Narration - Patterns of development

Successful college writing, Eighth edition - Kathleen T. McWhorter 2020

Patterns of development

Recounting Events


In this chapter you will learn to

✵ understand the purpose and function of narrative essays

✵ use graphic organizers to visualize narrative essays

✵ integrate narration into an essay

✵ read and think critically about narration

✵ plan, organize, draft, revise, and edit essays using narration

Writing Quick Start


The photograph here shows a large group of people holding blue and white balloons.


Working alone or with a classmate, imagine the events that occurred before and during this gathering. Who is participating, what is happening, and what did the participants do to get them to this scene shown in the photograph? Then write a brief summary of the events you imagined.


As you imagined the events that led up to the scene in the photograph, you probably described a series of events or turning points in the order in which they occurred. In short, you constructed a narrative: a chronological series of events, real or imaginary, that tells a story to make a point.

Narratives provide human interest and entertainment, spark our curiosity, and draw us close to the storyteller. They can also create a sense of shared history or provide instruction in proper behavior or conduct.

In this chapter, you will read narratives; you will also write narrative essays or use narration in essays that rely on one or more of the other patterns of development.



✵ Each student in your business law course must attend a court trial and complete the following written assignment: “Describe what happened and how the proceedings illustrate the judicial process.”

✵ Your sociology instructor announces that the class session will focus on the nature and types of authority figures. She begins by asking class members to describe situations in which they found themselves in conflict with an authority figure.

✵ Your job in sales involves frequent business travel, and your company requires you to submit a report for each trip. You are expected to recount the meetings you attended, your contacts with current clients, and the new sales leads you developed.

What Are the Characteristics of a Narrative?

A narrative does not merely report events; it is not a transcript of a conversation or a news report. Instead, it is a story that conveys a particular meaning. It presents actions and details that build toward a climax, the point at which the conflict of the narrative is resolved. Most narratives also use dialogue to present portions of conversations that move the story along.

Narratives Make a Point

A narrative makes a point by telling readers about an event or a series of events. The point may be to describe the significance of the event(s), make an observation, or present new information. The writer may state the point directly, using an explicit thesis statement, or leave it unstated, using an implied thesis. Either way, the point should always be clear to the audience by the details selected and the way they are presented.

The following excerpt comes from a selection that appears later in this chapter. There, the narrator tells the story of a moment in time that was forever etched in his mind — a time that taught him things about his mother that he had never known. Through the story of a trip to a bowling alley with his mom, he recounts what he learned about her strength as a woman and her prowess as a champion bowler. Notice how he chooses vocabulary to describe the strength of character of his mother and the way she handled the rude and disrespectful man.

Details that reinforce the main point

My mother grabbed my hand and took one step toward the man. In that instant, I saw in her face the same resolve she had when she spanked, the same resolve when she scolded. In that instant, I thought my mother was going to hit the man. And for a moment, I thought the man saw the same thing in her eyes, and his smile disappeared from his face. Quickly, she smiled — too bright, too large — and said, “You’re welcome.”

— Ira Sukrungruang, “Chop Suey” (para. 18)

Narratives Convey Action and Detail

Narratives present a detailed account of an event or a series of events, using , and dialogue, physical descriptionaction verbs to make readers feel as if they are watching the scene or experiencing the action.

Action verbs

Physical description


I quickly learned why Doc needed a cellmate of a particular disposition. He had cancer and sometimes soiled himself. Additionally, he was in the beginning stages of dementia. He would go to the toilet but sometimes urinate all over the floor or defecate and get all the feces all over the toilet. Needless to say, this did not endear him to his less compassionate cellies. I, on the other hand, liked and respected Doc. I did not like cleaning up his mess, but one day I’ll be old too, and I would hope someone would show me a modicum of kindness.

The first time it happened was somewhat comical. I was asleep and awoke to a horrendous odor in the cell. I got up and turned on my lamp and there was Doc, pants half-down and feces everywhere. I said, “Damn, Doc! What did you do?”

— William Peeples, “My Cellie Was the Father I Never Had” (paras. 12—13)

Narratives Present a Conflict and Create Tension

An effective narrative presents a conflict — such as a struggle, question, or problem — and works toward its resolution. The conflict can be between participants or between a participant and some external force, such as a law, value, tradition, or act of nature. (In the first reading, the narrator struggles to preserve Doc’s dignity.) Tension is the suspense created as the story unfolds and the reader wonders how the conflict will be resolved. The height of the action — the point just before the resolution of the conflict — is the climax.



Working alone or with a classmate, complete each of the following statements by setting up a conflict. Then, for one of the completed statements, write three to four sentences that build tension through action, physical description, or dialogue (or some combination of the three).

1. You are ready to leave the house when …

2. You have just turned in your math exam when you realize that …

3. Your spouse suddenly becomes seriously ill …

4. Your child just told you that …

5. Your best friend texts you in the middle of the night to …

Narratives Sequence Events

A narrative often presents events in chronological order — the order in which they happened. Some narratives use flashback and foreshadowing to add tension and drama. A flashback returns readers to events that took place in the past; foreshadowing hints at events that will occur in the future. Both techniques are used frequently in fiction and film. For example, an episode of a crime drama might open with a woman lying in a hospital bed, flash back to a scene showing the accident that put her there, and then return to the scene in the hospital. When used sparingly, flashback and foreshadowing can build interest and add variety to a narrative, especially a lengthy chronological account.

Narratives Use Dialogue

Just as people reveal much about themselves by what they say and how they say it, dialogue can reveal much about the characters in a narrative. The use of dialogue can also dramatize the action, emphasize the conflict, and reveal the personalities or motives of the key participants in a narrative. Dialogue can be strategically inserted to heighten the drama and help characterize the people depicted.

Narratives Are Told from a Particular Point of View

Most narratives use either the first-person or third-person point of view.

✵ The first-person point of view (“I first realized the problem when …”) allows you to assume a personal tone and speak directly to your audience, permitting you to express your attitudes and feelings and offer your interpretation and commentary. A drawback to using the first person is that you cannot easily convey the inner thoughts of other participants (unless they have shared their thoughts with you). When you narrate an event that occurred in your life, the first person is probably your best choice.

✵ The third-person point of view (“The problem began when Saul Overtone …”) gives the narrator more distance from the action and often provides a broader, more objective perspective. When you narrate an event that occurred in someone else’s life, the third person is likely to be the natural choice.



Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using the first- and third-person points of view for each of the following situations, and then decide which point of view would work better:

1. The day you and several friends played a practical joke on another friend

2. An incident of sexual or racial discrimination that happened to you or someone you know

3. An incident at work that a coworker told you about

The following readings demonstrate the techniques discussed above for writing effective narratives. The first reading is annotated to point out how William Peeples uses these techniques to help readers understand the experience of bonding with a cellmate. As you read the second essay, try to identify how the writer uses the techniques of narrative writing to help readers understand how his encounter with the police changed his life.


My Cellie Was the Father I Never Had

William Peeples

William Peeples is a convicted murderer serving a life sentence at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois, for a crime he committed when he was twenty-four. He was fifty-five when the autobiographical narrative below was published in the Marshall Project, an online news outlet whose goal is to create an audience that cares about the U.S. criminal justice system.

Before Reading

1. Preview: Preview the reading using the steps listed in Chapter 2.

2. Connect: Activate your knowledge and experience on the topic by answering the following questions:

o What comes to mind when you hear the word prison?

o Who do you consider to be a mentor in your life? What has that person taught you?

While Reading

Study the annotations that accompany the reading to discover how the essay illustrates the characteristics of narration as presented earlier in the chapter.

Point of view: Uses first person (I) for this personal essay

1I was born in 1964 on the South Side of Chicago. I grew up in the Robert Taylor Homes, where poverty, crime, gangs, and drugs shaped my perception of life. At the tender age of 11, I began smoking weed, drinking wine, and hanging out with the street toughs in my neighborhood. I joined the notorious Black Gangster Disciples, a large and violent gang in my neighborhood.

