Narration Paragraphs


Narration is story-telling. A narrative paragraph tells a story through a sequence of events. This kind of paragraph usually includes a topic sentence, or main idea; the rest of the paragraph develops that idea. A clearly-written narrative paragraph does not, however, cover too much territory. It focuses on a single event.

The following narrative paragraph tells how the writer met his girlfriend:

I became Nancy’s boyfriend because I was trying to run away from her. The first time I saw her was right after I swam a few laps at the University of Wisconsin’s Red Gym. My eyes were smarting from chlorine, but, having nothing better to do, I decided to see a movie on campus that night. Waiting for the film to begin outside the theater (a campus lecture hall), sat Nancy; she kept turning her curly blond head to stare at me. Because I am shyer than a seventh-grader at his first dance, I looked away, and once we were inside, I sat ten rows behind her. Nevertheless, before the film began, she kept twisting in her seat, shooting me long, hungry stares that made me increasingly nervous. After the movie, I rushed outside, jumped on my bike, and pedaled like a madman up State Street. Nancy, I was horrified to discover, was on a bike too, not far behind. I turned on the gas, pedaling fast around the capital building and down King Street on the other side. She caught up with me at the next stop light. “Hey,” she said, “you were at the movie, right?” She wasn’t even breathing hard.

Choose one of the topics below for a narration paragraph:

A first kiss
A coincidence
A painful situation
Something that happened at a party
An incident in a restaurant
A sudden revelation
A mugging
A fortunate event
A lie
A confrontation with a bureaucrat
A weird customer
A life-changing event
The last time I saw my dad or mom
An injury
Choose your own topic



1. All sentences do not have to begin with a subject and verb. You can place an adverb modifier at the beginning.

One way:

I often think of the twin towers when I visit downtown Manhattan.

Another way:

Often, when I visit downtown Manhattan, I think of the twin towers.


One way:

The actress Ellen Barkin will eventually unload the $1 million, 15-carat diamond ring she got while married to Revlon boss Ron Perelman.

Another way:

Eventually, the actress Ellen Barkin will unload the $1 million, 15-carat diamond ring she got while married to Revlon boss Ron Perelman.


Exercise: Turn the following sentence around:

Katie Holmes ran incognito in the New York City Marathon until hubby Tom Cruise sprang from the crowd and planted, quickly, a big wet one on the Dawson Creek star’s saliva-speckled lips.

2. Vary sentence types. Too many compound sentences in a row—or too many of any sentence type—can be monotonous.

The following paragraph is made up of a simple sentence, a compound sentence, a complex sentence, and a compound-complex sentence.

Simple sentence.

Frequently, Robert Violante thinks of the day he was shot by David Berkowitz.

Compound Sentence

He was sitting in a car with Stacy Moskowitz, and he didn’t see the Son of Sam killer approaching.

Complex Sentence

Although Moskowitz was shot in the head and died the next day, Violante survived.

Compound-Complex Sentence:

Whenever Violente thinks of what happened to him and Stacy on July 31, 1977, he gets mad, and he hopes that Berkowitz never gets paroled.

Exercise: Take the following simple sentence and turn it into a compound sentence, a complex sentence, and a compound-complex sentence:

The film American Gangster glorifies drug kingpin Frank Lucas.

3. Invert Sentences. You don’t always have to follow the subject-verb-object order.


Rebekah Johnson pumped  Gannas commune leader Jeff Gross with six .38-caliber bullets.

Inverted sentence:

Six .38-caliber bullets did Rebekah Johnson pump into Gannas commune leader Jeff Gross.


After taking LSD and staring at the sun for hours, fifteen hippies are totally blind.


Blind are fifteen hippies after taking LSD and staring at the sun for hours.

Invert the following sentence:

I am in the money after sinking $10,000 into various real estate investment trusts.

4. Add a question or quotation.

Online dating sites are a joke. I saw this ad where the woman wrote that she was looking for an “honest” guy with a “positive outlook on life” who is into “fine dining” and “long walks on the beach at sunset” and who “knows himself.” I hate fine dining and long walks on the beach, and I don’t know myself. And, given my negative outlook on life, how the hell I am going to get her to answer my ad if I’m the least bit honest?

Exercise: Write a three-sentence paragraph that ends with a question.

Emphasize Key Ideas. Experiment with techniques for emphasis

End sentences with kickers. You can withhold the important information until the final word.

With a great deal of kindness and hospitality, “Fat” Nick Minucci welcomed Glenn Moore to Brooklyn with a baseball bat to the head.

