Workshop > Develop your Narrative
Oct 04

Develop your Narrative

Developing your narrative is crucial to creating a stand-out college essay. You've probably written "thesis-driven" essays before. Maybe you've written some personal essays as well. Or a short story. Or an article of some kind. They all have something in common. They all have a narrative arc.

Your personal essay needs to have some sort of arc to it. What is the story-line you want to follow?
In a research paper, or thesis-driven essay, the narrative usually follows a pretty formulaic arc: make a statement that you are going to defend/argue for (your thesis statement); state broad, widely accepted background information; progress through increasingly specific research or knowledge; address counter-arguments; and finally, present your thesis again. This process works to keep a writer on track, presenting their argument in a way that makes it seem unassailable. Alas, these essays can be excruciatingly boring. The truly great informational writers have a way to spin a narrative that reads like a story--follows different characters or timelines, makes clear connections that you may not consider. Check out this XP from the Storytelling I workshop, and think about what Kurt Vonnegut has to say about the shapes of stories. Two of the more common shapes are explained below:

One of the best ways to create a solid narrative is to first plan it out first. An outline or a rough draft is a great place to start. Think about the overall point of your essay. What do you want to prove (about yourself)? How are you going to carry your reader through your story, connect that story (with strong reasoning and logic), and prove that you are, indeed, exceptional.

(by mayaeilam.
From Visually.)
Activity: Create an outline, or free-write that contains the bare-bones of your narrative structure, and what information you'll include at what point. Include your "persona thesis" and how you will demonstrate it. Focus on the connections you want the reader to make (between your story and your thesis; between the events and your traits) and map out what you'll need to include to help them. Think about the shape of your story--not just a list of information. There are countless ways to create your story. If you aren't sure of your inital approach, create two or three outlines and compare them.

Remember that many application essays have a relatively low word count (650 words on the common app). So get right to the good stuff!

Submit your outline(s) as a response to this XP. If you prefer, you can do your outline by hand and upload a picture of it as part of your response.
Feedback: Respond to at least one other XP response here, and let them know what you think of their narrative. Is there anything that doesn't seem to connect? Do you need more information? Less information (something seems unnecessary or out of place)? Were you hooked into their "personal thesis," or opening lines?