composition appeals to one of humankind's basic instincts, the impulse to share stories.
Sometimes the aim of the story-teller is simply to entertain, to provide a moment of escape from the business
of the day or the horrors of the night, but sometimes the aim of the story-teller is to instruct, to help others in
their understanding of something. The best part of teaching in this way is that our listeners' natural resistance
to heeding the words of others is low and they are not always aware that they are being taught anything until
it's too late – we've got them.
The skills needed to narrate a story well are not entirely the same as the skills needed to write a good essay.
Some wonderful short fiction writers are not particularly good essayists and vice versa. Still, it is useful to
look at those elements that make up a good narrative and know how to apply what we learn toward making
our essays as dramatic as possible whenever that is appropriate.
Review, also, the elements of the
, as the personal essay and the narrative essay have much in
The ability to describe something convincingly will serve a writer well in any kind of essay situation. The
most important thing to remember is that
your job as writer is to show, not tell.
If you say that the tree is
beautiful, your readers are put on the defensive: "Wait a minute," they think. "We'll be the judge of that!
Show us a beautiful tree and we'll believe." Do not rely, then, on adjectives that attempt to characterize a
Lovely, exciting, interesting
– these are all useful adjectives in casual speech or when we're
pointing to something that is lovely, etc., but in careful writing they don't do much for us; in fact, they sound
Let nouns and verbs do the work of description for you. With nouns, your readers will see; with verbs, they
will feel. In the following paragraph, taken from George Orwell's famous anti-imperialist essay, "Shooting an
Elephant," see how the act of shooting the elephant delivers immense emotional impact. What adjectives
would you expect to find in a paragraph about an elephant? big? grey? loud? enormous? Do you find them
here? Watch the verbs, instead. Notice, too, another truth about description: when time is fleeting, slow down
the prose. See how long the few seconds of the shooting can take in this paragraph. You can read the entire
text of George Orwell's story by clicking
, and you can read additional essays by this famous author of
Nineteen Eighty Four
"The Political Writings of George Orwell."
When I pulled the trigger I did not hear the bang or feel the kick–one never does when a shot
goes home–but I heard the devilish roar of glee that went up from the crowd. In that instant, in
too short a time, one would have thought, even for the bullet to get there, a mysterious, terrible