheered up, set the watch by guess, and commanded my
bodings and superstitions to depart. Next day I stepped into the chief jeweler's to set it by the
exact time, and the head of the establishment took it out of my hand and proceeded to set it for
me. Then he said, "She is four minutes slow – regulator wants pushing up." I tried to stop him –
tried to make him understand that the watch kept perfect time. But no; all this human cabbage
could see was that the watch was four minutes slow, and the regulator MUST be pushed up a
little; and so, while I danced around him in anguish, and implored him to let the watch alone, he
calmly and cruelly did the shameful deed. My watch began to gain. It gained faster and faster
day by day. Within the week it sickened to a raging fever, and its pulse went up to a hundred and
fifty in the shade. At the end of two months it had left all the timepieces of the town far in the
rear, and was a fraction over thirteen days ahead of the almanac. It was away into November
enjoying the snow, while the October leaves were still turning. It hurried up house rent, bills
payable, and such things, in such a ruinous way that I could not abide it. I took it to the
watchmaker to be regulated. He asked me if I had ever had it repaired. I said no, it had never
needed any repairing. He looked a look of vicious happiness and eagerly pried the watch open,
and then put a small dice box into his eye and peered into its machinery. He said it wanted
cleaning and oiling, besides regulating – come in a week. After being cleaned and oiled, and
regulated, my watch slowed down to that degree that it ticked like a tolling bell. I began to be left
by trains, I failed all appointments, I got to missing my dinner; my watch strung out three days'
grace to four and let me go to protest; I gradually drifted back into yesterday, then day before,
then into last week, and by and by the comprehension came upon me that all solitary and alone I
was lingering along in week before last, and the world was out of sight. I seemed to detect in
myself a sort of sneaking fellow-feeling for the mummy in the museum, and desire to swap news
with him. I went to a watch maker again. He took the watch all to pieces while I waited, and then
said the barrel was "swelled." He said he could reduce it in three days. After this the watch
AVERAGED well, but nothing more. For half a day it would go like the very mischief, and keep
up such a barking and wheezing and whooping and sneezing and snorting, that I could not hear
myself think for the disturbance; and as long as it held out there was not a watch in the land that
stood any chance against it. But the rest of the day it would keep on slowing down and fooling
along until all the clocks it had left behind caught up again. So at last, at the end of twenty-four
hours, it would trot up to the judges' stand all right and just in time. It would show a fair and
square average, and no man could say it had done more or less than its duty. But a correct
average is only a mild virtue in a watch, and I took this instrument to another watchmaker. He
said the kingbolt was broken. I said I was glad it was nothing more serious. To tell the plain
truth, I had no idea what the kingbolt was, but I did not choose to appear ignorant to a stranger.
He repaired the kingbolt, but what the watch gained in one way it lost in another. It would run
awhile and then stop awhile, and then run awhile again, and so on, using its own discretion
about the intervals. And every time it went off it kicked back like a musket. I padded my breast
for a few days, but finally took the watch to another watchmaker. He picked it all to pieces, and
turned the ruin over and over under his glass; and then he said there appeared to be something
the matter with the hair- trigger. He fixed it, and gave it a fresh start. It did well now, except that
always at ten minutes to ten the hands would shut together like a pair of scissors, and from that
time forth they would travel together. The oldest man in the world could not make head or tail of
the time of day by such a watch, and so I went again to have the thing repaired. This person said
that the crystal had got bent, and that the mainspring was not straight. He also remarked that
part of the works needed half- soling. He made these things all right, and then my timepiece
performed unexceptionably, save that now and then, after working along quietly for nearly eight
hours, everything inside would let go all of a sudden and begin to buzz like a bee, and the hands
would straightway begin to spin round and round so fast that their individuality was lost
completely, and they simply seemed a delicate spider's web over the face of the watch. She would
reel off the next twenty-four hours in six or seven minutes, and then stop with a bang. I went with
a heavy heart to one more watchmaker, and looked on while he took her to pieces. Then I
prepared to cross-question him rigidly, for this thing was getting serious. The watch had cost
two hundred dollars originally, and I seemed to have paid out two or three thousand for repairs.
While I waited and looked on I presently recognized in this watchmaker an old acquaintance – a
steamboat engineer of other days, and not a good engineer, either. He examined all the parts
carefully, just as the other watchmakers had done, and then delivered his verdict with the same
confidence of manner.