Background: Provides background to show what led him to prison

2Looking back, I believe I was trying to fill the void that the absence of my father left in my life. My father and mother married as teenagers. Three months after I was born, my father was gone. I’ve met him, but we are virtually strangers. The gang became my surrogate family. The leaders in the gang were our uncles; some even treated us like their sons. Decades later I would realize that what I mistook for love and acceptance was really just manipulation and exploitation.

3Predictably, I dropped out of school and became more involved in criminal activity and drug use. By age 24, I was on death row for murder. In 2003, the governor commuted my sentence to life without parole.

Details: Description of prison using comparison, metaphor (“hell on Earth”)

Thesis: Main point

4I arrived at Stateville Correctional Center in January 2003, after 16 years on death row. The “Ville” is known for violence, mayhem, and degradation, yet in this “hell on Earth,” I met a kindly old man whom I came to love as a son does his father. Charles “Doc” Smith and I met in the spring of 2005 in D House. I was placed in the cell with him early one morning, and by 2 p.m., we were drinking coffee and playing chess.

Organization: Narrates events in chronological order; uses transitions of time

Background: Provides background needed to understand relationship and build tension

5When I walked into the cell, Doc’s first words were, “I hope you aren’t gonna be a problem, young man.” Doc never called me by my given name. I was either “Sonny” or “young man.” I resented this initially, but in time I came to see that he used these labels affectionately.

6Doc and I were cellmates for about three months, but then I got a job and wouldn’t see him again for six or seven years. In just those three months, Doc developed enough of an appreciation for how I treated him that it would lead to us being cellmates again seven years later.

Dialogue: Dialogue dramatizes action, helps depict relationship, reveals character and motives

7One morning after all those years, while I was exercising in my cell, an officer came and told me, “Pack your property. You’re moving today.” I was mad because I didn’t request a move and was comfortable where I was. I would learn later that unbeknownst to me, Doc had pulled some strings and had me moved in with him.

8When I got to my new cell and saw Doc sitting on the lower bunk, I exclaimed, “Who is this old codger in my cell?” He smiled and said, “You just try to live long enough to be an ’old codger.’”

9We shook hands, and Doc explained how I came to be his cellie. “Man, I had a cellie who was crazy!” he said. “He was stealing my stuff, and when I confronted him, he threatened to beat me up. Now I ain’t no chump, sonny, but I’m too old and too sick to be humbugging.”

10I asked Doc: “So you had them move me — why me?”

11“You were one of my best cellmates,” Doc replied. “You’re clean. You’re respectful. And I figured I’d live with you till I transfer to Dixon.” (That’s a medium-security prison for the aged and infirm.)

Details: Uses detailed description (feces all over the toilet) and active verbs (urinate, defecate) to make readers feel as if they are observing the scene

12I quickly learned why Doc needed a cellmate of a particular disposition. He had cancer and sometimes soiled himself. Additionally, he was in the beginning stages of dementia. He would go to the toilet but sometimes urinate all over the floor or defecate and get all the feces all over the toilet. Needless to say, this did not endear him to his less compassionate cellies. I, on the other hand, liked and respected Doc. I did not like cleaning up his mess, but one day I’ll be old too, and I would hope someone would show me a modicum of kindness.

13The first time it happened was somewhat comical. I was asleep and awoke to a horrendous odor in the cell. I got up and turned on my lamp and there was Doc, pants half-down and feces everywhere. I said, “Damn, Doc! What did you do?”

14He looked so embarrassed and sheepishly replied, “I’m sorry, young man. I had an accident. Don’t be mad. I’ll clean it up, I promise.” Doc was on the verge of crying; he was so ashamed.

Dialogue: Dialogue helps depict relationship

15I looked at this man who was so pitifully not the man he’d once been, and I was determined to help salvage his dignity. “Don’t trip, Doc. I got you. We’ll clean this up, and nobody will even know,” I told him. It took close to two and half hours to clean Doc and the cell but with bleach, soap and disinfectant. We got it done.

16We had a few more episodes like that but with time and patience, we developed a system, and Doc had fewer and fewer accidents. He would also forget to bathe, so part of my morning routine became helping him wash up, brush his teeth and shave. I think he was grateful because I never made a big deal out of it. I’d jokingly inquire each morning, “Doc, can you tell me what today is?” to which he would reply, “Yes, Sonny. Today is …” and then whatever day of the week it happened to be. I’d say, “No sir, Doc. Today is ’Let’s wash Doc Day!,’” and we’d both laugh.

Background: Provides background readers need to further understand Doc’s character

17Life with Doc was far from a burden. Doc was educated, cultured, well-read and wise. He’d tell me about his dentistry practice in Oak Park before his incarceration. Doc was one of the first black men to own and live in neighboring River Forest, another prestigious suburb of Chicago. He had met the elite of black society, including Mayor Harold Washington. He’d regale me with tales of parties he attended, women he dated, and places he’d been.

18Doc and I mutually loved chess and tennis, and boy, did Doc know a lot about the sport. His favorite female player was Chris Evert, and on the men’s side, Andre Agassi. Doc knew the history of tennis and would talk to me for hours about it.

Organization: Transition indicates passage of time

Climax: Uses dialogue to emphasize the height of the action

19In 2016, Doc finally got approved for Dixon. The night before his transfer, we stayed up all night watching tennis and playing chess. The next morning, before he left, Doc did something he never did. He hugged me real tight and told me, “Sonny, it has been an honor and a privilege to know you.” I was so shocked because Doc absolutely abhorred any type of physical affection. He’d shake hands, and that was that. That morning, he hugged me, and it felt like a father hugging his beloved son.

Resolution: Tension is relieved as Peeples realizes impact Doc had on his life and brings story to a close

20In less than a month, Dixon sent Doc back to Stateville. His cancer was terminal, and he did not have long to live. Doc died that winter, and I mourned him like we had known one another for a lifetime. When you think of bonds of love and familial cohesion, you don’t think of prison — but that was where I met and grew to love one of the finest human beings I have ever known.

Visualize a Narrative: Create a Graphic Organizer

Seeing the content and structure of an essay in simplified, visual form can help you analyze a reading, recall key events as you generate ideas for an essay, and structure your own writing. Graphic Organizer 11.1 diagrams the basic structure of a narrative. You can use this graphic organizer as a basic model of a narrative, but keep in mind that narrative essays vary widely in organization and therefore may lack one or more of the elements included in the model.


GRAPHIC ORGANIZER 11.1 The Basic Structure of a Narrative Essay

"The items in the left column of the chart are numbered here for clarity. Items bulleted here are attached to the associated numbered items by lines. Downward arrows connect the bulleted items. 1. Title. 2. Introduction (Bullet) Background setting, Introduction to conflict Thesis asterisk. 3. Action and tension (Bullet) Event 1 (Bullet) Event 2 (Bullet) Event 3. 4. Climax (Bullet) Event 4. 5. Conclusion (Bullet) Resolution, final impression, or statement of or reference to thesis asterisk. The text below reads, “asterisk thesis may be stated directly at the beginning or at the end of a narrative, or it may be implied.”  "

For more on creating a graphic organizer, see Chapter 2.


Right Place, Wrong Face

Alton Fitzgerald White

Alton Fitzgerald White is an actor, singer, and dancer and has appeared in several Broadway shows. He is also the author of Uncovering the Heart Light, a collection of poems and short stories. Before reading, preview the selection and make connections by thinking of incidents of racial profiling you have heard about or experienced. While reading, pay attention to the essay’s organization. Once you have finished the selection, study Graphic Organizer 11.2 following this reading.

1As the youngest of five girls and two boys growing up in Cincinnati, I was raised to believe that if I worked hard, was a good person, and always told the truth, the world would be my oyster. I was raised to be a gentleman and learned that these qualities would bring me respect.

2While one has to earn respect, consideration is something owed to every human being. On Friday, June 16, 1999, when I was wrongfully arrested at my Harlem apartment building, my perception of everything I had learned as a young man was forever changed — not only because I wasn’t given even a second to use the manners my parents taught me, but mostly because the police, whom I’d always naively thought were supposed to serve and protect me, were actually hunting me.

