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Model Narratives

Model Narratives

Author: Mackenzie W

Identify the narrative elements, language, and techniques used in sample narratives.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hi, everyone. I'm Mackenzie, and today we're learning about model narratives. Have you ever taken the time to appreciate the work of a truly excellent author? In this tutorial, we'll learn how to analyze narratives by looking at sample narratives written by Mark Twain and Zitkala-Sa. We'll also contrast to these two sample narratives.

We'll begin our analysis by looking at an excerpt of a narrative written by Mark Twain from a piece called Chapters from My Autobiography. Sometimes when we approach writing, especially narratives, it's helpful for us to have a little background information about the author so we know where the author is coming from before we read the piece. While you read this excerpt, keep in mind that Mark Twain is a famous American author from the late 1800s. He's known typically for his fiction. And he's also known for using wit and humor in his writing. Keep that in mind while you read this piece.

Take a moment to pause the video and read the excerpt. Then we'll analyze the excerpt using the rhetorical situation and elements of narrative.

To analyze this narrative, we'll first think about the rhetorical situation. Let's first think about this author's purpose. Why did Mark Twain write this particular narrative? It seems as though, based on the fact that this is an autobiography, that he wrote this narrative in order to not only entertain his readers, but also to record elements from his own life. Now we think about the audience. We may decide that he wrote this for his fiction readers.

Now we think about the context, which is related to the fact that this is an autobiography or nonfiction. The context here is related to the fact that Mark Twain typically writes fiction. And this piece is a little different because it is autobiographical. He is writing something from his own life, although he is using some of the same elements that he uses in his fiction in order to write his own personal narratives.

Now that we know that this is an autobiography, the topic gives us more insight into the writing, as well. This is a topic from his own life. And that makes it more of a personal story. And it explains to us why he is including certain details because he sees them as more important based on the fact that he truly experienced this story, and that's what stood out to him as being most important in the story.

And we think about the author himself. If we know more background information about this author, we know that the setting he described as 1849 in Hannibal, Missouri, is also the setting for some of his most famous work, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huck Finn. This helps us to understand why the author took care to describe the setting because it seems personally important and relevant to him.

Now that we've thought about the rhetorical situation of the writing, let's think about examples of effective narrative writing that we see displayed in this excerpt. The first bit of the narrative is setting the scene. Twain is describing when the story took place, how old he was and what his disposition was, where they were located. He took great care to describe the house and why they were living in the house. This all sets the scene from the reader so the reader can better understand not only the story itself, but the importance of the story to the author.

We also see that Twain is establishing a narrator. He's describing himself as the narrator by using the word "I" and describing things that he observed. And Twain is incorporating relevant details to tell his story. The details he chose to include, such as the fact that "some of us lived in the new part, the rest of us in the part back of it-- the 'L,'" seem like very specific details. He included these because he believed that they were relevant. They were significant to him because he lived this narrative. This is his true life autobiographical narrative. And that's why there are certain details that seem very specific that he chose to include.

By analyzing this sample narrative using the rhetorical situation and looking for elements of effective narrative writing, we now not only see a story about a boy who attended a party, we can better understand where the author's coming from. We know more about what was written, why it was written, and how it was written. It helps us to have a better understanding of the significance of the narrative.

The next sample narrative we'll analyze was written by an author named Zitkala-Sa from a piece titled American Indian Stories. Again, a little background is necessary here for us to better understand the nature of the narrative. Zitkala-Sa was a Native American activist and author who used her writing to draw attention to Native American issues and interests. Her books were later translated into English, which made the Native American issues and interests more wide stream. Keep this in mind as you pause the video and read the next excerpt.

We'll begin our analysis of this sample narrative by thinking about the rhetorical situation, which is the purpose, audience, context, topic, and author. We start by thinking about what the author's purpose was when writing this narrative. When we know more background information about Zitkala-Sa, we know that she was attempting to draw attention to the lives of Native Americans. We know that American Indian Stories was written in English. And that helps to support our idea that Zitkala-Sa wrote this piece of writing to help to share with a non-American Indian audience what it's like to live a life in the American Indian community.

Or because this is a personal narrative, perhaps her purpose was simply to record this traumatic experience from her childhood. The context of the story, again, is that it's a personal narrative-- that Zitkala-Sa is trying to share with us something from her childhood. It seems as though this was a traumatic experience for her.

If we read the rest of the piece this excerpt is from, American Indian Stories, we gain more insight into why this topic was chosen. She's describing her childhood in the Native American culture. And we think about the author herself when we're analyzing this piece. Because the author truly experienced this story, the narrative has a very realistic feel to it. She describes it in detail. She includes certain elements that seem important to her because she truly lived this story.

Now we can think about the effectiveness with which this narrative was written. Zitkala-Sa uses point of view as an element of narrative in writing this story. The point of view is from her own perspective. She's describing what she experienced. If the point of view were written by some other character in the story, perhaps the girls who searched for her, dragged her, and tied her to a chair, that would be a much different story.

Zitkala-Sa also uses crafting of sequence of events. She describes to us in chronological order what happened in this part of the narrative. She says that she peered out. She heard people searching for her.

Someone opened the curtains and light filled the room. Suddenly she was discovered. She was dragged. She was kicking and scratching. She was tied to a chair.

Each of these events in this sequence helps us to better understand the narrative. While describing the sequence of events, Zitkala-Sa also uses action verbs when she uses specific narrative language to communicate the narrative. For example, "peered," "shuddering," "calling," "searching," "dragged," "kicking," "carried," and "tied." Not only do these verbs describe the sequence of events, but they are action verbs to help the reader to better visualize what's going on in the narrative and to keep the reader interested. When we know more about the author, Zitkala-Sa, and we know more about why she wrote this narrative, we can better appreciate how the narrative was written.

When we think critically about these two personal narratives, we start to see that the contrast between them is very significant. For example, the ways in which they are written is strikingly different. The Twain example uses longer, more elaborate sentences with more detail. It's slower paced, whereas the Zitkala-Sa example uses shorter sentences with a lot of fast-paced action and not as much detail.

The topic of the narratives is also different. Twain is describing a party he attended and the events that happened at the party, whereas Zitkala-Sa is describing a traumatic childhood experience. We can also look back to the rhetorical situation of each author to help us to determine the ways in which these two narratives are different. When we think about the author's perspective, it's clear to us that these two pieces of writing must be different from one another.

In this tutorial, we learned how to analyze narratives by looking at samples of narratives by Mark Twain and Zitkala-Sa. We also contrasted the two sample narratives. Excellent authors help us to become better writers. I'm Mackenzie. Thanks for listening.

Excerpt from Mark Twain's Chapters from My Autobiography


Source: This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re- use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at

Excerpt from Zitkala-Sa's American Indian Stories


Source: This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re- use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at