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How to Write a Narrative Essay | Example & Tips

Published on July 24, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023.

A narrative essay tells a story. In most cases, this is a story about a personal experience you had. This type of essay , along with the descriptive essay , allows you to get personal and creative, unlike most academic writing .

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Table of contents

What is a narrative essay for, choosing a topic, interactive example of a narrative essay, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about narrative essays.

When assigned a narrative essay, you might find yourself wondering: Why does my teacher want to hear this story? Topics for narrative essays can range from the important to the trivial. Usually the point is not so much the story itself, but the way you tell it.

A narrative essay is a way of testing your ability to tell a story in a clear and interesting way. You’re expected to think about where your story begins and ends, and how to convey it with eye-catching language and a satisfying pace.

These skills are quite different from those needed for formal academic writing. For instance, in a narrative essay the use of the first person (“I”) is encouraged, as is the use of figurative language, dialogue, and suspense.

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Narrative essay assignments vary widely in the amount of direction you’re given about your topic. You may be assigned quite a specific topic or choice of topics to work with.

  • Write a story about your first day of school.
  • Write a story about your favorite holiday destination.

You may also be given prompts that leave you a much wider choice of topic.

  • Write about an experience where you learned something about yourself.
  • Write about an achievement you are proud of. What did you accomplish, and how?

In these cases, you might have to think harder to decide what story you want to tell. The best kind of story for a narrative essay is one you can use to talk about a particular theme or lesson, or that takes a surprising turn somewhere along the way.

For example, a trip where everything went according to plan makes for a less interesting story than one where something unexpected happened that you then had to respond to. Choose an experience that might surprise the reader or teach them something.

Narrative essays in college applications

When applying for college , you might be asked to write a narrative essay that expresses something about your personal qualities.

For example, this application prompt from Common App requires you to respond with a narrative essay.

In this context, choose a story that is not only interesting but also expresses the qualities the prompt is looking for—here, resilience and the ability to learn from failure—and frame the story in a way that emphasizes these qualities.

An example of a short narrative essay, responding to the prompt “Write about an experience where you learned something about yourself,” is shown below.

Hover over different parts of the text to see how the structure works.

Since elementary school, I have always favored subjects like science and math over the humanities. My instinct was always to think of these subjects as more solid and serious than classes like English. If there was no right answer, I thought, why bother? But recently I had an experience that taught me my academic interests are more flexible than I had thought: I took my first philosophy class.

Before I entered the classroom, I was skeptical. I waited outside with the other students and wondered what exactly philosophy would involve—I really had no idea. I imagined something pretty abstract: long, stilted conversations pondering the meaning of life. But what I got was something quite different.

A young man in jeans, Mr. Jones—“but you can call me Rob”—was far from the white-haired, buttoned-up old man I had half-expected. And rather than pulling us into pedantic arguments about obscure philosophical points, Rob engaged us on our level. To talk free will, we looked at our own choices. To talk ethics, we looked at dilemmas we had faced ourselves. By the end of class, I’d discovered that questions with no right answer can turn out to be the most interesting ones.

The experience has taught me to look at things a little more “philosophically”—and not just because it was a philosophy class! I learned that if I let go of my preconceptions, I can actually get a lot out of subjects I was previously dismissive of. The class taught me—in more ways than one—to look at things with an open mind.

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If you’re not given much guidance on what your narrative essay should be about, consider the context and scope of the assignment. What kind of story is relevant, interesting, and possible to tell within the word count?

The best kind of story for a narrative essay is one you can use to reflect on a particular theme or lesson, or that takes a surprising turn somewhere along the way.

Don’t worry too much if your topic seems unoriginal. The point of a narrative essay is how you tell the story and the point you make with it, not the subject of the story itself.

Narrative essays are usually assigned as writing exercises at high school or in university composition classes. They may also form part of a university application.

When you are prompted to tell a story about your own life or experiences, a narrative essay is usually the right response.

The key difference is that a narrative essay is designed to tell a complete story, while a descriptive essay is meant to convey an intense description of a particular place, object, or concept.

Narrative and descriptive essays both allow you to write more personally and creatively than other kinds of essays , and similar writing skills can apply to both.

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How to Write a Perfect Narrative Essay (Step-by-Step)

By Status.net Editorial Team on October 17, 2023 — 10 minutes to read

  • Understanding a Narrative Essay Part 1
  • Typical Narrative Essay Structure Part 2
  • Narrative Essay Template Part 3
  • Step 1. How to Choose Your Narrative Essay Topic Part 4
  • Step 2. Planning the Structure Part 5
  • Step 3. Crafting an Intriguing Introduction Part 6
  • Step 4. Weaving the Narrative Body Part 7
  • Step 5. Creating a Conclusion Part 8
  • Step 6. Polishing the Essay Part 9
  • Step 7. Feedback and Revision Part 10

Part 1 Understanding a Narrative Essay

A narrative essay is a form of writing where you share a personal experience or tell a story to make a point or convey a lesson. Unlike other types of essays, a narrative essay aims to engage your audience by sharing your perspective and taking them on an emotional journey.

  • To begin, choose a meaningful topic . Pick a story or experience that had a significant impact on your life, taught you something valuable, or made you see the world differently. You want your readers to learn from your experiences, so choose something that will resonate with others.
  • Next, create an outline . Although narrative essays allow for creative storytelling, it’s still helpful to have a roadmap to guide your writing. List the main events, the characters involved, and the settings where the events took place. This will help you ensure that your essay is well-structured and easy to follow.
  • When writing your narrative essay, focus on showing, not telling . This means that you should use descriptive language and vivid details to paint a picture in your reader’s mind. For example, instead of stating that it was a rainy day, describe the sound of rain hitting your window, the feeling of cold wetness around you, and the sight of puddles forming around your feet. These sensory details will make your essay more engaging and immersive.
  • Another key aspect is developing your characters . Give your readers an insight into the thoughts and emotions of the people in your story. This helps them connect with the story, empathize with the characters, and understand their actions. For instance, if your essay is about a challenging hike you took with a friend, spend some time describing your friend’s personality and how the experience impacted their attitude or feelings.
  • Keep the pace interesting . Vary your sentence lengths and structures, and don’t be afraid to use some stylistic devices like dialogue, flashbacks, and metaphors. This adds more depth and dimension to your story, keeping your readers engaged from beginning to end.

Part 2 Typical Narrative Essay Structure

A narrative essay typically follows a three-part structure: introduction, body, and conclusion.

  • Introduction: Start with a hook to grab attention and introduce your story. Provide some background to set the stage for the main events.
  • Body: Develop your story in detail. Describe scenes, characters, and emotions. Use dialogue when necessary to provide conversational elements.
  • Conclusion: Sum up your story, revealing the lesson learned or the moral of the story. Leave your audience with a lasting impression.

Part 3 Narrative Essay Template

  • 1. Introduction : Set the scene and introduce the main characters and setting of your story. Use descriptive language to paint a vivid picture for your reader and capture their attention.
  • Body 2. Rising Action : Develop the plot by introducing a conflict or challenge that the main character must face. This could be a personal struggle, a difficult decision, or an external obstacle. 3. Climax : This is the turning point of the story, where the conflict reaches its peak and the main character must make a critical decision or take action. 4. Falling Action : Show the consequences of the main character’s decision or action, and how it affects the rest of the story. 5. Resolution : Bring the story to a satisfying conclusion by resolving the conflict and showing how the main character has grown or changed as a result of their experiences.
  • 6. Reflection/Conclusion : Reflect on the events of the story and what they mean to you as the writer. This could be a lesson learned, a personal realization, or a message you want to convey to your reader.

Part 4 Step 1. How to Choose Your Narrative Essay Topic

Brainstorming ideas.

Start by jotting down any ideas that pop into your mind. Think about experiences you’ve had, stories you’ve heard, or even books and movies that have resonated with you. Write these ideas down and don’t worry too much about organization yet. It’s all about getting your thoughts on paper.

Once you have a list, review your ideas and identify common themes or connections between them. This process should help you discover potential topics for your narrative essay.

Narrowing Down the Choices

After brainstorming, you’ll likely end up with a few strong contenders for your essay topic. To decide which topic is best, consider the following:

  • Relevance : Is the topic meaningful for your audience? Will they be able to connect with it on a personal level? Consider the purpose of your assignment and your audience when choosing your topic.
  • Detail : Do you have enough specific details to craft a vivid story? The more detail you can recall about the event, the easier it’ll be to write a compelling narrative.
  • Emotional impact : A strong narrative essay should evoke emotions in your readers. Choose a topic that has the potential to elicit some emotional response from your target audience.

After evaluating your potential topics based on these criteria, you can select the one that best fits the purpose of your narrative essay.

Part 5 Step 2. Planning the Structure

Creating an outline.

Before you start writing your narrative essay, it’s a great idea to plan out your story. Grab a piece of paper and sketch out a rough outline of the key points you want to cover. Begin with the introduction, where you’ll set the scene and introduce your characters. Then, list the major events of your story in chronological order, followed by the climax and resolution. Organizing your ideas in an outline will ensure your essay flows smoothly and makes sense to your readers.

Detailing Characters, Settings, and Events

Taking time to flesh out the characters, settings, and events in your story will make it more engaging and relatable. Think about your main character’s background, traits, and motivations. Describe their appearance, emotions, and behavior in detail. This personal touch will help your readers connect with them on a deeper level.

Also, give some thought to the setting – where does the story take place? Be sure to include sensory details that paint a vivid picture of the environment. Finally, focus on the series of events that make up your narrative. Are there any twists and turns, or surprising moments? Address these in your essay, using vivid language and engaging storytelling techniques to captivate your readers.

Writing the Narrative Essay

Part 6 step 3. crafting an intriguing introduction.

To start your narrative essay, you’ll want to hook your reader with an interesting and engaging opening. Begin with a captivating sentence or question that piques curiosity and captures attention. For example, “Did you ever think a simple bus ride could change your life forever?” This kind of opening sets the stage for a compelling, relatable story. Next, introduce your main characters and provide a bit of context to help your readers understand the setting and background of the story.

Part 7 Step 4. Weaving the Narrative Body

The body of your essay is where your story unfolds. Here’s where you’ll present a series of events, using descriptive language and vivid details.

Remember to maintain a strong focus on the central theme or main point of your narrative.

Organize your essay chronologically, guiding your reader through the timeline of events.

As you recount your experience, use a variety of sensory details, such as sounds, smells, and tastes, to immerse your reader in the moment. For instance, “The smell of freshly brewed coffee filled the room as my friends and I excitedly chattered about our upcoming adventure.”

Take advantage of dialogue to bring your characters to life and to reveal aspects of their personalities. Incorporate both internal and external conflicts, as conflict plays a crucial role in engaging your reader and enhancing the narrative’s momentum. Show the evolution of your characters and how they grow throughout the story.

Part 8 Step 5. Creating a Conclusion

Finally, to write a satisfying conclusion, reflect on the narrative’s impact and how the experience has affected you or your characters. Tie the narrative’s events together and highlight the lessons learned, providing closure for the reader.

Avoid abruptly ending your story, because that can leave the reader feeling unsatisfied. Instead, strive to create a sense of resolution and demonstrate how the events have changed the characters’ perspectives or how the story’s theme has developed.

For example, “Looking back, I realize that the bus ride not only changed my perspective on friendship, but also taught me valuable life lessons that I carry with me to this day.”

Part 9 Step 6. Polishing the Essay

Fine-tuning your language.

When writing a narrative essay, it’s key to choose words that convey the emotions and experiences you’re describing. Opt for specific, vivid language that creates a clear mental image for your reader. For instance, instead of saying “The weather was hot,” try “The sun scorched the pavement, causing the air to shimmer like a mirage.” This gives your essay a more engaging and immersive feeling.

Editing for Clarity and Concision

As you revise your essay, keep an eye out for redundancies and unnecessary words that might dilute the impact of your story. Getting to the point and using straightforward language can help your essay flow better. For example, instead of using “She was walking in a very slow manner,” you can say, “She strolled leisurely.” Eliminate filler words and phrases, keeping only the most pertinent information that moves your story forward.

Proofreading for Typos

Finally, proofread your essay carefully to catch any typos, grammatical errors, or punctuation mistakes. It’s always a good idea to have someone else read it as well, as they might catch errors you didn’t notice. Mistakes can be distracting and may undermine the credibility of your writing, so be thorough with your editing process.

Part 10 Step 7. Feedback and Revision

Gathering feedback.

After you’ve written the first draft of your narrative essay, it’s time to gather feedback from friends, family, or colleagues. Share your essay with a few trusted people who can provide insights and suggestions for improvement. Listen to their thoughts and be open to constructive criticism. You might be surprised by the different perspectives they offer, which can strengthen your essay.

Iterating on the Draft

Once you have collected feedback, it’s time to revise and refine your essay. Address any issues or concerns raised by your readers and incorporate their suggestions. Consider reorganizing your story’s structure, clarifying your descriptions, or adding more details based on the feedback you received.

As you make changes, continue to fine-tune your essay to ensure a smooth flow and a strong narrative. Don’t be afraid to cut out unnecessary elements or rework parts of your story until it’s polished and compelling.