He said: "She makes too much steam – you want to hang the monkey-wrench on the safetyvalve!"
I brained him on the spot, and had him buried at my own expense.
My uncle William (now deceased, alas!) used to say that a good horse was a good horse until it
had run away once, and that a good watch was a good watch until the repairers got a chance at
it. And he used to wonder what became of all the unsuccessful tinkers, and gunsmiths, and
shoemakers, and engineers, and blacksmiths; but nobody could ever tell him.
Jeffrey Tayler's "The Sacred Grove of Oshogbo"
The driver steered his moped down the corrugated red mud road outside of the Nigerian town of
Oshogbo, north of Lagos, with me bouncing along on the back seat. In front of a wooden gate he
wobbled to a halt. The surrounding rain forest was dripping with humidity; wraiths of mist
wandered between the big trees. I got off, paid him, and entered.
The Sacred Grove of Oshogbo was one place I had been looking forward to visiting in Nigeria.
As prevalent as indigenous religions still are in West Africa, it is often hard to find public
expressions of them in towns and cities; the Christianity brought by European slavers and
colonialists has taken root and pushed most of these religions out of mainstream life. But in the
Sacred Grove shrines honor all the local deities, including Obatala, the god of creation, Ogun,
the god of iron, and Oshun, the goddess of water, whose aqueous essence is made manifest by
the river running through the trees. The place is unique in the Yoruba religion, and that
intrigued me.
As I passed through the gates I heard a squeaky voice. A diminutive middle-aged man came out
from behind the trees — the caretaker. He worked a toothbrush-sized stick around in his mouth,
digging into the crevices between algae'd stubs of teeth. He was barefoot; he wore a blue batik
shirt known as a buba, baggy purple trousers, and an embroidered skullcap. I asked him if he
would show me around the shrine. Motioning me to follow, he spat out the results of his stick
work and set off down the trail.
We stopped in front of a many-headed statue. "Ako Alumawewe," he blurted out, sucking on the
stick. A deity? I asked. He nodded and spat, then headed down the trail to another stone effigy,
that of Egbe. After kissing the ground at its base, he held forth at length in mellifluous Yoruba.
Since I spoke no Yoruba and he, it turned out, no English, it became clear that my visit wasn't
going to be as edifying as I had hoped.
I looked back up the trail. A Nigerian man in penny loafers was making his way gingerly around
the puddles and heading our way. He was young but a belly was already spreading under his
white Izod shirt; he wore tight beige highwater trousers. It was clear that he was living a life of
relative plenty. He introduced himself as Pastor Paul, from a church in Benue State.
"You come to look at the Grove?" he asked, shaking my hand. "Good. It's very touristic."
A young woman emerged from the trail. Her wardrobe, too, could have been bought on sale at
JC Penney's, but unlike Pastor Paul, she was fit, with fresh eyes.
"My interpreter," Pastor Paul said, pointing to her. "Of course I can't understand these people.
We have our own language in Benue State."
The little man talked up a storm in Yoruba, but the interpreter said nothing. Our guide then led
us down to the river. The water ran bright green between the trees; monkeys jumped around the
canopy above. Arising from a mess of roots was Oshun's statue, which occasioned a monologue
from the little man.
"What is he saying?" I asked the translator.
"He says locals bring sacrifices to the gods here. Maize, moi-moi, cola nuts."
Father Paul shook his head, his brow wrinkling, his lips pursing. There were no locals about, I
noticed. Where were they? Dodging oversized ferns, our guide hopped down the trail, and we
followed him.
"Debel! Debel!" he said, pointing with disdain at a pug-nosed bust with an evil smirk standing
amid a tangle of roots. The Devil.
The pastor's face retained its pinched expression. "Of course, this man is ignorant," he said to
me, waving his arm in dismissal. I said nothing.
Up at a promontory above the river we found Olu Igbo — the lord of the forest. Placing his stick
in his back pocket, the little man fell silent and bowed. It was indeed an awesome sight — a giant
stone effigy standing among great trees, with huge eyes and long arms spread out like wings.
Hoots and warbles percolated in from the foliage; rain began to fall but its drops, intercepted by
the manifold layers of leaves above, hardly touched us.
