It is useful to learn to write different types of
stories. In this lesson, we shall start with learning
how to write a recount. This is a very popular type
of examination question.
What is a recount?
In a recount, you take the reader on a journey through
a series of events. The stories usually revolve
around everyday situations. You can also write about
a horrific act of terrorism such as the September
11 bombing of the World Trade Centre in America.
HOW TO WRITE
The beginning of a recount is usually called the
orientation. This simply means that you need to
introduce what the story is all about. Tell the
reader what happened, when it happened and where
it happened. You may also add who were involved
and how it all started.
In this section, you tell the reader what happened.
This is known as the record of events. The story should
be told in the chronological order, that means in
the order that it actually happened. The actions,
reactions and emotions of the people involved in the
story must be included to arrest the interest of the
At this stage, you are supposed to round off the story
by linking it back to the starting point.
A MODEL OF A
RECOUNT : A FIRESTORM
(what, who, where, when)
Fire and smoke poured from Mai Tai's hut in a tiny
village in Chiangmai, Thailand. His neighbours' mud
huts were not spared either. They were devoured by
the fire in seconds and exploded into the air like
an atomic-bomb blast. The tragedy, which took the
lives of fourteen villagers struck on the eve of the
Thai New Year in September 1999.
Middle - record of events
Mai Tai, his parents and their neighbours stood transfixed
to the ground as they watched the fire feeding on
their wooden furniture, pillows, blankets, stoves
and cooking utensils. Uncovering his eyes and shaking
his fists, Mai Tai screamed, "Stop it, you blasted
fire! Stop burning my things!"
The fire was dancing along the riverbank,
crackling like bullets and rattling like machine guns.
Mai Tai's head jerked in sudden horror as he caught
sight of flames racing along the top of the trees
swaying in the wind towards him. His aged parents
were weeping inconsolably at the far end corner of
the village, helpless and hopeless.
Then he heard a growing roar. It
grew louder and it began to fill the sky. The noise
was louder than that made by a jet plane. It was the
sound made by the wind and fire. It was fire mixed
with a tornado - a firestorm! Two doors away from
Mai Tai's hut, a flimsily built cow shed suddenly
blew apart and scattered in the air.
Mai Tai fell forward into the sand
covering his face with his hands and crying out to
the gods for mercy. The air was burning and the sky
was ablaze. He forced himself to look through the
slits between his fingers. The whole village was a
great molten sea of fire. There was a rolling ocean
of fire with red curling waves breaking over the huts.
Mai Tai found it hard to breathe. He wanted to touch
the river. The heat was burning his skin and burning
his lungs. He tried to run against the wind. The wind
knocked him cold.
Write a recount of your own using the structure given
above and notes given below. You are free to add more
ideas of your own. Please write in complete sentences
and suitable paragraphs. Do spell correctly and observe
proper grammar rules.
A TRAGIC NIGHT
- orientation (2 paragraphs)
night of traditional Chinese New Year Reunion
dinner at Marine Parade
half of the 9,000 residents became homeless
that night - 14 February 2000
fire started at 8pm - just when most of the
Chinese families had settled down to enjoy a sumptuous
broke out at the new condominium construction
site, next to the Marine Parade Community Club
Middle - record of events (3 paragraphs)
heavy winds blew and fanned
the flames into a raging fire that lasted for
residents had time only to
grab a few valuable belongings before the fire
turned into an inferno that sent them screaming
and scuttling for safety
200 firemen with more than
20 hoses battled to bring the fire under control
fire fighters fought relentlessly
fire seemed to grow in intensity
explosion sent roofing of bungalows
flying into the air
sparks caused a fire to rage
on the rooftop of a nearby block of flats
hundreds of curious onlookers
mingled with the homeless victims to watch from
as near as they all could get
hysterical residents who had
lost their homes had to be rushed to the nearby
Changi Hospital for observation
Ending (2 paragraphs)
at 12 midnight, the fire fighters
succeeded in bringing the rampaging flames under
no one was injured as the
Civil Defence officers managed to effect an efficient
evacuation before the fire devoured 444 houses
and fourteen block of flats
4,444 victims from 1,500 families
were left homeless by the fire
many of them spent the horrific
night at their relatives' homes or temporary shelters
set up at the Bedok Army barracks
EXAM-ORIENTED ENGLISH EXAM GUIDE: VOL. 2
1: CREATIVE WRITING
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO
DEVELOP A STRONG STORY CLIMAX?