Revision is a crucial part of the writing process, and taking the time to reflect on feedback and make improvements will help you create a more engaging and impactful narrative essay.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can i create an engaging introduction.

Craft an attention-grabbing hook with a thought-provoking question, an interesting fact, or a vivid description. Set the stage for your story by introducing the time, place, and context for the events. Creating tension or raising curiosity will make your readers eager to learn more.

What strategies help develop strong characters?

To develop strong characters, consider the following:

  • Give your characters distinct traits, strengths, and weaknesses.
  • Provide a backstory to explain their actions and motivations.
  • Use dialogue to present their personality, emotions, and relationships.
  • Show how they change or evolve throughout your story.

How can I make my story flow smoothly with transitions?

Smooth transitions between scenes or events can create a more coherent and easy-to-follow story. Consider the following tips to improve your transitions:

  • Use words and phrases like “meanwhile,” “later that day,” or “afterward” to signify changes in time.
  • Link scenes with a common theme or element.
  • Revisit the main characters or setting to maintain continuity.
  • Introduce a twist or an unexpected event that leads to the next scene.

What are some tips for choosing a great narrative essay topic?

To choose an engaging narrative essay topic, follow these tips:

  • Pick a personal experience or story that holds significance for you.
  • Consider a challenge or a turning point you’ve faced in your life.
  • Opt for a topic that will allow you to share emotions and lessons learned.
  • Think about what your audience would find relatable, intriguing, or inspiring.

How do I wrap up my narrative essay with a strong conclusion?

A compelling conclusion restates the main events and highlights any lessons learned or growth in your character. Try to end on a thought-provoking note or leave readers with some food for thought. Finally, make sure your conclusion wraps up your story neatly and reinforces its overall message.

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What is a Narrative Essay? How to Write It (with Examples)

What is a Narrative Essay? How to Write It (with Examples)

Narrative essays are a type of storytelling in which writers weave a personal experience into words to create a fascinating and engaging narrative for readers. A narrative essay explains a story from the author’s point of view to share a lesson or memory with the reader. Narrative essays, like descriptive essays , employ figurative language to depict the subject in a vivid and creative manner to leave a lasting impact on the readers’ minds. In this article, we explore the definition of narrative essays, list the key elements to be included, and provide tips on how to craft a narrative that captivates your audience.

Table of Contents

What is a narrative essay, choosing narrative essay topics, key elements in a narrative essay, creating a narrative essay outline, types of narrative essays, the pre-writing stage, the writing stage, the editing stage, narrative essay example, frequently asked questions.

Narrative essays are often based on one’s personal experience which allows the author to express himself/herself in compelling ways for the reader. They employ storytelling elements to convey the plot and captivate the reader while disclosing the story’s theme or purpose. The author must always have a purpose or theme in mind when writing a narrative essay. These essays may be assigned to high school students to assess their ability to create captivating stories based on personal experiences, or they may be required as part of a college application to assess the applicant’s personal traits. Narrative essays might be based on true events with minor tweaks for dramatic purposes, or they can be adapted from a fictional scenario. Whatever the case maybe, the goal is to tell a story, a good story!

In narrative essays, the emphasis is not so much on the narrative itself as it is on how you explain it. Narrative essay topics cover a range of experiences, from noteworthy to mundane, but when storytelling elements are used well, even a simple account can have weight. Notably, the skills required for narrative writing differ significantly from those needed for formal academic essays, and we will delve deeper into this in the next section.

You can talk about any narrative, but consider whether it is fascinating enough, has enough twists and turns, or teaches a lesson (It’s a plus if the story contains an unexpected twist at the end). The potential topics for a narrative essay are limitless—a triumphant story, a brief moment of introspection, or a voyage of self-discovery. These essays provide writers with the opportunity to share a fragment of their lives with the audience, enriching both the writer’s and the reader’s experiences. Narrative essay examples could be a write-up on “What has been your biggest achievement in life so far and what did it teach you?” or “Describe your toughest experience and how you dealt with it?”.

what to write an narrative essay

While narrative essays allow you to be creative with your ideas, language, and format, they must include some key components to convey the story clearly, create engaging content and build reader interest. Follow these guidelines when drafting your essay:   

  • Tell your story using the first person to engage users.
  • Use sufficient sensory information and figurative language.
  • Follow an organized framework so the story flows chronologically.
  • Include interesting plot components that add to the narrative.
  • Ensure clear language without grammar, spelling, or word choice errors.

Narrative essay outlines serve as the foundational structure for essay composition, acting as a framework to organize thoughts and ideas prior to the writing process. These outlines provide writers with a means to summarize the story, and help in formulating the introduction and conclusion sections and defining the narrative’s trajectory.

Unlike conventional essays that strictly adhere to the five-paragraph structure, narrative essays allow for more flexibility as the organization is dictated by the flow of the story. The outline typically encompasses general details about the events, granting writers the option to prioritize writing the body sections first while deferring the introduction until later stages of the writing process. This approach allows for a more organic and fluid writing process. If you’re wondering how to start writing a narrative essay outline, here is a sample designed to ensure a compelling and coherent narrative:

Introduction

  • Hook/Opening line: The introduction should have an opening/hook sentence that is a captivating quote, question, or anecdote that grabs the reader’s attention.
  • Background: Briefly introduce the setting, time, tone, and main characters.
  • Thesis statement: State clearly the main theme or lesson acquired from the experience.
  • Event 1 (according to occurrence): Describe the first major event in detail. Introduce the primary characters and set the story context; include sensory elements to enrich the narrative and give the characters depth and enthusiasm.
  • Event 2: Ensure a smooth transition from one event to the next. Continue with the second event in the narrative. For more oomph, use suspense or excitement, or leave the plot with cliffhanger endings. Concentrate on developing your characters and their relationships, using dialog to bring the story to life.
  • Event 3: If there was a twist and suspense, this episode should introduce the climax or resolve the story. Keep the narrative flowing by connecting events logically and conveying the feelings and reactions of the characters.
  • Summarize the plot: Provide a concise recap of the main events within the narrative essay. Highlight the key moments that contribute to the development of the storyline. Offer personal reflections on the significance of the experiences shared, emphasizing the lasting impact they had on the narrator. End the story with a clincher; a powerful and thought-provoking sentence that encapsulates the essence of the narrative. As a bonus, aim to leave the reader with a memorable statement or quote that enhances the overall impact of the narrative. This should linger in the reader’s mind, providing a satisfying and resonant conclusion to the essay.

There are several types of narrative essays, each with their own unique traits. Some narrative essay examples are presented in the table below.

How to write a narrative essay: Step-by-step guide

A narrative essay might be inspired by personal experiences, stories, or even imaginary scenarios that resonate with readers, immersing them in the imaginative world you have created with your words. Here’s an easy step-by-step guide on how to write a narrative essay.

  • Select the topic of your narrative

If no prompt is provided, the first step is to choose a topic to write about. Think about personal experiences that could be given an interesting twist. Readers are more likely to like a tale if it contains aspects of humor, surprising twists, and an out-of-the-box climax. Try to plan out such subjects and consider whether you have enough information on the topic and whether it meets the criteria of being funny/inspiring, with nice characters/plot lines, and an exciting climax. Also consider the tone as well as any stylistic features (such as metaphors or foreshadowing) to be used. While these stylistic choices can be changed later, sketching these ideas early on helps you give your essay a direction to start.

  • Create a framework for your essay

Once you have decided on your topic, create an outline for your narrative essay. An outline is a framework that guides your ideas while you write your narrative essay to keep you on track. It can help with smooth transitions between sections when you are stuck and don’t know how to continue the story. It provides you with an anchor to attach and return to, reminding you of why you started in the first place and why the story matters.

what to write an narrative essay

  • Compile your first draft

A perfect story and outline do not work until you start writing the draft and breathe life into it with your words. Use your newly constructed outline to sketch out distinct sections of your narrative essay while applying numerous linguistic methods at your disposal. Unlike academic essays, narrative essays allow artistic freedom and leeway for originality so don’t stop yourself from expressing your thoughts. However, take care not to overuse linguistic devices, it’s best to maintain a healthy balance to ensure readability and flow.

  • Use a first-person point of view

One of the most appealing aspects of narrative essays is that traditional academic writing rules do not apply, and the narration is usually done in the first person. You can use first person pronouns such as I and me while narrating different scenarios. Be wary of overly using these as they can suggest lack of proper diction.

  • Use storytelling or creative language

You can employ storytelling tactics and linguistic tools used in fiction or creative writing, such as metaphors, similes, and foreshadowing, to communicate various themes. The use of figurative language, dialogue, and suspense is encouraged in narrative essays.

  • Follow a format to stay organized

There’s no fixed format for narrative essays, but following a loose format when writing helps in organizing one’s thoughts. For example, in the introduction part, underline the importance of creating a narrative essay, and then reaffirm it in the concluding paragraph. Organize your story chronologically so that the reader can follow along and make sense of the story.

  • Reread, revise, and edit

Proofreading and editing are critical components of creating a narrative essay, but it can be easy to become weighed down by the details at this stage. Taking a break from your manuscript before diving into the editing process is a wise practice. Stepping away for a day or two, or even just a few hours, provides valuable time to enhance the plot and address any grammatical issues that may need correction. This period of distance allows for a fresh perspective, enabling you to approach the editing phase with renewed clarity and a more discerning eye.

One suggestion is to reconsider the goals you set out to cover when you started the topic. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is there a distinct beginning and end to your story?
  • Does your essay have a topic, a memory, or a lesson to teach?
  • Does the tone of the essay match the intended mood?

Now, while keeping these things in mind, modify and proofread your essay. You can use online grammar checkers and paraphrase tools such as Paperpal to smooth out any rough spots before submitting it for publication or submission.

It is recommended to edit your essay in the order it was written; here are some useful tips:

  • Revise the introduction

After crafting your narrative essay, review the introduction to ensure it harmonizes with the developed narrative. Confirm that it adeptly introduces the story and aligns seamlessly with the conclusion.

  • Revise the conclusion and polish the essay

The conclusion should be the final element edited to ensure coherence and harmony in the entire narrative. It must reinforce the central theme or lesson outlined initially.

  • Revise and refine the entire article

The last step involves refining the article for consistent tone, style, and tense as well as correct language, grammar, punctuation, and clarity. Seeking feedback from a mentor or colleague can offer an invaluable external perspective at this stage.

Narrative essays are true accounts of the writer’s personal experiences, conveyed in figurative language for sensory appeal. Some narrative essay topic examples include writing about an unforgettable experience, reflecting on mistakes, or achieving a goal. An example of a personal narrative essay is as follows:

Title: A Feline Odyssey: An Experience of Fostering Stray Kittens

Introduction:

It was a fine summer evening in the year 2022 when a soft meowing disrupted the tranquility of my terrace. Little did I know that this innocent symphony would lead to a heartwarming journey of compassion and companionship. Soon, there was a mama cat at my doorstep with four little kittens tucked behind her. They were the most unexpected visitors I had ever had.

The kittens, just fluffs of fur with barely open eyes, were a monument to life’s fragility. Their mother, a street-smart feline, had entrusted me with the care of her precious offspring. The responsibility was sudden and unexpected, yet there was an undeniable sense of purpose in the air , filling me with delight and enthusiasm.

As the days unfolded, my terrace transformed into a haven for the feline family. Cardboard boxes became makeshift cat shelters and my once solitary retreat was filled with purrs and soothing meows. The mother cat, Lily, who initially observ ed me from a safe distance, gradually began to trust my presence as I offered food and gentle strokes.

Fostering the kittens was a life-changing , enriching experience that taught me the true joy of giving as I cared for the felines. My problems slowly faded into the background as evenings were spent playing with the kittens. Sleepless nights turned into a symphony of contented purring, a lullaby filled with the warmth of trust and security . Although the kittens were identical, they grew up to have very distinct personalities, with Kuttu being the most curious and Bobo being the most coy . Every dawn ushered in a soothing ritual of nourishing these feline companions, while nights welcomed their playful antics — a daily nocturnal delight.

Conclusion:

As the kittens grew, so did the realization that our paths were destined to part. Finally, the day arrived when the feline family, now confident and self-reliant, bid farewell to my terrace. It was a bittersweet moment, filled with a sense of love and accomplishment and a tinge of sadness.

Fostering Kuttu, Coco, Lulu, and Bobo became one of the most transformative experiences of my life. Their arrival had brought unexpected joy, teaching me about compassion and our species’ ability to make a difference in the world through love and understanding. The terrace, once a quiet retreat, now bore the echoes of a feline symphony that had touched my heart in ways I could have never imagined.

what to write an narrative essay

The length of a narrative essay may vary, but it is typically a brief to moderate length piece. Generally, the essay contains an introductory paragraph, two to three body paragraphs (this number can vary), and a conclusion. The entire narrative essay could be as short as five paragraphs or much longer, depending on the assignment’s requirements or the writer’s preference.