3I had planned a pleasant day. The night before was a payday, plus I had received a standing ovation after portraying the starring role of Coalhouse Walker Jr. in the Broadway musical Ragtime. It is a role that requires not only talent but also an honest emotional investment of the morals and lessons I learned as a child.

4Coalhouse Walker Jr. is a victim (an often misused word, but in this case true) of overt racism. His story is every black man’s nightmare. He is hardworking, successful, talented, charismatic, friendly, and polite. Perfect prey for someone with authority and not even a fraction of those qualities. On that Friday afternoon, I became a real-life Coalhouse Walker. Nothing could have prepared me for it. Not even stories told to me by other black men who had suffered similar injustices.

5Friday for me usually means a trip to the bank, errands, the gym, dinner, and then off to the theater. On this particular day, I decided to break my pattern of getting up and running right out of the house. Instead, I took my time, slowed my pace, and splurged by making strawberry pancakes. Before I knew it, it was 2:45; my bank closes at 3:30, leaving me less than 45 minutes to get to midtown Manhattan on the train. I was pressed for time but in a relaxed, blessed state of mind. When I walked through the lobby of my building, I noticed two light-skinned Hispanic men I’d never seen before. Not thinking much of it, I continued on to the vestibule, which is separated from the lobby by a locked door.

6As I approached the exit, I saw people in uniforms rushing toward the door. I sped up to open it for them. I thought they might be paramedics, since many of the building’s occupants are elderly. It wasn’t until I had opened the door and greeted them that I recognized that they were police officers. Within seconds, I was told to “hold it”; they had received a call about young Hispanics with guns. I was told to get against the wall. I was searched, stripped of my backpack, put on my knees, handcuffed, and told to be quiet when I tried to ask questions.

7With me were three other innocent black men who had been on their way to their U-Haul. They were moving into the apartment beneath mine, and I had just bragged to them about how safe the building was. One of these gentlemen got off his knees, still handcuffed, and unlocked the door for the officers to get into the lobby where the two strangers were standing. Instead of thanking or even acknowledging us, they led us out the door past our neighbors, who were all but begging the police in our defense.

8The four of us were put into cars with the two strangers and taken to the precinct station at 165th and Amsterdam. The police automatically linked us, with no questions and no regard for our character or our lives. No consideration was given to where we were going or why. Suppose an ailing relative was waiting upstairs, while I ran out for her medication? Or young children, who’d been told that Daddy was running to the corner store for milk and would be right back? My new neighbors weren’t even allowed to lock their apartment or check on the U-Haul.

9After we were lined up in the station, the younger of the two Hispanic men was identified as an experienced criminal, and drug residue was found in a pocket of the other. I now realize how naive I was to think that the police would then uncuff me, apologize for their mistake, and let me go. Instead, they continued to search my backpack, questioned me, and put me in jail with the criminals.

10The rest of the nearly five-hour ordeal was like a horrible dream. I was handcuffed, strip-searched, taken in and out for questioning. The officers told me that they knew exactly who I was, knew I was in Ragtime, and that in fact they already had the men they wanted.

11How then could they keep me there, or have brought me there in the first place? I was told it was standard procedure. As if the average law-abiding citizen knows what that is and can dispute it. From what I now know, “standard procedure” is something that every citizen, black and white, needs to learn, and fast.

12I felt completely powerless. Why, do you think? Here I was, young, pleasant, and successful, in good physical shape, dressed in clean athletic attire. I was carrying a backpack containing a substantial paycheck and a deposit slip, on my way to the bank. Yet after hours and hours I was sitting at a desk with two officers who not only couldn’t tell me why I was there but seemed determined to find something on me, to the point of making me miss my performance.

13It was because I am a black man!

14I sat in that cell crying silent tears of disappointment and injustice with the realization of how many innocent black men are convicted for no reason. When I was handcuffed, my first instinct had been to pull away out of pure insult and violation as a human being. Thank God I was calm enough to do what they said. When I was thrown in jail with the criminals and strip-searched, I somehow knew to put my pride aside, be quiet, and do exactly what I was told, hating it but coming to terms with the fact that in this situation I was a victim. They had guns!

15Before I was finally let go, exhausted, humiliated, embarrassed, and still in shock, I was led to a room and given a pseudo-apology. I was told that I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. My reply? “I was where I live.”

16Everything I learned growing up in Cincinnati has been shattered. Life will never be the same.

✵ Text Credit: Alton Fitzgerald White. “Rag Time, My Time.” The Nation, November 10, 1999. Copyright © 1999 The Nation. All rights reserved. Used under license.



Using Graphic Organizer 11.1 or 11.2 as a basis, draw a graphic organizer for “My Cellie Was the Father I Never Had.”


GRAPHIC ORGANIZER 11.2 The Structure of “Right Place, Wrong Face”

"The items in the left column of the chart are numbered here for clarity. Items bulleted here are attached to the associated numbered items by lines. Downward arrows connect the bulleted items. 1. Title (Bullet) “Right place, Wrong Face.” 2. Introduction Background (setting) (Bullet) June 1999, Harlem Narrator plays Coalhouse Walker Jr., an African American who experiences the injustice of racism, in Ragtime. 3. Action and tension (Bullet) Narrator on his way to cash his paycheck (Bullet) Notices strange men in his building’s lobby (Bullet) Opens door for police officers (Bullet) Narrator and neighbors (African Americans) arrested; suspects police seek are Hispanic (Bullet) Narrator jailed, searched, repeatedly questioned. 4. Climax (Bullet) Narrator finally released. “I was told that I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. My reply? ’I was where I live.’” 5. Conclusion (Bullet) “I became a real-life Coalhouse Walker.”"






Preview the essay to get an overview of the content and organization.

Make connections by thinking about what the title means.

Read the headnote (if one is provided) for background information about the author and the reading.


Identify the characteristics of a narrative. Be sure you can answer the following questions:

✵ What is the sequence of events? Number them in the margin.

✵ What is the writer’s thesis? Is it stated or implied?

✵ Who are the characters, and what are their relationships to one another?

✵ How does the dialogue reveal character?

✵ What is the conflict, and how is it resolved? How does the writer create tension?

✵ What is the author’s purpose? Who is the intended audience?


Draw a graphic organizer listing the main events of the plot. (Use your graphic organizer for review and study.)

Analyze and evaluate the reading by answering the following questions:

✵ What broader issue is the essay concerned with? That is, what is its theme? Express the theme in a sentence or two. Does the theme follow logically and clearly from the events in the narrative?

✵ Is the resolution of the conflict believable and well explained?

✵ What is your reaction (positive, negative, mixed) to the narration? Explain your reaction in detail.

✵ How objective is the writer? How is the information in the essay influenced by the author’s beliefs and values?

✵ What is the writer’s tone? Describe the tone with two or three adjectives.

✵ What are the writer’s feelings about the incident or events?

✵ What does the writer leave unspoken or unreported? Are any relevant details omitted? If so, why?

✵ What is the lasting merit of the essay?



Apply the questions in the “How Writers Read” box above to the selection “Right Place, Wrong Face.”

Integrate Narration into an Essay

In many of your essays, you will want to use both narration and one or more other patterns of development to support your thesis. For example, although “My Cellie Was the Father I Never Had” is primarily a narrative, it also uses description to present detailed information about the relationship that developed between the author and his prison cellmate. Similarly, “Right Place, Wrong Face” is a narrative that uses cause and effect to explain why the author was detained despite evidence that he was a respectable, law-abiding citizen. Similarly, “On the Outside: First Days of College” is a narrative that also uses cause and effect to show how the author’s upbringing affected her adjustment to college life.

Although most of your college essays will not be primarily narrative, you can use stories — to illustrate a point, clarify an idea, support an argument, or capture readers’ interest — in essays that rely mainly on another pattern of development or use several patterns. Here are a few suggestions for combining narration effectively with other patterns of development:

1. Use a story. Include a story only when it illustrates your main point (or thesis) accurately and well (not just because it’s funny or interesting).

