Narrative Writing: Historical Narrative
A narrative is a story about events that have happened. It is usually told in chronological order, that is, in the order in which the events occurred. Writers often use narratives when they write about historical events or people. True stories about people’s lives—biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs—are historical narratives.
Basic Structure of a Historical Narrative
- Introduction of the characters, setting, and any background information or interesting details that the reader needs to follow the story
- Information about why this event is significant or this person is important
- Description of the significant problem or conflict
- The story, describing what happened and answering the questions who, what, when, where, why, and how
- Paragraphs or sections organized by time periods and including interesting details
- Many time words and expressions
- Chronological order, or a pattern that clearly signals any shifts in time, so readers can tell the story is moving forward or backward from the “now”
- Details and descriptive language to bring the story alive
- Description of the end of the story that solves the problem or conflict in a satisfactory way
- Comment on the significance or importance of the subject
Adverbs of Manner
Adverbs of manner describe how an action is done and they can help to make a story come alive. Most adverbs of manner end in -ly:
deliberately, quickly, successfully, nervously, formally, frequently, closely, highly
Jenner, and other scientists and doctors, waited nervously for the results.
Prepositions of Time
Prepositions of time show when something happens:
in, at, on, by, during, for, after, before, until, from
In 1694, at the age of 49, a remarkable poet died.
Transitions help your writing move from one idea, sentence, or paragraph to the next in a clear way. Adverbs used as transitions help show when something happened, so that the reader understands the sequence of events in chronological order.
Use adverbs at the beginning of a sentence, in front of the main verb, or after the verb be:
finally, then, soon, today, eventually, now, while, fortunately
The little boy was then locked in a barn with other children.
Eventually, Jenner’s contributions to science were formally recognized.
Soon, Matsuo had his own school and students.
Different verb forms are used to show whether actions are completed or still happening at a particular time.
Simple past – use to describe single, completed actions or events in the past:
They stayed there until they either died or recovered.
Matsuo’s life began in 1644 in Ueno, a small town in Iga Province.
Past progressive – use to indicate that a particular action or event was in progress at a particular point in the past:
By 1770, he was studying anatomy and surgery at St. George’s Hospital in London.
Would – use to indicate that a completed action or event happened after another action or event in the past (the past of the future):
Edward Jenner would never forget his terrible days in the barn.
Now 40 years old, Basho knew the trip would be difficult and dangerous.
Model Text 1: Historical Account
The Father of Vaccination
A In a small town in England, in the middle of the eighteenth century, a doctor infected an eight-year-old boy named Edward Jenner with a deadly disease. The little boy was then locked in a barn with other children who had been infected in the same way. They stayed there until they either died or recovered. B Fortunately for humanity, Jenner survived.
2 Body Paragraphs
B Child abuse? No—variolation. Variolation was a common medical practice in the eighteenth century. It involved deliberately infecting a healthy person with smallpox, a highly contagious disease that killed one in three infants and young children. C At the time, doctors believed that healthy people infected with the pus of patients sick with mild cases of smallpox would develop only a mild form of the disease. They would then be protected from smallpox for the rest of their lives. Although variolation was the only way of fighting smallpox at that time, it was quite dangerous. About 10 percent of variolated patients became sick with a severe case of smallpox, and many of them died.
Edward Jenner would never forget his terrible days in the barn. Perhaps that was why he decided to become a doctor. D In 1761, at just 13, Jenner began his medical studies. By 1770, he was studying anatomy and surgery at St. George’s Hospital in London.
D After two years in London, Jenner returned to his hometown. He was a popular doctor, due to his gentle personality and surgical skill. Jenner’s patients frequently requested variolation. He performed the procedure many times; however, he never locked children in a barn, as had been done to him! Jenner observed that some of his variolated patients never developed even a mild case of smallpox. Jenner wanted to understand why. He discovered that they had all had cowpox before. Cowpox was a mild illness which affected mostly people who worked closely with cows. Jenner observed that cowpox, while much less severe than smallpox, was very similar to it. He also knew of a traditional belief that people who had had cowpox never got smallpox. Based on his observations, Jenner developed a theory. He believed that cowpox could be deliberately passed from one person to another. The infected person would then get cowpox, but the cowpox would protect them from the much more serious disease of smallpox.