You can write a narrative essay when you have a personal experience to share, or a story, or a series of events that you can tell in a creative and engaging way. Narrative essays are often assigned in academic settings as a form of writing that allows students to express themselves and showcase their storytelling skills. However, you can also write a narrative essay for personal reflection, entertainment, or to communicate a message.

A narrative essay usually follows a three-part structure: – Introduction (To set the stage for the story) – Body paragraphs (To describe sequence of events with details, descriptions, and dialogue) – Conclusion (To summarize the story and reflect on the significance)

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What is a Descriptive Essay? How to Write It (with Examples)

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Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

Narrative Essays

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The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the widespread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.

What is a narrative essay?

When writing a narrative essay, one might think of it as telling a story. These essays are often anecdotal, experiential, and personal—allowing students to express themselves in a creative and, quite often, moving ways.

Here are some guidelines for writing a narrative essay.

  • If written as a story, the essay should include all the parts of a story.

This means that you must include an introduction, plot, characters, setting, climax, and conclusion.

  • When would a narrative essay not be written as a story?

A good example of this is when an instructor asks a student to write a book report. Obviously, this would not necessarily follow the pattern of a story and would focus on providing an informative narrative for the reader.

  • The essay should have a purpose.

Make a point! Think of this as the thesis of your story. If there is no point to what you are narrating, why narrate it at all?

  • The essay should be written from a clear point of view.

It is quite common for narrative essays to be written from the standpoint of the author; however, this is not the sole perspective to be considered. Creativity in narrative essays oftentimes manifests itself in the form of authorial perspective.

  • Use clear and concise language throughout the essay.

Much like the descriptive essay, narrative essays are effective when the language is carefully, particularly, and artfully chosen. Use specific language to evoke specific emotions and senses in the reader.

  • The use of the first person pronoun ‘I’ is welcomed.

Do not abuse this guideline! Though it is welcomed it is not necessary—nor should it be overused for lack of clearer diction.

  • As always, be organized!

Have a clear introduction that sets the tone for the remainder of the essay. Do not leave the reader guessing about the purpose of your narrative. Remember, you are in control of the essay, so guide it where you desire (just make sure your audience can follow your lead).

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How to write a narrative essay [Updated 2023]

How to write a narrative essay

A narrative essay is an opportunity to flex your creative muscles and craft a compelling story. In this blog post, we define what a narrative essay is and provide strategies and examples for writing one.

What is a narrative essay?

Similarly to a descriptive essay or a reflective essay, a narrative essay asks you to tell a story, rather than make an argument and present evidence. Most narrative essays describe a real, personal experience from your own life (for example, the story of your first big success).

Alternately, your narrative essay might focus on an imagined experience (for example, how your life would be if you had been born into different circumstances). While you don’t need to present a thesis statement or scholarly evidence, a narrative essay still needs to be well-structured and clearly organized so that the reader can follow your story.

When you might be asked to write a narrative essay

Although less popular than argumentative essays or expository essays, narrative essays are relatively common in high school and college writing classes.

The same techniques that you would use to write a college essay as part of a college or scholarship application are applicable to narrative essays, as well. In fact, the Common App that many students use to apply to multiple colleges asks you to submit a narrative essay.

How to choose a topic for a narrative essay

When you are asked to write a narrative essay, a topic may be assigned to you or you may be able to choose your own. With an assigned topic, the prompt will likely fall into one of two categories: specific or open-ended.

Examples of specific prompts:

  • Write about the last vacation you took.
  • Write about your final year of middle school.

Examples of open-ended prompts:

  • Write about a time when you felt all hope was lost.
  • Write about a brief, seemingly insignificant event that ended up having a big impact on your life.

A narrative essay tells a story and all good stories are centered on a conflict of some sort. Experiences with unexpected obstacles, twists, or turns make for much more compelling essays and reveal more about your character and views on life.

If you’re writing a narrative essay as part of an admissions application, remember that the people reviewing your essay will be looking at it to gain a sense of not just your writing ability, but who you are as a person.

In these cases, it’s wise to choose a topic and experience from your life that demonstrates the qualities that the prompt is looking for, such as resilience, perseverance, the ability to stay calm under pressure, etc.

It’s also important to remember that your choice of topic is just a starting point. Many students find that they arrive at new ideas and insights as they write their first draft, so the final form of your essay may have a different focus than the one you started with.

How to outline and format a narrative essay

Even though you’re not advancing an argument or proving a point of view, a narrative essay still needs to have a coherent structure. Your reader has to be able to follow you as you tell the story and to figure out the larger point that you’re making.

You’ll be evaluated on is your handling of the topic and how you structure your essay. Even though a narrative essay doesn’t use the same structure as other essay types, you should still sketch out a loose outline so you can tell your story in a clear and compelling way.

To outline a narrative essay, you’ll want to determine:

  • how your story will start
  • what points or specifics that you want to cover
  • how your story will end
  • what pace and tone you will use

In the vast majority of cases, a narrative essay should be written in the first-person, using “I.” Also, most narrative essays will follow typical formatting guidelines, so you should choose a readable font like Times New Roman in size 11 or 12. Double-space your paragraphs and use 1” margins.

To get your creative wheels turning, consider how your story compares to archetypes and famous historical and literary figures both past and present. Weave these comparisons into your essay to improve the quality of your writing and connect your personal experience to a larger context.

How to write a narrative essay

Writing a narrative essay can sometimes be a challenge for students who typically write argumentative essays or research papers in a formal, objective style. To give you a better sense of how you can write a narrative essay, here is a short example of an essay in response to the prompt, “Write about an experience that challenged your view of yourself.”

Narrative essay example

Even as a child, I always had what people might call a reserved personality. It was sometimes framed as a positive (“Sarah is a good listener”) and at other times it was put in less-than-admiring terms (“Sarah is withdrawn and not very talkative”). It was the latter kind of comments that caused me to see my introverted nature as a drawback and as something I should work to eliminate. That is, until I joined my high school’s student council.

The first paragraph, or introduction, sets up the context, establishing the situation and introducing the meaningful event upon which the essay will focus.

The other four students making up the council were very outspoken and enthusiastic. I enjoyed being around them, and I often agreed with their ideas. However, when it came to overhauling our school’s recycling plan, we butted heads. When I spoke up and offered a different point of view, one of my fellow student council members launched into a speech, advocating for her point of view. As her voice filled the room, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I wondered if I should try to match her tone, volume, and assertiveness as a way to be heard. But I just couldn’t do it—it’s not my way, and it never has been. For a fleeting moment, I felt defeated. But then, something in me shifted.

In this paragraph, the writer goes into greater depth about how her existing thinking brought her to this point.

I reminded myself that my view was valid and deserved to be heard. So I waited. I let my fellow council member speak her piece and when she was finished, I deliberately waited a few moments before calmly stating my case. I chose my words well, and I spoke them succinctly. Just because I’m not a big talker doesn’t mean I’m not a big thinker. I thought of the quotation “still waters run deep” and I tried to embody that. The effect on the room was palpable. People listened. And I hadn’t had to shout my point to be heard.

This paragraph demonstrates the turn in the story, the moment when everything changed. The use of the quotation “still waters run deep” imbues the story with a dash of poetry and emotion.

We eventually reached a compromise on the matter and concluded the student council meeting. Our council supervisor came to me afterward and said: “You handled that so well, with such grace and poise. I was very impressed.” Her words in that moment changed me. I realized that a bombastic nature isn't necessarily a powerful one. There is power in quiet, too. This experience taught me to view my reserved personality not as a character flaw, but as a strength.

The final paragraph, or conclusion, closes with a statement about the significance of this event and how it ended up changing the writer in a meaningful way.

Narrative essay writing tips

1. pick a meaningful story that has a conflict and a clear “moral.”.

If you’re able to choose your own topic, pick a story that has meaning and that reveals how you became the person your are today. In other words, write a narrative with a clear “moral” that you can connect with your main points.

2. Use an outline to arrange the structure of your story and organize your main points.

Although a narrative essay is different from argumentative essays, it’s still beneficial to construct an outline so that your story is well-structured and organized. Note how you want to start and end your story, and what points you want to make to tie everything together.

3. Be clear, concise, concrete, and correct in your writing.

You should use descriptive writing in your narrative essay, but don’t overdo it. Use clear, concise, and correct language and grammar throughout. Additionally, make concrete points that reinforce the main idea of your narrative.

4. Ask a friend or family member to proofread your essay.

No matter what kind of writing you’re doing, you should always plan to proofread and revise. To ensure that your narrative essay is coherent and interesting, ask a friend or family member to read over your paper. This is especially important if your essay is responding to a prompt. It helps to have another person check to make sure that you’ve fully responded to the prompt or question.

Frequently Asked Questions about narrative essays

A narrative essay, like any essay, has three main parts: an introduction, a body and a conclusion. Structuring and outlining your essay before you start writing will help you write a clear story that your readers can follow.

The first paragraph of your essay, or introduction, sets up the context, establishing the situation and introducing the meaningful event upon which the essay will focus.

In the vast majority of cases, a narrative essay should be written in the first-person, using “I.”

The 4 main types of essays are the argumentative essay, narrative essay, exploratory essay, and expository essay. You may be asked to write different types of essays at different points in your education.

Most narrative essays will be around five paragraphs, or more, depending on the topic and requirements. Make sure to check in with your instructor about the guidelines for your essay. If you’re writing a narrative essay for a college application, pay close attention to word or page count requirements.

How to write a college essay

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  • How To Write a Narrative Essay: Guide With Examples
  • Learn English
  • James Prior
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  • Updated December 12, 2023

Welcome to the creative world of narrative essays where you get to become the storyteller and craft your own narrative. In this article, we’ll break down how to write a narrative essay, covering the essential elements and techniques that you need to know.

Writing a narrative essay

Table of Contents

What is a Narrative Essay?

A narrative essay is a form of writing where the author recounts a personal experience or story. Unlike other types of essays, a narrative essay allows you to share a real-life event or sequence of events, often drawing from personal insights and emotions.

In a narrative essay, you take on the role of a storyteller, employing vivid details and descriptive language to transport the reader into the world of your story. The narrative often unfolds in chronological order, guiding the audience through a journey of experiences, reflections, and sometimes, a lesson learned.

The success of a narrative essay lies in your ability to create a compelling narrative arc. This means establishing a clear beginning, middle, and end. This structure helps build suspense, maintain the reader’s interest, and deliver a cohesive and impactful story. Ultimately, a well-crafted narrative essay not only narrates an event but also communicates the deeper meaning or significance behind the experience, making it a powerful and memorable piece of writing and leaving a lasting impression on the reader.

Types of Narrative Essays

Narrative essays come in various forms, each with unique characteristics. The most common type of narrative essay are personal narrative essays where you write about a personal experience. This can cover a whole range of topics as these examples of personal narrative essays illustrate. As a student in school or college, you’ll often be asked to write these types of essays. You may also need to write them later in life when applying for jobs and describing your past experiences.

However, this isn’t the only type of narrative essay. There are also fictional narrative essays that you can write using your imagination, and various subject specific narrative essays that you might have come across without even realizing it.

So, it’s worth knowing about the different types of narrative essays and what they each focus on before we move on to how to write them.

Here are some common types of narrative essays:

  • Focus on a personal experience or event from the author’s life.
  • Use the first-person perspective to convey the writer’s emotions and reflections.
  • Can take many forms, from science fiction and fantasy to adventure and romance.
  • Spark the imagination to create captivating stories.
  • Provide a detailed account of the author’s life, often covering a significant timespan.
  • Explore key life events, achievements, challenges, and personal growth.
  • Reflect on the writer’s experiences with language, reading, or writing.
  • Explore how these experiences have shaped the writer’s identity and skills
  • Document the author’s experiences and insights gained from a journey or travel.
  • Describe places visited, people encountered, and the lessons learned during the trip.
  • Explore historical events or periods through a personal lens.
  • Combine factual information with the writer’s perspective and experiences.

The narrative essay type you’ll work with often depends on the purpose, audience, and nature of the story being told. So, how should you write narrative essays?

How To Write Narrative Essays

From selecting the right topic to building a captivating storyline, we explore the basics to guide you in creating engaging narratives. So, grab your pen, and let’s delve into the fundamentals of writing a standout narrative essay.

Before we start, it’s worth pointing out that most narrative essays are written in the first-person. Through the use of first-person perspective, you get to connect with the reader, offering a glimpse into your thoughts, reactions, and the significance of the story being shared.

Let’s get into how to create these stories:

Write your plot

If you want to tell a compelling story you need a good plot. Your plot will give your story a structure. Every good story includes some kind of conflict. You should start with setting the scene for readers. After this, you introduce a challenge or obstacle. Readers will keep reading until the end to find out how you managed to overcome it.

Your story should reach a climax where tension is highest. This will be the turning point that leads to a resolution. For example, moving outside of your comfort zone was difficult and scary. It wasn’t easy at first but eventually, you grew braver and more confident. Readers should discover more about who you are as a person through what they read.

A seasoned writer knows how to craft a story that connects with an audience and creates an impact.