2. Keep the narrative short. Include only the details readers need to understand the events you are describing.

3. Introduce the story with a transitional sentence or clause. It should indicate that you are about to shift to a narrative and make clear the connection between the story and the point it illustrates.

4. Use descriptive language, dialogue, and action. These will make your narrative vivid, lively, and interesting.


A Guided Writing Assignment*


Your Essay Assignment

Write a narrative essay about an experience that had a significant effect on you or that changed your views in some important way. You can choose an experience that

✵ taught you something about yourself

✵ revealed the true character of someone you know

✵ helped you discover a principle to live by

✵ helped you appreciate your ethnic identity

✵ has become a family legend (one that reveals the character of a family member or illustrates a clash of generations or cultures)

✵ explains the personal significance of a particular object

✵ * The writing process is recursive; that is, you may find yourself revising as you draft or prewriting as you revise. This is especially true when writing on a computer. Your writing process may also differ from project to project or from that of your classmates.


1 Select a topic from the list above, or create your own.

Use one or more of the following suggestions to choose an experience to write about:

1. Alone or with another student, list one or more broad topics — for example, Learn about Self, A Principle to Live By, Family Legend — and then brainstorm to come up with specific experiences in your life for each category.

2. Flip through a family photo album or page through videos and photo albums on your phone to remind yourself of events from the past. Other prewriting strategies, like freewriting or questioning, may also help trigger memories of experiences. (Some students may be more inspired by looking at mementos.)

3. Work backward: Think of a principle you live by, an object you value, or a family legend. How did it become so?

After you have chosen your topic, make sure that it is memorable and vivid and that you can develop your main idea into a working thesis.

2 Consider your purpose and audience, and choose a point of view.

Ask yourself these questions:

✵ Will my essay’s purpose be to express myself, inform, or persuade?

✵ Who is my audience? Will readers need any background information to understand my essay? Am I comfortable writing about my experience for this audience?

✵ What point of view best suits my purpose and audience? (In most cases, you will use first person to relate a personal experience.)

3 Gather details about the experience or incident.

Use idea-generating strategies to recollect as many details about the experience or incident as possible:

1. Replay the experience or incident in your mind’s eye. Jot down what you see, hear, smell, and feel — colors, dialogue, sounds, odors, and sensations — and how these details make you feel.

2. Write down the following headings: Scene, Key Actions, Key Participants, Key Lines of Dialogue, Feelings. Then brainstorm ideas for each and list them.

3. Describe the incident or experience to a friend. Have your friend ask you questions as you tell the story. Jot down the details that the telling and questioning helped you recall.

As you gather details for your narrative, be sure to include those that are essential to an effective narrative:

Describe the scene: Include relevant sensory details to allow your readers to feel as if they are there. (Looking at a photograph or video might help.) Choose details that point to or hint at the narrative’s main point, and avoid those that distract readers from the main point.

Include key actions: Choose actions that create tension, build it to a climax, and resolve it. Answer questions like these:

o Why did the experience or incident occur?

o What events led up to it, what was the turning point, and how was it resolved?

o What were its short- and long-term outcomes? What is its significance?

Describe key participants: Concentrate on the appearance and actions of only those people who were directly involved, and include details that help highlight relevant character traits.

Quote key lines of dialogue: Include dialogue that is interesting, revealing, and related to the main point of the narrative. To make sure the dialogue sounds natural, read the lines aloud or ask a friend to do so.

Capture feelings: How did you feel during the incident, how did you reveal your feelings, and how did others react to you? How do you feel about the incident now? What have you learned from the experience?

Use at least two idea-generating strategies, and then work with a classmate to evaluate your ideas.

4 Evaluate your ideas to make sure they describe your experience or incident vividly and meaningfully.

Try these suggestions to help you evaluate your ideas:

Reread everything you have written. (Sometimes reading your notes aloud is helpful.)

Highlight the most relevant material, and cross out any material that does not directly support your main point. Then copy and paste the usable ideas to a new document to consult while drafting.

Collaborate in small groups, taking turns narrating your experience and stating its main point and having classmates tell you

1. how they react to the story

2. what more they need to know about it

3. how effectively the events and details support your main point


5 Focus and place your thesis effectively.

Make the main point of your narrative clear and effective by focusing your thesis. For example, a student who decided to write about a robbery at her family’s home devised the following focused thesis statement for her narrative:


"The example reads, “The silver serving platter, originally owned by my great-grandmother, became our most prized family heirloom after a robbery terrorized our family.” In this sentence, “The silver serving platter” focuses on 1 object, “originally owned by my great-grandmother” explains value, and “became our most prized family heirloom after a robbery terrorized our family” introduces experience and expresses main point.  "

Team up with classmates to test your thesis. Is it clear? Is it interesting? Provide feedback to help your partner focus the thesis more effectively.

Consider the best placement for your thesis. A thesis statement may be placed at the beginning (as in “Right Place, Wrong Face”) or at the end of a narrative, or it may be implied. (Even if you don’t state your thesis explicitly in your essay, having a focused thesis written down can help you craft your narrative.)

(Note: Once you have a focused thesis, you may need to do some additional prewriting, or you may need to revise your thesis as you draft. Return to the steps above as needed.)

6 Choose a narrative sequence.

Organize your narrative. You may use chronological order from beginning to end or present some events using flashbacks or foreshadowing for dramatic effect. To help you determine the best sequence for your narrative, try the following:

1. Write a brief description of each event on an index card. Highlight the card that contains the climax. Experiment with various ways of arranging your details by rearranging the cards.

2. Create an outline or draw a graphic organizer of the experience or incident using Graphic Organizer 11.1 as a model.

3. Create a list of the events, and then cut and paste them to experiment with different sequences.

7 Write a first draft of your narrative essay.

Use the following guidelines to keep your narrative on track:

✵ The introduction should set up the sequence of events. It may also contain your thesis.

✵ The body paragraphs should build tension and follow a clear order of progression. Use transitional words and phrases, such as during, after, and finally, to guide readers. Most narratives use the past tense (“Yolanda discovered the platter …”), but fast-paced, short narratives may use the present (“Yolanda discovers the platter …”). Avoid switching between the two unless the context clearly requires it. Consider whether including a photograph (or a video or audio file if the writing project is presented online) could help engage readers by depicting the setting or a key character.

✵ The conclusion is unlikely to require a summary. Instead, try

— making a final observation about the experience or incident. (Example: “Overall, I learned a lot more about getting along with people than I did about how to prepare fast food.”)

— asking a probing question. (Example: “Although the visit to Nepal was enlightening for me, do the native people really want or need us there?”)

— suggesting a new but related direction of thought. (Example: An essay on racial profiling might conclude by suggesting that police sensitivity training might have changed the outcome of the situation.)

— referring to the beginning of the essay (example: “Right Place, Wrong Face,” para. 16) or restating the thesis in different words (example: “Being Double,” para. 22).


8 Evaluate your draft and revise as necessary.

Use Figure 11.1, “Flowchart for Revising a Narrative Essay,” to evaluate and revise your draft.


