Personal Recount: Using FATS to Develop Dilemmas

Hi everyone, I’m Ms Atifa, an English teacher at Lil’ but Mighty. Have you ever had a tough time in a situation where making a choice seemed impossible? I’m sure that you have, and you might also know that such a situation is called a dilemma.

A dilemma refers to a situation where a difficult choice has to be made, and often, both of the choices carry some form of undesirability. For instance, imagine you and your best friend won tickets to a concert by your favourite artist. When you asked your parents if you could go, they firmly told you that you couldn’t. However, your best friend told you that you could lie to your parents in order to attend the concert without their knowledge. Your mind was fraught with the question: Do you listen to your best friend and tell a lie to your parents, or do you listen to your parents and miss an opportunity of a lifetime?

When writing a Personal Recount essay, you can use this particular literary device to add depth to the incident that you are retelling. In case you have forgotten, let’s briefly recap what a Personal Recount entails. This particular type of essay requires you to recount an incident that you have experienced which is related to the topic. When writing a Personal Recount, you can use the following structure to organise your ideas:

  1. Introduction – start with an interesting hook to entice your reader
  2. Background Information – this is where you provide important information that willhelp your reader understand the recounted experience
  3. Recount
    • Rising Action – this retells the events the lead to the climax
    • Climax – this represents the most exciting part
    • Falling Action – this part recounts the events that resulted from the climax
  4. Reflections – this last paragraph usually shows what you took away from the recounted experience

The Climax of the Recount would be the most important part of your entire essay. This would be where the writer encounters a problem and displays some form of struggle that needs to be overcome in the Falling Action. Hence, the Climax is a great place for you to introduce a dilemma.

When writing a dilemma, you can use the F.A.T.S. technique, which stands for:

  • Facial Expressions
  • Actions
  • Thoughts
  • Speech

Let’s see how we can apply F.A.T.S. to develop a dilemma according to the following essay question:

Write about a time when you did something just to impress someone which you later regretted. (O Level 2020 Paper 1 Section C)

First, think of a dilemma you would have that is relevant to the topic. To do so, use the 5W1H questions to help you, for example: Who did I want to impress? What did I do to impress him/her? Where did this incident take place? The resulting dilemma could be something like this:

The most popular student in school dares me to steal a book. Do I listen to him or do I refuse?

Then, plan how you can develop the dilemma using F.A.T.S. Take a look at the table below. In the left column are questions for you to consider to help you think of some ideas for each part. On the right are some examples of phrases you can use when describing the above- mentioned dilemma:

The final step is to put everything together. The paragraph should look something like this:

Take note of how the final choice made by the writer relates closely to the question, i.e. since the first part of the question is about doing something to impress someone, the writer makes the final decision to steal the book in order to impress Ben the bully. Remember this when you are crafting your dilemma for the Personal Recount that you are writing.

Now, it’s your turn to try! Using F.A.T.S., think of a dilemma you would have for the following topic, and how you can apply F.A.T.S. to develop it:

Write about a time when you disappointed someone close to you.

Remember to follow the steps I have outlined above to help you get started. First, think of a dilemma that is related to the question. Use the 5W1H questions to help you brainstorm some ideas, for instance: Who was the person that I disappointed? What action did I do that disappointed this person? When did this take place?

Here is an example of a possible response:

While sitting for my end-of-year examination, I notice my best friend cheating and looking at answers from a slip of paper under the table. Do I tell our teacher about her actions and risk disappointing my beloved friend, or do I keep quiet and carry the burden of ignoring her dishonest actions?

Next, develop the dilemma using F.A.T.S. by using the questions below to help you. Remember to jot down your ideas next to the questions:

Putting everything together, you should have written something like this:

Again, remember to show how the final choice made is closely linked to the question, i.e. the writer makes the final decision to inform the teacher about her friend’s dishonest act and in this way, disappoints her friend who would have expected the writer to cover for her.

Also, notice how S (Speech) is not present in the dilemma. This is because the situation the writer finds herself in (taking an exam) does not lend itself to the use of speech. Hence, whilst using F.A.T.S. will help you to develop your dilemma, you should also take heed to ensure that its usage fits the situation in the recount. If you find yourself being unable to use any part of F.A.T.S., you can try to describe more of the other parts, like how in the example above I have included more descriptions for A (Actions) and T (Thoughts), to ensure that the dilemma is still well-elaborated.

I hope you give this practice a try, and remember to explore using a dilemma in your Personal Recounts if it is relevant to the topic. Don’t forget to apply the F.A.T.S. technique to develop your dilemmas as well. Happy writing!


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Good writers plan. They think through what they want to write before they actually write.

Before writing a story, some good writers may write their plans down or draw a mind map.

Sometimes, they SEEM like they are not planning but actually, they already know what is necessary for a good English Composition (due to numerous practice!) and have formed a mental plan in their minds.

It all starts with a plan. With a good plan, half the battle is won before you even start writing.

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Ms Atifa

In her time teaching, she has incorporated elements of drama into her classes to engage her lower primary students. She tries her best to get to know all of her students and is always keen to find out each of their interests and hobbies. She believes that each student has personalised needs, and aims to make lessons fun and helpful for all of her students.

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