What makes a good story differs from person to person. Each reader has their own idea of what is a good story, and having a good narrative does not necessarily mean that you will get good marks for it. So for the high school student – what is a good narrative?
The answer is a criteria that must be fulfilled to satisfy what the Board of Studies considers to be a good responsive text:
- Having a ‘sophisticated’ response means using T.E.EM (s) with flair and logic.
- Engaging with a classic narrative or having an structured narrative.
- Successfully conveys what you are trying to tell the reader without confusion or ambiguity
- engage with question and theme provided by marker
The irony here is that ‘originality’ is likely going to lower your marks unless you have perfect control over your level of language. Overtly written pieces that often explore very sensitive issues need powerful, specific language to describe them. Trying to use low tier (band) diction, and T.E.EM (s) to describe very complex and powerful emotions and events will only result in cliche` and a mundane sense of melodrama.
Examples of themes students are NOT advised to do are:
- Anything sexually explicit
- violence (bloody)
- Death (especially if ‘you’ die)
- Great Trauma (such as holocaust)
- Huge narratives (Copying Lord of the Ring in 40 min will not work)
- Obvious and obnoxious cliches (overcoming fear of X, realizing you were wrong all along, etc)
What you should write about are things that you are intimately familiar with, which through clever use of language you can describe in your own ‘words’. Examples of these are
- Cultural Events
- Personal Experiences
- Travel Experiences
- Complications and Resolutions
- Lessons learned in life created from anecdotes (actually happened – not a fantasy one)
So what to write about?
The structure of any (1000 word) narrative is typically as follow:
Where, When, Who, What – conveys very clearly the context, the setting and the foreshadowing of an complication – this foreshadowing builds tension and implores the audience to continue reading.
Why, How, – leading up to a climax where the resolution is foreshadowed or achieved through an epiphany. Note that logical development is essential in this part of the narrative.
Logically concludes the narrative, preferably with a punchline that engages with the theme prescribed by the examiner.
Of course you are free to pursue any narrative convention you wish, from a episodic narrative to one involving some kind of median bi-section with flashbacks and flash forwards. However, the golden rule remains that there must be a conclusion of sorts, and this resolution must engage with the thematic outlines of your prescribed writing.
On Using T.E.EM (s)
So you’ve got a great idea – now is the time to write it. At what point can you look at your writing and say to yourself – “Mmm yes I think that will do nicely?” A straight forward and overgeneralized answer would be to consider how many T.E.EM (s) you have used, and at what level have you used them. Refer to my master list for a collection of T.E.EM (s) you may wish to employ. Below are some examples.
Narrative Example with no T.E.EM (s):
An refugee in Afghanistan looks around at his destroyed home. He feels a sense of loss and indignant anger. This anger he does not know who to direct to. To the US? Or to the Taliban?
Basic Visual T.E.EM Usage: imagery, personification, simile
Rahat surveys the wreckage around him. Smoke pours from the ruins like some ghostly visage. Small sprouts of fire still danced where the impact had struck; shattering the mud hut like a giant fist crushing a helpless muffin.
Advanced T.E.EM Usage – allusion, visual imagery, metaphor, simile
Cold tendrils of dread grasp at Rahat’s sinking heart. His home lay in shambles, a blasted crater where moments ago it was wholesome and filled with the laughter of his family. His head swam and his eyes glazed over. His mouth opened and closed like a fish gasping for water.
Elaborate T.E.EM Usage – Complex Sentences, truncated clauses, alliteration, metaphors, synaesthesia, juxtaposition and onomatopoeia
Rahat’s world erupted into red hot splinters and flaking snowy ash. The oily Afghan sun blazed mercilessly but Rahat felt only the stabbing of icy slivers in his spine. A metallic taste filled his mouth, his patched tongue satiated in its own blood. His mind raced, his body frozen, blood thumped like a staccato drum against his temples…
As you can see, the descriptions become much more powerful and effective with appropriate techniques that are relevant to the scene being described. One good indication of writing is composite techniques – synaethesia (taste, smell, sound, touch, internal sensations) mixed with supportive techniques like alliteration, assonance – and carried forward with a repetitive motif element.
See Area of Studies for Creative Writing Samples.