Hook readers with your introduction

In your introduction, you will introduce the main idea of your essay and set the context. Ways to make it more engaging are to:

  • Use sensory images to describe the setting in which your story takes place.
  • Use a quote that illustrates your main idea.
  • Pose an intriguing question.
  • Introduce an unexpected fact or a statement that grabs attention.

Develop your characters

You need to make readers feel they know any characters you introduce in your narrative essay. You can do this by revealing their personalities and quirks through the actions they take. It is always better to show the actions of characters rather than giving facts about them. Describing a character’s body language and features can also reveal a great deal about the person. You can check out these adjectives to describe a person to get some inspiration.

Use dialogue

Dialogue can bring your narrative essay to life. Most fiction books use dialogue extensively . It helps to move the story along in a subtle way. When you allow characters to talk, what they have to say seems more realistic. You can use similes , metaphors, and other parts of speech to make your story more compelling. Just make sure the dialogue is written clearly with the right punctuation so readers understand exactly who is talking.

Work on the pace of the story

Your story must flow along at a steady pace. If there’s too much action, readers may get confused. If you use descriptive writing, try not to overdo it. The clear, concise language throughout will appeal to readers more than lengthy descriptions.

Build up towards a climax

This is the point at which the tension in your story is the highest. A compelling climax takes readers by surprise. They may not have seen it coming. This doesn’t mean your climax should come out of left field. You need to carefully lead up to it step by step and guide readers along. When you reveal it they should be able to look back and realize it’s logical.

Cut out what you don’t need

Your story will suffer if you include too much detail that doesn’t move your story along. It may flow better once you cut out some unnecessary details. Most narrative essays are about five paragraphs but this will depend on the topic and requirements.

In a narrative essay, you share your experiences and insights. The journey you take your readers on should leave them feeling moved or inspired. It takes practice to learn how to write in a way that causes this reaction. With a good plot as your guide, it’s easier to write a compelling story that flows toward a satisfying resolution.

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When writers set down the facts of their lives into a compelling story , they’re writing a narrative essay. Personal narrative essays explore the events of the writer’s own life, and by crafting a nonfiction piece that resonates as storytelling, the essayist can uncover deeper truths in the world.

Narrative essays weave the author’s factual lived experiences into a compelling story.

So, what is a narrative essay? Whether you’re writing for college applications or literary journals , this article separates fact from fiction. We’ll look at how to write a narrative essay through a step-by-step process, including a look at narrative essay topics and outlines. We’ll also analyze some successful narrative essay examples.

Learn how to tell your story, your way. Let’s dive into this exciting genre!

What is a Narrative Essay?

The narrative essay is a branch of creative nonfiction . Also known as a personal essay, writers of this genre are tasked with telling honest stories about their lived experiences and, as a result, arriving at certain realizations about life.

Think of personal narrative essays as nonfiction short stories . While the essay and the short story rely on different writing techniques, they arrive at similar outcomes: a powerful story with an idea, theme , or moral that the reader can interpret for themselves.

Now, if you haven’t written a narrative essay before, you might associate the word “essay” with high school English class. Remember those tedious 5-paragraph essays we had to write, on the topic of some book we barely read, about subject matter that didn’t interest us?

Don’t worry—that’s not the kind of essay we’re talking about. The word essay comes from the French essayer , which means “to try.” That’s exactly what writing a narrative essay is: an attempt at organizing the real world into language—a journey of making meaning from the chaos of life.

Narrative essays work to surface meaning from lived experience.

Narrative Essay Example

A great narrative essay example is the piece “Flow” by Mary Oliver, which you can read for free in Google Books .

The essay dwells on, as Mary Oliver puts it, the fact that “we live in paradise.” At once both an ode to nature and an urge to love it fiercely, Oliver explores our place in the endless beauty of the world.

Throughout the essay, Oliver weaves in her thoughts about the world, from nature’s noble beauty to the question “What is the life I should live?” Yet these thoughts, however profound, are not the bulk of the essay. Rather, she arrives at these thoughts via anecdotes and observations: the migration of whales, the strings of fish at high tide, the inventive rescue of a spiny fish from the waterless shore, etc.

What is most profound about this essay, and perhaps most amusing, is that it ends with Oliver’s questions about how to live life. And yet, the stories she tells show us exactly how to live life: with care for the world; with admiration; with tenderness towards all of life and its superb, mysterious, seemingly-random beauty.

Such is the power of the narrative essay. By examining the random facts of our lives, we can come to great conclusions.

What do most essays have in common? Let’s look at the fundamentals of the essay, before diving into more narrative essay examples.

Narrative Essay Definition: 5 Fundamentals

The personal narrative essay has a lot of room for experimentation. We’ll dive into those opportunities in a bit, but no matter the form, most essays share these five fundamentals.

  • Personal experience
  • Meaning from chaos
  • The use of literary devices

Let’s explore these fundamentals in depth.

All narrative essays have a thesis statement. However, this isn’t the formulaic thesis statement you had to write in school: you don’t need to map out your argument with painstaking specificity, you need merely to tell the reader what you’re writing about.

Take the aforementioned essay by Mary Oliver. Her thesis is this: “How can we not know that, already, we live in paradise?”

It’s a simple yet provocative statement. By posing her thesis as a question, she challenges us to consider why we might not treat this earth as paradise. She then delves into her own understanding of this paradise, providing relevant stories and insights as to how the earth should be treated.

Now, be careful with abstract statements like this. Mary Oliver is a master of language, so she’s capable of creating a thesis statement out of an abstract idea and building a beautiful essay. But concrete theses are also welcome: you should compel the reader forward with the central argument of your work, without confusing them or leading them astray.

You should compel the reader forward with the central argument of your work, without confusing them or leading them astray

2. Personal Experience

The personal narrative essay is, shockingly, about personal experience. But how do writers distill their experiences into meaningful stories?

There are a few techniques writers have at their disposal. Perhaps the most common of these techniques is called braiding . Rather than focusing on one continuous story, the writer can “braid” different stories, weaving in and out of different narratives and finding common threads between them. Often, the subject matter of the essay will require more than one anecdote as evidence, and braiding helps the author uphold their thesis while showing instead of telling .

Another important consideration is how you tell your story . Essayists should consider the same techniques that fiction writers use. Give ample consideration to your essay’s setting , word choice , point of view , and dramatic structure . The narrative essay is, after all, a narrative, so tell your story how it deserves to be told.

3. Meaning from Chaos

Life, I think we can agree, is chaotic. While we can trace the events of our lives through cause and effect, A leads to B leads to C, the truth is that so much of our lives are shaped through circumstances beyond our control.

The narrative essay is a way to reclaim some of that control. By distilling the facts of our lives into meaningful narratives, we can uncover deeper truths that we didn’t realize existed.

By distilling the facts of our lives into meaningful narratives, we can uncover deeper truths that we didn’t realize existed.

Consider the essay “ Only Daughter ” by Sandra Cisneros. It’s a brief read, but it covers a lot of different events: a lonesome childhood, countless moves, university education, and the trials and tribulations of a successful writing career.

Coupled with Cisneros’ musings on culture and gender roles, there’s a lot of life to distill in these three pages. Yet Cisneros does so masterfully. By organizing these life events around her thesis statement of being an only daughter, Cisneros finds meaning in the many disparate events she describes.

As you go about writing a narrative essay, you will eventually encounter moments of insight . Insight describes those “aha!” moments in the work—places in which you come to deeper realizations about your life, the lives of others, and the world at large.

Now, insight doesn’t need to be some massive, culture-transforming realization. Many moments of insight are found in small interactions and quiet moments.

For example, In the above essay by Sandra Cisneros, her moments of insight come from connecting her upbringing to her struggle as an only daughter. While her childhood was often lonely and disappointing, she realizes in hindsight that she’s lucky for that upbringing: it helped nurture her spirit as a writer, and it helped her pursue a career in writing. These moments of gratitude work as insight, allowing her to appreciate what once seemed like a burden.

When we reach the end of the essay, and Cisneros describes how she felt when her father read one of her stories, we see what this gratitude is building towards: love and acceptance for the life she chose.

5. Literary Devices

The personal narrative essay, as well as all forms of creative writing, uses its fair share of literary devices . These devices don’t need to be complex: you don’t need a sprawling extended metaphor or an intricate set of juxtapositions to make your essay compelling.

However, the occasional symbol or metaphor will certainly aid your story. In Mary Oliver’s essay “Flow,” the author uses literary devices to describe the magnificence of the ocean, calling it a “cauldron of changing greens and blues” and “the great palace of the earth.” These descriptions reinforce the deep beauty of the earth.

In Sandra Cisneros’ essay “Only Daughter,” the author employs different symbols to represent her father’s masculinity and sense of gender roles. At one point, she lists the few things he reads—sports journals, slasher magazines, and picture paperbacks, often depicting scenes of violence against women. These symbols represent the divide between her father’s gendered thinking and her own literary instincts.

More Narrative Essay Examples

Let’s take a look at a few more narrative essay examples. We’ll dissect each essay based on the five fundamentals listed above.

Narrative Essay Example: “Letting Go” by David Sedaris

Read “Letting Go” here in The New Yorker .

Sedaris’ essay dwells on the culture of cigarette smoking—how it starts, the world it builds, and the difficulties in quitting. Let’s analyze how this narrative essay example uses the five fundamentals of essay writing.

  • Thesis: There isn’t an explicitly defined thesis, which is common for essays that are meant to be humorous or entertaining. However, this sentence is a plausible thesis statement: “It wasn’t the smoke but the smell of it that bothered me. In later years, I didn’t care so much, but at the time I found it depressing: the scent of neglect.”
  • Personal Experience: Sedaris moves between many different anecdotes about smoking, from his family’s addiction to cigarettes to his own dependence. We learn about his moving around for cheaper smokes, his family’s struggle to quit, and the last cigarette he smoked in the Charles de Gaulle airport.
  • Meaning from Chaos: Sedaris ties many disparate events together. We learn about his childhood and his smoking years, but these are interwoven with anecdotes about his family and friends. What emerges is a narrative about the allure of smoking.
  • Insight: Two parts of this essay are especially poignant. One, when Sedaris describes his mother’s realization that smoking isn’t sophisticated, and soon quits her habit entirely. Two, when Sedaris is given the diseased lung of a chain smoker, and instead of thinking about his own lungs, he’s simply surprised at how heavy the lung is.
  • Literary Devices: Throughout the essay, Sedaris demonstrates how the cigarette symbolizes neglect: neglect of one’s body, one’s space, and one’s self-presentation.

 Narrative Essay Example: “My Mother’s Tongue” by Zavi Kang Engles

Read “My Mother’s Tongue” here in The Rumpus .

Engles’ essay examines the dysphoria of growing up between two vastly different cultures and languages. By asserting the close bond between Korean language and culture, Engles explores the absurdities of growing up as a child of Korean immigrants. Let’s analyze how this narrative essay example uses the five fundamentals of essay writing.

  • Thesis: Engles’ essay often comes back to her relationship with the Korean language, especially as it relates to other Korean speakers. This relationship is best highlighted when she writes “I glowed with [my mother’s] love, basked in the warm security of what I thought was a language between us. Perhaps this is why strangers asked for our photos, in an attempt to capture a secret world between two people.”This “secret world” forms the crux of her essay, charting not only how Korean-Americans might exist in relation to one another, but also how Engles’ language is strongly tied to her identity and homeland.
  • Personal Experience: Engles writes about her childhood attachment to both English and Korean, her adolescent fallout with the Korean language, her experiences as “not American enough” in the United States and “not Korean enough” in Korea, and her experiences mourning in a Korean hospital.
  • Meaning from Chaos: In addition to the above events, Engles ties in research about language and identity (also known as code switching ). Through language and identity, the essay charts the two different cultures that the author stands between, highlighting the dissonance between Western individualism and an Eastern sense of belonging.
  • Insight: There are many examples of insight throughout this essay as the author explores how out of place she feels, torn between two countries. An especially poignant example comes from Engles’ experience in a Korean hospital, where she writes “I didn’t know how to mourn in this country.”
  • Literary Devices: The essay frequently juxtaposes the languages and cultures of Korea and the United States. Additionally, the English language comes to symbolize Western individualism, while the Korean language comes to symbolize Eastern collectivism.

Narrative Essay Example: 3 Rules for Middle-Age Happiness by Deborah Copaken

Read “3 Rules for Middle-Age Happiness” here in The Atlantic .

Copaken’s essay explores her relationship to Nora Ephron, the screenwriter for When Harry Met Sally . Let’s analyze how this narrative essay example uses the five fundamentals of essay writing.

