Writing a Narrative Argument
Many times, writers feel very strongly about a controversial issue, but they don't feel that a traditional argument essay or "position paper" is the most effective means to convey their message. Instead, they feel that they can argue more effectively by telling a story (a narrative) or several, brief related stories (anecdotes or vignettes).
Four essays in our course reader could be considered "narrative arguments," and we will discuss these in class:
Maya Angelou, "Graduation"
Louise Erdrich, "Adam"
Mike Rose, "I Just Wanna Be Average"
E.B. White, "Once More to the Lake"
We will pay particular attention, when discussing these essays, to the argumentative issue, to the writer's position, and to the narrative itself--to its structure, pacing, and emphasis; to its rendering of people and places; and to it use of details, style, tone, and language which help to make the argument.
For this essay, pick an experience you have had, one that involves some sort of controversy. Then, craft a narrative essay which tells the story of your experience while at the same time making clear your position on the controversial issue. (We will spend some time in class discussing what will and will not make a "good" topic for this essay.)
The final draft of your essay should be at least two (2) pages long but no longer than four (4) pages, double-spaced and word-processed, with 1.0”-1.25” margins, and a 12-point font (Arial or Times New Roman). No title page is needed; put your name, the course, my name, and the date in the upper left-hand corner of the first page (see our handbook for MLA style).
We will work on the initial steps of this essay together as a class. A first draft of this essay is due on ____________________; a revised draft of this essay is due at your individual conference scheduled for ____________________. The final draft and portfolio are due during the week of ____________________. Please remember that not having a draft ready at these times will result in a diminished essay grade.
Picking an Experience:
Consider the "major areas" of your life--at home, at school, at work, at church, in the community.
Consider "negative" experiences you've had--those that upset you, humiliated you, or angered you. You might then "argue" against these things happening again, that something should be done, changed, or abolished.
Also consider "positive" experiences you've had--those that made you laugh, made you happy, or reaffirmed in you something you strongly believe. You might then "argue" that these things are important, that they are useful and necessary, or that something should be continued, be created, be reinstated.
Beware of "common" personal narrative topics that might have already been done too much: someone injured or killed in a drunk-driving accident, someone committing suicide, a wonderful hunting experience, etc. If you choose one of these kinds of topics, be sure you have your own unique angle or approach to it.
The experience you are writing about should have involved you in some way, either as a participant or as a first-hand observer.
Your position (thesis) on the controversial issue should be clearly understood, but you don't have to state it explicitly--it can be implied.
You will need to carefully consider your intended audience--it need not be an "academic" one this time. Spend time deciding who you are writing to, where your essay might appear, and then clearly define and describe your chosen audience in your reflection letter.
When you hand in the "final" draft of this essay in the portfolio, you will also include all of the work you did in the process of writing this essay: your reading notes, your prewriting, your drafts, and your peer review notes. Finally, you should include a cover letter in your portfolio. This letter should "introduce" the writing in your portfolio and reflect on your experiences writing this essay. You might discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your writing process or your essay; you might also discuss what problems you encountered as you wrote this essay and how you solved them.
Your essay will be evaluated through a consideration of the following questions:
Does the essay effectively introduce the event to be narrated?
Does the essay include vivid details of key actions, people, and places?
Can the reader clearly understand the writer's "position," whether it is explicit or implied?
Are the main points of action organized as a narrative--i.e. chronological?
Is the essay coherent--i.e. does it "flow" well, are the transitions clear and appropriate?
Does the essay end in a strong and satisfactory way?
Is the essay "correct" in terms of its usage of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and mechanics?