FIGURE 11.1 Flowchart for Revising a Narrative Essay

"The information provided is as follows. Question 1: Highlight the sentence(s) that express the main point of your narrative. Is the main point clear? If yes, proceed to Question 2. If no, use this revision strategy: (Bullet)Rework your thesis to make it more explicit. Question 2: Summarize the conflict of your narrative in one brief sentence. Is the conflict clear? Does it relate directly to the main point? If yes, proceed to Question 3. If no, use these revision strategies: (Bullet) Add events and dialogue to clarify or dramatize the conflict. (Bullet) Rework your thesis to make it better relate to the conflict. Question 3: Place an “X” by each important scene, person, or action. Does each clearly relate to both the main point and the conflict? If yes, proceed to Question 4. If no, use this revision strategy: (Bullet) Delete scenes, people, or actions that don’t help you make your main point or establish conflict. Question 4: Place a checkmark by each descriptive word or phrase. Is each important scene, person, or action vividly described? If yes, proceed to Question 5. If no, use these revision strategies: (Bullet) Brainstorm to discover more vivid details. (Bullet) Consider adding dialogue to bring people and events to life. Question 5: Number the major events in chronological order. Is the sequence clear? If you use foreshadowing or flashbacks, is the shift from present to past or future clear? If yes, proceed to Question 6. If no, use these revision strategies: (Bullet)Look for gaps in the sequence, and add any missing events. (Bullet) Consider rearranging the events. (Bullet) Use transitions to clarify the sequence of events. Question 6: Underline the topic sentence of each paragraph. Is each paragraph focused on a separate part of the action? If yes, proceed to Question 7. If no, use these revision strategies: (Bullet) Be sure each paragraph has a topic sentence and supporting details. (See Chapter 6.) (Bullet) Combine closely related paragraphs. (Bullet) Split paragraphs that cover more than one event.  "

"The flowchart continues as follows. Question 7: Highlight the dialogue. Does it sound realistic? Does it directly relate to the conflict? If yes, proceed to Question 8. If no, use these revision strategies: (Bullet)Act out your dialogue, and record what you say. (Bullet) Cut dialogue that does not help you make your main point or add drama. Question 8: Circle each personal pronoun and each verb. Do you use a consistent point of view and verb tense? If yes, proceed to Question 9. If no, use these revision strategies: (Bullet) Revise places where your point of view shifts for no reason. (Bullet) Check for places where the tense changes for no reason, and revise to make it consistent. Question 9: Look at your introduction and conclusion. Do they address each other and the main point? Does the conclusion resolve the conflict? If no, use this revision strategy: (Bullet) Revise your introduction and conclusion. (See chapter 7.) "


9 Edit and proofread your essay.

Refer to Chapter 9 for help with

editing sentences to avoid wordiness, make your verb choices strong and active, and make your sentences clear, varied, and parallel

editing words for tone and diction, connotation, and concrete and specific language

Pay particular attention to dialogue:

✵ Each quotation by a new speaker should start a new paragraph.

✵ Use commas to separate each quotation from the phrase that introduces it unless the quotation is integrated into your sentence. If your sentence ends with a quotation, the period should be inside the quotation marks.


"Example 1: The wildlife refuge guide noted “American crocodiles are an endangered species and must be protected.” In the above sentence, a comma is inserted before the opening quotation mark. Example 2: The wildlife refuge guide noted that, “American crocodiles are an endangered species and must be protected”. In the above sentence, the comma after “that” and the period after the closing quotation mark are deleted. A period is placed before the closing quotation mark."

Readings: Narrative in Action


Being Double

Santiago Quintana

Santiago Quintana wrote this essay for an assignment given by his first-year writing instructor. He had to describe a situation that challenged him and taught him a valuable lesson. As you read the essay, notice how Quintana’s narrative creates conflict and tension and builds to a climax and resolution. Highlight the sections(s) where you think the tension is particularly intense.


The paragraphs in this narrative are numbered 1 through 22.

Paragraph 1: A summer sun shone on the Wisconsin Indian mounds and the grass poked its little blades through my sandaled toes. “College, finally,” said Mom, and her hand fell slowly on my hair. I couldn’t stop the shaking. It was inside me though; outside I was as still as a statue, with a smile frozen on my lips. “Hey, should we leave some stuff in the car and come get it later, or should we all help you carry it to the building?” asked my brother as he held two crates, one with my sheets in it and the other with books. The idea of having my family parade around campus yelling in Spanish, being “those loud Mexicans” I’d seen in American movies, and carrying all my stuff with me sounded terrifying. At the same time, I thought, why not? I didn’t know anyone on campus, so there was no reason for me to be concerned about what others thought of me or my family. In Mexico City, I would have been mortified to be seen walking around high school with my whole family. Then again, that was high school, that was teenage Santiago, and that was Mexico City. I was in college now, in America; it was the time to read more, stop smoking, make friends, and do all those things that I had postponed beyond the imaginary line of “when I go to college.”

In the above paragraph 1, the sentence “A summer sun shone on the Wisconsin Indian mounds and the grass poked its little blades through my sandaled toes.” shows exact details that help readers imagine the scene. The sentence “’College, finally,’ said Mom, and her hand fell slowly on my hair.” is a dialogue with quotations that sound natural and capture the relationship between mother and son. In the latter part of the paragraph, the description of Quintana’s feelings introduces conflict and foreshadows the process he will undergo during his first year in college.

Paragraph 2: With Wisconsin as our final destination, my family and I had been traveling around the Midwest for a week. I spoke the best English, so for the whole trip, I had been translating directions and ordering food for all. In my bilingual high school, I had the top grades in English, and hours watching YouTube videos and standing in front of a mirror had made my

(The sentence continues on the next page.)

The above paragraph 2 provides background about his English skills.


The narrative continues from the previous page.

Paragraph 2: accent one of the least recognizable among my friends. Now, in America, all that obsession with language was paying off. My lighter skin and over rehearsed accent baffled many a waiter and cab driver when they discovered I was Mexican. My English was the reason I had chosen and been able to get into an American college. Now, here I was, my accent and lexicon ready to be put to the test.

In the above paragraph, “lighter skin and over rehearsed accent” shows exact details that help readers imagine the writer’s appearance and language. In the later part of paragraph 2, Quintana anticipates the challenge of putting his English skills to work and builds tension.

Paragraph 3: The room was larger than I thought it would be, and my roommate quieter. My parents and I set the room up and left for coffee.

Paragraph 4: “Your roommate seems nice,” said my mom.

Paragraph 5: “Yeah, a little quiet,” I said, “and way younger than me.”

Paragraph 6: “Everyone will be younger than you here,” said my dad, “and you didn’t really talk much either. You’re usually so talkative.”

Paragraph 7: “He’s nervous dad,” said my brother.

Paragraph 8: “I’m not. It’s just, I don’t know, weird. I don’t know what to say to them,” I said.

Paragraph 9: “Them? As in?” asked my dad.

Paragraph 10: “As in Americans. I don’t know what to say to them, what they think is funny, and what is too much. You know my humor; I can go way overboard sometimes, and I don’t want to mess up,” I said.

Paragraph 11: “I see. Well, I’m sure it’ll come with time. You’ll get used to it,” said my mom.

The dialogues in the above paragraphs 4 to 11 help build tension.

Paragraph 12: After my parents left I sat on my dorm bed for two or three hours and had three cups of tea. I then decided to go out for a walk and try to talk to people. I closed the door behind me and was greeted by a long, empty hallway in muted colors with doors on both sides. I walked quietly down the hallway to the stairs without meeting anyone. I went down the stairs and out the back door of the building. The air was more humid than I had ever felt, and the sun burnt my skin. I eventually found my way to the Office of International Education, where I saw a crowd of similarly terrified students standing at the door. I approached them, not sure how I would introduce myself, or what excuse I’d have for talking to them. In the end, I didn’t need an excuse. One of the students recognized me from orientation and called out to me. “Hey! You’re from Mexico aren’t you?”

In the above paragraph 12, “After” and “then” are transitions of time that help sequence events. The phrases “long, empty hallway in muted colors” and “a crowd of similarly terrified students” are exact details that help readers visualize situation. The dialogue “Hey! You’re from Mexico aren’t you?” helps build tension.

Paragraph 13: “Yeah,” I answered.

In the above paragraph 13, the dialogue “Yeah” helps build tension.

The narrative continues on the next page.


"The narrative continues from the previous page.

Paragraph 14: “Come, I’m from EI Salvador. We were just talking about how different it is to learn English in class and have to speak it all the time with other Americans and also in class. I mean, you haven’t had class yet, but you’ll see. It’s different,” he said.

Paragraph 15: “I’ve already gotten lost like three times because I couldn’t understand directions,” said Amy, from Japan.

Paragraph 16: “It’s the intonation. It’s all wrong,” said Matej from the Czech Republic.

Paragraph 17: “Also, they go too fast.” All of the international students had stories of struggling with English, and they all had theories for the difference.

All the above paragraphs 14 to 17 contain dialogues in quotes that reinforce Santiago’s struggle and build tension.