Periodic sentences

The periodic sentence creates emphasis by piling modifiers and descriptions before the main subject and verb:

Before she wrecked Christie Brinkley’s marriage, before she began a torrid affair with Brinkley’s philandering hubby Peter Cook, before Cook lured her from a dead- end toy store job to work in his architectural firm at double the salary, even before the toy gig, teen stunner Diana Bianchi wanted to be a pop singer.


Cumulative sentences begin with the subject and verb, then add modifiers:

Ex-supermodel Christie Brinkley discovered her husband was having a fling with a teenager who worked in his firm, a short walk from her home in the Hamptons, a place accustomed to spectacular affairs, but rarely one that generates this many juicy headlines, unless you take into account Brinkley’s divorce from singer Billy Joel.

Parallel structure for emphasis

Hardly had Wendi Deng, Rupert Murdock’s current wife, left China and started sleeping with married executive Jake Cherry, before she left Cherry and started sleeping with another man.

Use punctuation for emphasis

Use a dash or a colon for emphasis.

My trainer says if I spend two hours a day on the treadmill, and if I give up pasta—that is, if I torture myself—I will lose forty pounds.

At a corner table in Café Reggio, I anxiously awaited the arrival of my blind date: she was 300 pounds.

Use Active Verbs

Replace “be” verbs with verbs that are more dynamic.

Not so good:

Angel Quinones is in jail for killing his fiancée’s parents.


Yesterday, police arrested Angel Quinones for killing his fiancée’s parents.

Not so good:

Last week, the bodies of Cecelia and Carlos Ruiz were in their apartment, and their daughter’s fiancé Angel Quinones was a suspect.


Last week, police discovered the bodies of Cecelia and Carlos Ruiz in their apartment. They immediately suspected Angel Quinones, the dead couple’s future son-in-law.


Quinones was a suspect because he was allegedly in the Ruiz’s apartment the night before and was not at work the next day.

Choose subjects that names a person or a thing doing action


The next day, the suspect turned himself in at the local precinct and was charged with two counts of murder.


The next day, Quinones turned himself in at the 7th Precinct and was charged with two counts of murder.


The victims had been brutally beaten, and police think the suspect may have used a weapon to bludgeon them before choking them.


The couple had been brutally beaten, and police think that Quinones may have used a cooking pot to bludgeon them before choking them.

Insert the following in the appropriate places: “Amber Sadiq,” “wrongful death.”

The family of an 8 year old girl who was killed by a runaway school bus in May, will file a lawsuit against the city.

Avoid passive constructions.
Use active verbs whenever appropriate.


A sixth straight Mustard Belt was won by Takeru “The Tsunami” Kobayashi after 53.75 hot dogs were chowed down. Kobayashi was called the “Bun-Zai” Warrior by the New York Post while it was reported by the Daily News the second place finish of hot dog scarfer, American Joey Chestnut who ate 52 hot dogs, was blamed on the Coney Island humidity


Takeru “The Tsunami” Kobayashi won his sixth straight Mustard Belt, after chowing down 53.75 hot dogs. The New York Post called Kobayashi the “Bun-Zai Warrior” while the Daily News reports that second place hot dog scarfer, American Joey Chestnut, who ate 52 hot dogs, blamed the Coney Island humidity on falling back.



1. Enron was built by Ken Lay into a high-profile, widely admired company, the seventh-largest publicly traded in the country. But Enron collapsed after it was revealed by auditors that the company’s finances were based on a web of fraudulent partnerships and schemes.

2. As we walked around the gallery, was treated politely by Brad and his girlfriend, but I was sure that I was secretly hated by them and that was being given this tour because it was hoped by them to see me separated from my money.

Wordiness and Economy

Same thought, different words


McDonald’s new spicy premium chicken has a rich satisfying flavor and it also tastes good.


McDonald’s new spicy premium chicken has a rich, satisfying flavor.


Anthony Kiedis, lead singer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, always poses for photos without his shirt and bare-chested.


Anthony Kiedis, lead singer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, always poses for photos without his shirt.



A four-year-old boy who fell from his 11th floor apartment, bounced off an awning like a trampoline, and landed on the sidewalk and concrete below.


Try to avoid the phrases the fact that and there is and the words field and character.


Because of the fact that a woman fell from the roof of a building at 49 East 192nd Street, she died from injuries to her head and torso.


A woman who fell from the roof of a building at 49 East 192nd Street, died from injuries to her head and torso.


In the field of police work, he excels at solving crimes of a homicidal character.


The police officer excels at solving homicides.


I believe there is someone in Brooklyn who is as beautiful as Angelina Jolie, but because of the fact that I am short, fat, bald and broke, will never date me.


