Schreiner University, ENGL 1301: Rhetoric & Composition—Narrative Essay

Below appears an authoritative version of the guidelines for the Narrative Essay assignment (Narr), superseding any previously published information regarding the Narr.


One of the primary ways, perhaps the only real way, in which people make sense of the world around them is to tell stories. Stories are powerfully illustrative and explanatory; there is a reason that the various religions of the world—and even the dedicated atheists—use them to get their points across. Storytelling is a fundamental human activity, perhaps one connected to sentience more broadly, and so practice in it is practice in the very stuff that makes people people. Since much of the liberal arts idea rests upon helping people to find and be more themselves, it makes sense that the core coursework of a liberal arts curriculum would attend to storytelling—to which end the Narr is directed.

Completing the Narr will require students to do a number of things:

Information about each follows, along with a copy of the relevant grading rubric and notes.

Identify a Topic

One of the many adages about writing is to “write what you know.” In many cases, the adage serves as an exhortation to learn more; learning more means knowing more, and knowing more opens up more about which to write—and writing itself can lead to knowing, since research writing exists to develop and disseminate new knowledge. For storytelling, though, writing the known typically involves writers taking the events of their lives and interpreting them in some way. That is, writing from experience generally leads to better writing than writing only from supposition.

For the Narr, student writers are asked to focus on a single incident in their lives, which they will relate to their readers. Ideally, the event will take place in the same place detailed in the Desc. (Since setting is an important part of narrative art, working from an already-developed setting—which the Desc should have yielded—suggests itself as a good idea.) But since many writers already began to narrate in the Desc, the story should be a different one than has already been presented; that is, if the story appeared in the Desc, it should not appear again in the Narr.

Those writers who wish to write a story about another place may do so, although they are expected to clear their topics with the instructor before proceeding. This may be done through email or in person.

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Determine a Core Message for the Story

In themselves, stories are fine things. Telling them helps people understand themselves. Hearing them helps people understand others. Reading them does, as well, as several studies indicate, including:

  • Bal, P. Matthijs, and Martijn Veltkamp. “How Does Fiction Reading Influence Empathy? An Experimental Investigation on the Role of Emotional Transportation.” PLoS One, 30 January 2013, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0055341.
  • Djikic, Mana, Keith Oatley, and Minhea C. Moldoveanu. “Reading Other Minds: Effects of Literature on Empathy.” Scientific Study of Literature, vol. 3, no. 1, 1 January 2013, pp. 28-47, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1075/ssol.3.1.06dji.
  • Johnson, Dan R. “Transportation into a Story Increases Empathy, Prosocial Behavior, and Perceptual Bias toward Fearful Expressions.” Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 52, no. 2, January 2012, pp.150-55, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2011.10.005.
  • Kidd, David Comer, and Emanuele Castano. “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind.” Science, vol. 342, no. 6156, 18 October 2013, pp. 377-80, doi: 10.1126/science.1239918.

One of the marks of the best stories, though, and of the best works of any art form is that they can support ends other than themselves. That is, they convey a message other than the events of the story. Æsop’s Fables offer one of the readier examples of such works, overtly expressing morals that the stories illustrate; the Parables in the New Testament function similarly. Other works of literature are less overt in their didacticism, although they nonetheless put their points across clearly.

The Narr should work towards a similar end. The story told should not be the end in itself; it should support some other end, conveying a core message to readers. While there is much to say for doing so without openly and overtly announcing what message readers should take away from the story, there is enough precedent for making direct assertions to that end that doing so must be accepted as valid. Whether or not the message is presented plainly, however, writers should take care that they frame their narratives in such ways as support that message for a particular audience—in this case, a general reading public of the United States of the early twenty-first century. (Again, readers of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are good models of such readers.)

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Compose the Narr PV

Taken together, the two items noted above constitute a sequence of prewriting that should guide student thinking about the topic and the desired approach to it. That is, the aforementioned do not produce deliverable writing in themselves, but they lead towards the first deliverable for the project: the Narr PV.

