A photograph of a large, gray toad sitting on the ground

Source: Toad7, Paul Henjum, Wikimedia


Here’s what happened. We found a toad on the road after dinner. We caught it and put it in Ronnie’s bed. When he got in, he felt something moving down by his feet. He yelled and jumped out of bed.

This story will be the primary example in an essay about an experience at camp. The basic story is not going to change. We will not revise the story to be about a rabbit rather than a toad or to have Ronnie jump out of bed, break his arm, and sue the camp. The events will remain the same, but the way we tell the story may change depending on what effect we want our telling to have. In other words, the way we tell the story will change depending on our purpose. Consider the following:

Read through the possible additions to the story below and try to find three that would be good to emphasize in a humorous essay, three that would be good to emphasize in an essay on camp life, and three that would be good to emphasize in an essay about lack of sufficient supervision.

icon for interactive exercise


Now let’s try revising a completed draft of an essay excerpt to serve a purpose different from the one it originally served. As it stands, this excerpt is a story that describes a typical summer camp experience; it could be used in an essay that is intended to describe what life at camp is like.

A photograph of a campfire in the evening with older and younger boys and girls sitting around it

Source: Camp fire fire pit, canoe Island French Camp, Wikimedia

A photograph of a toad on a surface with its head raised

Source: toad, delgrosso, Flickr

One night, after dinner, we all went to the campfire area and sang camp songs, and the counselors talked to us about what was going to happen the next day. A group of us decided to take the long way back to the cabin, so we walked toward the pond. There was a bright moon, and we saw something on the road. As we got closer, it hopped, and we knew it was a toad. Jeff caught it in his hat, and we took it back to the cabin.

Ronnie had short-sheeted Jeff's bed the night before, and now we had a way to get back at him. Harmless pranks like this are part of the camp experience that I remember with a smile on my face. Jeff put the toad in Ronnie’s bed. We waited for Ronnie to come up the path to the cabin.

He came in and said good night to everyone. Our counselor was in on the whole thing, and he was having a hard time keeping a straight face. When Ronnie felt the toad, we all laughed. The counselor said we had to be careful with the toad so it wouldn’t get hurt or traumatized. So we took it outside and let it go behind the cabin.

Suppose the author decides to use this excerpt in an essay intended to be entertaining. The comic aspects of this story need to be emphasized. Read this revision of the first paragraph and answer the questions that follow. You can scroll up to compare this version to  the original version of the paragraph.

Revised version:

One night, we were walking down the road to the pond after dinner, and we found a toad. We all tried to catch it, but every time we picked it up, it either squirmed out of our hands or started urinating, which made us drop it. Then we all scrambled after it. Finally Jeff put it in his hat and closed the hat around it so we could carry it back to camp.


take notes icon Using your notes, answer two questions about the revision:


  1. What details have been added to make this paragraph more comedic?
  2. What is omitted?

After you have written about what is emphasized and what has been omitted, check your understanding for a discussion of this revised passage.

Check Your Understanding

Explanation:

The toad squirming around, the toad urinating to get away, and the kids scrambling after it are all entertaining details and add comedy to the story.

The atmospheric aspects of the story are omitted: the campfire and songs, deciding to take the long way back, and the moon.

There are more ways to make it funny, and there is no harm in including the atmospheric aspects. The two versions, however, are clearly different in what they emphasize; therefore, they serve different writing purposes.


Read this revision of the second paragraph and answer the questions that follow it.

Revised version:

We knew Ronnie would have a fit if we put the toad in his bed, so of course we decided to put it in his bed. We waited until just before Ronnie got back to the cabin so the toad wouldn’t crawl out before Ronnie felt it. We heard him coming, so we tucked it down at the bottom of the bed under the sheets and held our breath.


take notes icon Using your notes, answer the same two questions about this section of the revised excerpt:



  1. What details have been added to make this paragraph more comedic?
  2. What is omitted?

After you have written about what is emphasized and what has been omitted, check your understanding for a discussion of this revised passage.

Check Your Understanding

Explanation:

The comic repetition of “put it in his bed,” and the funny tension involved in waiting for the prank to pay off have been added.

The “explanatory” aspects of the story are omitted: the reason to get back at Ronnie, and the comment about pranks like this.

This revision focuses on whether the joke will succeed. The explanations of how it fits into camp life are left out. The two versions are different in the attitude they take toward the action described.


Finally, read this revision of the third paragraph and answer the questions.

Revised version:

We all watched Ronnie as he got into bed. Suddenly he yelled and jumped out. He pulled back the covers and looked around. We were all laughing. He said, “You guys are too much!” and started throwing the pillows at us. We let the toad go, but we told it, “thank you.” It had done a great job of getting Ronnie’s attention.


take notes icon Using your notes, answer the same two questions about this section:


  1. What details have been added to make this paragraph more comedic?
  2. What is omitted?
Check Your Understanding

Explanation:

Ronnie yelling and jumping out of bed, Ronnie looking for the toad, Ronnie’s reaction (a direct quotation) and throwing the pillows, the kids thanking the toad, and how the toad “got Ronnie’s attention” are all entertaining and add to the comedy in the story.

The supervisory aspects of the story are left out: the counselor’s reaction and the counselor’s caution not to hurt the toad.

This is the payoff section of the funny story. This revision attempts to vividly describe Ronnie’s reaction to the toad. Here the writer is not concerned with the counselor’s influence in preventing the joke from going too far.

Paying attention to purpose and audience will help your writing do what you want it to do. Remember that good writing is writing that “does what you want it to do.”