Paper 1: Family

Unit One: How Family Shapes Us

In this first unit, we will read from a diverse set of authors all writing about the same thing: families. In the beginning of your life in particular, family plays a vital role in shaping the person you are and will become. For some, your family serves as a model for your morals, values and behaviors. For others, family serves as an example of what you do not want to be. Regardless, the purpose of this paper is to get you to investigate and critically analyze the effect your family has had on you.

In this paper, I want you to think about an important characteristic/trait that you inherited from (or passed on to) other family members. Your essay will have three different subjects: yourself and two other family members. The set-up will be much like the set-up of Sandra Cisneros’ book House on Mango Street in that it will be a collection of vignettes*. Spend about one page per person (or about 250 words) illustrating the common characteristic/trait. Each story should be its own narrative — what holds them all together is the common trait.

Please don’t simply tell me about the trait. I need to see why you think it is important. You can sprinkle this analysis throughout the paper, or you can take time to reflect on your family at the end (the second option might be easier since this is your first essay).

*Vignettes are short, impressionistic scenes that focus on one moment or give a trenchant impression about a character, an idea, or a setting.

Format: Your paper must be in a standard 12-pt font, double-spaced, with 1” margins. Follow MLA guidelines (we will discuss this in class).


The rough draft of this paper is due at the beginning of class on Thursday, 9-1-11.

The final draft of this paper is due at the beginning of class on Tuesday, 9-6-11.

 Suggestions and Advice

You are all familiar with telling stories. You also hear them every day. Stories are shared in various fashions, and people tell you stories all the time. But, how do they differ in style, tone and pace from, say, stories you hear on the news or read in books? What makes a story memorable to you? What stories do you tell other people? What purpose do they serve? Why might it be useful to practice narrative techniques in an academic setting? Most importantly, why do we tell stories at all?

Writing an effective narrative requires the writer to make the way that he or she perceives and considers the world accessible, significant, and interesting to a wide readership. In this task, you should try to get a sense for the assignment and try to make something relevant out of it for you and for your audience. You should weigh descriptive language carefully. How can you use words to show and detail your story without bluntly stating your ideas? You also have to use persuasive appeals — how can you make yourself a credible narrator? How can you appeal to emotion without going extreme or aiming too low? How can your story make sense without being too dry or too contrived? Also remember to avoid clichés!

An effective narrative will come from an acute sense of audience and a subtle execution of descriptive language and pacing of plot. A lot of back-story or digressive explanations will set you back and muddle your audience. Move the action forward. While changes in plot will likely take place, you should try to hold to a stable theme or concept and maintain a consistent tone.

Since you will develop all the material for this essay, I suggest you start drafting early. This way, we can have sufficient time to go over your essay and make sure that it fits the assignment. Show and do not tell. Use descriptions and dialogue to carry your story. If, for instance, you were describing your nasty, obnoxious roommate, I would rather you show me how he or she is that way rather than just flat out tell me. I will talk about this more in class.

Use meaningful dialogue to capture pivotal moments and characterize people in your story. Do not just stage a conversation to fill up space. Develop the story through careful phrasing.

Establish a purpose for your story without stating it outright. Your story needs to do more than merely entertain, but it does not need to have a clichéd moral like “all is fair in love and war.” Develop the purpose that you want to reflect upon and convey it through your narrative.