Prewriting the Narrative Essay
Composition 101

For Wednesday, we'll begin the process of writing the narrative essay by doing some Prewriting, the first stage in the three part process of writing:  Prewriting, Writing, and Rewriting.  

Many people try to skip over this Prewriting section, but it's impossible.  It's just possible to do very little of it, or try to do it all in your head instead of on paper.  But using paper (or a word-processor) can give you a chance to get things organized.  People might not notice that a story told orally is loosely constructed, but they'll be able to tell if a written one was. Developing some strategies for prewriting can make a dramatic improvement in the quality of the organization and development of your papers.  

The most important thing to keep in mind is that it's not writing; it's just exploring and mapping what you explore, and what you write there may or may not appear in the final draft.  You want to collect as much as you can and sort it out later.  Don't try to sort as you collect.  That would be like sorting the berries by size as you pick them.  Sort them later!  Pick them now!  Don't worry about whether it's a good idea to include it or a bad one; you can decide that later.  

Within the Prewriting stage, some say there are other stages.  We begin by choosing a topic, then we collect information on it, then we begin to focus, and then we put things in order.  Once we've ordered things, we're ready to draft, or do the writing.  

Here are some strategies for developing ideas about your narrative.  They're strategies for collecting information and ideas.  Each is demonstrated in a sample here.  

Listing or Brainstorming:  Listing is simply making a list of the things that come to mind when you consider the subject you're interested in.  If you're telling a story about the first day of school, you might write your teacher's name, the name of the school, other classmates, where you lived, your sister's name, the kind of car you had.  Maybe you remember a book or a tablet or the type of shirt or hat that a classmate was wearing.  Whether they seem relevant or not, write them down.  

Clustering:  Clustering is very similar to Listing, but it's more graphical, and harder to do on a word processor without special software.  Writers begin by writing a key word in the middle of a page, perhaps with a circle around it.  Then they'll draw a line out and write a word that's related.  From there they might another word at the same level or draw a line from the second word to something else that's related.  

Freewriting:  Freewriting is a kind of slap-dash writing, where you force yourself to keep going on a topic without thinking much about it.  It's very loose writing, even more loose than a diary entry might be.  The trick is to keep driving on.  Give yourself a time limit--say ten minutes--and write like crazy on the topic you've picked.  Don't let yourself stop or cross out or tell yourself that it's stupid.  Again, don't edit as you go.  Look at my example!  It wanders all over!  But I was surprised in writing it that I got to thinking about what the town must have been like then.  It's something I know now, but I didn't know then.  


Once you have collected a lot of information, you have to begin to sort it out, bring it into focus.  I like this stage because I can see something taking shape.  I don't like to begin to draft an essay until I've got at least a simple outline of what I plan to do in what order.  So I usually make a brief listing of words that I think will keep me on track.  Then I write the draft.  But not before!  

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