Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Of Mice and Memoirs, Part II

Narrative Conflict or Tension

Last week I advised you to Study Spiegelman’s scenes closely. As you continue to read Maus, and as you prepare to write your first essay for English 111, your literacy narrative, note which panels of Spiegelman’s convey conflict, either a character’s inner conflict or a character’s conflict with another character. Conflict, which is essential to narrative, appears on virtually every page of Maus.

The first half of Chapter 2, “The Honeymoon,” depicts six conflicts or problems:

  • Vladek combatting his medical condition (heart disease, diabetes)
  • the policemen’s pursuit of Anja
  • the interrogation of Anja’s aide, the seamstress,  Miss Stefanska
  • Art questioning his father’s storytelling
  • Anja’s struggles with post-partum depression, and
  • the train passengers facing the threat of the Nazi regime, signified by the flag in the center of the page (32).

Scene and Summary

As a comic, Maus consists primarily of scenes but it includes summary as well. In the panel below, which depicts Miss Stefanska’s interrogation by the Polish police, the scene is depicted with the panel’s drawing and its speech balloons. Spiegelman presents summary in the rectangles.

Panel from page 28 of Maus.
Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 28.

Scene and summary are the building blocks of narratives. Simply put, scenes show and summaries tell. Narratives can consist primarily of scenes, but ones that rely heavily on summary don’t capture our imagination. As you plan your literacy narrative, keep this in mind: Readers would rather be shown than told.

The paper-craft graphic below illustrates the organization of scene and summary in a narrative essay.

Illustration of narrative essay structure.


Maus demonstrates the important role that dialogue often plays in narrative, but it doesn’t show how dialogue is presented in an essay. In comics, dialogue appears in speech balloons. Prose narratives (essays, short stories, novels, and book-length  nonfiction) present dialogue with lines of speech enclosed in quotation marks and with dialogue tags. A dialogue tag is a short phrase at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of the dialogue that attributes the dialogue to a particular person or character.

“Have you chosen a topic for your literacy narrative?” she asked.

In the sentence above, she asked is the dialogue tag.

When you write dialogue, you begin a new paragraph whenever the speaker changes. That’s why paragraphs of dialogue are generally short, often only one line.

Consider the dialogue below, from Annie Dillard’s memoir, An American Childhood:

Excerpt from An American Childhood by Annie Dillard.
Dillard, Annie. An American Childhood. Harper & Row, 1987. p. 112.

In the first paragraph, Annie Dillard summarizes how her mother would tell her to spell words. In the second paragraph, Dillard moves to the scene of one particular evening, the night when her mother says there’s a deer in the hall.  Only the first of the three short paragraphs that follow the summary includes a dialogue tag. The other two don’t need tags because the new paragraph itself, the indentation of five spaces, signals a change in the speaker.

Once you’ve established who the speakers are in a dialogue between two people, you don’t need to include dialogue tags.

Notice that the first and last paragraphs include single quotation marks within the lines of dialogue. In the first paragraph, the words poinsettia and sherbet are enclosed in single quotation marks because words referred to as words are enclosed in quotation marks. Since the two words are contained within a longer quotation, Dillard’s mother’s line of dialogue, the words are enclosed in single quotation marks.

In the last paragraph, the words I know are enclosed in single quotation marks because the mother is quoting her daughter.

Words referred to as words in dialogue and quotations within lines of dialogue are enclosed in single quotation marks.

For more information on quotation marks, see A Writer’s Reference (279-80).

Look to the passage that follows as another model for your literacy narrative. Here, Annie Dillard recounts seeing an amoeba for the first time:

Finally late that spring I saw an amoeba. The week before, I had gathered puddle water from Frick Park; it had been festering in a jar in the basement. This June night after dinner I figured I had waited long enough. In the basement at my microscope table I spread a scummy drop of Frick Park puddle water on a slide, peeked in, and lo, there was the famous amoeba. He was as blobby and grainy as his picture; I would have known him anywhere.