D In May 1796, Jenner was finally able to test his theory. He learned that a young woman from a local farm, Sarah Nelmes, had cowpox. Jenner asked the parents of an eight-year-old boy named James Phipps for permission to perform a risky experiment on their son. Jenner chose James because he had never had cowpox or smallpox. Jenner removed pus from Sarah’s hand and spread it on scratches he had made on the boy’s arms. As he had expected, the boy developed a mild case of cowpox, but quickly recovered. Jenner was now ready for the second part of his experiment. On July 1, 1796, Jenner variolated Phipps with pus from a smallpox patient. Jenner, and other scientists and doctors, waited nervously for the results.
In fact, James Phipps never developed smallpox. This was clear support for Jenner’s theory. However, more data were needed. Jenner experimented successfully on 13 more patients, D and at the end of 1796 wrote a report describing his work for the Royal Society. However, the Society refused to publish it. Jenner’s theory was just too different from the medical beliefs of the time.
Jenner ignored the criticism and continued experimenting. D In 1798, he published his own book. It was based on 23 cases in which vaccination (named for the vaccinnia virus of cowpox) resulted in protection against smallpox. Although many people continued to criticize Jenner, some well-known London physicians were starting to vaccinate their patients. E By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the practice of vaccination had spread throughout the world.
Eventually, Jenner’s contributions to science were formally recognized. However, he never tried to get rich through his discovery. Instead, he spent much of his time working, without pay, to spread the good news about vaccination. In 1977, the final person with smallpox recovered. F No new cases appeared, and in 1980 the World Health Assembly announced that “the world and its peoples” were free of smallpox.
Model Text 2: Biography
The Haiku Master
A In 1694, at the age of 49, a remarkable Japanese poet died. Before his death, Matsuo Kinsaku, better known as “Basho,” wrote this final poem:
Fallen sick on a journey
my dream goes wandering
over a field of dried grass
B Basho’s last poem, like much of his work, was a haiku—a traditional Japanese poetic form. Most haiku share certain characteristics. First, they are short: only three lines. Second, they describe a remarkable moment in a few simple words. Third, they mention nature in some way—usually the seasons. C Matsuo was one of the greatest masters of haiku; he wrote over 1,000 of these small, surprising poems. His haiku reflect his life experiences.
2 Body Paragraphs
A E Matsuo’s life began in 1644 in Ueno, a small town in Iga Province. After the death of his father in 1656, Matsuo left home and became a servant. His master was Todo Yoshitada, a wealthy young man. Todo and Matsuo quickly discovered they had something in common: they both loved writing poetry. D One of their favorite poetic subjects was an old cherry tree in Todo’s garden. Matsuo wrote many haiku about it, such as this one from 1664:
The old-lady cherry
is blossoming—in her old age
an event to remember
E Until 1666, Matsuo enjoyed a simple life of working and writing poetry. Then Todo suddenly died. Matsuo lost his job and best friend. Filled with sadness, he traveled to the capital of Edo (modern-day Tokyo) to start a new life. There, he studied and wrote poetry. His poetry began to attract fans. Soon, Matsuo had his own school and many students. His life was comfortable again.
A D Inside, however, Matsuo felt empty. Although his friends liked the many shops and crowded streets of Edo, Basho felt out of place in the city. He wanted a change. Looking for inspiration, E he moved to a small hut outside of Edo in the winter of 1680. D In front of this simple house, he planted a banana tree, called a basho in Japanese. It became the subject of many haiku:
The banana plant in the autumn storm
rain dripping in the tub
listening that night
D Because he loved his banana tree so much, Matsuo’s friends began calling him Basho. The poet enjoyed this and began signing his poems Basho. E Then, one cold winter day, a fire burned down his hut. For the third time in his life, Matsuo was without a home.
A Feeling lost and without purpose, Basho traveled the countryside of Japan. He planned to visit the twelve provinces between Edo and Kyoto, Japan’s second largest city. E Now forty years old, Basho knew the trip would be difficult and dangerous. He expected to die from illness or be killed by robbers. But he traveled safely. Basho began to enjoy his long journey. He met many people and made new friends. As he traveled, the topics of his haiku began to change. He focused less on his feelings and more on nature. While on the road, Basho wrote some of his best haiku:
to see lightning and not think
life is fleeting
E For the rest of his life, Matsuo traveled the Japanese countryside. His travels took him east to the Pacific coast. He climbed the mountains of Honshu in the north. He traveled west to the inland sea. His final journey was south to the city of Osaka, where he wrote his final poem. C Today, his haiku inspire writers and readers from countries all over the world. His poems encourage people to see their lives and the things around them in a new way.