a picture of conflict

Conflict is the driving force of a narrative. It shows and structures the flow of events. In James Alexander Thom’s essay, “The Perfect Pictures” he is torn between two thoughts ‘to take the picture’ or ‘to not take the picture’. He is sharing a personal experience about how the media has made “human sufferings … a spectator sport” (Thom 460). Thom has an opportunity to take “the perfect picture” that would have gained him a prize-winning photograph, but he decides not to because he chooses to make the right decision by giving the family their rightful space to heal.

He narrates a tragic scene where he as a young reporter witnesses an emotional event in which a grandfather accidentally runs over his baby granddaughter with his pickup truck. The purpose of Thom’s narration is to make his audience empathize with him. This analysis discusses the various writing techniques Thom uses to make his essay a successful and effective essay. Narrative essays recreate the events that have occurred and are told from a specific point of view in the first person or third person.

Thom uses a first-person narrative by the use of the pronoun ‘I’ in the opening paragraph by stating: “I was a young police reporter, driving to a scene I didn’t want to see” (Thom 459). Writing in the first person allows Thom to add more personal details that give life to the story and convince the reader of his message. Another aspect of a narrative is the effective use of verbs and nouns. The nouns make the reader ‘see’ and the verbs which are vivid and precise make the reader ‘feel’.

Thom’s expressions such as “backlight by a frilly curtained window”, “swaddled corpse”, “tiny body” (Thom 460), makes the reader picture the scene and has a deep emotional impact on the event. A narrative becomes even more powerful when it has a dialogue stating a real conversation in the narrator’s own words. It heightens the interest and drives the reader into the story. Thom uses dialogue in his narrative which depicts the grandfather’s speech to the narrator. He states: “I was just backing up there to spread that good dirt”; “I didn’t even know she was outdoors” (Thom 460).

The dialogue brings the story to life and takes the reader closer to the character making the scene feel real. In addition to this, Thom uses scene and emphasis changes in each paragraph. This technique creates drama and allows him to jump from one situation to another without having to connect them together, but maintaining a structured flow of thoughts. In a well-written narrative, the key events are selected carefully to explain and support the story. Thom’s key events are deep, insightful, and full of sensory details.

One of the key events in his essay is described like this: “On a Formica-topped table, backlighted by a frilly curtained window, lay the tiny body, wrapped in a clean white cloth. Somehow the grandfather had managed to stay away from the crowd. He was sitting on a chair beside the table, in profile to me and unaware of my presence, looking uncomprehendingly at the swaddled corpse” (Thom 460). This is effective because it shows the reader the location of the event, the state of the deceased, and the grandfather’s emotional feelings at that moment.

Through this vivid description, it makes the reader feel the grandfather’s pain and feel the remorse that he felt. By doing this, it draws the reader closer and makes them empathize with his effort to do the right thing. Thom’s decision to not take the picture and walk away is admirable. The main goal of Thom’s essay is to convince the reader that the media makes human sufferings vulnerable. He wants us to learn a lesson from his personal experience and convince us that misusing people’s suffering just to entertain others is not the right thing to do.

Thom has definitely succeeded in getting his message across and I truly believe that he did the right thing.

James Alexander Thom is of origin from Gosport, Indiana, who is a freelance writer and an author to several historical novels. In his essay, ”The Perfect Picture” he is retelling a personal experience about how media has made ‘‘human sufferings … a spectator sport’’ (Reinkin/Osten, 485).

He narrates a tragic scene where he as a young reporter witnesses a sorrowful event in which a grandfather accidentally runs over his baby granddaughter with his pick up truck. The narrator as the writer has the golden opportunity to snap a ‘’perfect picture’’ of the situation but is confronted with a dilemma within himself. He is conflicted between the ‘’prize-winning opportunity as a journalist’ and his sensitive side. In the end, he chooses not to take the picture as it is the right thing to do. The purpose of Thom’s narration is to make his audience empathize with him.

This analysis discusses the various writing techniques Thom uses to make his essay a successful and effective essay. In a narrative of personal writing, the author tells a story. Narrative essays are told from a specific point of view which is either in the first person or the third person. In the essay ‘The Perfect Picture’, Thom uses a first-person narrative, which is evident by the use of the pronoun ‘I’. For instance, in Thom’s essay, he elucidates the first person point of view in the opening paragraph by stating: ‘’I was a young police reporter, driving to a scene I didn’t want to see. Reinkin/Osten,484)’’ Thom uses this point of view to portray or illustrate an event from his personal experience, that gives him room to make judgments and have an opinion which greatly influences the reader. Writing in the first person allows Thom to add more personal details. If he had used general examples instead of a specific one and wrote in the third person, it would have been one dimensional, cold and impersonal, lacking any emotions. A narrative recreates the events that have occurred.

It is a three-dimensional description of actions that have already taken place in the past. It is retold in slow motion, which is dramatized and is filled with details. Thom depicts his arrival at the tragic scene with such details of the grandfather’s state that makes us feel his sorrow and sadness. In his essay, Thom describes the grandfather as a ‘‘man in cotton work clothes standing near a pickup. Cameras were trained on him, and reporters were sticking microphones in his face. Looking totally bewildered, he was trying to answer their questions. I can still see in my mind’s eye that devastated old man looking down at the place in the driveway where the child had been (Reinkin/Osten,485)’’. Even more, he makes us feel anger and contempt towards the media crew present at the scene by describing them as insensitive and inhumane. By narrating a detailed account of the event the narrator gives life to the story and convinces the reader of his message. The account of the key events in a story ‘’that are directly related to the purpose’’ (Reinkin/Osten, 85) are the building blocks of a narrative.

