To write a narrative essay, you’ll need to tell a story (usually about something that happened to you) in such a way that he audience learns a lesson or gains insight.
To write a descriptive essay, you’ll need to describe a person, object, or event so vividly that the reader feels like he/she could reach out and touch it.
Tips for writing effective narrative and descriptive essays:
- Tell a story about a moment or event that means a lot to you--it will make it easier for you to tell the story in an interesting way!
- Get right to the action! Avoid long introductions and lengthy descriptions--especially at the beginning of your narrative.
- Make sure your story has a point! Describe what you learned from this experience.
- Use all five of your senses to describe the setting, characters, and the plot of your story. Don't be afraid to tell the story in your own voice. Nobody wants to read a story that sounds like a textbook!
How to Write Vivid Descriptions
Having trouble describing a person, object, or event for your narrative or descriptive essay? Try filling out this chart:
What do you smell?
What do you taste?
What do you see?
What do you hear?
What might you touch or feel?
Remember: Avoid simply telling us what something looks like--tell us how it tastes, smells, sounds, or feels!
- Virginia rain smells different from a California drizzle.
- A mountain breeze feels different from a sea breeze.
- We hear different things in one spot, depending on the time of day.
- You can “taste” things you’ve never eaten: how would sunscreen taste?
Using Concrete Details for Narratives
Effective narrative essays allow readers to visualize everything that's happening, in their minds. One way to make sure that this occurs is to use concrete, rather than abstract, details.
…makes the story or image seem clearer and more real to us.
...makes the story or image difficult to visualize.
…gives us information that we can easily grasp and perhaps empathize with.
…leaves your reader feeling empty, disconnected, and possibly confused.
The word “abstract” might remind you of modern art. An abstract painting, for example, does not normally contain recognizable objects. In other words, we can't look at the painting and immediately say "that's a house" or "that's a bowl of fruit." To the untrained eye, abstract art looks a bit like a child's finger-painting--just brightly colored splotches on a canvas.
Avoid abstract language—it won’t help the reader understand what you're trying to say!
Abstract: It was a nice day.
Concrete: The sun was shining and a slight breeze blew across my face.
Abstract: I liked writing poems, not essays.
Concrete: I liked writing short, rhythmic poems and hated rambling on about my thoughts in those four-page essays.
Abstract: Mr. Smith was a great teacher.
Concrete: Mr. Smith really knew how to help us turn our thoughts into good stories and essays.
Sample Papers - Narration
Sample Papers - Descriptive
Arguments in an Essay on Literature
These sections describe in detail the assignments students may complete when writing about literature. These sections also discuss different approaches (literary theory/criticism) students may use to write about literature. These resources build on the Writing About Literature materials.
Contributors: J. Case Tompkins
Last Edited: 2010-04-21 08:27:30
One of the great struggles for writers in literature is making and sustaining coherent arguments in their papers. Although argument is an essential part of all papers, the literary paper has aspects of rhetoric that are all its own.
Other OWL Resources:
A good argument in an essay on literature has:
A tight, specific focus
Rather than broad sweeping statements, a good argument teases out a single aspect of a piece of literature and analyzes it in minute detail: literature under the microscope.
Example: Loose: “Characters in this novel spend time a great deal of time looking at each other, and an examination of those gazes can give us great insight into the characters."
- Too big. You would have to write a book to do the subject justice.
- Too general. Whose gaze is being considered? Are we considering the object of the gaze? The person doing the looking? What insight exactly is to be gained?
Tighter: “When the protagonist turns her gaze upon her former lover in their final meeting, it is her own fears, her emotional blindness, and her refusal to learn from the past that can be read in her eyes as she looks upon him."
- Small. Rather than gazes in general, this statement focuses on one event.
- Specific. It makes an arguable claim about the implications and suggests a close reading to support those claims.
A step beyond the teacher’s assignment
Some may tell you that a good paper rephrases a writing prompt as a statement rather than a question. Do not believe it. Instructors want to see evidence that you have read the work in question with enough seriousness to reply to the prompts given in your own way. Remember: If an answer seems obvious, keep digging.
A gaze that remains fixed on the work in question
When your argument ceases to discuss the work itself and begins to focus on the personal (your own reaction) or the biographical (the author’s life), you need to get back on track. Make no mistake: a sense of audience and information about the author can be important. When these details become central to the essay, however, you are no longer writing on literature.
Example: “One of the worst parts of this book begins in chapter three when . . .”
This statement reflects a personal reaction to the work. If you want to show that a particular piece or part of a piece is better or worse than others, begin with your evidence rather than starting with emotion.
“This could be a result of the time the author spent in jail in 1938. On the 30th of April he was arrested on charges of . . .”
Although evidence is vital to a sound paper, the statement above focuses on historical rather than critical evidence. If you include biographical information, always be ready to direct that information back into the main point of the essay. Stray from your topic only as long as is strictly necessary.