  • Thesis: This essay hands us the thesis statement in its subtitle: “Gather friends and feed them, laugh in the face of calamity, and cut out all the things—people, jobs, body parts—that no longer serve you.”
  • Personal Experience: Copaken weaves two different threads through this essay. One thread is her personal life, including a failing marriage, medical issues, and her attempts at building a happy family. The other is Copaken’s personal relationship to Ephron, whose advice coincides with many of the essay’s insights.
  • Meaning from Chaos: This essay organizes its events chronologically. However, the main sense of organization is found in the title: many of the essayist’s problems can be perceived as middle-aged crises (family trouble, divorce, death of loved ones), but the solutions to those crises are simpler than one might realize.
  • Insight: In writing this essay, Copaken explores her relationship to Ephron, as well as Copaken’s own relationship to her children. She ties these experiences together at the end, when she writes “The transmission of woes is a one-way street, from child to mother. A good mother doesn’t burden her children with her pain. She waits until it becomes so heavy, it either breaks her or kills her, whichever comes first.”
  • Literary Devices: The literary devices in this article explore the author’s relationship to womanhood. She wonders if having a hysterectomy will make her “like less of a woman.” Also important is the fact that, when the author has her hysterectomy, her daughter has her first period. Copaken uses this to symbolize the passing of womanhood from mother to daughter, which helps bring her to the above insight.

How to Write a Narrative Essay in 5 Steps

No matter the length or subject matter, writing a narrative essay is as easy as these five steps.

1. Generating Narrative Essay Ideas

If you’re not sure what to write about, you’ll want to generate some narrative essay ideas. One way to do this is to look for writing prompts online: Reedsy adds new prompts to their site every week, and we also post writing prompts every Wednesday to our Facebook group .

Taking a step back, it helps to simply think about formative moments in your life. You might a great idea from answering one of these questions:

  • When did something alter my worldview, personal philosophy, or political beliefs?
  • Who has given me great advice, or helped me lead a better life?
  • What moment of adversity did I overcome and grow stronger from?
  • What is something that I believe to be very important, that I want other people to value as well?
  • What life event of mine do I not yet fully understand?
  • What is something I am constantly striving for?
  • What is something I’ve taken for granted, but am now grateful for?

Finally, you might be interested in the advice at our article How to Come Up with Story Ideas . The article focuses on fiction writers, but essayists can certainly benefit from these tips as well.

2. Drafting a Narrative Essay Outline

Once you have an idea, you’ll want to flesh it out in a narrative essay outline.

Your outline can be as simple or as complex as you’d like, and it all depends on how long you intend your essay to be. A simple outline can include the following:

  • Introduction—usually a relevant anecdote that excites or entices the reader.
  • Event 1: What story will I use to uphold my argument?
  • Analysis 1: How does this event serve as evidence for my thesis?
  • Conclusion: How can I tie these events together? What do they reaffirm about my thesis? And what advice can I then impart on the reader, if any?

One thing that’s missing from this outline is insight. That’s because insight is often unplanned: you realize it as you write it, and the best insight comes naturally to the writer. However, if you already know the insight you plan on sharing, it will fit best within the analysis for your essay, and/or in the essay’s conclusion.

Insight is often unplanned: you realize it as you write it, and the best insight comes naturally to the writer.

Another thing that’s missing from this is research. If you plan on intertwining your essay with research (which many essayists should do!), consider adding that research as its own bullet point under each heading.

For a different, more fiction-oriented approach to outlining, check out our article How to Write a Story Outline .

3. Starting with a Story

Now, let’s tackle the hardest question: how to start a narrative essay?

Most narrative essays begin with a relevant story. You want to draw the reader in right away, offering something that surprises or interests them. And, since the essay is about you and your lived experiences, it makes sense to start your essay with a relevant anecdote.

Think about a story that’s relevant to your thesis, and experiment with ways to tell this story. You can start with a surprising bit of dialogue , an unusual situation you found yourself in, or a beautiful setting. You can also lead your essay with research or advice, but be sure to tie that in with an anecdote quickly, or else your reader might not know where your essay is going.

For examples of this, take a look at any of the narrative essay examples we’ve used in this article.

Theoretically, your thesis statement can go anywhere in the essay. You may have noticed in the previous examples that the thesis statement isn’t always explicit or immediate: sometimes it shows up towards the center of the essay, and sometimes it’s more implied than stated directly.

You can experiment with the placement of your thesis, but if you place your thesis later in the essay, make sure that everything before the thesis is intriguing to the reader. If the reader feels like the essay is directionless or boring, they won’t have a reason to reach your thesis, nor will they understand the argument you’re making.

4. Getting to the Core Truth

With an introduction and a thesis underway, continue writing about your experiences, arguments, and research. Be sure to follow the structure you’ve sketched in your outline, but feel free to deviate from this outline if something more natural occurs to you.

Along the way, you will end up explaining why your experiences matter to the reader. Here is where you can start generating insight. Insight can take the form of many things, but the focus is always to reach a core truth.

Insight might take the following forms:

  • Realizations from connecting the different events in your life.
  • Advice based on your lived mistakes and experiences.
  • Moments where you change your ideas or personal philosophy.
  • Richer understandings about life, love, a higher power, the universe, etc.

5. Relentless Editing

With a first draft of your narrative essay written, you can make your essay sparkle in the editing process.

Remember, a first draft doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to exist.

Remember, a first draft doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to exist. Here are some things to focus on in the editing process:

  • Clarity: Does every argument make sense? Do my ideas flow logically? Are my stories clear and easy to follow?
  • Structure: Does the procession of ideas make sense? Does everything uphold my thesis? Do my arguments benefit from the way they’re laid out in this essay?
  • Style: Do the words flow when I read them? Do I have a good mix of long and short sentences? Have I omitted any needless words ?
  • Literary Devices: Do I use devices like similes, metaphors, symbols, or juxtaposition? Do these devices help illustrate my ideas?
  • Mechanics: Is every word spelled properly? Do I use the right punctuation? If I’m submitting this essay somewhere, does it follow the formatting guidelines?

Your essay can undergo any number of revisions before it’s ready. Above all, make sure that your narrative essay is easy to follow, every word you use matters, and that you come to a deeper understanding about your own life.

Above all, make sure that your narrative essay is easy to follow, every word you use matters, and that you come to a deeper understanding about your own life.

Next Steps for Narrative Essayists

When you have a completed essay, what’s next? You might be interested in submitting to some literary journals . Here’s 24 literary journals you can submit to—we hope you find a great home for your writing!

If you’re looking for additional feedback on your work, feel free to join our Facebook group . You can also take a look at our upcoming nonfiction courses , where you’ll learn the fundamentals of essay writing and make your story even more compelling.

Writing a narrative essay isn’t easy, but you’ll find that the practice can be very rewarding. You’ll learn about your lived experiences, come to deeper conclusions about your personal philosophies, and perhaps even challenge the way you approach life. So find some paper, choose a topic, and get writing—the world is waiting for your story!

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What is a Narrative Essay Examples Format and Techniques Featured

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What is a Narrative Essay — Examples, Format & Techniques

I was in the Amazon jungle the first time I wrote a narrative essay, enlightened and enraptured by the influence of ayahuasca. That’s not true. I’ve never been to South America nor have I ever taken ayahuasca. The purpose of that opening is to show how to craft a narrative essay intro — hook, line, and sinker. Narrative essays rely on hooking the reader, and enticing them to read on. But what is a narrative essay? We’re going to break down everything you need to know about these essays — definition, examples, tips and tricks included. By the end, you’ll be ready to craft your own narrative essay for school or for publication.

What’s a Narrative Essay?

First, let’s define narrative essay.

Narrative essays share a lot of similarities with personal essays, but whereas the former can be fictional or non-fictional, the latter are strictly non-fictional. The goal of the narrative essay is to use established storytelling techniques, like theme , conflict , and irony , in a uniquely personal way.

The responsibility of the narrative essayist is to make the reader feel connected to their story, regardless of the topic. This next video explores how writers can use structural elements and techniques to better engage their readers. 

Personal Narrative Essay Examples With Essay Pro

Narrative essays rely on tried and true structure components, including:

  • First-person POV
  • Personal inspiration
  • Focus on a central theme

By keeping these major tenets in mind, you’ll be better prepared to recognize weaknesses and strengths in your own works.

NARRATIVE ESSAY DEFINITION

What is a narrative essay.

A narrative essay is a prose-written story that’s focused on the commentary of a central theme. Narrative essays are generally written in the first-person POV, and are usually about a topic that’s personal to the writer. Everything in these essays should take place in an established timeline, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. 

Famous Narrative Essay Examples

  • Ticker to the Fair by David Foster Wallace
  • After Life by Joan Didion
  • Here is a Lesson in Creative Writing by Kurt Vonnegut

Narrative Writing Explained

How to start a narrative essay.

When you go to sleep at night, what do you think of? Flying squirrels? Lost loved ones? That time you called your teacher ‘mom’? Whatever it is, that’s what you need to write about. There’s a reason those ideas and moments have stuck with you over time. Your job is to figure out why.

Once you realize what makes a moment important to you, it’s your job to make it important to the reader too. In this next video, Academy Award-nominated filmmaker J. Christian Jensen explains the power of the personal narrative. 

Narrative Writing and the Personal Narrative Essay  •  Video by TEDx Talks

Anything and everything can be the topic of your essay. It could be as benign as a walk to school or as grandiose as a trip to the moon — so long as that narrative exists within reality. Give your thoughts and opinions on the matter too — don’t be afraid to say “this is what I think” so long as it’s supported by storytelling techniques. Remember, never limit yourself as a writer, just keep in mind that certain topics will be harder to make engaging than others.

Narrative Essay Outline

How to write a narrative essay.

First step, game plan. You’re going to want to map out the story from beginning to end, then mark major story beats in your document.

Like all stories, your narrative essay needs a clear beginning, middle, and end. Each section should generally conform to a specifically outlined structure. For reference, check out the outline below.

Structure of A Narrative Essay

Narrative Essay Format  •  How to Write a Narrative Essay Step by Step

Make sure to reference back to this outline throughout the writing process to make sure you have all your major beats covered.

Purpose of narrative essay writing

Narrative essays give writers the ability to freely express themselves within the structure of a traditional story. Nearly all universities ask applicants to submit a narrative essay with their formal application. This is done for two reasons: they allow institutions to judge the linguistic and grammar capabilities of its applicants, as well as their raw creative side.

If you’re considering studying creative writing in an undergraduate or graduate program, then you’re going to write A LOT of narrative style essays. This process may seem indomitable; How am I supposed to write hundreds of pages about… me? But by the end, you’ll be a better writer and you’ll have a better understanding of yourself.

One thing that all successful essayists have in common is that they make radical, often defiant statements on the world at large. Think Ralph Waldo Emerson, Virginia Woolf, and Langston Hughes for example.

Being a professional essayist isn’t easy, and it’s near-impossible to be one who makes a lot of money. Many essayists work as professors, editors, and curriculum designers as well. 

This next video features the late, award-winning essayist Brian Doyle. He explains all the things you need to hear when thinking about writing a story.

Narrative Essay Examples “Lecture” via Boston University

We can learn a lot from the way Doyle “opens” his stories. My favorite is how he begins with the statement, “I met the Dalai Lama once.” How can we not be interested in learning more? 

This brings us all the way back to the beginning. Start with a hook, rattle off the line, then reel in the sinker. If you entice the reader, develop a personal plot, and finish with a resolute ending, you’ll have a lot of success in essay writing. 

 Up Next

Narrative essay topics.

We've curated a collection of narrative essay topics that will spark your creativity and bring your experiences to life. Dive into the rich tapestry of your memories, explore the unique threads of your life, and let your narrative unfold.

Up Next: Narrative Essay Topics →

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How to Write a Narrative Essay

Last Updated: August 3, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Christopher Taylor, PhD . Christopher Taylor is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Austin Community College in Texas. He received his PhD in English Literature and Medieval Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014. There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 1,902,163 times.

Narrative essays are commonly assigned pieces of writing at different stages through school. Like any story, they have a plot, conflict, and characters. Typically, assignments involve telling a story from your own life that connects with class themes. It can be a fun type of assignment to write, if you approach it properly. Learn how to choose a good topic, get a solid rough draft on paper, and revise your narrative essay.

Choosing a Good Topic

Step 1 Read narrative essays for inspiration.

  • Most of the time, narrative essays will involve no outside research or references. Instead, you'll be using your personal story to provide the evidence of some point that you're trying to make. [3] X Trustworthy Source Purdue Online Writing Lab Trusted resource for writing and citation guidelines Go to source However, in some cases using research may enhance your story because it will allow you to provide additional detail.
  • Narrative essays are a common school assignment used to test your creative story-telling skills, as well as your ability to connect some element of your personal life to a topic you might be discussing in class.

Step 3 Make sure your story fits the prompt.

  • You experienced adversity and had to overcome
  • You failed and had to deal with the consequences of that failure
  • Your personality or character was transformed

Step 4 Choose a story with a manageable plot.

  • Bad narrative essays are generally too broad. "My senior year of high school" or "This summer" are examples of stories that would be far too big to tell in the amount of specific detail that a good narrative essay requires. Pick a single event from the summer, or a single week of your senior year, not something that takes months to unfold.
  • It's also good to limit the number of characters you introduce. Only include other characters who are absolutely essential. Every single friend from your fifth grade class will be too many names to keep track of. Pick one.

Step 5 Choose a story with vibrant details.