Before I had watched him at all, I ran upstairs. My parents were still at table, drinking coffee. They, too, could see the famous amoeba. I told them, bursting, that he was all set up, that they should hurry before his water dried. It was the chance of a lifetime.

Father had stretched out his long legs and was tilting back in his chair. Mother sat with her knees crossed, in blue slacks, smoking a Chesterfield. The dessert dishes were still on the table. My sisters were nowhere in evidence. It was a warm evening; the big dining-room windows gave onto blooming rhododendrons.

Mother regarded me warmly. She gave me to understand that she was glad I had found what I had been looking for, but that she and Father were happy to sit with their coffee, and would not be coming down. She did not say, but I understood at once, that they had their pursuits (coffee?) and I had mine. She did not say, but I  began to understand then, that you do what you do out of your private passion for the thing itself.

I had essentially been handed my own life, in subsequent years my parents would praise my drawings and poems, and supply me with books, art supplies, and sports equipment, and listen to my troubles and enthusiasm, and supervise my hours, and discuss and inform, but they would not get involved with my detective work, nor hear about my reading, nor inquire about my homework or term papers or exams, nor visit the salamanders I caught, nor listen to me play piano, nor attend my field hockey games, nor fuss over my insect collection. My days and nights were my own to plan and fill.

Those paragraphs from An American Childhood don’t include any direct quotations. In the second paragraph, Dillard recounts what her mother said, but she doesn’t present it as dialogue. If the exact words spoken aren’t crucial to a scene, you can present the conversation indirectly, as Dillard does above.

Narratives Don’t Have to Center on Dramatic Events

The excerpts that you’ve just read from An American Childhood demonstrate how to write dialogue and shift between scene and summary. And perhaps most importantly, they demonstrate this: Narratives don’t have to center on dramatic events.

If you think that you don’t have a story to write as your literacy narrative, look again at Dillard’s depiction of herself as a student of the natural world. There’s no dramatic conflict, but there’s desire. First, she wants to see an amoeba,  something she’s never seen before. Second, she wants her parents to share her excitement, but they don’t. With her microscope, Annie Dillard develops her knowledge of nature, but the larger learning experience that takes place is her realization that “you do what you do out of your private passion for the thing itself” (149). She has “essentially been handed [her] own life” (149).

What quiet, significant learning experience of yours has lingered in your mind? Your answer to that question could be the start of your literacy narrative.

Literacy Narrative Topics

I included your options in the previous blog post and am listing them here as well:

  • any early memory about writing, reading, speaking, or another form of literacy that you recall vividly
  • someone who taught you to read or write
  • someone who helped you understand how to do something
  • a book that has been significant to you in some way
  • an event at school that was related to your literacy and that you found interesting, humorous, or embarrassing
  • a literacy task that you found (or still find) especially difficult or challenging
  • a memento that represents an important moment in your literacy development
  • the origins of your current attitudes about writing, reading, or speaking
  • creating and maintaining your WordPress blog

Length Requirement

Your literacy narrative should be no fewer than five-hundred words. I encourage you to challenge yourself to exceed the minimum.

When to Begin

You are not required to begin your literacy narrative before the class period devoted to drafting, but you are welcome to sketch out ideas and begin drafting in your journal.

Dillard, Annie. An American Childhood. Harper & Row, 1987.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.

60 thoughts on “ENG 111: Of Mice and Memoirs, Part II

  1. My current plans for my literacy narrative are to write about the origins behind my current attitude towards writing and speaking. I have had a conflicted past towards writing and speaking, and I’m still a little confused as to where I stand currently towards writing and speaking. I hope that choosing this as a topic will help me figure out what my attitude towards writing and speaking truly is.

  2. Hi mam, I am sahira and I think my story about reading and writing is little bit different from others in my class. As you know English is not my narrative language, I remember it was a bit difficult for me when I first come here in USA and started my classes but thank God I got a good teacher. She did help me a lot and encourage me every time, This thing help me and I showed good result in 002, but still when I try to judge myself I think I am still weak in English. I hope I could make good in this.

