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How to Write a Narrative Eyewitness Essay


A narrative eyewitness essay tells of an incident the author has experienced or witnessed. It is nonfiction in which the author's experience is the primary source. It should draw readers into the story, and give them a sense of the meaning of the incident that the author describes.

Who, What, When, Where, Why?

As with other forms of narrative nonfiction, it is important that your essay answer the “five W” questions. Ask yourself, before beginning to write: Who am I writing about? What happened? When? Where? And why is this story important? What meaning do I want to get across to my readers? Choose a story that you witnessed from beginning to end, and about which you can answer the “five W” questions from your own experience.

Audience and Purpose

Though your narrative eyewitness essay does not need to contain an explicit thesis statement, there must be a point to the story. You can directly state the point at the beginning or end of your essay, or you may leave it to the reader to infer. Either way, the point of the essay should be clear. Your audience is composed of people who did not experience the event you are narrating. Give enough information that someone who was not present can follow your account.

Structure

The structure of your essay should be chronological: that is, starting at one point in time and going to another. It should be first-person; you may use the words “I” and “me.” It should also contain the elements of narratiive: characters, setting, rising action, climax and resolution. Though this is a nonfiction essay and must adhere to the facts, you may nonetheless choose where to start the story, where to end it and what to focus on. If nothing happens in your essay, ask yourself: Why do I want to tell this story? Is there a better story that I could tell?

Details That Do More Than One Thing

Each detail in a narrative needs to be doing sufficient work. One way to think about this is to ask, for each detail: Is this doing more than one thing? That is, in addition to giving your reader a sense of what something looked like, sounded like, smelled like, tasted like or felt like, does it also give your reader some additional information? Is this detail necessary for your reader to understand the event you are describing? Does it tell your reader something about the setting or the people you’re describing, or does it symbolize some larger point that your essay is making? Any detail that is just a detail, that doesn’t give any additional information, should be cut.

About the Author

Based in Chicago, Adam Jefferys has been writing since 2007. He teaches college writing and literature, and has tutored students in ESL. He holds a Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing, and is currently completing a PhD in English Studies.

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