Have you been to a rock, pop or classical concert?
If you have, you would understand how your heart starts
to pound when Madonna, Mozart or Michael Jackson brings
the audience to the brink of delirium (sheer madness
and happiness) with their climactic performances.
After that, the audience applaud madly with wolf-whistles
and stamping of feet. This is the sensation you want
to evoke in your examiner. Well, it is probably too
far-fetched to expect the examiner to be so easily
moved by your writing. However, you can always work
towards that goal.
Greatest moment of suspense
The strong story climax is the greatest moment of
suspense as the whole story moves towards it, in the
same way that a piece of musical composition reaches
its crescendo at the end. Like a good joke with a
punch line, the whole point of a good story is its
ending. Think of the movie 'Titanic' once again. Wasn't
the ending where the subsequent make-belief wedding
of Jack and Rose an absolute strong climax? The audience
were cheered by this climax after seeing Jack drowned
in the icy Atlantic waters.
Make an impact in the
As you plan your writing, you must decide on how to
make an impact in the end. The advantage of planning
your ending first is you know how to use the 3-Step
Suspense Technique to work towards your story climax.
Imagine that you are an architect; you need to have
an overall idea of the building that you plan to erect.
You must have a mental picture of what it is going
to look like, even before you consider the nitty-gritty
of how to build it. In the same way, this is how you
can plan your story. Work backwards. Have a theme
first and then decide whether you want your story
to have a tragic, comic or even romantic ending.
HOW TO DEVELOP A STRONG
THE FIVE FAVOURITE TECHNIQUES
Give the characters
in your story some minor problems to face as
your story unfolds. This builds up suspense.
some problems for your characters along the
way or pile up more problems for them to create
even greater tension.
Throw in the
Key Problem in the middle of your story. Remember
not to solve the problem immediately. Sustain
the reader's interest by elaborating on the
problem and give ample description of the pain
and sufferings felt by your characters.
solution to the Key Problem faced by your characters
is the Strong Climax of your story. Will Jack
and Rose survive when the ship capsized? How
will their love be sealed? The Strong Climax
shows that Jack was drowned but Rose survived
to tell their love story.
There are many
ways to solve the Key Problem you have created
for your characters. You may choose to let Jack
and Rose both die in the icy waters. You may
allow them to be rescued or you may choose to
drown Rose and let Jack survive. You are the
director. You call the shots
WHAT ARE THE QUALITIES OF A
STRONG STORY CLIMAX?
Let the Characters face real danger
your characters face real danger in the end.
Make your reader worry for them. Will the detective
be able to track down the fugitive? Is the fugitive
guilty or innocent? Will the horse trainer be
able to tame the horse, which had gone berserk
since it met with an accident? Will its owner,
a little girl who had lost a leg during that
riding accident be able to enjoy riding her
Let your Climax be believable
must be believable. Many students think that
because it is fiction writing, they can make
the characters perform superhuman feats. Do
not make a little girl kill a cobra with a water
pistol in your story.
Resolve the Key Problem in your
resolves the Key Problem. If you are writing
about a boy who stammers and faces difficulties
in relating to his friends, then you must tell
the reader what happens to him in the end? Did
he see a speech therapist to stop the stammer?
Did he gain many friends in the end? You can
give him a sad ending or a happy ending. The
ending must focus on the boy. Do not be sidetracked
and talk about his pet dog that killed his neighbour's
cat in the end. Focus on the problem faced by
the main character. Do not introduce a new character
at the end. Solve the Key Problem faced by the
Add a twist in your Climax
Add a twist
to your ending. Many exciting thrillers end
with a twist in the climax. Lead the reader
to believe that scenario A will take place,
but surprise them with scenario Z! Let's think
of the familiar story of 'The Three Little Pigs'.
Instead of the wolf leaving the three little
pigs alone, end the story with the three little
pigs trapping the wolf, skinning it to make
them fur coats for winter and barbecuing the
wolf for a summer's night party at the beach!!
