Draft Workshop: September 4, 2017
Submission Due: September 6, 2017
A narrative assignment requires writers to share a specific experience and communicate a “dominant impression” from that experience.
Forked discusses life in a variety of restaurants for the people who work in those restaurants. Your narrative assignment will describe a specific meal while dining out. (If you work in a restaurant, you can describe a specific meal that you have served.) Remember, the goal of a narrative is to communicate a memorable “dominant impression.” For that reason, it doesn’t have to be a particularly important meal—wedding/prom dinner, holiday/birthday dinner, etc. It can be a relatively minor occasion that happens to include a memorable “dominant impression”—I might write about the time Jennifer and I were camping on the coast of Maine, chose our lobsters fresh out of the traps as they came off the boats, and I had a bad clam during the appetizer, spending the entire night next to the campground bathroom.
One of the marks of experienced writers is the ability to include purposefully-chosen specific details to create an overall impression for the audience. In doing so, they will draw on all of the senses to create that concrete impression in the audience’s mind. That is, rather than simply telling the reader that a room seemed “spooky,” experienced writers will note the “cobwebs hanging from the ceiling.” Furthermore, they may note how the boards “creaked” and how the air felt “heavy and dank” and smelled like “a musty rag.” They will allow the audience to reach its own conclusion that the room was spooky based on the combined effect of the details provided. That is your goal in this draft.
The draft should follow the standard format for an academic paper—an introduction that includes an opening and a thesis sentence, body paragraphs that support, clarify and extend the thesis through well-chosen details, and a conclusion that serves to wrap-up the draft. The thesis sentence should introduce the experience (the choice and/or consequences) and the overall impression with which you want to leave the audience. The final draft should be between 750 and 1,000 words.
In the immense dark, her porch light glowed like a beacon. And there she was, wiping her hands on her homemade apron, come to the doorway to meet us. Small, round, and soft and rosy as a withered peach, Granny was the heart and soul of our family.
Aunts and uncles and more cousins were soon assembling on the porch. Transplanted early to the Midwest, where I was already a lonely outsider, here I was content to be taken back into the fold of a large, extroverted Southern family. I looked forward to a summer of many playmates and indulgent grownups.
Cuddled in with a few cousins in the spare room’s creaky iron bedstead, I smelled the deep, mysterious odors of Granny’s house—old wood, damp earth, wood smoke, cooking and the chamber pot that we had used before turning in. On the porch, the adults would stay up late talking as they rocked in chairs or on the glider. Their laughter was the last thing I heard as I drifted into sleep.
–Excerpt from “Granny’s House” by Mary Markey
Here are some troubleshooting tips that I have compiled after years of assigning narratives. Use these as guidelines as you develop and revise your drafts.
Dominant Impression/Thesis Sentence
Make sure that you have an explicit and specific dominant impression that you communicate to your reader in your thesis sentence, probably near the end of your introduction. The dominant impression will serve to guide the development of your body paragraphs. (CP and QT)
Paragraph Focus and Unity
Related to the dominant impression, make sure that each of your body paragraphs is unified around a single guiding principle. Without an explicit dominant impression, finding this guiding principle for each paragraph can be difficult. With a dominant impression, you can develop topic sentences for paragraphs by connecting them to the dominant impression and introducing the guiding principle for that paragraph. (OC and QT)
“Showing” rather than “telling” relies on descriptive verbs and well-chosen nouns, not an abundance of adjectives and adverbs. Avoid verbs that do not indicate any action, such as forms of “to be” and “to have.” (LS)
Sentence Level Clarity
Spend as much time as necessary editing and proofreading each and every sentence. Read the draft “backwards” and/or out loud for word ending errors and other common clarity issues. Always, always, always print hard copies of drafts to edit and proofread. (GM)
One of the difficulties in narrative writing is shifting from present tense to past tense and vice versa. Don’t do it. Using past tense is the easier route, but present tense tends to lend more drama to the narrative. Use present tense throughout or to note habitual activities and/or propensities of nature. You will also use the present tense to synthesize/attribute source material and when analyzing literature. (LS)
Ambiguous Second Person
Avoid ambiguous references to the second person (“you”) in all formal writing. There are very few “hard and fast rules” governing academic writing, but this “rule” is one of them. It also happens to be among the easiest to follow—don’t use second person (“you”). (LS)
Note: Because the narrative assignment requires writers to share a personal experience, it is okay and even expected, that they use the first person (“I,” “me,” etc.) while sharing that experience.