How to Write an Event Essay About a Memory, Place or Experience
What is an Event Essay?
Event essays can be personal memories about something that happened in our lives, or they can be essays that explain some one-time or reoccurring event like a football game, a museum opening, a college celebration, or a trip.
trip with family
activity you did with a parent
relationship with grandparent
memories about special gift
event which went wrong
when you lost trust in someone
event which went better than expected
when you won something
friend who taught you something
special aunt or uncle
doing something with family
something you wished could happen again
moment in nature
something you learned
something you lost or found
object you treasure
1. Describe the experience so that the reader experiences the event alongside you.
2. Include lots of descriptive details. You need to make sure the reader sees, hears, feels, smells and experiences the event vividly.
3. Use either a chronological (in the order things happened) or topical (parts of the event) organization.
- Organize around a conflict which is resolved in some way. The conflict can be internal or external. The climax of the paper will be the revelation and resolution of the conflict.
- Your paper should be written climactically. That means that in the body of the paper, the least important events are first and the most important are last. The paragraphs of your paper should actually reflect this climactic development. The longest part of the paper should be the main point. Use either a chronological (in the order things happened) or topical (parts of the event) organization.
- Slow down and describe moments very vividly. You need to make sure the reader sees, hears, feels, smells and experiences the event vividly. Show how you feel rather than telling about it. What were you thinking? doing? saying? that would show how you feel? What details of the setting or of other people could show the emotion?
- Conclude with why this memory is important. Don't spend so much time or space on the details that you forget to tell the significance of the memory. That is the main point of the paper. It might be that you will write these details down as you are thinking about the event, but you will need to cut them out later in order to focus on the main action.
How to Organize
Chronological is best for a single moment of time with intense action, whether that is internal or external action, or for an event which unfolds in time, such as a museum visit. Using chronological organization in an event essay means that you:
- Tell the story in the order in which events happened.
- Tell the events suspensefully.
- Explain the meaning after the climax of the story or let the events show the meaning.
- Include a frame memory for the introduction which gives your present perspective and then flashes back to the memory (optional). The end can then come back to the present and tell the meaning of the memory, or how that event changed your perspective.
As an example of an Event Essay with chronological organization see "American Childhood" by Anne Dillard. In “American Childhood” the Dillard tells a story about throwing snowballs at passing cars. The memory is about a simple childhood experience that many people could relate to, but Dillard makes it interesting by drawing a provocative meaning from it in a few interesting sentences. She says, "I got in trouble throwing snowballs, and have seldom been happier since" (Par. 2) and "...you have to fling yourself at what you're doing, you have to point yourself, forget yourself, aim, dive..." (Par. 13), "nothing has required so much of me..." (par 21).
Dillard also uses a frame introduction which talks about football and describes the setting and characters. Her frame conclusion includes a couple of sentences which are an ironic comment on the whole story.
Another powerful way to organize is to use a key metaphor or object. An excellent example of this type of organization is “On Being a Real Westerner” by Tobias Woolf. This essay organization works best when several short memories are tied together by a particular object, symbol or word. To write this essay:
- Choose several memories relating to one object, person or emotion. In "On Being a Real Westerner" the memories are all organized around a rifle: getting it, reacting to his mother's objections, playing with it, acting like a sniper, loading the rife, shooting a squirrel and feeling conflicted emotions afterward.
- Tell memories in chronological order, but make sure the most important memory is last and told in more detail. In "On Being a Westerner" the story of shooting the squirrel and the aftermath is told in much more detail.
- Tie the memories together with a theme about their meaning. The theme in Woolf's story is power. He concludes with the idea that the hunger for power has shaped his growth to manhood, and yet as a man he is powerless to change the past, "the man can't help the boy."
Also called "Expectations Reversed," this is good for any event which had an unexpected outcome, whether better or worse than you expected. This can also be done as "expectations fulfilled" but that is generally a weaker way to use this method. A good example of this sort of Event Essay is ”100 Miles Per Hour” by Rick Bragg.
- Set up with a clear and vivid description of the expectation of a particular event. Bragg starts with a clear description of getting a car that fulfills every desire he had in mind.
- May foreshadow the disaster. Bragg uses details and suggestions to indicate that everything isn't what it seems.
- The reality of what happens (the unexpected event) is the body of the paper. This section should be a very vivid description of a moment in time. In "100 Miles Per Hour" this is the description of the accident.
- The conclusion reflects on this experience and what it means to the writer. Sometimes there is an ironic ending, as is shown in Bragg's essay.
Using a Frame Story Organization is something you've seen often in books and movies. The story starts in the present and then flashes back to the past, returning to the present at the end. The movie The Notebook uses the technique that way. Another way of doing a frame is to have someone telling the story to someone else, as in the movie The Princess Bride.
The student essay “Calling Home” by Jean Brandt does a particularly good job of using the frame technique. Frames can be used alongside one of the other techniques. "Calling Home" also uses Expectations Unfulfilled. Here are the basics of this technique:
- Opening in a story of the present time. Usually, this story will frame of expectations. In Brandt's story, the opening is a car ride to the mall. This essay uses different car rides to frame the opening and conclusion--in addition, there is a car ride in the middle as well--a transition to the second half.
- Flashback story and the conflict and resolution. In Brandt's story, there are three short stories about her conflicts. The first is an internal conflict about whether she should steal the button. The second is the conflict with the manager who catches her and calls the police. The third is the conflict with the police and her parents. The resolution is her realization of her wrong choice.
- Conclusion an ending frame and the meaning of the story. In Brandt's story, it is a car trip home with a twist in the conflict because she is not in as much trouble with her parents as she expected. It is not just the mall trip which reverses expectations, her expectations of what her parents will say and do are reversed as well.
Frame Story Samples
Why use a Frame Story?
Frame stories are one of my favorite techniques to teach students because they are easy to do and automatically bump your writing up a notch. Using a frame in your introduction and conclusion makes it easier to tell a deeper meaning and almost always make your essay seem more sophisticated and powerful.
The frame can be used in lots of situations. Moreover, it can also be a way of starting in the middle of the action and getting the reader's attention, then flashing back to what caused that action. For example, in an accident paper, you can start at the moment of the accident and describe it vividly, then go back in the body of the paper and tell what led up to the accident.
The conclusion is easy. You can tell what happened afterwards and what it meant. "Calling Home" uses frames of car rides to provide structure to the present memory; however, a more common use of frames is to use a present-day memory as the starting point for introducing a past memory (which will be the main part of the paper). For example, a student wants to write about a memory of a fight with her sister when she is young. This fight and the lecture by her mother afterwards leads her to realize how much she really loves her sister. The conflict/resolution of the fight will be the body of her paper. To put the memory in context and show significance, she can use a conversation with her sister as the opening and the conclusion. It works something like this:
- Introduction: Conversation with sister in the present. Maybe this could be the start of a fight. When writing conversations like this you can try to re-create a real conversation, or make up a conversation which is typical of the type of things you would say to one another. As a transition to the flashback memory, you could write something like "I suddenly remembered..." Another way to do this is to have the conversation end and then you could start thinking about the past event.
- Body: Describe the flashback memory vividly and the lesson that was learned.
- Conclusion: Either come back to the conversation with the sister and decide to end the coming fight because of remembering this past event, or the conclusion could be a phone call which ends the fight and brings up the earlier memory. Another way to conclude would be to reflect on the present relationship and how the experience of what was learned about sisterhood in the fight when young has made them close now.
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