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Writing Program at New College

Assignments - How Am I Connected?

(Michael's version. I use this in WAC 101, ENG 101, ENG 102, and ENG 105, modifying accordingly).

We have emphasized the importance of finding a direction for inquiry and writing that is grounded in your interests. Not only do we believe that you will be motivated to do your best work when you are focused on something that is “real” to you, the chances are also good that you will have a decent store of prior knowledge from which to begin your research. It may also be that the issue you have chosen to pursue is based on specific life experience; the issue impacts you, your life, or perhaps the lives of friends, family, and neighbors. Your interest, in other words, is the result of a material connection to the issue.

This assignment asks you to write a narrative – a story – describing your history or relationship to the issue you have chosen to research (approx. 1000-1250). Your audience for this assignment is made up of your classmates and your instructor. Your goal is to use narrative as a way to demonstrate your connection to the issue. 

Generating Ideas for Your Essay

The following questions and prompts are meant to help you focus your thinking and get some raw material for your narrative. We recommend you write for 10 minutes in response to each question or prompt. If you work diligently, you will likely produce the rough material that you can use to build your narrative 

  • When did you first become aware of this issue?
  • Did you learn about it first hand? Through news outlets? Through film or fiction? Through conversation with others?
  • Can you remember other details about when and where you gained this awareness?
  • As concisely as you can, explain why you think the issue is important.
  • Are there specific life events that demonstrated the importance of the issue to you?
  • Do you remember specific conversations you have had with friends, family, or others about the issue? Summarize them or write them down in as much detail as possible.
  • Has your relationship to the issue changed over time? For example, has it become more important to you? Why? Less important? Again, why?
  • Do you think about the issue differently than you once did? How can you account for your change in perspective?

 For some inspiration, read some of the short essay at the “This I Believe” project hosted by National Public Writers. Searching by theme might be the easiest way to find the kinds of essays you’d like to read. Many of the essays recount life-changing experiences. Read and discuss a few to see what they have to teach us about capturing our own experiences in writing.

Structuring Your Narrative

You have the freedom to structure your narrative however you like. In fact, you might decide to do something other than a traditional prose narrative. How about a video? A web document? 

This freedom can be a bit intimidating, and so we want to offer some advice about structuring your narrative. Here are some of the most familiar narrative structures:

1. Chronological narration. Many stories are told from a beginning to an end. They move forward in time chronologically, over a matter of hours, days, years, etc. Sometimes there are big leaps in the narrative, and sometimes narration proceeds carefully in great details from moment to moment. Usually, there is a combination of “slowing down” and “speeding up” the narrative in a chronologically told story. Build your narrative around events as they play out over time.

2. Flashing back from the current moment: Many stories begin in the present, and jump back in time to one, two, three, or many moments in the past. Often, such flashback strategies move back and forth from present to past. In this way, a writer is able to convey much information about how her or his perspective has shifted with the passage of time.

3. Fragmented narrative. Postmodern narrative strategies often challenge readers by moving around in time, shifting perspective, including multiple voices, and generally leaving such dramatic disconnection between moments in the narrative that a great deal of the meaning is implied or created through stark juxtapositions of ideas, voices, and other elements of story. Writers approaching powerful experiences and ideas that boggle the mind through their complexity or intensity (either for good or ill) often write fragmented narratives as a way to perform the difficulty of fitting experience into the confines of traditional storytelling.

A successful response to this assignment will:

  • Provide a clear explanation of the issue and its importance to the writer.
  • Clearly communicate the life experience or events that “connect” the writer the issue he or she has chosen to research.
  • Include rich details about people, places, and events that contributed to or were involved in the writer’s connection to the issue at hand.
  • Employ narrative strategies to engage the reader: conventions of storytelling such as descriptive writing, characterization, non-fiction plot, dialogue, flashbacks, etc.
  • Demonstrate a recursive writing process that that includes invention, drafting, and revision.
  • Exhibit effective editing and proofreading skills.

Writing Program