The pastor harrumphed. "I tell my people in church to abandon these beliefs for God." His voice
rang loud in the amphitheater of great trees. "Such ignorance. Our American pastors have a lot
to say about how ignorant we are. We are trying to change, but these beliefs persist. Life is hard
in our country. The people want to insure themselves, so they worship God and these idols. But
it's ignorance. Don't you agree?"
"Why did you come here then?" I asked him as we walked back to the road.
"To see the skilled work of our artisans."
That was as good an answer as any. At the gate we tipped the guide and parted ways.
What to learn from the above passage/extract?
A sense of immediacy: Although Twain's narrative is couched in the past tense, we sense
that whatever is going on is happening in the very recent past or even now, as we speak.
This is especially true as he goes from jeweler to jeweler to get his watch fixed. The
appalling movement of his watch after each repair feels real to us. Although Twain's
story is couched entirely in the past tense, the past tense does not feel past to us in fiction.
In fact, short story writers and novelists call the simple past tense the "fictive present" or
"fictional present" because when you're reading it, you feel as if you're reading something
that is going on – now.
The sense of reality: Although we might sense that Twain exaggerates the erratic
movements of his watch and his imagination is often fantastic, we also sense the reality
of his condition. There's the shock of familiarity for you. We have heard automobile
mechanics and computer technicians spout technical gibberish to us and been convinced
that we had to spend lots of money to have our beloved devices brought back to life.
Details, details, details. Showing instead of telling.
Movement: Action is indispensable in a narrative essay/composition, the sense of people
and things moving through time and space. Close study of short story writers will pay off
in the long run here. The non-intuitive device most of them use is knowing that when you
want to describe something that happens very fast, your text and your selection of details
and descriptions of action must slow down. It would be instructive to reproduce here
comedian Eddie Murphy's description of his auntie falling down the stairs – something
she apparently did repeatedly, predictably, and without injury. Murphy reproduces all the
sounds she makes at every step as his aunt bounces down the stairway, calling upon every
saint and deity she ever heard of and pronouncing ruin upon the house and its residents.
The bit is hilarious and takes probably a minute or more to describe what must have
taken, in reality, only a couple of seconds. All of us, to our horror, know that "slow
motion" effect as we slide on an icy road; the trick is to recapture that in our text. Practice
by describing such an event or describing the details of eating an Oreo cookie or fig
newton cookie. Leave nothing out.
In media res: Twain's narrative jumps right into the telling. A Latin phrase, in media res,
means just that, in the middle of things, and describes the technique by which story
writers begin their tale in the middle of the action. Here, Twain picks up the story about
his situation after something has already happened to get him to this place and time. Then
he will harken back to the beginning, the necessary background. It's an age-old trick to
get the reader involved immediately in the action of the story.
Quoted language: There is not much in the way of quoted language in Twain's narrative.
Notice, though, how the little bits of conversation with the various jewelers seem to leap
off the page – especially at the very end. It's as if another sense has been called into play,
as if you suddenly hear as well as see and read. Using quoted language is something that
short-story writers and novelists must master before they get very far in their craft. It can
be difficult to create this illusion of the spoken voice, but it's worth the effort, as nothing
can make an essay/composition feel more alive, faster, than to give your reader a bit of
voice. It lends texture, dimension, to your essay/composition.
Knowing when to quit: Twain could undoubtedly have gone on and on with this kind of
thing, but he was wise to quit when he did. Knowing when to quit is indispensable, but
hard to learn. A good rule to live by: if you think your readers would like a little more,
write the little bit more and then delete it before you hand over your text to anyone.
Place Essay/composition Topics
1. Describe your favorite place.
2. Describe your ideal bedroom.
3. Describe the house in which you grew up.
4. Describe what the first house on the moon would look like.
5. Describe some of your favorite places in your hometown.
6. Describe a peaceful place that you’ve visited.
7. Describe a place that exists only in your imagination.
8. Describe a friend’s or family member’s house where you enjoy spending time.
9. Describe your perfect fantasy vacation destination.
10. Describe your favorite store.
11. Describe your favorite teacher’s classroom.
12. Describe a museum that you’ve visited recently.
13. Describe a place you have dreamed about that doesn’t exist in real life.
14. Describe a place where your pet likes spending time.
15. Describe an outdoor place that you know well.
People Essay/composition Topics
1. Describe your favorite person.
2. Describe each of your family members.
3. Describe a famous person that you would like to meet.
4. Describe one of your friends.
5. Describe one aspect of someone that you like (for example: laugh, style of dress, words
that the person likes to use, etc.)
