Essay 1


Length: 4-5 pg., double-spaced.

This assignment asks you to reflect on a central aspect of your identity. Individuals define their identities in varying ways—in terms of individual personality traits, core values, personal goals and commitments. In addition, people often define themselves through membership in family, ethnic, national, religious or political groups.

Through exploring a central aspect of your identity, write an essay that narrates and reflects on your experience(s) to connect with issues that speak to a wider audience. In essays, it is often effective to ground your discussion of identity in such experience(s) as:

  • An important event(s) or turning point(s) in your life
  • A meaningful experience within a close family or personal relationship
  • A family or personal ritual or "rite of passage"
  • A meaningful artifact (photo, sentimental object, family heirloom or keepsake)
  • A special or "sacred" place or meaningful journey.

Reflect carefully on the voice that you adopt as a writer. Don't assume that first-person narration is your only option; you can write about yourself in the third person, if you wish. Be vivid and descriptive in your prose; use the tools of fiction–character, setting and dialogue. Shape your narrative to convey clearly a perspective or central idea.

The challenge of this assignment is to shape and frame the raw material of experience and memory for a reading public. Using the lens of experience, you have a rich opportunity as a writer to communicate with readers about a wide variety of topics. Think about how best to reach your intended audience(s).

For the revision, you should use at least one outside source as an epigraph quotation under your title. (See Shepherd and Gregg essays for examples of epigraphs.) We also will review epigraph usage in class. You may also use outside sources within the essay.

Narrative Writing Strategies

  1. Remember that the power of your essay comes from the vivid and insightful narration of your own unique experience.
  2. Check for "compressed experience" ("telling" over "showing"), i.e., too many stories told in shorthand. Which story(ies) do you want to tell?
  3. Expand your essay through narrative layering, attention to the "tools of fiction": character, setting, and dialogue. Layering strategies can include:
    • detailed physical descriptions of setting
    • physical description of yourself as a character
    • inclusion of relevant backstory; anticipate questions readers may have about your experience. What do readers need to know to understand your experience?
    • Use of dialogue and interior monologue. Writers often portray internal conflict through the juxtaposition of dialogue with interior monologue. (Dialogue should be on separate lines for separate speakers. Interior monologue usually appears in italics.)
    • creative use of time in narration (e.g.: simple flashback/flashforward, multiple flashback/flashforwards). Be sure to transition so that your reader can follow the narrative.
  4. Identify your argument, i.e., what are your claims about your experience? If you say that an event "changed my life", that’s a very strong claim. You need to show the reader how your life changed or modify the claim.
  5. Check for proportionality; the most important parts of the narrative should usually occupy the most space.
  6. Change 50% of: your "being" verbs to action verbs, passive verbs to active verbs.
  7. Check for "breaks in voice" in your essay. Sometimes, these changes are planned and desirable. However, other times "breaks in voice" occur because of breaks in a writing pattern or uncertainty as to theme or argument.
  8. Read your intro and conclusion together as "bookends" of the piece. If you identify similar problems in each (e.g.: fuzzy language, thematic confusion), check for this issue throughout the essay. Identify the relation between the two: Does your essay have a circular style? Does the conclusion show movement from the introduction? Does the conclusion promote reflection or action? Watch for rushed or clichéd conclusions!
  9. Check your title / subtitle. How well does it attract the reader and serve as a preview of your piece? Include an epigraph quote(s) under the title if you find an appropriate one.


Draft 1 – Due Between Sessions 5 and 6

Length: 5 typed pg. (First version should be at least 4 pages; revisions should be 5 pages.) Use Times New Roman 12 point, double-spaced. Name your electronic files with your last name and essay number and version (e.g.: Brown, E1V1).

When handing in, include a letter describing the strong points and areas for improvement in the essay.

Workshop – Session 6

Essay 1 workshop instructions (PDF)

Revision – Due Between Sessions 18 and 19

This should include a new cover letter describing revision changes. Bold any changes that you make in revision. Revised essays should have at least 250 words that differ from (or are added to) the first version. Essays and cover letters should be in separate files.