Paragraph 18: Finally, the time came for my first class —Mythology. I nervously entered the classroom, took a seat, and with pen and notebook ready, prepared to take notes. As I looked around, I noticed that there were only about ten students in the class. This only added to my nervousness; I would not be able to hide. I knew college in America would be difficult, but I could not have ever imagined how difficult it would actually be. Before class, I had made myself the promise that I would ask at least one question, or participate at least once. By the end of class, I had, at the most, one sentence scribbled on the page, and I had participated much more than once. I had asked the professor to explain terms and phrases, and sometimes even to repeat himself. I knew this was annoying for the rest of the students, and I apologized profusely through my blush. The professor assured me that it was fine, that he’d rather have us know the first half of the material really well, than go through the whole of it with only a vague inkling of what we were talking about. After he let us out of class, I stopped another student, a junior, and asked him to repeat what the homework assignment was, because I hadn’t understood the professor. He smiled and said I didn’t need to apologize, that it was only natural I would struggle with the language for the first week or so.

In the above paragraph 18, the phrases “Finally,” “Before class,” “By the end of class,” and “After” are transitions of time that help sequence events. The sentence, “I nervously entered the classroom, took a seat, and with pen and notebook ready, prepared to take notes,” provides a detailed description and helps build tension.

Paragraph 19: At the end of class, I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. Wanting to be alone, I went back to my room, lay down for a bit, and then made some tea. It was early afternoon now, and I had another class after lunch. I tried to relax. My head thumped from the adrenaline, and my heart hurt from the loneliness. My roommate came in and asked if I was doing fine and if I wanted to have lunch with him and

(The sentence continues on the next page.)


The narrative continues from the previous page.

Paragraph 19: his friends. “Friends, friends, how can he have friends already?” I thought, “We’ve been here for less than a week and you call them friends.” I said yes anyway. I knew I had to get out and walk it off, so to speak. Lunch was equally stressful, but being a less formal situation, I couldn’t raise my hand and ask my roommate’s friends to define terms and explain phrases and repeat themselves. So I just smiled and let most of the conversation go without participating. One of my roommate’s friends must have seen confusion written on my face for she took her food and sat across from me and started talking to me. I asked her to go slowly, and told her that I was just getting used to English and that I was sorry for being a nuisance. She laughed. “The first thing you need to do is stop apologizing. We are not cold, heartless people. Well, most of us aren’t. We understand. I can enunciate more clearly and speak more slowly, and it won’t be a problem. Tell me, you went to high school in Mexico City?”

In the above paragraph 19, “At the end of class,” and “So” are transitions of time that help sequence events. The sentence, “My head thumped from the adrenaline, and my heart hurt from the loneliness,” provides a detailed description and helps build tension.

Paragraph 20: I was hesitant at first and thought about every word and whether it was appropriate. My new friend was incredibly patient with me, and she made me feel fine about my English. I don’t know when or how, but eventually I was laughing at her jokes and the others joined in on our conversation, and I stopped thinking about every word I said. The words seemed to fall effortlessly out of my mouth, already strung into phrases. I told them about Mexico City and how crazy everything is, and no it’s not nearly as dangerous as reporters make it seem in the news. I learned about their home towns, their interests, and what they did for fun. I was thinking about the conversation rather than the words. I forgot myself and only then did the English that I knew finally make an appearance.

In the above paragraph 20, the phrases “at first” and “but eventually” are transitions of time that help sequence events. The sentence, “The words seemed to fall effortlessly out of my mouth, already strung into phrases,” provides exact details that help readers understand Quintana’s experience. The latter part of this paragraph shows the climax.

Paragraph 21: It wasn’t permanent though. It still took me a while to switch from translating to talking. I still struggled in class for the rest of the month, but the moments when I forgot myself and flowed with the conversation began happening more often. They happened when I didn’t apologize for my “bad English,” when I didn’t talk myself down, when I knew myself capable, and when I trusted the years and years of English lessons behind me, rather than searching for words like papers in a file cabinet.

(The narrative continues on the next page.)


The narrative continues from the previous page.

Paragraph 22: Now, I am about to start my third year of college. I have increased my vocabulary and improved my style immensely. Nevertheless, there is always a week or two at the beginning of school when I have to tell myself to find that confidence again, to not apologize, and to trust my knowledge. Sometimes I still apologize and struggle when choosing words, but it has become easier and easier to find those moments when I forget it’s me talking, and I just let the talking happen.

In the above paragraph 22, the words “Now,” “Nevertheless,” and “Sometimes” are transitions that highlight what Quintana has learned — that he must relearn confidence each year.

Analyzing the Writer’s Technique

1. Thesis Evaluate the strength of Quintana’s thesis. How clear and specific is it?

2. Details How effectively does Quintana use details to reinforce his main point and to help readers visualize key people and places? Did you feel more details were needed? If so, where? Which details, if any, would you suggest he add or delete?

3. Conflict and Tension How does Quintana establish conflict and create tension?

4. Foreshadowing Where does Quintana use foreshadowing? How effective is it?

5. Title, Introduction, and Conclusion Evaluate the title, introduction, and conclusion of the essay.

Thinking Critically about Narration

1. Tone Describe Quintana’s tone. What words convey his attitude or perspective? Does the tone change over the course of the essay? If so, how? Does it seem appropriate for the topic?

2. Connotation What connotation does the phrase “those loud Mexicans” (para. 1) have in the context of the paragraph?

3. Fact and Opinion In paragraph 2, Quintana writes, “My English was the reason I had chosen and been able to get into an American college.” Is this statement a fact or an opinion? How do you know?

Responding to the Reading

1. Reaction Quintana mentions one experience with other international students, but he ends up bonding with a group of Americans. Why do you think this happened?

2. Discussion International students have a presence on most college campuses in America. What can American colleges do to better meet the needs of these students?

3. Journal Write a journal entry about someone you befriended when others may have brushed him or her aside. How did you reach out to the individual, and what were the results?

4. Essay Quintana felt lonely and anxious as he began college in a new country with a new language. Write a narrative essay about a time when you felt like an outsider, lonely and anxious about making friends and fitting in.


Chop Suey

Ira Sukrungruang

Ira Sukrungruang, a professor at the University of South Florida, writes in many different genres: essays, stories, poetry, and memoir. His memoir Southside Buddhist won the 2015 American Book Award. The author calls “Chop Suey,” which follows, a “flash essay” because it captures a moment in memory that he feels compelled to record in writing; it captures the first time Sukrungruang saw his mother bowl and recognized her power. Before reading, preview the selection and make connections by thinking of a time when you experienced or witnessed someone making an unfair assumption about you or your culture. While reading, consider how Sukrungruang presents the conflict and creates tension as well as how he presents his relationship with his mother.


Highlighting Revealing Details

As you read, notice and highlight the words the author uses to describe his mother and his attitude toward her. When you finish reading, notice how the language changes as the essay progresses.


1My mother was a champion bowler in Thailand. This was not what I knew of her. I knew only her expectations of me to be the perfect Thai boy. I knew her distaste for blonde American women she feared would seduce her son. I knew her distrust of the world she found herself in, a world of white faces and mackerel in a can. There were many things I didn’t know about my mother when I was ten. She was what she was supposed to be. My mother.

2At El-Mar Bowling Alley, I wanted to show her what I could do with the pins. I had bowled once before, at Dan Braun’s birthday party. There, I had rolled the ball off the bumpers, knocking the pins over in a thunderous crash. I liked the sound of a bowling alley. I felt in control of the weather, the rumble of the ball on the wood floor like the coming of a storm, and the hollow explosion of the pins, distant lightning. At the bowling alley, men swore and smoked and drank.

3My mother wore a light pink polo, jeans, and a golf visor. She put on a lot of powder to cover up the acne she got at 50. She poured Vapex, a strong smelling vapor rub, into her handkerchief, and covered her nose, complaining of the haze of smoke that floated over the lanes. My mother was the only woman in the place. We were the only non-white patrons.

4I told her to watch me. I told her I was good. I set up, took sloppy and uneven steps, and lobbed my orange ball onto the lane with a loud thud. This time there were no bumpers. My ball veered straight for the gutter.