The Narr PV should be a reasonably complete story from the writer’s life, one that conveys its selected core message to a primary reader belonging to the general public of the United States in the early twenty-first century. That is, readers should be able to read the Narr PV and get a clear idea of the point of the story being told without having to ask the writer additional questions (although wanting to ask the writer additional questions is often a sign of engaging writing). As with all good stories, there needs to be some kind of conflict between a protagonist (likely—but not necessarily—a past version of the writer) and one or more antagonists (and antagonists do not need to be “bad” or even people, simply oppositional forces), and there needs to be a clear, well described setting.

The Narr PV should be approximately 1,300 words in length (+/- 25), exclusive of heading (student name, instructor name, course/section, and date of composition), title, and any necessary end-citations (see Note 1, below). It should be typed in black, double-spaced, 12-point Garamond, Georgia, or Times New Roman font on letter-sized pages; the heading should be flush left, the title centered horizontally, and the body flush left with the first lines of paragraphs indented one-half inch from the left margin. Page numbers should be in the margin at the top of the page on the right margin, preceded by the writer’s surname, and in the same typeface as the rest of the paper.

Each writer should bring a Narr PV that represents the writer’s best work to class as a typed, physical copy on 3 October 2016. Class that day will be taken up with peer review, during which other writers will read and comment upon the content and organization (not the mechanics) of the paper, making suggestions for improvement and indicating places where the paper works well—and explaining the comments so that the underlying principles can be used in future writing.

As peer review progresses, the instructor will call for individual papers, checking to see if they are present as requested and whether or not, in general terms, they do what they need to do. Time constraints in class will prevent detailed reading by the instructor during peer review, so specific comments will be few, but the setting does allow for a holistic sense of each paper’s direction to be developed. That sense will be noted as the score for a minor assignment grade; the score will conform to the grading scale in Table 2 of the course syllabus. (Obviously, those students who do not arrive in class with their Narr PVs in hand will not be able to receive any helpful score for the assignment. Note the “Late Work” section of the course syllabus.)

Although a reasonably complete paper is expected, it is understood that the Narr PV is a work in progress. Changes to it are therefore also expected; they should not be viewed as failures, but seized upon as opportunities to improve writing techniques and to enhance the connections between writer and topic and writer and readers. Also, see Note 2, below.

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Revise the Narr PV into the Narr RV

After peer review, writers should take their papers, review the comments made by their readers, and incorporate those found useful into their ongoing work. That is, they should work to improve their stories’ narrative flow and characterization, highlighting the core message and ensuring that their papers encourage reading rather than interfering with it. The result will become the Narr RV.

The Narr RV should (still) be a reasonably complete story from the writer’s life, one that conveys its selected core message to a primary reader belonging to the general public of the United States in the early twenty-first century. That is, readers should (still) be able to read the Narr RV and get a clear idea of the point of the story being told without having to ask the writer additional questions (although wanting to ask the writer additional questions is often a sign of engaging writing). Readers still have to be able to follow along easily and well. As with all good stories, there still needs to be some kind of conflict between a protagonist (likely—but not necessarily—a past version of the writer) and one or more antagonists (and antagonists do not need to be “bad” or even people, simply oppositional forces), and there still needs to be a clear, well described setting.

The Narr RV should be approximately 1,300 words in length (+/- 25), exclusive of heading (student name, instructor name, course/section, and date of composition), title, and any necessary end-citations (see Note 1, below). It should be typed in black, double-spaced, 12-point Garamond, Georgia, or Times New Roman font on letter-sized pages; the heading should be flush left, the title centered horizontally, and the body flush left with the first lines of paragraphs indented one-half inch from the left margin. Page numbers should be in the margin at the top of the page on the right margin, preceded by the writer’s surname, and in the same typeface as the rest of the paper.