  • Let your imagination fill in the gaps. When you're describing your grandmother's house and a specific weekend you remember spending there, it's not important to remember exactly what was cooked for dinner on Friday night, unless that's an important part of the story. What did your grandmother typically cook? What did it usually smell like? Those are the details we need.
  • Typically, narrative essays are "non-fiction," which means that you can't just make up a story. It needs to have really happened. Force yourself to stay as true as possible to the straight story.

Writing a Draft

Step 1 Outline the plot before you begin.

  • It helps to limit things as much as possible. While it might seem like we need to know a bunch of specific details from your senior year, try to think of a particularly tumultuous day from that year and tell us that story. Where does that story start? Not the first day of school that year. Find a better starting point.
  • If you want to tell the story of your prom night, does it start when you get dressed? Maybe. Does it start when you spill spaghetti sauce all down your dress before the dance? While that might seem like the climax of a story you want to tell, it might make a better starting place. Go straight to the drama.
  • You don't need to write up a formal outline for a narrative essay unless it's part of the assignment or it really helps you write. Listing the major scenes that need to be a part of the story will help you get organized and find a good place to start.

Step 2 Use a consistent point of view.

  • Don't switch perspectives throughout the story. This is a difficult and advanced technique to try to pull off, and it usually has the effect of being too complicated. There should only be one "I" in the story.
  • In general, narrative essays (and short stories for that matter) should also be told in past tense. So, you would write "Johnny and I walked to the store every Thursday" not "Johnny and I are walking to the store, like we do every Thursday."
  • You may be instructed to write in the 3rd person (such as he, she, it, they, them, their). If so, be consistent with your pronouns throughout the story.

Step 3 Describe the important characters.

  • Particular details are specific and only particular to the character being described. While it may be specific to say that your friend has brown hair, green eyes, is 5 feet (1.5 m) tall with an athletic build, these things don't tell us much about the character. The fact that he only wears silk dragon shirts? Now that gives us something interesting.
  • Try writing up a brief sketch of each principal character in your narrative essay, along with the specific details you remember about them. Pick a few essentials.

Step 4 Find the antagonist and conflict.

  • Who or what is the antagonist in your story? To answer this question, you also need to find out what the protagonist wants. What is the goal? What's the best case scenario for the protagonist? What stands in the protagonist's way?
  • The antagonist isn't "the bad guy" of the story, necessarily, and not every story has a clear antagonist. Also keep in mind that for some good personal narratives, you might be the antagonist yourself.

Step 5 Describe the setting.

  • Do a freewrite about the location that your story takes place. What do you know about the place? What can you remember? What can you find out?
  • If you do any research for your narrative essay, it will probably be here. Try to find out extra details about the setting of your story, or double-check your memory to make sure it's right.

Step 6 Use vivid details.

  • A popular creative writing phrase tells writers to "show" not to "tell." What this means is that you should give us details whenever possible, rather than telling us facts. You might tell us something like, "My dad was always sad that year," but if you wrote "Dad never spoke when he got home from work. We heard his truck, then heard as he laid his battered hardhat on the kitchen table. Then we heard him sigh deeply and take off his work clothes, which were stained with grease."

Revising Your Essay

Step 1 Make sure your theme is clearly illustrated in the story.

  • Get the theme into the very beginning of the essay. Just as a researched argument essay needs to have a thesis statement somewhere in the first few paragraphs of the essay, a narrative essay needs a topic statement or a thesis statement to explain the main idea of the story.
  • This isn't "ruining the surprise" of the story, this is foreshadowing the important themes and details to notice over the course of the story as you tell it. A good writer doesn't need suspense in a narrative essay. The ending should seem inevitable.

Step 2 Use scenes and analyses.

  • Scene: "On our walk to the store, Jared and I stopped at the empty grass lot to talk. 'What's your problem lately?' he asked, his eyes welling with tears. I didn't know what to tell him. I fidgeted, kicked an empty paint bucket that was rusted over at the edge of the lot. 'Remember when we used to play baseball here?' I asked him."
  • Analysis: "We finished walking to the store and bought all the stuff for the big holiday dinner. We got a turkey, cornbread, cranberries. The works. The store was crazy-packed with happy holiday shoppers, but we walked through them all, not saying a word to each other. It took forever to lug it all home."

Step 3 Use and format...

  • Anything spoken by a character out loud needs to be included in quotation marks and attributed to the character speaking it: "I've never been to Paris," said James.
  • Each time a new character speaks, you need to make a new paragraph . If the same character speaks, multiple instances of dialog can exist in the same paragraph.

Step 4 Revise your essay

  • Revise for clarity first. Are your main points clear? If not, make them clear by including more details or narration in the writing. Hammer home your points.
  • Was the decision you made about the starting place of the story correct? Or, now that you've written, might it be better to start the story later? Ask the tough questions.
  • Proofreading is one part of revision, but it's a very minor part and it should be done last. Checking punctuation and spelling is the last thing you should be worried about in your narrative essay.

Sample Essay

what to write an narrative essay

Expert Q&A

Christopher Taylor, PhD

  • Be sensible while writing. It is necessary to stay on the topic rather than moving away from it. Do not lose your focus. Thanks Helpful 1 Not Helpful 1
  • Divide your essay into paragraphs, according to your limit: an introduction, two body paragraph and one conclusion. Your introduction can be either a shocker one, or one just describing the setting; the conclusion can reveal a surprise, or end with just a hint of the climax, keeping the final question to be answered by the readers. Thanks Helpful 2 Not Helpful 0
  • Write only when you have a perfect story to tell. When a reader finishes reading the story, he\she should feel all those emotions seep right through his\her rib cage. Only then as a narrator, have you succeeded. Thanks Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0

what to write an narrative essay

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  • ↑ https://examples.yourdictionary.com/narrative-essay-examples.html
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/academic_writing/essay_writing/narrative_essays.html
  • ↑ https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/20/learning/lesson-plans/650-prompts-for-narrative-and-personal-writing.html
  • ↑ https://miamioh.edu/hcwe/handouts/narrative-essays/index.html
  • ↑ https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/how-to-write-narrative-essay
  • ↑ https://crk.umn.edu/units/writing-center/how-revise-drafts

About This Article

Christopher Taylor, PhD

To write a narrative essay, start by choosing an interesting personal story from your life to write about. Try to connect your story to a broader theme or topic so your essay has more substance. Then, write out your story in the past tense using the first person point of view. As you write your story, use vivid details to describe the setting and characters so readers are able to visualize what you're writing. Once you've written your essay, read it several times and make sure you've illustrated your theme or topic. To learn more from our Professor of English co-author, like how to write scenes and analyses, keep reading the article! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Narrative Essay

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Narrative Essay - A Complete Writing Guide with Examples

16 min read

Narrative essay

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Want to share a personal experience and captivate your readers with a compelling story? A narrative essay is your ticket to achieving just that.

It's your chance to share personal experiences, thoughts, and emotions, all while honing your storytelling skills. 

However, writing a narrative essay is not easy. It doesn’t follow a strict essay format, nor does it allow creative space like a fictional short story.

So how can you write an engaging and effective narrative essay?

In this guide, we'll walk you through the complete step-by-step process of crafting a captivating narrative essay. Plus, you will get examples and tips to help you learn efficiently.   Let’s dive in!

Arrow Down

  • 1. What Is a Narrative Essay?
  • 2. Types of Narrative Essays
  • 3. The Features of a Narrative Essay
  • 4. Narrative Essay Structure 
  • 5. How to Write a Narrative Essay?
  • 6. Tips To Make Your Narrative Essays More Engaging
  • 7. Narrative Essay Examples 
  • 8. Narrative Essay Topics

What Is a Narrative Essay?

A narrative essay is a written account of an experience or event that impacted you in some way. It's just like storytelling, but it’s written in an essay format rather than a traditional short story.  

It is very different from other kinds of academic essays, such as the analytical and argumentative essays. For instance, unlike other types of essays , it allows you more creativity of style and language, could be written in the first-person point of view, and has to be more personal and engaging. 

In terms of structure, these essays often have a clear beginning, middle, and end, just like a good story. Their purpose could be to evoke emotions, provoke thought, or share lessons learned from an experience. 

Purpose of a Narrative Essay 

The purpose of a narrative essay extends beyond simply recounting a story. It serves various objectives, such as:

  • To Entertain and Engage

These essays are inherently engaging because they read like a well-told story. They can captivate and entertain your audience while conveying a message or theme.

  • To Convey a Message or Theme  

A narrative essay is not just about storytelling; it's also a means to communicate a message or a theme. You can convey life lessons, moral dilemmas, or insights drawn from your experiences.

  • To Motivate or Inspire

Narrative essays have the power to persuade or inspire readers. Through your narrative, you can make a persuasive argument or motivate your audience to take action or see a situation from a different perspective.

  • To Reflect on Growth  

Narrative essays often focus on personal growth and self-discovery. They allow you to reflect on your own experiences, decisions, and how they have shaped you as an individual.

  • To Preserve Memories 

Writing about significant life events helps preserve memories. It captures moments in time, creating a record that can be revisited by both you and your readers.

  • To Educate and Inform

Narrative essays can educate readers about different cultures, historical events, or personal challenges. They provide a window into worlds and experiences they might not otherwise encounter.

Types of Narrative Essays

There are several types of narrative essays, each with its unique focus and purpose. Here are the most common ones:

Descriptive Narrative Essay

A descriptive narrative essay is used to describe an experience, situation, or memory in vivid detail. The main goal is to show the reader what is happening, not tell. 

In this essay, the emphasis is on creating a vivid picture for the reader. You describe a scene, a place, or an event in intricate detail, making the reader feel like they are right there with you. Sensory details play a crucial role in making your narrative come alive.

Descriptive writing is all about engaging the senses. Learn more about writing a descriptive essay in our guide.

Personal Narrative Essay 

A personal narrative essay is a form of writing that tells a story from the author's own life experiences. 

This type is all about sharing a personal experience. It can be a life-changing moment, a significant event, or even an everyday occurrence that left a lasting impression. The primary goal is to offer readers insight into your perspective and emotions. 

Autobiographical Narrative Essay 

These essays delve into your life story. They are broader in scope and often cover a series of events or experiences throughout your life. It's like writing your autobiography in a condensed form. 

An autobiographical narrative essay aims to outline your own life in light of a message you want to convey.

The Features of a Narrative Essay

It usually has these five elements: plot, characters, setting, conflict, and theme.

The plot is the incident you intend to share in the story. It is about the sequence of events that occurred in your story. 

The setting is the location where the event occurred. It can be your house, your school, or any other place where you were at the time of the event.

Characters are the people involved in the incident. You have to mention everyone involved, whether the main or a side character.

Conflict is the problem faced by the characters during the incident. A moment of tension in the plot is considered a conflict that needs to be resolved.

The essay’s theme elaborates on the story’s overall purpose and the writer’s reasons for choosing the topic.

Narrative Essay Structure 

A well-structured essay is essential for conveying your story effectively. The narrative essay format consists of the following elements:

Here’s how the structure of a narrative essay can be conceptualized:

Narrative Essay Structure

Now that you’ve learned about the features and structure of a narrative essay, let’s move on to the step-by-step writing process. 

How to Write a Narrative Essay?

Starting the essay writing process can be overwhelming, but you will find it much easier with these steps. Here is how to start a narrative essay and finish it effectively:

Step 1: Choose a Topic

Sometimes, you will be assigned a topic or prompt for your essay by your instructor. But other times, you need to choose a topic yourself. 

Select a personal experience or event that is meaningful to you and has a clear message or theme. It could be a moment of triumph, a challenge you overcame, a lesson learned, or a journey you embarked on.

Ensure it's a story you can vividly recall to make the writing process more natural. You need a topic that interests you and is also appealing enough to your audience. 

Step 2: Plan Your Story

Once you've chosen your topic, it's crucial to plan your narrative. 

Make a narrative essay outline , mentioning the key events in a logical structure. Think about the characters, plot points, climax, and resolution of your story. 

Here’s how an outline may look like:

Creating a rough timeline of events will help you maintain a coherent narrative flow. This planning phase ensures that you have a clear vision of the story's direction before you start writing.

Step 3: Craft an Introduction

The introduction of your narrative essay serves as a gateway to your story. Once you have an outline, you can begin writing the first draft. 

  • Begin with a captivating hook that grabs your readers' attention. Here are some ways to make your start engaging:
  • Start with a mystery.
  • Use a quote from someone famous to catch your reader’s attention.
  • Add a funny or moving anecdote.
  • Ask questions; this way, your writing will feel more direct and personal. 
  • Start with a shocking statement or statistics that makes readers curious.
  • Introduce the setting and characters, giving readers a glimpse of the central theme or message. Your introduction should provide a clear preview of what the narrative will entail.
  • End your introduction with the theme and the thesis statement of your essay. The thesis statement should capture the central message you intend to convey.