6. Describe yourself to someone who has never met you.
7. Describe the average human to an alien who has never before seen a person.
8. Describe your pet.
9. Look at some old family photos and describe an older family member as he or she was
when at your age.
10. Describe someone whom you miss.
Object Essay/composition Topics
1. Describe an object that is special to you.
2. Give a tour of one room in your house by describing the most important objects in that
3. Describe one of your favorite outfits.
4. Describe your favorite toy as a child.
5. Describe how you get around (for example: a bicycle, skateboard, sneakers, your parents’
car, the school bus).
6. Describe your favorite piece of furniture where you like to spend time and relax.
7. Describe something that you would bury in a time capsule to tell people about what life is
like today.
8. Describe an object that has been in your family for a long time.
9. Choose a piece of food to eat; then, write a description of it that includes the way it looks,
smells and tastes.
10. Describe a smartphone to a time traveler from the 1900s.
Memories Essay/composition Topics
1. Describe your oldest memory.
2. Describe your best summer vacation.
3. Describe a memorable concert you attended.
4. Describe a memorable trip you took.
5. Describe a special time that you and your family had together.
6. Describe the first time you met one of your friends.
7. Describe a time you met someone famous.
8. Describe one of your happiest memories.
9. Describe one of your saddest memories.
10. Describe a time that you felt scared.
11. Describe a time that you felt excited.
12. Describe a time that something totally unexpected happened.
13. Describe a memory of someone whom you miss.
14. Describe one of your most memorable first days of school.
15. Describe one of your most embarrassing moments.
Narrative Essay/composition
Narrative essay/compositions are commonly assigned pieces of writing at different stages
through school. Typically, assignments involve telling a story from your own life that connects
with class themes. It can be a fun type of assignment to write, if you approach it properly. Learn
how to choose a good topic, get a solid rough draft on paper, and revise your narrative
Characteristics of Narrative Essay/compositions
The narrative essay/composition tells of personal experience to share a lesson.
The narrative essay/composition reports events or tells a story using elements of fiction. Plot,
characters and details are included in a narrative essay/composition. Generally, these
essay/compositions are written in chronological order. The purpose of the narrative
essay/composition is to share a personal experience that a reader can identify with or learn from.
The characteristics of a narrative essay/composition are use of characters and setting, literary
techniques, chronology and a moral to the story.
Characters and Setting
Characters and setting are storytelling elements that give life to the narrative essay/composition.
It is important to choose the characters who are most important to the story development.
Characters' personalities should follow the "showing not telling" rule and demonstrate the
qualities of each character. In developing the characters, use the actions and dialogue of the
character to show personality and mood. Setting can include visual details, tastes, sounds and
smells. Specific measurements can add to details about shape, time and size.
Literary Techniques
In addition to showing the actions and personalities of characters and giving visual details of the
setting, add details and description to the narrative essay/composition through the use of writing
techniques. Use of figurative language, such as similes and metaphors, can add to the descriptive
quality of the the narrative essay/composition. These comparisons allow the reader to draw
personal connections with the writing and topic. Monologues, humor and suspense increase the
reader's interest in the narrative.
A narrative essay/composition is written in chronological order -- that is, events should be told in
the order of occurrence. Transition words should cue the passage of time. Examples of
appropriate transition words are: first, later, before, afterwards and meanwhile. Flashback
sequences are used in narratives to give context to the story.
Moral of the Story
The key point or reflection of the story is often presented as the moral of the story at the end of
the narrative essay/composition. In this final section of the essay/composition, the writer reflects
on the experience presented in the narration and discusses the lesson learned or larger importance
of the story. The conclusion may also include the significance of the event to the author's own
life or to a broader population
1. Choosing a Good Topic
Choose a story that illustrates some topic or theme. Generally, narrative essay/compositions
involve two main components: a story and some analysis of that story. A narrative
essay/composition may be "about" a particular issue, theme, or concept, but it uses a personal
story to illustrate that idea.
Most of the time, narrative essay/compositions will involve no outside research or references.
Instead, you'll be using your personal story to provide the evidence of some point that you're
trying to make.
Narrative essay/compositions are a common school assignment used to test your creative storytelling skills, as well as your ability to connect some element of your personal life to a topic you
might be discussing in class.