    1. Thank you, Sahira. If you read the introductory blog posts by your classmates and the students in sections FJB06 and FGT03, you will discover others in English 111 who speak and write English as a second language. I look forward to reading your literacy narrative.

  3. My literacy narrative will be about my group project on debating in my eighth grade English class. English wasn’t a subject that best suited me at the time, but I have definitely improved since then. This group project has taught me how to coordinate documents, how to set up facts and how to branch off said facts, and it taught me how to lead a group. I was partnered with three other people, two being my friends. The opposing team we had to go against had a few classmates and my best friend, that alone motivated me to do my best to win the debate.

  4. I plan to write my literacy narrative on a communication exercise we did in my AP English 11 class. It involved continuing an essay response in which the first person had to choose a side on a debate topic, and we had to continue it without being able to talk, reading what they wrote only. It taught me a lesson in the importance of communication, and especially writing clarity and continuity.

    1. Thank you, John. That AP English assignment sounds like a very effective exercise in communication. I look forward to reading more about it.

  5. Hello blog, my plan for my narrative is to write about a event that happened at school related to literacy. Said events lead me to discovery the book I feel is the most significant to me. The book I’m referring to is the first book I read cover to cover. I would also include how the book has influenced my current attitude towards literary.

    1. Thank you, Dennis. I look forward to reading about the significance of the first book that you read from cover to cover.

  6. My literacy plans for this upcoming week are to write an automotive literacy narrative. When I was fifteen, I met a man from my church, Matt, who, come to find out, specialized in working specifically on Chevrolet trucks. He is my mentor and friend. He has helped me numerous times, and he has taught me almost everything I know. I would enjoy writing about what he has taught me these past few years on building trucks and how everything correlates into one working machine. I truly enjoying learning from him and to continue learning for the next year.

    1. Thanks, Jonah. I look forward to reading your automotive literacy narrative and learning more about your work with your mentor, Matt.

  7. My plan for this class is to learn more about literacy narrative and to learn more about how to properly write and directing my writings more to the audience properly. English has never been one of my strong suits but I hope in this class that I may learn more than I ever did in grade school and be able to put it to practice.

  8. My literacy narrative will be on my current attitude towards reading, writing, and speaking. One of my earlier English classes I was struggling with all three aspects of the subject. The teacher that had noticed that I was being very vague in my writing and getting choked up while speaking. She had talked with me about it and taught me how to think in a different way that helps me perceive and acknowledge both literature and my surroundings in ways I never I thought I could do. These small skills helped me write more interesting and more in-depth papers and even though I’m still a bit nervous speaking in large groups I can do so a bit more easily and get my point across without locking up and panicking like I was when I was younger.

  9. Im Luke Dunlap and my plans for the literacy narrative is to write about my first English 111 class and how i struggled. but how i learned how to write an essay. I struggled alot and I wanted to quit many times. In the end i learned to not give up and I Finshed the 2 essays. But i did fail the class. Thats ok because i learned to quit.

  10. I plan to construct my literacy narrative based on how I’m feeling about writing/speaking as of now. If I travel back to my 5th and 6th grade year, I was completely blown away when it came to how much freedom I had writing. I was always a very quiet child, but all of the best sides of me came out on a piece of paper. Writing was my go-to, my fall back if I needed to escape reality for a little bit. Now I just feel like my entire life revolves around my work and I do not have much time for writing. But I will always remember the feeling of creating something from nothing in the snap of a finger, on a piece of paper.

    1. Thanks, Brandon. Carving out time to write when you’re consumed by work responsibilities can be extremely challenging. I look forward to reading your literacy narrative.

  11. I plan to write my literacy narrative about an early memory of a form of literacy I recall, which is spelling. To prepare myself, I will go in depth of everything I remember about learning how to spell, how important spelling is to me, and how it has helped me over time in school.

    1. Thanks, Josh. I look forward to reading your literacy narrative and seeing which particular words figure in your early memories of spelling.