See, it can have a hilarious twist at the end.
Maintain a Consistent Tone
consistent tone in your writing. If you have
chosen a serious story, then you should not
add a comic climax. For instance if you are
writing a story about how a family pulls together
after the death of their father, do not describe
their father's nasty habit of picking his nose
when he was alive. Do not write about his best
friend bringing in a large specimen of a nose
at the funeral service to honour the memory
of their deceased father. It spoils the tone
of your writing and is annoying to the examiner.
It is definitely a twist but a trivial one and
will not score you points.
End with a doubt in the Reader's
A clever way to end a thriller
or a murder case is to convict the suspect,
then introduce a new piece of evidence and allow
the reader to be the jury and the judge on the
protagonist's supposed guilt. This technique
is not simple to apply, make sure that the doubt
you raise in your reader does not annoy but
intrigue him. For example, in the story of the
'The Three Little Pigs', you may question the
action of killing the big bad wolf as being
acceptable and may choose to ask the reader
whether the pigs should be hanged for murder.
: TOYING WITH CROCODILES
Write an essay of about 400 - 500 words using the
notes below. The Key Problem has been decided for
you. Now, you have to develop your own climax and
conclusion. Refer to the notes above to give the examiner
a satisfying or intriguing ending.
Protagonists (Main characters)
Lim family keeps a crocodile
farm at Yio Chu Kang village
has been a family business
for the last twenty years
Meng Jin's father keep the
crocodiles mainly to sell their valuable skin
occasionally uses the crocodiles
as a tourist attraction to add to their family
Suspense Step 1
as you walk towards the farm,
a strong pungent odour assails your senses
fifty crocodiles live in five
fed dead chickens, ducks and
even rats caught by the family dog Rolf
each crocodile measures two-metre
long and weighs about 100 kilograms
love basking in the sun with
their bodies half buried in the mud and half out
of the water to await unwary victims
several stray cats have fallen
victims to the voracious crocodiles
Suspense Step 2
Mr Lim's biggest problem is
keeping the curious school children off his farm
they have been found feeding
the crocodiles dead lizards and fried chicken
wings as they enjoy seeing the crocodiles swish
their powerful tails as they fight over the scraps
of food thrown into the pond
one night, Mr Lim was devastated
to find his pet dog Rolf yelping for dear life
as it was caught in the jaws of a big ugly crocodile
apparently one of the neighbourhood
boys had played a trick by hurling the little
jack russell into the pond, completely oblivious
to the fate of the poor dog
Step 3 / Climax and Conclusion
You are on your own now. Continue the story. Develop
Suspense Step 3 - focus on Mr Lim, Meng Jin, the naughty
boys and the man-eating crocodiles. The Key Problem
faced by Mr Lim is trying to keep the boys out of
his farm. His pet dog has been killed. What happens
next? You decide. Remember you can add a twist and
end with a happy or tragic ending.
SECTION 2: A
WHAT IS A BOOK
What does it mean to review a book? It means that
you have to decide whether to recommend the readers
to read the book because of certain reasons. You could
also dissuade readers from reading that book because
of its poor writing. On the other hand, you could
state your opinions and invite the reader to read
and make his own judgement about that book.
HOW DO YOU WRITE
A BOOK REVIEW?
THE NINE NOT-TO-BE-FORGOTTEN
It is vital that you state clearly the title of
the book that you are reviewing. Do not assume
that just because it is a very popular book, everyone
ought to know what book you are reviewing.
It is necessary to state who the author is. If
possible, give some information on the background
of the writer. This may include his nationality,
education background, titles of other books that
he has written or any other piece of relevant
information. For example, if you are reviewing
the book 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone'
you have to give more information about the famous
writer J K Rowling and say how popular her other
Harry Potter titles are.
You must describe clearly what the story is all
about. You do not have to provide a summary of
the whole book. Just explain concisely the plot
of the story. In this paragraph, you have to give
your opinion of whether the plot is believable,
arresting, or simply boring. You also have to
give reasons to support your stand.