Step 4: Write Your Main Body Paragraphs

The main body of your narrative essay will contain the sequence of events that make up your story. Here’s what to do while writing your paragraphs:

  • Build a Vivid Setting: Create a sense of time and place by using descriptive details. Engage the reader's senses to transport them into the world of your narrative.
  • Narrate the Sequence of Events: Tell your story in chronological order, ensuring a clear timeline that your readers can follow. Use transition words and phrases to guide your readers through the narrative, keeping the flow smooth.
  • Include Dialogue: Use dialogue to reveal character traits, emotions, and interactions. Describe the characters' actions and interactions as the story progresses, maintaining a balance between showing and telling.
  • Introduce Conflict: Every narrative needs some form of conflict to drive the story forward. Explain the conflict clearly and highlight its significance.
  • Build Toward a Climax: As you narrate the events, build tension and suspense leading to the climax—the high point of your story where the conflict is resolved or faced head-on.

Step 5: Craft a Conclusion

A well-crafted conclusion is vital to wrap up your narrative effectively. Here’s what to include in your conclusion: 

  • Your conclusion should offer closure, reflecting on how the events have affected the characters and the broader context of your story.
  • Summarize the key points of your essay, reiterating the central message or theme. 
  • Leave your readers with a lasting impression or something to ponder. 

Step 6: Revise Your First Draft

After completing your first draft, take a step back and review your work. Here’s how to improve upon your first draft:

  • Revise for clarity, coherence, and narrative flow. Ensure that each paragraph logically follows the previous one, creating a seamless story. 
  • Ensure that you’ve included the points you mentioned in your outline.
  • Look for any inconsistencies in your timeline or character development and address them. This is the stage where you fine-tune your narrative's structure.

Step 7: Proofread and Edit

The final step in the process is proofreading and editing . This ensures that your final draft is the best version of your essay. Here are the final steps you need to follow:

  • Carefully review your essay for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. 
  • Make sure your writing is clear and concise. Edit for consistency in style and tone throughout the essay. 
  • Seek feedback from others to gain a fresh perspective on your narrative. Their insights can help you make improvements and refine your storytelling.

Tips To Make Your Narrative Essays More Engaging

Follow these narrative essay writing tips to write effectively.

  • Select a Meaningful Topic: Choose a topic that has personal significance, whether it's a life-changing event, a lesson learned, or an experience that left a lasting impression. Your enthusiasm for the topic will shine through in your writing.
  • Create a Clear Message: Define the central message or theme of your narrative essay. What do you want readers to take away from your story? Having a clear message ensures your essay has a purpose.
  • Use Descriptive Details: Paint a vivid picture for your readers by including sensory details. Engage the five senses – sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell – to make your narrative come alive.
  • Show, Don't Tell: Instead of simply telling your readers what happened, show them through your descriptions and dialogue. Let your readers experience the story as if they were there.
  • Use a consistent point of view: Choose a consistent point of view, such as first-person or third-person, and stick with it throughout your narrative essay. This will help your readers better understand your perspective and connect with your story.

The Don’ts of Narrative Writing 

Following the tips above may not be enough for writing a great essay, especially if you are making. Here are some things to avoid in a narrative essay:

  • Don't Overwhelm with Detail: While details are essential, avoid overloading your narrative with excessive descriptions, which can bog down the story.
  • Don't Rush the Climax: Build up to the climactic moment of your story rather than rushing through it. Give it the attention and anticipation it deserves.
  • Avoid Being Predictable: While narratives often have conventional structures, try to avoid overly predictable storylines. Surprise your readers and keep them engaged.
  • Don't Forget the Central Message: Ensure that your narrative conveys a clear message or theme. It should have a purpose beyond storytelling.
  • Don't Neglect Editing: Skipping the editing process can lead to grammar, spelling, or structural issues. Take the time to revise and improve your work.
  • Don't Overcomplicate the Plot: A narrative should have a clear and understandable plot. Avoid introducing too many elements or convoluted storylines that may confuse readers.
  • Avoid Clichés: Strive to create a unique and original narrative. Avoid clichés or overused storytelling devices.

Narrative Essay Examples 

Reading example essays is a good way to start learning about narrative writing. Here are some example essays that will help you craft a perfect essay in no time. 

Literacy Narrative Essay Example

Narrative Essay Example About Life

Personal Narrative Essay Example

Want to read more examples? Check out our narrative essay examples blog to read expertly written narrative essays.

Narrative Essay Topics

Here are a few best narrative essay topics and ideas for your successful narrative writing.

  • The most embarrassing event of my life.
  • The most valuable childhood possession.
  • An unpleasant personal experience.
  • An unpleasant experience that helped me grow.
  • Your first experience with love and its impact on you.
  • The most difficult decision I had to make.
  • A rebellious act from your life.
  • A time when you got lost somewhere.
  • A random act of kindness.
  • A conflict with another person.

Need more topic ideas for your narrative essay. Head to this narrative essay topics list to get engaging and interesting ideas!

In conclusion, mastering the art of narrative essay writing opens the door to sharing your experiences, emotions, and insights with the world. Remember to choose your words carefully and develop your story's conflict to captivate your readers.

Do you need more help writing your narrative essay? Contact MyPerfectWords.com to hire a highly qualified and expert writer to help you out. Our narrative essay writing service ensures high quality essays with timely livery.

So order your custom essay today from our fast essay writing service . 

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A narrative essay is one of the most intimidating assignments you can be handed at any level of your education. Where you've previously written argumentative essays that make a point or analytic essays that dissect meaning, a narrative essay asks you to write what is effectively a story .

But unlike a simple work of creative fiction, your narrative essay must have a clear and concrete motif —a recurring theme or idea that you’ll explore throughout. Narrative essays are less rigid, more creative in expression, and therefore pretty different from most other essays you’ll be writing.

But not to fear—in this article, we’ll be covering what a narrative essay is, how to write a good one, and also analyzing some personal narrative essay examples to show you what a great one looks like.

What Is a Narrative Essay?

At first glance, a narrative essay might sound like you’re just writing a story. Like the stories you're used to reading, a narrative essay is generally (but not always) chronological, following a clear throughline from beginning to end. Even if the story jumps around in time, all the details will come back to one specific theme, demonstrated through your choice in motifs.

Unlike many creative stories, however, your narrative essay should be based in fact. That doesn’t mean that every detail needs to be pure and untainted by imagination, but rather that you shouldn’t wholly invent the events of your narrative essay. There’s nothing wrong with inventing a person’s words if you can’t remember them exactly, but you shouldn’t say they said something they weren’t even close to saying.

Another big difference between narrative essays and creative fiction—as well as other kinds of essays—is that narrative essays are based on motifs. A motif is a dominant idea or theme, one that you establish before writing the essay. As you’re crafting the narrative, it’ll feed back into your motif to create a comprehensive picture of whatever that motif is.

For example, say you want to write a narrative essay about how your first day in high school helped you establish your identity. You might discuss events like trying to figure out where to sit in the cafeteria, having to describe yourself in five words as an icebreaker in your math class, or being unsure what to do during your lunch break because it’s no longer acceptable to go outside and play during lunch. All of those ideas feed back into the central motif of establishing your identity.

The important thing to remember is that while a narrative essay is typically told chronologically and intended to read like a story, it is not purely for entertainment value. A narrative essay delivers its theme by deliberately weaving the motifs through the events, scenes, and details. While a narrative essay may be entertaining, its primary purpose is to tell a complete story based on a central meaning.

Unlike other essay forms, it is totally okay—even expected—to use first-person narration in narrative essays. If you’re writing a story about yourself, it’s natural to refer to yourself within the essay. It’s also okay to use other perspectives, such as third- or even second-person, but that should only be done if it better serves your motif. Generally speaking, your narrative essay should be in first-person perspective.

Though your motif choices may feel at times like you’re making a point the way you would in an argumentative essay, a narrative essay’s goal is to tell a story, not convince the reader of anything. Your reader should be able to tell what your motif is from reading, but you don’t have to change their mind about anything. If they don’t understand the point you are making, you should consider strengthening the delivery of the events and descriptions that support your motif.

Narrative essays also share some features with analytical essays, in which you derive meaning from a book, film, or other media. But narrative essays work differently—you’re not trying to draw meaning from an existing text, but rather using an event you’ve experienced to convey meaning. In an analytical essay, you examine narrative, whereas in a narrative essay you create narrative.

The structure of a narrative essay is also a bit different than other essays. You’ll generally be getting your point across chronologically as opposed to grouping together specific arguments in paragraphs or sections. To return to the example of an essay discussing your first day of high school and how it impacted the shaping of your identity, it would be weird to put the events out of order, even if not knowing what to do after lunch feels like a stronger idea than choosing where to sit. Instead of organizing to deliver your information based on maximum impact, you’ll be telling your story as it happened, using concrete details to reinforce your theme.

body_fair

3 Great Narrative Essay Examples

One of the best ways to learn how to write a narrative essay is to look at a great narrative essay sample. Let’s take a look at some truly stellar narrative essay examples and dive into what exactly makes them work so well.

A Ticket to the Fair by David Foster Wallace

Today is Press Day at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, and I’m supposed to be at the fairgrounds by 9:00 A.M. to get my credentials. I imagine credentials to be a small white card in the band of a fedora. I’ve never been considered press before. My real interest in credentials is getting into rides and shows for free. I’m fresh in from the East Coast, for an East Coast magazine. Why exactly they’re interested in the Illinois State Fair remains unclear to me. I suspect that every so often editors at East Coast magazines slap their foreheads and remember that about 90 percent of the United States lies between the coasts, and figure they’ll engage somebody to do pith-helmeted anthropological reporting on something rural and heartlandish. I think they asked me to do this because I grew up here, just a couple hours’ drive from downstate Springfield. I never did go to the state fair, though—I pretty much topped out at the county fair level. Actually, I haven’t been back to Illinois for a long time, and I can’t say I’ve missed it.

Throughout this essay, David Foster Wallace recounts his experience as press at the Illinois State Fair. But it’s clear from this opening that he’s not just reporting on the events exactly as they happened—though that’s also true— but rather making a point about how the East Coast, where he lives and works, thinks about the Midwest.

In his opening paragraph, Wallace states that outright: “Why exactly they’re interested in the Illinois State Fair remains unclear to me. I suspect that every so often editors at East Coast magazines slap their foreheads and remember that about 90 percent of the United States lies between the coasts, and figure they’ll engage somebody to do pith-helmeted anthropological reporting on something rural and heartlandish.”

Not every motif needs to be stated this clearly , but in an essay as long as Wallace’s, particularly since the audience for such a piece may feel similarly and forget that such a large portion of the country exists, it’s important to make that point clear.

But Wallace doesn’t just rest on introducing his motif and telling the events exactly as they occurred from there. It’s clear that he selects events that remind us of that idea of East Coast cynicism , such as when he realizes that the Help Me Grow tent is standing on top of fake grass that is killing the real grass beneath, when he realizes the hypocrisy of craving a corn dog when faced with a real, suffering pig, when he’s upset for his friend even though he’s not the one being sexually harassed, and when he witnesses another East Coast person doing something he wouldn’t dare to do.

Wallace is literally telling the audience exactly what happened, complete with dates and timestamps for when each event occurred. But he’s also choosing those events with a purpose—he doesn’t focus on details that don’t serve his motif. That’s why he discusses the experiences of people, how the smells are unappealing to him, and how all the people he meets, in cowboy hats, overalls, or “black spandex that looks like cheesecake leotards,” feel almost alien to him.

All of these details feed back into the throughline of East Coast thinking that Wallace introduces in the first paragraph. He also refers back to it in the essay’s final paragraph, stating:

At last, an overarching theory blooms inside my head: megalopolitan East Coasters’ summer treats and breaks and literally ‘getaways,’ flights-from—from crowds, noise, heat, dirt, the stress of too many sensory choices….The East Coast existential treat is escape from confines and stimuli—quiet, rustic vistas that hold still, turn inward, turn away. Not so in the rural Midwest. Here you’re pretty much away all the time….Something in a Midwesterner sort of actuates , deep down, at a public event….The real spectacle that draws us here is us.

Throughout this journey, Wallace has tried to demonstrate how the East Coast thinks about the Midwest, ultimately concluding that they are captivated by the Midwest’s less stimuli-filled life, but that the real reason they are interested in events like the Illinois State Fair is that they are, in some ways, a means of looking at the East Coast in a new, estranging way.

The reason this works so well is that Wallace has carefully chosen his examples, outlined his motif and themes in the first paragraph, and eventually circled back to the original motif with a clearer understanding of his original point.

When outlining your own narrative essay, try to do the same. Start with a theme, build upon it with examples, and return to it in the end with an even deeper understanding of the original issue. You don’t need this much space to explore a theme, either—as we’ll see in the next example, a strong narrative essay can also be very short.

body_moth

Death of a Moth by Virginia Woolf

After a time, tired by his dancing apparently, he settled on the window ledge in the sun, and, the queer spectacle being at an end, I forgot about him. Then, looking up, my eye was caught by him. He was trying to resume his dancing, but seemed either so stiff or so awkward that he could only flutter to the bottom of the window-pane; and when he tried to fly across it he failed. Being intent on other matters I watched these futile attempts for a time without thinking, unconsciously waiting for him to resume his flight, as one waits for a machine, that has stopped momentarily, to start again without considering the reason of its failure. After perhaps a seventh attempt he slipped from the wooden ledge and fell, fluttering his wings, on to his back on the window sill. The helplessness of his attitude roused me. It flashed upon me that he was in difficulties; he could no longer raise himself; his legs struggled vainly. But, as I stretched out a pencil, meaning to help him to right himself, it came over me that the failure and awkwardness were the approach of death. I laid the pencil down again.