I believe someone in Brooklyn is as beautiful as Angelina Jolie, but because I am short, fat, bald and broke, she will never date me.

Overweight Constructions
Sometimes it’s better to use verbals rather than finite verbs.

(Two definitions of a verbal: (a) of, pertaining to, or derived from a verb. used in a sentence as or like a verb, as participles and infinitives. (b) a word, particularly a noun or adjective, derived from a verb.

Dumped wives go crazy insane when they discover your hotel room charges.

My mother lives to torture me and my current girlfriend.


The first frat boy who finishes ten whiskeys will win a bottle of Jack Daniels .


The first frat boy finishing ten whiskeys will win a bottle of Jack Daniels.


While I was ripping off the cash register, I decided I would take a nap.


While ripping off the cash register, I decided to take a nap.

Add Needed Words

To make sentences concise, cut words. Your cuts, however, should not make the sentence ungrammatical.


The women in the rahab program are Chinese immigrants whom we saw at the brothel or shopped at the supermarket.


The women in the rahab program are Chinese immigrants whom we saw at the brothel or who shopped at the supermarket.


Rap diva Foxy Brown never has and never will assault a manicurist.


Rap diva Foxy Brown never has assaulted and never will assault a manicurist.


German-born stunner Heidi Klum believes and lives by the laws of fashion.

Definition Paragraph



To define a word, use a dictionary, a collection of simple definitions, usually including synonyms. The dictionary might define the word banal by using the synonym commonplace. It might also define a word by class.

The American Heritage Dictionary, for example, says that a martini is “A cocktail of gin or vodka and dry vermouth.” A cocktail manual might take this definition further by writing “A Gibson is a martini with an onion instead of an olive.”

Many dictionary definitions include the class to which the word belongs.
Some terms, however, are too complex for simple definitions. To define behavior modification, for example, you would have to write a definition paragraph.

A definition paragraph may elaborate a simple definition by going into more detail about the synonyms and class or subclass to which the term belongs. It may give examples, or it may detail a process. It may even define by negation—by saying what the term is not.
Begin your definition paragraph with the term to be defined, then devote the body of the paragraph to explaining that term.

My strangest job after college was my year and a half apprenticeship at a photo-retouching studio. Most people don’t know that every model in a fashion magazine, every soup can in a magazine ad, even many newspaper photos, are retouched. Before the advent of Photoshop, photo-retouchers, using brushes and paints and dyes and bleaches, did all the work by hand. They might have made small changes, such as darkening the ice cubes and erasing bubbles in a photo of a glass of Coca Cola. Or they might have radically changed a supermodel’s dress size and hair color. I once watched a retoucher shave thirty pounds from a chubby Bette Midler photograph for the cover of her Thighs and Whispers album. This was no easy task—Ms. Midler wore a strapless dress with crepe-like wrinkles. Using chemicals and paint, he had to erase the sides of her body, redraw the sides and the wrinkly dress further in, then extend the orange background to fill in the missing space. He slimmed her fat face too, took frizz out of her ghastly hair, and removed wrinkles and blemishes from her skin. And he had to do this so carefully that the changes were invisible to the human eye, which can pick up minute discrepancies in a photograph. If, for example, the retoucher drew the edge between the dress and the background too sharply, instead of blurring the edge in the manner of real photographs, the average music fan would see the sharpness as quickly as some of us see the face of a burn victim passing on the street. A good retoucher’s work is invisible.

Choose one of the terms below, or choose one of your own, and write a definition paragraph.

A psychiatric disorder, such as autism or ADD.
A job title, such as barista or sauté chef
A philosophy, such as dialectics or epistemology or atheism.
A foreign policy such as unilateralism or détente.
A controversial subject, such as arranged marriage or corporal punishment
A genre or sub-genre of music, such as jazz or bebop.
A lifestyle choice, such childlessness or single motherhood.
An area of expertise or deep knowledge, such as online gaming or EXCEL.


Classification is sorting. When you put people or objects or ideas into categories, you are classifying. A classification paragraph explains how things fit into categories. Baseball players, for example, can be classified by position; infielders, outfielders, pitchers, catchers. Or they can be classified by their level of professionalism; single A, double A, triple A, major-league. Or they can be put into sub-categories; pitchers can be starters or middle-relievers or closers. Whichever method of classification you choose, your categories must make sense. A baseball player, for example, can be either a minor or major-leaguer, but a major-leaguer cannot be either an amateur or professional athlete; all major-leaguers are professional athletes.