Each writer should submit a typed, electronic copy of the Narr RV to the instructor through Schreiner One before the beginning of class time on 7 October 2016. The copy needs to be in .doc, .docx, or .rtf format so that it can be opened and read by the instructor; other file formats potentially present difficulties in that regard, and a paper that cannot be read cannot receive a useful score or commentary. It will be assessed according to the grading rubric below for a minor assignment grade, and comments will be offered on a copy thereof that are meant to guide further improvements to the work. (Obviously, those students who do not submit the Narr RV in timely fashion should not expect to receive any helpful score or commentary for the assignment. Note the “Late Work” section of the course syllabus.)

Although a reasonably complete paper is expected, it is understood that the Narr RV is still a work in progress. Some changes to it are therefore also expected; they should not be viewed as failures, but seized upon as more opportunities to improve writing techniques further and to enhance the connections between writer and topic and writer and readers yet more. Also, again, see Note 2, below.

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Revise the Narr RV into the Narr FV

After receiving instructor feedback, writers should take their papers, review the comments made by their reader, and incorporate those found useful into their ongoing work. That is, they should work to improve their stories’ narrative flow and characterization, highlighting the core message and ensuring that their papers encourage reading rather than interfering with it. The result will become the Narr FV.

The Narr FV should (still) be a reasonably complete story from the writer’s life, one that conveys its selected core message to a primary reader belonging to the general public of the United States in the early twenty-first century. That is, readers should (still) be able to read the Narr FV and get a clear idea of the point of the story being told without having to ask the writer additional questions (although wanting to ask the writer additional questions is often a sign of engaging writing). Again, readers have to be able to follow along easily and well. As with all good stories, there still needs to be some kind of conflict between a protagonist (likely—but not necessarily—a past version of the writer) and one or more antagonists (and antagonists do not need to be “bad” or even people, simply oppositional forces), and there even still needs to be a clear, well described setting.

The Narr FV should be approximately 1,300 words in length (+/- 25), exclusive of heading (student name, instructor name, course/section, and date of composition), title, and any necessary end-citations (see Note 1, below). It should be typed in black, double-spaced, 12-point Garamond, Georgia, or Times New Roman font on letter-sized pages; the heading should be flush left, the title centered horizontally, and the body flush left with the first lines of paragraphs indented one-half inch from the left margin. Page numbers should be in the margin at the top of the page on the right margin, preceded by the writer’s surname, and in the same typeface as the rest of the paper.

Each writer should submit a typed, electronic copy of the Narr FV to the instructor through Schreiner One before the beginning of class time on 14 October 2016. The copy needs to be in .doc, .docx, or .rtf format so that it can be opened and read by the instructor; other file formats potentially present difficulties in that regard, and a paper that cannot be read cannot receive a useful score or commentary. It will be assessed according to the grading rubric below as a major assignment worth 15 % of the total course grade, and comments will be offered on a copy thereof that are meant to guide further improvements to the writer’s technique. (Please note the “Late Work” and “Revisions” sections of the course syllabus.)

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Grading Rubric

Assessment of the Narr PV is discussed above. The rubric that will be applied to the Narr RV and the Narr FV appears here: ENGL 1301 Narr Rubric.

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Notes

  1. Because the Narr is to be written about an event in the writer’s life, no recourse to outside materials is expected. If any outside materials are used in the essay, however, they must be attested in accordance with the guidelines expressed by the Modern Language Association of America. Failure to do so may be regarded as an academic integrity violation, with potentially adverse effects.
  2. Consulting with the instructor and/or with the Writing Center throughout the process of composition is likely to be of benefit. No specific grade item will attach itself to doing so, but past practice suggests that those writers who do seek such input and attention generate far better writing than those who do not (which, for the grade-conscious, translates to higher scores).
  3. Samples of narratives in the same vein as the Narr are available, including

    The formatting and length on display will necessarily differ from those required of students in the course. Even so, they offer useful models to follow during the process of composition and should be consulted to that end.

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Geoffrey B. Elliott
28 September 2016

Updated to include new sample and to normalize examples’ links.

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