Make sure your story fits the prompt. Often, narrative essay/compositions are school assignments
and they're written based on a prompt you'll receive from your teacher. Even if you've got a
crazy story about the time you escaped from a deserted island on a hot air balloon, read the
prompt closely to make sure your story fits the assignment. Common topics for narrative
essay/compositions include but are not limited to a description of some moment that:
You experienced adversity and had to overcome
You failed and had to deal with the consequences of that failure
Your personality or character was transformed
You experienced discrimination or experienced privilege
Choose a story with a manageable plot. Good narrative essay/compositions tell specific stories
with very vibrant and luminous details. You're not writing a novel, so the story needs to be fairly
contained and concise. Try to limit it as much as possible in terms of other characters, setting,
and plot. A specific family vacation or weekend with a friend? A disaster holiday, or night out
during high school? Perfect.
Bad narrative essay/compositions are generally too broad. "My senior year of high school" or
"This summer" are examples of stories that would be far too big to tell in the amount of specific
detail that a good narrative essay/composition requires. Pick a single event from the summer, or
a single week of your senior year, not something that takes months to unfold.
It's also good to limit the number of characters you introduce. Only include other characters who
are absolutely essential. Every single friend from your fifth grade class will be too many names
to keep track of. Pick one.
Choose a story with vibrant details. Good narrative essay/compositions are full of specific
details, particular images and language that helps make the story come alive for the reader. The
sights and smells in your story should all be discussed in particular details. When you're thinking
of stories that might make for good essay/compositions, it's important to think of some that are
rich in these kinds of details.
Let your imagination fill in the gaps. When you're describing your grandmother's house and a
specific weekend you remember spending there, it's not important to remember exactly what was
cooked for dinner on Friday night, unless that's an important part of the story. What did your
grandmother typically cook? What did it usually smell like? Those are the details we need.
Typically, narrative essay/compositions are "non-fiction," which means that you can't just make
up a story. It needs to have really happened. Force yourself to stay as true as possible to the
straight story.
2. Writing a Draft
Outline the plot before you begin. Where does your story start? Where does it end? Writing up a
quick list of the major plot points in the story is a good way of making sure you hit all the high
points. Every story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end.
It helps to limit things as much as possible. While it might seem like we need to know a bunch of
specific details from your senior year, Try to think of a particularly tumultuous day from that
year and tell us that story. Where does that story start? Not the first day of school that year. Find
a better starting point.
If you want to tell the story of your prom night, does it start when you get dressed? Maybe. Does
it start when you spill spaghetti sauce all down your dress before the dance? While that might
seem like the climax of a story you want to tell, it might make a better starting place. Go straight
to the drama.
You don't need to write up a formal outline for a narrative essay/composition unless it's part of
the assignment or it really helps you write. Listing the major scenes that need to be a part of the
story will help you get organized and find a good place to start.
Use a consistent point of view. Generally, narrative essay/compositions will be written in first
person, making use of "I" statements, which is a little unusual compared to other assignments
you'll be given in school. Whether you're giving us scenes with dialog, or discussing what
happened in past-tense, it's perfectly fine to use first person in a narrative essay/composition.
Don't switch perspectives throughout the story. This is a difficult and advanced technique to Try
to pull off, and it usually has the effect of being too complicated. There should only be one "I" in
the story.
In general, narrative essay/compositions (and short stories for that matter) should also be told in
past tense. So, you would write "Johnny and I walked to the store every Thursday" not "Johnny
and I are walking to the store, like we do every Thursday."
Describe the important characters. Who else is important to the story, other than yourself? Who
else was present when the story took place. Who affected the outcome of the story? What
specific, particular details can you remember about the people in the story? Use these to help
build the characters into real people.
Particular details are specific and only particular to the character being described. While it may
be specific to say that your friend has brown hair, green eyes, is 5 feet tall with an athletic build,
these things don't tell us much about the character. The fact that he only wears silk dragon shirts?
Now that gives us something interesting.
Try writing up a brief sketch of each principal character in your narrative essay/composition,
along with the specific details you remember about them. Pick a few essentials.
Find the antagonist. Good narratives often have a protagonist and an antagonist. The protagonist
is usually the main character (in most narrative essay/compositions, that'll be you) who is
struggling with something. It might be a situation, a condition, or a force, but whatever the case,
a protagonist wants something and the reader roots for them. The antagonist is the thing or
person who keeps the protagonist from getting what they want.