  12. I want to direct my literacy narrative towards my current attitude towards reading, and speaking, and development in creativity towards writing. Throughout my childhood I have always enjoyed anime, but my feelings toward reading, and writing were always negative. Recently however I started to get into manga like webcomics on an app called Webtoon, and started to really unusually enjoy reading. Some of my favorite webtoons have just been able to go on to be animes, so this has created a spark of creativity in me to maybe make my own comic or future animation. I stated my first sentence in this comment indirectly as sometimes when it comes to my own pieces of writing I can be very indecisive and do better with something else in the motion of my mind, and feelings. I feel like I’ll be able to get my feelings into the idea I previously stated though.

    1. Thanks, Lucas. I look forward to reading your literacy narrative and seeing how WebComics have sparked your creativity and changed the way you feel about reading.

  13. My literacy narrative will be based on an English class I had recently in the past , in which the teacher really helped me understand the concept of digging deeper into novels and texts. I did struggle a lot throughout my life on breaking down texts and understanding what they actually meant until I met this teacher. I also had struggled with speaking especially in front of the class and with my writing but she helped me with it all and now I have new knowledge that helps me do tasks that I probably would not have been able to do before.

    1. Thank you, Alaina. I’m grateful that one of your recent teachers helped you develop your critical reading skills and become more comfortable as a public speaker. I look forward to reading your literacy narrative.

  14. For this assignment I would like to acknowledge the impact literacy has had on my life, with regards to how I interpret reality and manage to articulate myself. I will be making reference to my relationship with foreign languages, explaining in more concrete examples how literacy has granted me opportunities I wouldn’t have encountered otherwise. Another aspect I would love to expand on is the merging of language and art, and how I’ve integrated that into my own life through independent work. Finally, I would like to give credit where credit is due and acknowledge the tremendous influence my father has had in my development as a thinker and creator.

    1. Thank you, Emi. Keep in mind that your literacy narrative is an essay that focuses on one particular learning experience. Your aim is not to present a comprehensive examination of your learning development but instead to recreate one particular experience and convey its significance. I looking forward to seeing which one you choose.

  15. My plans for my literacy blog are to write about the origins of my current attitude towards reading and writing. I will talk about how growing up I was always math minded and never really had a want to read books. In tenth grade I had a difficult English teacher who gave essay assignments every week. Although at the time it felt like a drag to do, sometimes we could choose our own book and I actually began to like writing about books that I enjoyed and could relate to.

    1. Thanks, Micah. I look forward to reading more about how your experience in tenth-grade English class changed the way you view writing.

  16. I plan to write my literacy about the first school that I went to whenever I first got to this country. This school is call “newcomers school” it helped me learn the things I needed to start learning how to speak, write, and read. I went to this school for a year and then they sent me to the one I was supposed to go and everything I learned there helped me out a lot.

  17. My Literacy Narrative will be about a book that is significant to me in some way. I’ve always found this one book so interesting to me when I was younger but I still find it interesting today my parents don’t think its teaching me about anything and its a low grade level but i like to read for entertainment and amusement not only for education.

    1. Thank you, Pharah. I look forward to reading about one of the books that captured your imagination when you were a child.

  18. My current plans for Literacy Narrative are to write about my origins of my current attitude towards reading and writing. I will discuss how growing up in Mexico differed from when I moved here regarding my education. In Mexico, I didn’t read much, but that changed once I moved here and learned more English to understand the books that were written.

  19. Hi, good afternoon. I plan to do my literacy narrative about the origins of my current attitudes about writing, reading, and speaking. Since I am learning English as a second language, I struggled a lot with my classes in general. I had some embarrassing situations that taught me a lot. It was very hard for me because I had better skills and better grades when I was in my country. Honestly I am so excited to keep learning more to become a better student and improve my grades.

  20. I plan to compose my literacy narrative of the current attitude I have towards writing, reading and speaking. Early on I always felt like I’ve struggled with writing and public speaking. Since middle school when I would have to write papers I would always feel on edge but I realize now that one of the best ways to improve my writing is to step out of my comfort zone and consistently do it.

