Friday, May 24, 2013

Writing Narrative Compositions for IGCSE and AS Exams

Nardvark's English Language exams are coming up, which include the daunting task of writing a composition. 

Are you looking for help with your IGCSE or AS English? I can help you. Click here for more info.

Nardvark's first obstacle is understanding the difference between what they mean by "descriptive" and "narrative" writing.

Always a pal, the Nerdvark explains: 

Descriptive: They don't want you to tell a story, just describe something using lots of imagery, and appealing to all five senses.  

  • If it helps, imagine you're sitting or standing in one place, and describe everything that you see/hear/smell/feel/taste.  
  • You can pretend it is part of a longer story or a novel, guide book, etc if you think it is bizarre to just be describing something for no reason.  
  • More on DESCRIPTIVE WRITING coming up in a future blog post.  For now, if you like, look here for tips on using imagery.
Play Spot the Kitty on Android for free!

Narrative: They want you to tell a story.  A story needs certain elements:

  • Plot - think of it as conflict, which is usually labeled "Man vs. [something]" ... "Man vs. Man", for example, The Dark Knight is Batman vs. The Joker. "Man vs. Nature", for example Twister is Bill and Jo Harding vs. a big tornado.  "Man vs. Self", for example The Lion King is Simba vs himself as he struggles to come to terms with his place as the king of pride rock.  "Man vs. Society", for example Mockingjay, Katniss Everdeen vs. the dystopian society she lives in.  "Man vs. Machine", for example I, Robot, short stories with various protagonists vs. various robots.  Learn more about conflict at Wikipedia. Alternately, you could think of the plot as a problem and a solution.
  • Characters - A short story usually has only one or two.  Develop them with visual detail and thought or action to show personality.
  • Setting - A short story takes place somewhere. Develop the setting using imagery.
  • Dialogue - Bring your story to life with some characters talking to each other, or by having your main character thinking to him/herself (internal monologue.)  
  • Show, don't tell.  Reading a story should be like experiencing a moment.  Here's a tip - imagine that you have a magical camera on your shoulder, as you live through the events of the story.  The magical camera can pick up everything, not just video and audio, but even smells, tastes, tactile images and feelings, too.  Write down everything that the magical camera records.  Oh, but delete the boring bits. 
Let's have a look at an example.

On Nardvark's composition test, he chose the narrative.  First he read the question carefully so he would not screw up, and then did a quick plan:
Nardvark's prewriting and plan.

Now, here's Nardvark's story.  

Giant Anteaters from Mars
It was a typical Saturday.  I rolled out of bed at the crack of noon and got to gaming.  My tummy started rumbling so hard that I thought the tremors would shake my laptop right off it.  I realised I’d have to go to Megamart and get some doughnuts and Hi-C.  
As I passed, children dropped their tricycles and ran into their houses crying.  “Mommy, it has a long nose and a pointy horn!  What is it?”
I arrived at the shop and held the door open for a woman with handfuls of carrier bags.  She took several steps back, a horrified look on her face.
“Ma’am,” I said.
She gulped.
Shrugging, I entered the Megamart, heading straight to the bakery aisle.  The other shoppers scattered, leaving a mess of aromatic baked goods in their wake.  I selected a dozen assorted doughnuts.  That would keep me going for the day.
Next I would need some beverages.  As I reached the fizzy-drinks cooler, I heard a scream of terror.  I didn’t think much of it, since there was usually a lot of screaming going on around me.  A short, fat guy with a pointed horn usually has that effect on people.  I started filling my basket with bubbly drinks in various fruity flavours.
When I turned toward the checkout counters, contemplating whether to use the self-checkouts or try my luck with an actual person, I was horrified by what I saw.
Something was eating the customers.
Shoppers were running about like marbles in a bucket, with panicked faces.  One skater boy, his baggy sweatshirt torn down the middle, ran right past me shouting, “Yo, dude, a giant anteater thing with a long tongue! It’s eating everyone, OMG!”
Not wanting to be eaten, I dropped my basket and ran for the door.  Just outside, however, hovered a bus-sized beat-up craft covered in red dust – Mars! 
Just then I saw it: a fat, green bald thing with no ears, eyes, or nose; just two tall antennae and a long tube protruding from its head.  With its slick yellow tongue, it was grabbing the screaming shoppers like they were ants.
There are many things about the Nardvark that nobody knows.  One is that I, too, have a long tongue.  I realised that only  I could stop the Giant Anteater from Mars from eating any more of my neighbours.
The next time his tongue came out, I stuck mine out.  Our tongues got hopelessly tangled, and he turned towards me wailing.  I rammed my horn right between his feelers.
The people of Megamart cheered, “Oh, Nardvark, you’re my hero!” 
I instantly became the subject of many tweets and instagrams.  I was great.

Nard vs GAFM

Not including the title, Nardvark wrote 447 words; perfect for IGCSEs but you'd need to add a few hundred more words for AS.  You will notice that there are no errors in this story. That is because Nardvark made sure he had time in his hour to revise and edit his work.

For more on the five steps of the writing process, which you should always follow, click here.

Finally, Nardvark's composition is ready to hand in.  It will be sealed in an envelope and sent overseas for marking.  Click here to find out more about how this paper will be marked.

Thanks for reading.  If you're tired from all that studying, why not take a study break? Written by K.I. Borrowman