Who or what is the antagonist in your story? To answer this question, you also need to find out
what the protagonist wants. What is the goal? What's the best case scenario for the protagonist?
What stands in the protagonist's way?
The antagonist isn't "the bad guy" of the story, necessarily, and not every story has a clear
antagonist. Also keep in mind that for some good personal narratives, you might be the
antagonist yourself.
Describe the setting. Just as important to a good story as the characters and the plot is the setting.
Where does the story take place? At home? Outside? In the city or the country? Describe the
location that the story takes place and let the setting become part of your story.
Do a freewrite about the location that your story takes place. What do you know about the place?
What can you remember? What can you find out?
If you do any research for your narrative essay/composition, it will probably be here. Try to find
out extra details about the setting of your story, or double-check your memory to make sure it's
Use vivid details. Good writing is in the details. Even the most boring office environment or the
most dull town can be made compelling with the right kinds of details in the writing. Remember
to use particulars–unique details that don't describe anything else but the specific thing you're
writing about, and let these vivid details drive the story.
A popular creative writing phrase tells writers to "show" not to "tell." What this means is that
you should give us details whenever possible, rather than telling us facts. You might tell us
something like, "My dad was always sad that year," but if you wrote "Dad never spoke when he
got home from work. We heard his truck, then heard as he laid his battered hardhat on the
kitchen table. Then we heard him sigh deeply and take off his work clothes, which were stained
with grease."
3. Revising Your Essay/composition
Make sure your theme is clearly illustrated in the story. After you've written your rough draft,
read back over it with an eye for your theme. Whatever the purpose of your telling us the story
that you're telling us needs to be made very clear. The last thing you want is for the reader to get
to the end and say, "Good story, but who cares?" Answer the question before the reader gets the
chance to ask.
Get the theme into the very beginning of the essay/composition. Just as a researched argument
essay/composition needs to have a thesis statement somewhere in the first few paragraphs of the
essay/composition, a narrative essay/composition needs a topic statement or a thesis statement to
explain the main idea of the story.
This isn't "ruining the surprise" of the story, this is foreshadowing the important themes and
details to notice over the course of the story as you tell it. A good writer doesn't need suspense in
a narrative essay/composition. The ending should seem inevitable.
Use scenes and summaries. All narratives are made of two kinds of writing: scenes and
summaries. Scenes happen when you need to slow down and tell specific details about an
important moment of the story. Scenes are small moments that take a while to read. Summary is
used to narrate the time between scenes. They are longer moments that you read over more
Scene: "On our walk to the store, Jared and I stopped at the empty grass lot to talk. 'What's your
problem lately?' he asked, his eyes welling with tears. I didn't know what to tell him. I fidgeted,
kicked an empty paint bucket that was rusted over at the edge of the lot. 'Remember when we
used to play baseball here?' I asked him."
Summary: "We finished walking to the store and bought all the stuff for the big holiday dinner.
We got a turkey, cornbread, cranberries. The works. The store was crazy-packed with happy
holiday shoppers, but we walked through them all, not saying a word to each other. It took
forever to lug it all home."
Use and format dialogue correctly. When you're writing a narrative essay/composition, it's
typically somewhere between a short story and a regular essay/composition that you might write
for school. You'll have to be familiar with the conventions of formatting both types of writing,
and since most narrative essay/compositions will involve some dialogue, you should make
formatting that dialogue correctly a part of your revision process.
Anything spoken by a character out loud needs to be included in quotation marks and attributed
to the character speaking it: "I've never been to Paris," said James.
Each time a new character speaks, you need to make a new paragraph. If the same character
speaks, multiple instances of dialog can exist in the same paragraph.
Revise your essay/composition. Revision is the most important part of writing. Nobody, even the
most experienced writers, get it right on the very first run through. Get a draft finished ahead of
time and give yourself the chance to go back through your story carefully and see it again. How
could it be improved?
Revise for clarity first. Are your main points clear? If not, make them clear by including more
details or narration in the writing. Hammer home your points.
Was the decision you made about the starting place of the story correct? Or, now that you've
written, might it be better to start the story later? Ask the tough questions.
Proofreading is one part of revision, but it's a very minor part and it should be done last.
Checking punctuation and spelling is the last thing you should be worried about in your narrative
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