    1. Thank you, Calista. I look forward to reading about how you’ve developed your writing and public pseaking skills by stepping out of your comfort zone.

  21. My plans for my literacy blog are to write about the origins of my current attitude towards reading and writing. i will talk about how growing up i learned to love reading books. i loved to go to english class and learn cause that was always my best subject.

  22. I plan to base my literacy narrative on an English class I had in the past. This high school class was different than any I’ve ever taken because it was completely online (before the pandemic and online became normal). My teacher lived and taught from California. She had a different style of writing/teaching than I’ve ever seen. Her comments and suggestions for my work really made me take a hard look and change some of the habits I’ve had for years. It was easy for her to be objective because she had never met me. It was easy for me to write personally because I had never met her, although I knew her better by the end. I learned two things from her class: that there’s big cultural differences just from one end of the country to another, and that writing is really a medium in which you can get to know someone. My literacy narrative will explore these two topics.

    1. Thank you, Olivia. I’m grateful that your English instructor in California contributed to your development as a writer. I look forward to reading your literacy narrative.

  23. I thought we were to write this into our note books that is why this reply is late. Although I was planning on writing about my experiences with English classes though out my life. I’ve decided that I am not 100% sure that I remember significant memories about those classes that have enough for me to write about. Through the recent year though I’ve learned so much about how to read blue prints and read machine code. I would love to write about how much my knowledge expanded in 1 year. I think it would be an amazing opportunity to write about how much I have learned about machining.

    1. I agree, Mason. A few minutes ago, I replied to your other recent comment. Focusing on the language of blue prints and machine code sounds very promising.

  24. I plan to write my literacy narrative about my 12th grade English class. I was failing English towards the end of the first quarter so my teacher offered me extra credit. All my past experiences with reading and witting at the time were purely focused on getting an assignment done or passing a test. The extra credit made me realize reading and writings value to me and I ended up with a B at the end of the year because of my new outlook also I read outside of school now and I never thought I would do that.

    1. Craig, I’m grateful that your twelfth-grade English teacher gave you an extra-credit opportunity that changed your outlook on reading and writing. I recommend including a scene that depicts you working on the assignment. In your conclusion, where you convey the significance of the memory, you can address how the experience changed your perception of the written word.

  25. My plan for my literacy narrative is to focus on the concussion that I got my sophomore year of high school. It altered my life and my mindset. The significance of my narrative would be what the hardest year of my life taught me.

    1. Gavin, I recommend developing two scenes: one that depicts the collision on the bleachers and a second one that shows your recovery.

  26. My literacy narrative will be based on , how I been learning,how to write essays,poems,scripts and others things.In the past few years I been struggling with English since it’s not my first language,but when I did creating writing in high school it help it me a lot in a way of developing not just my writing but my speaking too, since you had to interact with people most of the time.

    1. Nathaly, I’m grateful that your creative writing class helped you develop your writing and oral communication skills. For your literacy narrative, I recommend focusing on one or two scenes that depict you writing or growing more comfortable with speaking.

  27. Hi, my name is Luke, My literacy narrative blog will be about my attitude I have towards reading and writing. My experience with English in school will be a little different than most. I am dyslexic and have dealt with dyslexica my hole life. I want to shair my struggles and experiences throughout my years of school and how much it has affected me.

    1. Luke, consider how you might recreate the experience of dyslexia for your readers. What might you compare it to, or how might present words on the page to show how a line of text appears to someone who’s dyslexic?

  28. I will write about my 12th grade English class. I am an awful writer and this past year I’d say I have progressed a lot. I wrote more papers out of all the other years I’ve been in school. Ms.Hackney was the teacher and she was a pretty hard teacher when it came to writing.

    1. Christian, I’m grateful to read that your senior English teacher, Ms. Hackney, challenged you to develop your writing skills–and you are not an awful writer.

      1. Christian, many of us do not have access to Moodle right now. You don’t need to email your literacy narrative; just make sure it’s posted to your blog.

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