If it is a book about people, then you should
say whether the characters are well created, believable
and fascinating. If it is a book about animals
or other aspects of nature, then you have to say
whether the author has given superficial information
or vital information about the subject concerned.
Does the book have a tantalising climax or does
it taste flat like flour? Describe the section
that deals with the climax and say why it is good
Is the book readable? Does the writer use simple
modern language or archaic obscure language? Is
the writer simplistic, poetic or simply divine
in his descriptions of the characters, scenes
and mood in the story? Do they appeal to your
sense of touch, smell, taste, hearing and sight?
Do the descriptions create vivid pictures in your
Which part of the story is most exciting? Is it
due to the writing style or the content of that
chapter or the resolution of the crisis? You have
to support your stand.
Which part of the story is most boring? Has the
writer given too much historical or technical
information for you to digest? You have to give
On the whole, how would you rate the book? Would
you recommend the readers to rush to the nearest
bookshop to buy a copy? Or would you rather they
read their favourite Enid Blyton or Roal Dahl
books at home?
A MODEL OF A BOOK REVIEW
I have recently read the book entitled 'Shanghai Baby'
written by a young Chinese graduate named Wei Hui.
It is a story of love, sex and self-discovery. What
made me read the book was the fact that it was banned
in China. I was also keen to learn more about the
mindset of the youths in modern Shanghai.
The author is the daughter of an army officer. She
studied literature at the prestigious Fudan University
in Shanghai. She has been criticised by the Chinese
press as being decadent, debauched, as well as a slave
of foreign culture. The book was banned in April 2000
and 40,000 copies were publicly burned.
The book is a semi-autobiographical account of her
spiritual and sexual awakening. The story is based
on her personal experience. The characters are fictitious
but the experiences are genuine. The protagonists
are Coco and her spiritless boy friend Tian Tian.
The theme focuses on how Coco tries to establish her
personal identity after moving out of her parent's
house. She starts living with her newfound love Tian
Tian. She is a struggling writer and he comes from
a sad family background. His father is mysteriously
murdered and his mother abandons him to run a restaurant
with her lover in Spain. Tian Tian is entrusted to
the care of his paternal grandmother.
The story highlights the intensity as well as the
insanity of the love between the couple. It is not
a healthy relationship that would be encouraged by
parents. Nonetheless it is supposed to portray the
pain and angst of finding oneself both spiritually
and sexually. Coco is deeply in love with the pathetic,
spineless Tian Tian. At the same time she is sexually
attracted to a married expatriate working in Shanghai.
The plot is believable as Shanghai is swarming with
middle-aged expatriates who might not be able to resist
the charm of a young attractive woman like Coco.
The triangle relationship highlights the paradoxical
nature of life. In this story it means that the protagonist
Coco hurts the person whom she loves love intensely.
On the other hand, the story also highlights the genuine
sexual needs of the young and robust youths in modern
China. They are eager for sexual experiences and have
abandoned the traditional values of chastity or faithfulness
to one's lover.
Drug addiction is a sub-theme explored in this story.
The story ends with the death of Tian Tian and the
eventual departure of Coco's temporary foreign lover.
She can no longer count on them to find herself or
satisfy any of her needs. She is left alone to fend
Abandonment, regret and reconciliation are also dealt
with in this book. The effort of Tian Tian's mother
to seek reconciliation is futile. It is too little
and too late. Tian Tian has been permanently scared
by the abandonment and lack of parental nurture.
The language used is not exactly poetic as it is a
translation from the original Chinese version. It
is fairly readable. There are no vivid descriptions
of Shanghai. The characters are adequately described
so that you get to know them and share their inner
thoughts. It is a rather brave attempt of the writer
to bare her soul to her readers.
Personally I did not enjoy reading the book as I had
the books written by George Elliot. However it enlightens
me on the struggles and pain that some young people
have to wrestle with in modern Shanghai. The theme
is probably applicable to Singapore, except that outwardly
we are more conservative. However, the book could
very well reflect the inner struggles of the youths
I would recommend the book to adults and youths aged
eighteen and above. It requires some emotional detachment
and maturity to understand the viewpoints of the writer
and not be tempted to expose oneself to the similar
experiences of Coco.
Using the notes presented in this section, write a
book review of about 350 words on any one of your