Here’s a creative/narrative writing example – Lake Narcissus (GCSE Narrative Writing Task A* L8/L9 Example). It’s a story about death vs life, thoughts vs impulses, and the restorative beauty of nature.
I’ve been teaching a lot of creative writing recently and yesterday my student challenged me to sit and write a story with her: so here it is! This was written under timed conditions and would be great as a top-level student example answer or exemplar script.
It’s suitable for anyone studying Narrative writing at GCSE or IGCSE level (AQA, CIE / Cambridge, WJEC / Eduqas, CCEA, OCR, Edexcel, and more).
It’s a response to this AQA English Language exam question ‘Write a story, set in a mountainous area, as suggested by this picture (Q5 on the link).
** WARNING: The content may be upsetting for some readers as it explores mental health and depression**
Lake Narcissus. Summer. I used to think it was the most incredible place on Earth; on days like this — when the angry winds that whipped through the valley were still — the clear blue sky rippled off the surface of the shimmering water: a giant, serene mirror. I’m pretty sure that if you were a bird or drone whizzing overhead, it’d have all sorts of translucent, mysterious layers to it and almost seem to look back at you, dark and glaucous as a glass eye. The jagged tops of surrounding mountains are softened by spiky pines that cover them so that when you look out to the horizon it seems fuzzy and far away — like a mirage or a dream. It’s perfect, this place. Always has been. It’s just me that was wrong: it wasn’t supposed to end like this.
There’s a wooden jetty that juts out into Narcissus. I’ve no idea why because there are never any boats there to use it. Anyway, I found myself sitting right on the edge — my black Vans sneakers skimming the top of the waves as I stared down at myself in the lake. I was shaking… I was crying. My knuckles were bright white from clenching my fists so tightly, and in them was a scrunched up piece of paper. A letter:
“Dear Mum”, I’d scrawled. “Please don’t think this is your fault.”
But somehow that felt like it was accusing her. Or that I’d arrogantly assumed she would blame herself. After that came to a list of hastily scribbled excuses, each more cliched than the last:
“I can’t do anything right.”
“I feel pathetic.”
“I’m a failure.”
“Even when I try to be nice, I just end up upsetting people.”
“Life’s just so hard.”
And finally, the biggest cliche of all: “I can’t cope anymore. I have to say goodbye.”. This last one almost made me laugh when I read it out loud; it was typical — just typical — that I was even bad at ending it all. After all, why had I thought I’d be any good at suicide when I was so awful at everything else?
A cloud spilled shadows over me, and then another floated by. I had no idea how long I’d been there. Suddenly, beyond frustration and exhaustion, I screamed from the bottom of my lungs: “JUST DO IT ALREADY!”
I must have been in a complete daze because I thought I heard footsteps behind me, someone running at a fast pace, hurtling down the wooden slats of the pier. Hardly daring to look around, I turned at the last minute and saw a dark silhouette of a woman, backlit by the blinding sun. Was it my mum? Maybe she’d come to save me.
But no — this figure kept on running, so so fast — faster than I’ve ever run in my life; faster than I’ve ever seen anyone on track or field. What’s more, she acted like I wasn’t there at all. She got closer… closer… and finally SPLASH!
It all happened so quickly; I couldn’t believe what I’d seen. Not a woman, but a girl — about my age- sprinted right past me and leaped up — floating gracefully in the air for a second, her yellow summer dress rippling, her long legs still pedaling, and then landed — right in the center of the lake.
“Hey, are you crazy?” I shouted, annoyed that she’d stolen my moment and broken my concentration.
There was no reply, only thrashing, and awful low gargling. I could barely see through the droplets of water that spun out around her, floating down in a shower of petals. It almost looked like the water grew hands with long bony fingers, clutching at her as she flailed. And then she was gone, and the lake returned to its regular low ripple, swirling slowly where she had been.
Narcissus lake is beautiful, but it’s freezing cold. Cold, cold, cold, even in the heights of Summer. Anyone who goes there knows not to swim in its depths — you can die of shock in a matter of seconds. And this girl, she’d jumped right into the middle of it — the deepest, coldest part!
Staring blankly into the spiraling abyss where she’d been, I saw no shapes or colours that could be her. Blackness. Silence. Even the birds in the forest stopped singing…
Well, for once in my life, I didn’t overthink. I jumped right in after her.
It’s hard to explain the sensation when your body hits almost frozen water. For a second, you feel nothing, but then your nerves catch up: they tingle, then scream. I could feel my heart hardening, my chest closing up, but in my mind, I couldn’t give in until I’d found her. I swam down, down to where the light had almost faded, and caught sight of that yellow dress, like a splintered piece of sunlight that had fallen through the surface and come to rest in the weeds.
Her eyes were closed. She looked almost peaceful, with dark her hair fanning out in a halo. But she was so young. This wasn’t her time. I grabbed her tightly around the waist and kicked downwards, hard as I could, propelling us towards the surface. The rest of the journey to shore is a blur; I’m still not sure how I had the strength to get us both there, but I did.
A dark trail of pebbles trickled down from her soaked white hi-tops to the edge of the water. She was very still and for a moment I panicked, thinking I was too late. But then — she gasped, and her eyes popped open like a porcelain doll. Distinctly undoll-like, she rolled over onto her side and started coughing, spluttering, expunging the water from her lungs, her hair falling limply about her face in drowned waves. Her eyes, crystalline glittering sapphires, looked up at me, and in them, I could see the burning hope of a new beginning.
We sat and said nothing, listening to birdsong as it echoed off the great rocks around us.