5My mother said to try again. I did, and for the next nine frames, not one ball hit one pin. Embarrassed, I sat next to her. I put my head on her shoulder. She patted it for a while and said bowling wasn’t an easy game.

6My mother rose from her chair and said she wanted to try. She changed her shoes. She picked a ball from the rack, one splattered with colors. When she was ready, she lined herself up to the pins, the ball at eye level. In five concise steps, she brought the ball back, dipped her knees, and released it smoothly, as if her hand was an extension of the floor. The ball started on the right side of the lane and curled into the center. Strike.

7She bowled again and knocked down more pins. She told me about her nearly perfect game, how in Thailand she was unbeatable.

8I listened, amazed that my mother could bowl a 200, that she was good at something beyond what mothers were supposed to be good at, like cooking and punishing and sewing. I clapped. I said she should stop being a mother and become a bowler.

9As she changed her shoes, a man with dark hair and a mustache approached our lane. In one hand he had a cigarette and a beer. He kept looking back at his buddies a few lanes over, all huddling and whispering. I stood beside my mother, wary of any stranger. My mother’s smile disappeared. She rose off the chair.

10“Hi,” said the man.

11My mother nodded.

12“My friends over there,” he pointed behind him, “well, we would like to thank you.” His mustache twitched.

13My mother pulled me closer to her leg, hugging her purse to her chest.

14He began to talk slower, over-enunciating his words, repeating again. “We … would … like … to … thank …”

15I tugged on my mother’s arm, but she stood frozen.

16“… you … for … making … a … good … chop … suey. You people make good food.”

17The man looked back again, toasted his beer at his friends, laughing smoke from his lips.

18My mother grabbed my hand and took one step toward the man. In that instant, I saw in her face the same resolve she had when she spanked, the same resolve when she scolded. In that instant, I thought my mother was going to hit the man. And for a moment, I thought the man saw the same thing in her eyes, and his smile disappeared from his face. Quickly, she smiled — too bright, too large — and said, “You’re welcome.”

Understanding the Reading

1. Reasons Why did the author’s mother distrust the world she lived in?

2. Thesis What is Sukrungruang’s thesis? Is it stated or implied?

3. Details What detail in paragraph 1 compels the young boy to want to show his mother what he “could do with pins”?

4. Details Contrast the description of how the boy bowled with the description of how his mother bowled.

Analyzing the Writer’s Technique

1. Opening and Conclusion How does the concluding paragraph connect with the opening paragraph?

2. Description How does Sukrungruang use description and other strategies to make his experience vivid and engaging. Cite several examples.

3. Patterns of Organization Identify at least two other patterns of organization Sukrungruang uses and explain the benefit of including these other patterns.

4. Details How well do you think Sukrungruang describes his mother? What details do you find most effective? Are there any aspects of his mother about which you would like to learn more?

Thinking Critically

1. Tone Describe the tone of Sukrungruang’s essay. Highlight words or phrases that reveal his attitude.

2. Inference What can readers infer about what the American man in the bowling alley thinks of Sukrungruang’s mother?

3. Fact or Opinion In paragraph 1, the author writes: “She was what she was supposed to be. My mother.” Is this statement a fact or an opinion?

4. Discussion Discuss why Sukrungruang describes his mother’s smile as “too bright, too large.” What does this description convey about his mother’s attitude toward the man?

5. Title Consider the title in relation to the essay as a whole. Does it effectively capture the main idea? Why or why not?

Responding to the Reading

1. Discussion Why does the author make such a point of the fact that his mother was what she was supposed to be? What are mothers supposed to be? Does this type of mindset or these expectations present problems in our society today? Why or why not?

2. Journal Try to put yourself in the shoes of Sukrungruang’s mother. How would the encounter with the man at the bowling alley have made you feel? How do you think you would have responded? What do you learn from this encounter, and how could it possibly affect your interaction with others who are different from you? Write a journal entry in which you speculate about these questions.

3. Essay Sukrungruang’s trip with his mom to the bowling alley was a turning point in his relationship with his mother and possibly his life. His experiences there gave him a new respect for his mother and also a taste of the rudeness and disrespect that people can have for those who are different. Write a narrative essay about an event in your life that made a lasting impression on you. Be sure to follow the basic structure of a narrative essay (see Graphic Organizer 11.1) and include dialogue, description, and action verbs.

Working Together

Ira Sukrungruang learned several things about his mom when they went to the bowling alley. Working in small groups, create a motto that captures the essence of what Sukrungruang learned that day. You may focus on one or all of the things he learned. Be prepared to share your motto and explain the significance of it to the class.


On the Outside: First Days of College

Tara Westover

The daughter of survivalist Mormon parents, Tara Westover grew up in a junkyard in the mountains of Idaho and attended school for the very first time when she was seventeen years old as a college freshman. Having received no formal education as a child — the home-schooling she received was haphazard at best — she was nonetheless accepted to college, successfully completed undergraduate and graduate degrees, and wrote a memoir that almost instantly became a bestseller. This reading is an excerpt from that memoir, Educated (2018). Before reading, preview and make connections by thinking about your first day of elementary school, middle school, high school, or college. While reading, look for and highlight the various conflicts the author experiences.


Working with Unfamiliar Vocabulary

In the reading itself, expect to find unfamiliar vocabulary (such as civic humanism, para. 10) and references to unfamiliar names, events, and concepts (such as Hume and Cicero, 9; Scottish Enlightenment, 10; and “Sons of Perdition,” 11). When you encounter such unfamiliar terms, highlight them and keep reading. Research them after you finish, and then reread the paragraphs that contain them once you understand their meaning in order to gain a fuller understanding of the selection.

See sections 1a, 2b, and 2c in the Just-in-Time Guide for other useful suggestions for coping with unfamiliar words and subjects.

1I got on the bus going the wrong direction. By the time I’d corrected my mistake, the lecture was nearly finished. I stood awkwardly in the back until the professor, a thin woman with delicate features, motioned for me to take the only available seat, which was near the front. I sat down, feeling the weight of everyone’s eyes. The course was on Shakespeare, and I’d chosen it because I’d heard of Shakespeare and thought that was a good sign. But now I was here, I realized I knew nothing about him. It was a word I’d heard, that was all.

2When the bell rang, the professor approached my desk. “You don’t belong here,” she said.

3I stared at her, confused. Of course I didn’t belong, but how did she know? I was on the verge of confessing the whole thing — that I’d never gone to school, that I hadn’t really met the requirements to graduate — when she added, “This class is for seniors.”

4“There are classes for seniors?” I said.

5She rolled her eyes as if I were trying to be funny. “This is 382. You should be in 110.”

6It took most of the walk across campus before I understood what she’d said, then I checked my course schedule and, for the first time, noticed the numbers next to the course names.

7I went to the registrar’s office, where I was told that every freshman-level course was full. What I should do, they said, was check online every few hours and join if someone dropped. By the end of the week, I’d managed to squeeze into introductory courses in English, American history, music, and religion, but I was stuck in a junior-level course on art in Western Civilization.

8Freshman English was taught by a cheerful woman in her late twenties who kept talking about something called the “essay form,” which, she assured us, we had learned in high school.

9My next class, American history, was held in an auditorium named for the prophet Joseph Smith. I’d thought American history would be easy because Dad had taught us about the Founding Fathers — I knew all about Washington, Jefferson, Madison. But the professor barely mentioned them at all, and instead talked about “philosophical underpinnings” and the writings of Cicero and Hume, names I’d never heard.

10In the first lecture, we were told that the next class would begin with a quiz on the readings. For two days I tried to wrestle meaning form the textbook’s dense passages, but terms like “civic humanism” and “the Scottish Enlightenment” dotted the page like black holes, sucking all the other words into them. I took the quiz and missed every question.

11That failure sat uneasily in my mind. It was the first indication of whether I would be okay, whether whatever I had in my head by way of education was enough. After the quiz, the answer seemed clear: it was not enough. On realizing this, I might have resented my upbringing but I didn’t. My loyalty to my father had increased in proportion to the miles between us. On the mountain, I could rebel. But here, in this loud, bright place, surrounded by gentiles disguised as saints, I clung to every truth, every doctrine he had given me. Doctors were Sons of Perdition. Homeschooling was a commandment from the Lord.

