Dr. Kristi Siegel
Assistant Professor
English Department
Mount Mary College

I dwell in Possibility---
A fairer House than Prose--
More numerous for Windows--
Superior--for Doors--

Of Chambers as the Cedars--
Impregnable of Eye--
And for an Everlasting Roof.
The Gambrels of the Sky--

Of Visitors--the fairest--
For Occupation--This--
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise--
               --Emily Dickinson

                                      Personal Memory

For your first paper, you will write about 3-5 pages (typed) on a personal memory.  When you choose your personal memory,  I'd suggest selecting a moment from your childhood or at least a moment that you can write about comfortably.  You might not have enough emotional distance from a recent memory to write about it effectively.  When re-creating your memory, be sure to appeal your reader's five senses.  Also, remember that your reader can only know your experience from what you write; make sure you don't leave out important details and/or background information.

If you choose to write about a character, again, I would suggest writing about someone about whom you can be objective.  It is very difficult, for example, not to get sentimental or emotional when you write about your own child or the guy you just fell in love with or your girlfriend who just totaled your car.

For either your personal memory or the character sketch, use a specific incident and select vivid details.  You cannot re-create a long memory or tell about person's entire life in two pages.  Focus your aim narrowly; you will write better.

General comments regarding character/narrative papers.  These comments represent common pitfalls that occur in Paper no. 1:

1) While it may seem that writing a narrative about one's self or about another character is just telling a story, you still must provide a thesis. Every good essay, story, book, article, etc., has a point; the author might not take a hammer out and beat you over the head with it but there is a central idea that is being advanced. When I told you the Kippi story, I also explained how I would need to select a thesis and then shape the events of my narrative accordingly.

2) Most of you chose stories or wrote about people you know very well. While every detail might be very clear in your head, it's important to realize that your reader needs lots of details and explanation to understand what you know so well. Try to have someone totally unacquainted with the character or personal experience you describe "test" your paper to see if you've left out important details, background information, and/or transition.

3) A good essay gives details. Rather than writing generally about your life or your character's life try to use dialogue (to liven up the story's pacing), and specific anecdotes, and examples. Remember that we read for the details. Without the use of vivid details, dialogue, examples, etc., your reader will lose interest. Also, if you generalize, you will be forced to also become repetitive. Once you stated your general truth, you've stated it. Nothing is duller than hearing the same idea expressed over and over.

4) Read your sentences aloud slowly to catch unclear or awkward sentence structures (preferably wait a couple days after you've finished writing; you'll catch mistakes far more easily).

5) Your main idea or thesis should be introduced early. Don't wait until the final paragraph to suddenly come up with a point and then launch into a sermon. The dominant idea of your paper should emerge naturally and be developed throughout your paper.

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