The following classification paragraph puts the writer’s ex-girlfriends into categories:

When I was single, girls I dated fell into three categories: the self-absorbed misfit, the drug-addicted artist, and the can’t-make-up-her-mind-lesbian. The first category was epitomized by Cathy, a woman so fascinated by the minutia of her daily life, so convinced of her uniqueness, so thrilled by the mundane details of her existence, that for six months I was hypnotized. “I’m the only person I know who writes stuff on their hands so I won’t forget,” she gushed, showing me a phone number she had inked on her palm. The sheer force of her narcissism convinced me that writing phone numbers on one’s hand was an extraordinary act of non-conformity. Diane, a punky art student from Montreal, falls neatly into the second category. When I first visited her apartment, I noticed an enormous canvas on which she had begun painting barnyard chickens. On the floor beneath the canvas, coffee cans held an impressive array of wet brushes and paints. During my second visit, two months later, the painting had not changed and the coffee cans held the same brushes and paints. But because I loved her, I understood that true artists don’t always make art; sometimes, to stay creative, they snort a lot of coke. For the third category, I pick Ruth. When she wasn’t complaining about how gross men looked naked, she was telling me about the crush she had on her best friend, Patricia, or the crush she had on her oldest friend Susan, or how much fun she had dancing at a gay bar. When I suggested she might be a lesbian, she angrily accused me of having “typical male fantasies.” When she finally did start sleeping with girls, she would occasionally return to my arms, giggling, “Some things about guys I miss.”

Below is a list of classification paragraph topics. You can choose one or choose your own.

jobs                                                    mothers
car ads                                               toupees
fast-food outlets                              street musicians
pick-up lines                                     weddings
high school teachers                        dogs
kissers                                                cities you have lived in
facial hair                                          breakfasts
lover’s spats                                      Choose your own



Dangling Modifiers.
A modifier, whether word or a phrase, is supposed to refer to something else in the sentence. A dangling modifier refers to nothing in the sentence, although, sometimes, the reference is implied.


Being arrested, hand-cuffed, mug-shotted, and thrown in a cell with mother-rapers, the cops also refused to give me my phone call.


After I was arrested, hand-cuffed, mug-shotted, and thrown in a cell with mother-rapers, the cops also refused to give me my phone call.


Over eighteen years of marriage, being refused sex, my self-esteem was damaged by  my beautiful, Chilean wife.


Over eighteen years of marriage, my beautiful Chilean wife, who refused to doink me, damaged my self-esteem.


Being one of the ten richest men in New York, the kitchen in my penthouse apartment has a 36-inch Sub-Zero refrigerator, a 36-inch Wolf gas range and charboiler, an Imperial stainless steel range hood and backsplash, and a built-in coffee and espresso maker.

Misplaced Modifiers

A misplaced modifier is a modifier in the wrong part of the sentence. You can correct this by changing its position.


The unlucky bridegroom was poisoned while eating dinner with a vial of strychnine which mysteriously was mixed with his after-dinner liquor.


While eating dinner, the unlucky bridegroom was poisoned with a vial of strychnine, mysteriously mixed with his after-dinner liquor.


Friends is one of the most racist shows because the main cast does not include a single black, Hispanic, or Asian actor on TV.


Friends is one of the most racist shows on TV because the main cast does not include a single black, Hispanic, or Asian actor.



Last night I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.

–Groucho Marx


Being stuffed with chunks of candied pecans, dinner ended with a giant barfothon.


Quotes and quotation marks

Quotations and quotations marks.

Distinguish between indirect and direct quotations

She asked her husband “if he suffered from extravagant expectations and did he wish he had married someone else?”

Two solutions:

She asked her husband if he suffered from extravagant expectations and did
he wish he had married someone else.


“Do you suffer from extravagant expectations?” she asked her husband. “Do
you wish you had married someone else?”

In the next example, the writer shifts from an indirect to direct quotation.

He told me he got the delirium tremens and you don’t know what it’s like to be locked up in detox.

After telling me about the delirium tremens, he said, “You don’t know what
it’s like to be locked up in detox.”

In the second example, we shift from indirect to direct quotation, and we insert question marks.


He asked, “Did I need some water?”

Stepfather grabbed me by pyjamas and screamed, Are you God?

Using Commas with Quotation Marks.

The following examples illustrate four ways to use commas with quotes.

“I suspect he ain’t ever been Baptized,” Mrs. Connin said, raising her eyebrows at the preacher.
—Flannery O’Conner

In the above example, “I suspect he ain’t ever been baptized” is the quote. “Mrs. Connin said” is the tag—the part of the quote that identifies the speaker. Always insert a comma after a quote if the tag follows, even if the quote is a complete sentence. And be sure to place the comma inside the quotation marks.