12Failing a quiz did nothing to undermine my new devotion to an old creed, but a lecture on Western art did.

13The classroom was bright when I arrived, the morning sun pouring in warmly through a high wall of windows. I chose a seat next to a girl in a high-necked blouse. Her name was Vanessa. “We should stick together,” she said. “I think we’re the only freshmen in the whole class.”

14The lecture began when an old man with small eyes and a sharp nose shuttered the windows. He flipped a switch and a slide projector filled the room with white light. The image was of a painting. The professor discussed the composition, the brushstrokes, the history. Then he moved to the next painting, and the next and the next.

15Then the projector showed a peculiar image, of a man in a faded hat and overcoat. Behind him loomed a concrete wall. He held a small paper near his face but he wasn’t looking at it. He was looking at us.

16I opened the picture book I’d purchased for the class so I could take a closer look. Something was written under the image in italics but I couldn’t understand it. It had one of those black-hole words, right in the middle, devouring the rest. I’d seen other students ask questions, so I raised my hand.

17The professor called on me, and I read the sentence aloud. When I came to the word, I paused. “I don’t know this word,” I said. “What does it mean?”

18There was silence. Not a hush, not a muting of the noise, but utter, almost violent silence. No papers shuffled, no pencils scratched.

19The professor’s lips tightened. “Thanks for that,” he said, then returned to his notes.

20I scarcely moved for the rest of the lecture. I stared at my shoes, wondering what had happened, and why, whenever I looked up, there was always someone staring at me as if I was a freak. Of course I was a freak, and I knew it, but I didn’t understand how they knew it.

21When the bell rang, Vanessa shoved her notebook into her pack. Then she paused and said, “You shouldn’t make fun of that. It’s not a joke.” She walked away before I could reply.

22I stayed in my seat until everyone had gone, pretending the zipper on my coat was stuck so I could avoid looking anyone in the eye. Then I went straight to the computer lab to look up the word “Holocaust.”

23I don’t know how long I sat there reading about it, but at some point I’d read enough. I leaned back and stared at the ceiling. I suppose I was in shock, but whether it was the shock of learning about something horrific, or the shock of learning about my own ignorance, I’m not sure. I do remember imagining for a moment, not the camps, not the pits or chambers of gas, but my mother’s face. A wave of emotion took me, a feeling so intense, so unfamiliar, I wasn’t sure what it was. It made me want to shout at her, at my own mother, and that frightened me.

24I searched my memories. In some ways the word “Holocaust” wasn’t wholly unfamiliar. Perhaps Mother had taught me about it, when we were picking rosehips or tincturing hawthorn. I did seem to have a vague knowledge that Jews had been killed somewhere, long ago. But I’d thought it was a small conflict, like the Boston Massacre, which Dad talked about a lot, in which half a dozen people had been martyred by a tyrannical government. To have misunderstood it on this scale — five versus six million — seemed impossible.

25I found Vanessa before the next lecture and apologized for the joke. I didn’t explain, because I couldn’t explain. I just said I was sorry and that I wouldn’t do it again. To keep that promise, I didn’t raise my hand for the rest of the semester.

Understanding the Reading

1. Reasons What one event confirmed Westover’s belief that her education prior to college was not enough to enable her to be successful?

2. Thesis What is Westover’s thesis?

3. Detail In paragraph 11, what do you find out about Westover’s relationship to her father?

4. Vocabulary Explain the meaning of each of the following words as it is used in the reading: verge (para. 3), underpinnings (9), gentiles (11), tyrannical (24). Refer to your dictionary as needed.

Analyzing the Writer’s Technique

1. Language In paragraph 10, Westover describes “civic humanism” and “the Scottish Enlightenment” as “black holes, sucking all the other words into them.” What does she mean by this description?

2. Patterns of Organization Identify at least two other patterns of organization Westover uses and explain the benefit of including these other patterns.

3. Climax What is the climax of the story, and when and how is tension resolved?

4. Conclusion Is Westover’s final paragraph an effective conclusion? Why or why not?

Thinking Critically

1. Tone Based on the language the author uses and the style of her writing, what do you think the tone of the essay is? Explain your answer.

2. Inference What can you infer about the religious beliefs of the father that had been passed down to the children (para. 11)?

3. Fact or Opinion In paragraph 20, Westover writes, “Of course I was a freak, and I knew it, but I didn’t understand how they knew it.” Is this statement fact or opinion?

4. Visual Westover did not include a photograph with her essay. If you were choosing a photograph for this reading, what would it look like? How would it contribute to the overall impression of the narrative?

Responding to the Reading

1. Discussion Why do you think that Westover paints such an unflattering picture of her mother as her teacher (para. 23)? Do you think Westover was justified in being mad at her? Why do you think she was frightened when she had intense feelings toward her mother?

2. Journal Westover’s first day of school definitely went badly wrong. Write a journal entry in which you discuss a memorable first day of school, and be sure to explain why you remember it so well.

3. Essay Have you ever been in a place where you felt that you did not belong or where you felt so different that people stared at you “as if you were a freak”? Brainstorm to recollect the details of this incident, and then write a narrative essay about this memorable but uncomfortable time in your life. Be sure to follow the basic structure of a narrative essay (see Graphic Organizer 11.1) and include dialogue, description, and action verbs as Westover does.

Working Together

Working in small groups, discuss the challenges freshmen typically face when they set foot on their college campus for freshman orientation or their first days of classes. Write a tip sheet entitled “What You Need to Know for the First Day of College.”

Apply Your Skills: Additional Essay Assignments

Write a narrative on one of the topics listed below, using the elements and techniques of narration you learned in this chapter. Depending on the topic you choose, you may need to do research to gather support for your ideas.

To Express Your Ideas

1. Write a narrative about an incident or experience that you see differently now than you did when it happened.

2. In “Right Place, Wrong Face,” Alton Fitzgerald White says he always believed that the police “were supposed to serve and protect” him (para. 2). After the incident he describes in the essay, he feels otherwise. Write a narrative describing an incident involving police officers or law enforcement agents that you may have experienced, observed, or read about. Did the incident change your attitude about police or law enforcement or confirm opinions you already held?

To Inform Your Reader

3. In “On the Outside: First Days of College,” Westover suffers because she is unprepared for her new collegiate environment. Write an essay informing your reader about ways to learn about what is expected of students in college.

To Persuade Your Reader

4. At one time, America was described as a melting pot, where newcomers shed their cultural identity in favor of becoming an American. Critics of this loss of cultural identity would prefer to think of America as a tossed salad in which all the “ingredients” retain their distinctive identities. Write an essay taking a position on whether immigrants to the United States should attempt to blend in or strive to retain their culture, language, and other unique cultural characteristics. Support your position, drawing on your own experiences, the experiences of friends and family members, or the experience of the mother and son in “Chop Suey.”

5. In “Right Place, Wrong Face,” White takes a position on racial profiling. Write an essay persuading your reader to take a particular stand on an issue of your choice. Use a story from your experience to support your position or tell how you arrived at it.

Cases Using Narration

6. Write a paper for a sociology course on the advantages of an urban, suburban, or rural lifestyle. Support some of your main points with events and examples from your own experiences.

7. Write a draft of the presentation you will give as the new human resource director of a nursing care facility in charge of training new employees. You plan to hold your first orientation session next week, and you want to emphasize the importance of teamwork and communication by telling related stories from your previous job experiences.



Both “Right Place, Wrong Face” and “Chop Suey” describe the harsh treatment of someone seen as an outcast — a person who does not deserve respect or courtesy.

Analyzing the Readings

1. Compare the situations of each disrespected person. Then consider how each one responded to those who treated him harshly.

2. Compare the social issues that each author addresses in the narrative of his experience.

Essay Idea

Write an essay describing a situation in which you feel you or someone you know was treated as an outcast. Describe the background to the situation, the treatment received, and the response to the treatment.