In a productive narrative, the events are carefully selected to explain, support, and embellish the story. The key events in Thom’s essay are deep, insightful, and full of sensory details. One of the key events in his essay is described like this: ‘’On a Formica-topped table, backlighted by a frilly curtained window, lay the tiny body, wrapped in a clean white cloth. Somehow the grandfather had managed to stay away from the crowd. He was sitting on a chair beside the table, in profile to me and unaware of my presence, looking uncomprehendingly at the swaddled corpse’’ (Reinkin/Osten, 485).

This short yet effective short paragraph of his essay is rich with information and describes various aspects of the event. It is effective because he manages to skillfully show the reader the location of the event, the state of the deceased is, the position of the grandfather with respect to the corpse, and the emotion he feels at that moment. Through this vivid description, Thom makes the reader feel the grandfather’s pain and feel the remorse and sorrow that he felt. There are many short paragraphs in Thom’s essay like the one illustrated above.

In addition to this, the scene and emphasis changes in each paragraph. This technique creates drama and allows the narrator to jump from one situation to another without having to connect them together, but maintaining a structured flow of thoughts. Another aspect that makes Thom’s essay successful is the effective use of verbs and nouns. The verbs are vivid and precise. The nouns make the reader ‘see’ and the verbs make the reader ‘feel’. The nouns and verbs used in a narrative further the writer’s message and influence the intended audience.

Thom’s expressions such as ‘’freshly spaded flower bed’’, ‘’pile of dark rich dirt’’, ‘’backlight by a frilly curtained window’’, ‘’swaddled corpse’’, ‘’tiny body’’ (Reinken/Osten, 485), makes the reader picture the scene of the event and has a deep emotional impact on the reader. Conflict is the driving force of a narrative. It incites and structures the flow of events. In Thom’s essay, the narrator is conflicted with two thoughts. He is split between his professional side and his compassionate humane side.

Thom has an opportunity to take ‘‘the perfect picture’’ that would have gained him a prize-winning photograph, but he decides not to because he chooses to make the right decision by giving the family their rightful space to heal and overcome the feeling of shock and despair without being put under the magnifying glass for everyone to scrutinize. By doing this, Thom draws the reader closer and makes them empathize with his effort to do the right thing. A narrative becomes even more powerful and productive when it has dialogue. Good dialogue is stating a real conversation in the narrator’s own words.

It dramatizes and enlivens the story and takes the reader into the story. Thom uses dialogue in his narrative which depicts the grandfather’s speech to the narrator. He states: ‘’I was just backing up there to spread that good dirt. ’’, ‘’I didn’t even know she was outdoors. ’’ (Reinkin/Osten, 460). Even though the dialogue only consists of two sentences, it brings the story to life and takes the reader closer to the character and makes the scene real. Through this dialogue, it makes me as a reader deeply feel the grandfather’s grief and sorrow, and understand it is an innocent mistake that anyone can make.

Conflict is the driving force of a narrative. It incites and structures the flow of events. In Thom’s essay, the narrator is conflicted with two thoughts. He is split between his professional side and his compassionate humane side. Thom has an opportunity to take ‘‘the perfect picture’’ that would have gained him a prize-winning photograph, but he decides not to because he chooses to make the right decision by giving the family their rightful space to heal and overcome the feeling of shock and despair without being put under the magnifying glass for everyone to scrutinize.

By doing this, Thom draws the reader closer and makes them empathize with his effort to do the right thing. I profoundly understand the reason Thom didn’t choose to take the picture, as I have self been a victim of media’s intrusion. Thom’s decision is noble and praiseworthy because media has made people’s misery and hardships to a ‘’spectator sport’’ (Reinkin/Osten, 485). The ultimate goal of Thom’s essay is to convince the readers about the fact that the media makes human sufferings so vulnerable and open for the entire world to scrutinize.

He wants us to learn a lesson from his personal experience which is described skillfully through a narrative essay. He convinces us that breaching someone’s privacy and misusing people’s suffering or crisis just to entertain others is not the right thing to do. Thom has definitely succeeded in getting his message across to me as a reader as I truly believe that he did the right thing and we all should too. Personal narrative essays are essentially non-fiction stories, ones that are neatly arranged like a road map that takes the reader from point A to point B to point C.

In life, and in our own personal experience, things aren’t so straightforward as A-B-C. Characters, facts, places, conversations, and reporting what happened, where you went, what you saw and what you did isn’t always so neatly pulled together. That is your job, as the writer, to pull together all the elements so they bring the reader to the universal truth, the lesson learned or insight gained in your experience. How do you do this? Through re-writing and re-writing. Each time you redo the story more will be revealed to you. You will get “in touch” with the universal truth.

Every rewrite of the story will lead you to the aha! Once you get the aha! the next rewrite will show dramatic improvement. You will be able to arrange events into a chronological sequence that best suits the aha!. When you know the aha! create events, think up examples to better illustrate the theme of your essay. Use the senses when describing anything. The more descriptive language you use, the more you will place the reader right there in the experience with you. Colorful or hard-driving language are the tool of the essayist.

Works Cited

  1. Thom, James Alexander. “The Perfect Picture. ” Strategies for Successful Writing Ninth Edition. (2011):459-460.

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