Sitting up in her satin-sheeted bed, Mrs. Miller lit a Camel and said, “Chester, your timing is atrocious.”

In the above example, the tag precedes the quote. Therefore, the comma is placed after the tag. Note that the quote now ends with a period. Also note that the period, like the comma above, goes inside of the quotation marks.

“Come on now, let’s begin to have us a good time,” he said coaxingly. “We ain’t got to know one another good yet.”—Flannery O’Conner

In the above example, the tag interrupts the quote. Because the quote is made up of two different sentences, the first sentence, which is followed by the tag, ends with a comma. The tag ends with a period. The second quote, a complete sentence not followed by a tag, ends with a period.

“I hope you don’t think,” he said in a lofty indignant tone, “that I believe in that crap! I may sell Bibles but I know which end is up and I wasn’t born yesterday and I know where I’m going!”—Flannery O’Conner

In this final example, the tag interrupts a quote that is a single sentence. Therefore, commas are inserted before and after the tag.

Remember, commas, periods, and question marks, if they are part of the quotations, go inside the quotation marks.

Integrating quotes into your sentences.

Instead of citing long, dull quotes, it is usually better to integrate quotes into your own words.

When Brently fell in love with Tina, his first cousin, he was so mortified he wrote me a long letter:

Dearest Biff,

It is my sad duty to report that one of Cupid’s fickle arrows has again pierced my wounded heart, causing me to fall headlong in love with Tina, my first cousin. During Daddy’s 75th birthday celebration, while family and friends gorged themselves on brandy-laced coffee, chocolate truffles, and Krispy Kreme donuts, Tina and I made out in the woodshed, pledging ever-lasting love to each other. Oh, Biff, whatever shall I do?

Sincerely, your good friend,

Brently Major Truscott III

Instead, try this:

When Brently fell in love with Tina, his first cousin, he was so mortified he wrote me a long letter, stating that during his father’s birthday celebration, he and Tina “made out” in the woodshed, and pledged “ever-lasting love to each other.”

Make sure, however, that the integrated quote blends grammatically with the rest of the sentence.

Original quote:

“I would trade my boyfriend for a Fendi bag and a pair of Big Bertha pantaloons,” she claimed.


She said she “trade my boyfriend for a Fendi bag and a pair of Big Bertha pantaloons.”


Quoting Long Prose Passages.
When quoting long prose passages (three lines or more), double indent and do not use quotation marks.

Baxter was nonplussed by Charity’s attraction to younger, more virile men:

How much more can you torture me, Charity? Each night before going out, you dress in that fur-trimmed nylon jacket, lace-trimmed shorts, and fox-fur-trimmed suede boots, hoping I won’t notice. But I do, Charity, I do. When you dress like that, my heart hollers in pain, my skin swells until I feel like the Michelin tire man, my brain gets filled with the mocking laughter of other men who know what you’ve been up to. Oh god, it is too too much to bear.

Verb Tenses


Simple present:

I hate me We hate me

You hate me. You hate me

It hates me They hate me

Simple present with irregular verb.

I do me We do me

You do me You do me

He does me They do me

Simple past:

I despised your socks

We despised their kids

You despised my scrambled eggs

You despised his last girlfriend

She despised our relationship

They despised Halo II

Past Perfect

By the time I arrived home, I had driven to The Bronx and back.
By the time you woke, you had realized the relationship was a sham.
By the time the eggs were cooked, her grandfather had died.
By the time we fell in love with her, she had fallen in love with Brian.
By the time you left the movie, the meteor had slammed into the Empire State Building.
By the time they finished college, the economy had collapsed.


1. Her lipstick discombobulate his brain.

2. Last week, we visit a nice cave, find a nice club, and kidnap a nice wife.

3. By the time we arrived at 23rd Street, we have been on the subway for 23 hours.


Write about fiction and fictional events in the present tense:

In love with the pyrokinetic, Liz Sherman, Hellboy covertly follows her and FBI agent John Myers.

In Grand Theft Auto IV, Niko Bellic comes to New York City, searching for the American Dream, but quickly becomes enmeshed in a seedy mix of dames, drugs, and deli food.

It is my sad duty to report that in the final volume, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry Potter does not die.  Instead, he defeats Voldemort and—this is a wild guess—gets his first kiss from Hermione.


hellboy and Liz



1. Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio), sank into the icy waters of the North Atlantic as Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet), debated whether, upon reaching New York, she would buy a Whopper or a Big Mac.


2. At the Battle of Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington, allied with the Prussian army under the command of Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, defeats Napoleon Bonaparte, who makes a number of tactical errors.