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June 21, 2008


Many students like to attempt the single-word essay title using a narrative approach, assuming that they can easily write a relevant story. Unfortunately, bland language and lapses of logic in their writing cause them to be awarded a less-than-satisfactory grade.

Sample A shows a poor attempt while Sample B is a much improved version. Note the underlined phrases in Sample B — you may want to learn to use these phrases in your own writing:


Sample A

It was a silent and warm night, as usual. John was tossing and turning in bed as the heat was unbearable. 

Suddenly, in the still of the night, John heard someone shouting, “Help! Help!”. Instinctively, he got out of bed and looked out of the window, trying to find out who was in trouble. In the distance, across the main road, John saw a flat bursting in flames and the residents in the flat trying hard to put out the fire but to no avail. He saw a man, a woman, and a child.

Scared but brave, John picked up the phone and dialled for the fire brigade. After that, he dashed out of the house and hurried to the burning flat. By this time, his actions had disturbed his family members’ slumber and they too found out about the fire. Following John, they all rushed over to the burning flat.

When they arrived, a small crowd of curious onlookers had gathered at the field next to the block of flats. John, without hesitation, ran upstairs to the flat and knocked the door down with all his might. The fire was burning hot yet John bravely dashed in to save the people. The flames almost burnt John alive but he did not give up. First, he opened the way for the man and woman to leave. Next, he grabbed the child in his arms and dashed out of the burning flat.

Leaving behind the thick smoke, all of them managed to escape the crisis and reached safe ground. By then, the ambulance and fire engine had arrived. The firemen quickly put out the fire and the ambulance fetched the people to the hospital. John coughed as the smoke had choked him. However, the crowd cheered as John had been a courageous young man.

The next day, the headlines of the local paper wrote: “Brave Teen Saves Lives” and showed a picture of John. John’s family was very proud of him.


Sample B

The overbearing heat of the still night threatened to cause John to suffer another sleepless night. He was disturbed by the sound of his own heavy breathing as well as the drone of the whirring fan at the foot of his bed.

When he stared at the carbon sky, he noticed a flash of forked lightning and a great clap of thunder which signalled possible reprieve from the unforgiving heat. Just as John was indulging in deep thought, he abruptly snapped out of his reverie when an almost incoherent scream of “Help! Help!” pierced through the initially serene neighbourhood.

Once he had managed to surmise the severity of the situation, John jolted out of bed and peered anxiously out of the window. The view in front of his eyes robbed him of speech. A flat in the block opposite his was engulfed in ferocious flames. Billowing clouds of thick smoke enveloped the surroundings, such that John could barely see the trapped residents in the burning inferno. The man was waving frantically while the woman was desperately trying to shield their child from the onslaught of the menacing blaze that was threatening to char them alive

After John had regained composure, he instinctively called the fire brigade for help. Immediately after, he darted out of house and sprinted towards the conflagration. It was a race against time for the victims and a challenge for John – he knew that he had to do something, even if it meant risking his life.

By the time he arrived at the scene, a huge crowd had gathered at the field opposite the blazing flat – some were harassed and panic-stricken residents who had escaped from their flat unscathed, some were curious onlookers who were more interested in the night entertainment while the rest were fervently trying to douse the fire.

John wasted no time – he rushed to the entrance of the flat, only to notice that the main door was bolted and the scorching heat radiating from the flat posed great difficulty for John. Yet John, without consideration for his life, kicked down the door with all his might. While he was attempting to crouch low as he made his way towards the screaming trio, John was met with a deafening explosion that rocked the building and threw John to the floor. Loud cries followed.

Undaunted though filled with trepidation, John crawled under the canopy of the billowing smoke towards the family. Unfortunately, John’s right arm was severely burnt by the intense flames and his eyes teared continuously from the sting of the smoke. Yet, this teenage hero’s unflagging determination to save the helpless family spurred him on, despite his life-threatening injuries. Once he had reached the desperate residents, he grabbed the crying child from her mother and led the reluctant family out of the hellhole. All of them ambled their way to safety as the thick smoke choked and temporarily blinded them.

The moment the group emerged from the impenetrable column of smoke, the crowd cheered uncontrollably for the unlikely hero. John whimpered, “Take the child” before gently putting the inconsolable child down and collapsing to the ground when his feet felt the safety of the grass. Even the wail of sirens of fire engines and ambulances could not rouse John from his unconsciousness.

The paramedics were quick in attending to the victims while the firemen hosed the fire down as the police cordoned off the area. As if aided by the heavens, just then, a curtain of rain pelted from the skies and eventually extinguished the intimidating raging monster. As day broke, the chaotic situation returned to normalcy.

The next day, the headlines of the local paper flashed: “Brave Teen Saves Lives”. Even though John suffered second-degree burns which required skin-grafting, John had no regrets for having plucked up his courage to save lives. John’s bravery made him a local hero and a role model for his contemporaries.


You would have noticed that Sample A falls short of expectations because it is certainly too short and the story is bland. The characters are not well fleshed out at all and there are some lapses of logic. On the other hand, Sample B consists of sophisticated language and is engaging. 

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