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Common Problems with
Narrative Essays

Subject

____    The topic is too broad ("my childhood," "our championship season").

____    The event doesn't seem important to the writer.

____    The essay either trivializes a major event or overstates a minor one (this second case can be effective if handled humorously).


Narrative Structure of the Event

____    The event sprawls over too much time or space.

____    The event is not clearly framed for the reader; it should begin or end at another point.

____    The narrative drags in places, or skips over important episodes too quickly.

____    The narrative lacks dramatic tension or suspense.

____    The dialogue is not dramatic and uninteresting; it does not move the action forward.


Anecdotes and Scenes

____    Are either too brief or much too extended.

____    Do not seem to relate well to the event, are poorly chosen or badly framed.

____    The essay lacks telling details to build a dominant impression.

____    The writer has not selected relevant details, or includes too many trivial, irrelevant ones.

____    People do not seem believable in their actions or dialogue.


Significance to the Writer

____    There is no apparent significance.

____    The significance is heavy-handed, inflated, oversimplified, or sentimentalized; the writer moralizes about the event.

____    The significance is trite and overly generalized ("I learned what friendship is all about"; "I learned not to trust anybody").

____    The essay is not very thoughtful in exploring the event's significance; the writer may come off as a hero or a blameless victim.

____    The essay has not given the reader a vivid impression of the narrator.