In this essay, Virginia Woolf explains her encounter with a dying moth. On surface level, this essay is just a recounting of an afternoon in which she watched a moth die—it’s even established in the title. But there’s more to it than that. Though Woolf does not begin her essay with as clear a motif as Wallace, it’s not hard to pick out the evidence she uses to support her point, which is that the experience of this moth is also the human experience.

In the title, Woolf tells us this essay is about death. But in the first paragraph, she seems to mostly be discussing life—the moth is “content with life,” people are working in the fields, and birds are flying. However, she mentions that it is mid-September and that the fields were being plowed. It’s autumn and it’s time for the harvest; the time of year in which many things die.

In this short essay, she chronicles the experience of watching a moth seemingly embody life, then die. Though this essay is literally about a moth, it’s also about a whole lot more than that. After all, moths aren’t the only things that die—Woolf is also reflecting on her own mortality, as well as the mortality of everything around her.

At its core, the essay discusses the push and pull of life and death, not in a way that’s necessarily sad, but in a way that is accepting of both. Woolf begins by setting up the transitional fall season, often associated with things coming to an end, and raises the ideas of pleasure, vitality, and pity.

At one point, Woolf tries to help the dying moth, but reconsiders, as it would interfere with the natural order of the world. The moth’s death is part of the natural order of the world, just like fall, just like her own eventual death.

All these themes are set up in the beginning and explored throughout the essay’s narrative. Though Woolf doesn’t directly state her theme, she reinforces it by choosing a small, isolated event—watching a moth die—and illustrating her point through details.

With this essay, we can see that you don’t need a big, weird, exciting event to discuss an important meaning. Woolf is able to explore complicated ideas in a short essay by being deliberate about what details she includes, just as you can be in your own essays.

body_baldwin

Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin

On the twenty-ninth of July, in 1943, my father died. On the same day, a few hours later, his last child was born. Over a month before this, while all our energies were concentrated in waiting for these events, there had been, in Detroit, one of the bloodiest race riots of the century. A few hours after my father’s funeral, while he lay in state in the undertaker’s chapel, a race riot broke out in Harlem. On the morning of the third of August, we drove my father to the graveyard through a wilderness of smashed plate glass.

Like Woolf, Baldwin does not lay out his themes in concrete terms—unlike Wallace, there’s no clear sentence that explains what he’ll be talking about. However, you can see the motifs quite clearly: death, fatherhood, struggle, and race.

Throughout the narrative essay, Baldwin discusses the circumstances of his father’s death, including his complicated relationship with his father. By introducing those motifs in the first paragraph, the reader understands that everything discussed in the essay will come back to those core ideas. When Baldwin talks about his experience with a white teacher taking an interest in him and his father’s resistance to that, he is also talking about race and his father’s death. When he talks about his father’s death, he is also talking about his views on race. When he talks about his encounters with segregation and racism, he is talking, in part, about his father.

Because his father was a hard, uncompromising man, Baldwin struggles to reconcile the knowledge that his father was right about many things with his desire to not let that hardness consume him, as well.

Baldwin doesn’t explicitly state any of this, but his writing so often touches on the same motifs that it becomes clear he wants us to think about all these ideas in conversation with one another.

At the end of the essay, Baldwin makes it more clear:

This fight begins, however, in the heart and it had now been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair. This intimation made my heart heavy and, now that my father was irrecoverable, I wished that he had been beside me so that I could have searched his face for the answers which only the future would give me now.

Here, Baldwin ties together the themes and motifs into one clear statement: that he must continue to fight and recognize injustice, especially racial injustice, just as his father did. But unlike his father, he must do it beginning with himself—he must not let himself be closed off to the world as his father was. And yet, he still wishes he had his father for guidance, even as he establishes that he hopes to be a different man than his father.

In this essay, Baldwin loads the front of the essay with his motifs, and, through his narrative, weaves them together into a theme. In the end, he comes to a conclusion that connects all of those things together and leaves the reader with a lasting impression of completion—though the elements may have been initially disparate, in the end everything makes sense.

You can replicate this tactic of introducing seemingly unattached ideas and weaving them together in your own essays. By introducing those motifs, developing them throughout, and bringing them together in the end, you can demonstrate to your reader how all of them are related. However, it’s especially important to be sure that your motifs and clear and consistent throughout your essay so that the conclusion feels earned and consistent—if not, readers may feel mislead.

5 Key Tips for Writing Narrative Essays

Narrative essays can be a lot of fun to write since they’re so heavily based on creativity. But that can also feel intimidating—sometimes it’s easier to have strict guidelines than to have to make it all up yourself. Here are a few tips to keep your narrative essay feeling strong and fresh.

Develop Strong Motifs

Motifs are the foundation of a narrative essay . What are you trying to say? How can you say that using specific symbols or events? Those are your motifs.

In the same way that an argumentative essay’s body should support its thesis, the body of your narrative essay should include motifs that support your theme.

Try to avoid cliches, as these will feel tired to your readers. Instead of roses to symbolize love, try succulents. Instead of the ocean representing some vast, unknowable truth, try the depths of your brother’s bedroom. Keep your language and motifs fresh and your essay will be even stronger!

Use First-Person Perspective

In many essays, you’re expected to remove yourself so that your points stand on their own. Not so in a narrative essay—in this case, you want to make use of your own perspective.

Sometimes a different perspective can make your point even stronger. If you want someone to identify with your point of view, it may be tempting to choose a second-person perspective. However, be sure you really understand the function of second-person; it’s very easy to put a reader off if the narration isn’t expertly deployed.

If you want a little bit of distance, third-person perspective may be okay. But be careful—too much distance and your reader may feel like the narrative lacks truth.

That’s why first-person perspective is the standard. It keeps you, the writer, close to the narrative, reminding the reader that it really happened. And because you really know what happened and how, you’re free to inject your own opinion into the story without it detracting from your point, as it would in a different type of essay.

Stick to the Truth

Your essay should be true. However, this is a creative essay, and it’s okay to embellish a little. Rarely in life do we experience anything with a clear, concrete meaning the way somebody in a book might. If you flub the details a little, it’s okay—just don’t make them up entirely.

Also, nobody expects you to perfectly recall details that may have happened years ago. You may have to reconstruct dialog from your memory and your imagination. That’s okay, again, as long as you aren’t making it up entirely and assigning made-up statements to somebody.

Dialog is a powerful tool. A good conversation can add flavor and interest to a story, as we saw demonstrated in David Foster Wallace’s essay. As previously mentioned, it’s okay to flub it a little, especially because you’re likely writing about an experience you had without knowing that you’d be writing about it later.

However, don’t rely too much on it. Your narrative essay shouldn’t be told through people explaining things to one another; the motif comes through in the details. Dialog can be one of those details, but it shouldn’t be the only one.

Use Sensory Descriptions

Because a narrative essay is a story, you can use sensory details to make your writing more interesting. If you’re describing a particular experience, you can go into detail about things like taste, smell, and hearing in a way that you probably wouldn’t do in any other essay style.

These details can tie into your overall motifs and further your point. Woolf describes in great detail what she sees while watching the moth, giving us the sense that we, too, are watching the moth. In Wallace’s essay, he discusses the sights, sounds, and smells of the Illinois State Fair to help emphasize his point about its strangeness. And in Baldwin’s essay, he describes shattered glass as a “wilderness,” and uses the feelings of his body to describe his mental state.

All these descriptions anchor us not only in the story, but in the motifs and themes as well. One of the tools of a writer is making the reader feel as you felt, and sensory details help you achieve that.

What’s Next?

Looking to brush up on your essay-writing capabilities before the ACT? This guide to ACT English will walk you through some of the best strategies and practice questions to get you prepared!

Part of practicing for the ACT is ensuring your word choice and diction are on point. Check out this guide to some of the most common errors on the ACT English section to be sure that you're not making these common mistakes!

A solid understanding of English principles will help you make an effective point in a narrative essay, and you can get that understanding through taking a rigorous assortment of high school English classes !

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Melissa Brinks graduated from the University of Washington in 2014 with a Bachelor's in English with a creative writing emphasis. She has spent several years tutoring K-12 students in many subjects, including in SAT prep, to help them prepare for their college education.

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Telling the Story of Yourself: 6 Steps to Writing Personal Narratives

Jennifer Xue

Jennifer Xue

writing personal narratives

Table of Contents

Why do we write personal narratives, 6 guidelines for writing personal narrative essays, inspiring personal narratives, examples of personal narrative essays, tell your story.

First off, you might be wondering: what is a personal narrative? In short, personal narratives are stories we tell about ourselves that focus on our growth, lessons learned, and reflections on our experiences.

From stories about inspirational figures we heard as children to any essay, article, or exercise where we're asked to express opinions on a situation, thing, or individual—personal narratives are everywhere.

According to Psychology Today, personal narratives allow authors to feel and release pains, while savouring moments of strength and resilience. Such emotions provide an avenue for both authors and readers to connect while supporting healing in the process.

That all sounds great. But when it comes to putting the words down on paper, we often end up with a list of experiences and no real structure to tie them together.

In this article, we'll discuss what a personal narrative essay is further, learn the 6 steps to writing one, and look at some examples of great personal narratives.

As readers, we're fascinated by memoirs, autobiographies, and long-form personal narrative articles, as they provide a glimpse into the authors' thought processes, ideas, and feelings. But you don't have to be writing your whole life story to create a personal narrative.

You might be a student writing an admissions essay , or be trying to tell your professional story in a cover letter. Regardless of your purpose, your narrative will focus on personal growth, reflections, and lessons.

Personal narratives help us connect with other people's stories due to their easy-to-digest format and because humans are empathising creatures.

We can better understand how others feel and think when we were told stories that allow us to see the world from their perspectives. The author's "I think" and "I feel" instantaneously become ours, as the brain doesn't know whether what we read is real or imaginary.

In her best-selling book Wired for Story, Lisa Cron explains that the human brain craves tales as it's hard-wired through evolution to learn what happens next. Since the brain doesn't know whether what you are reading is actual or not, we can register the moral of the story cognitively and affectively.

In academia, a narrative essay tells a story which is experiential, anecdotal, or personal. It allows the author to creatively express their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and opinions. Its length can be anywhere from a few paragraphs to hundreds of pages.

Outside of academia, personal narratives are known as a form of journalism or non-fiction works called "narrative journalism." Even highly prestigious publications like the New York Times and Time magazine have sections dedicated to personal narratives. The New Yorke is a magazine dedicated solely to this genre.

The New York Times holds personal narrative essay contests. The winners are selected because they:

had a clear narrative arc with a conflict and a main character who changed in some way. They artfully balanced the action of the story with reflection on what it meant to the writer. They took risks, like including dialogue or playing with punctuation, sentence structure and word choice to develop a strong voice. And, perhaps most important, they focused on a specific moment or theme – a conversation, a trip to the mall, a speech tournament, a hospital visit – instead of trying to sum up the writer’s life in 600 words.

In a nutshell, a personal narrative can cover any reflective and contemplative subject with a strong voice and a unique perspective, including uncommon private values. It's written in first person and the story encompasses a specific moment in time worthy of a discussion.

Writing a personal narrative essay involves both objectivity and subjectivity. You'll need to be objective enough to recognise the importance of an event or a situation to explore and write about. On the other hand, you must be subjective enough to inject private thoughts and feelings to make your point.

With personal narratives, you are both the muse and the creator – you have control over how your story is told. However, like any other type of writing, it comes with guidelines.

1. Write Your Personal Narrative as a Story

As a story, it must include an introduction, characters, plot, setting, climax, anti-climax (if any), and conclusion. Another way to approach it is by structuring it with an introduction, body, and conclusion. The introduction should set the tone, while the body should focus on the key point(s) you want to get across. The conclusion can tell the reader what lessons you have learned from the story you've just told.

2. Give Your Personal Narrative a Clear Purpose

Your narrative essay should reflect your unique perspective on life. This is a lot harder than it sounds. You need to establish your perspective, the key things you want your reader to take away, and your tone of voice. It's a good idea to have a set purpose in mind for the narrative before you start writing.

Let's say you want to write about how you manage depression without taking any medicine. This could go in any number of ways, but isolating a purpose will help you focus your writing and choose which stories to tell. Are you advocating for a holistic approach, or do you want to describe your emotional experience for people thinking of trying it?

Having this focus will allow you to put your own unique take on what you did (and didn't do, if applicable), what changed you, and the lessons learned along the way.

3. Show, Don't Tell

It's a narration, so the narrative should show readers what happened, instead of telling them. As well as being a storyteller, the author should take part as one of the characters. Keep this in mind when writing, as the way you shape your perspective can have a big impact on how your reader sees your overarching plot. Don't slip into just explaining everything that happened because it happened to you. Show your reader with action.

dialogue tags

You can check for instances of telling rather than showing with ProWritingAid. For example, instead of:

"You never let me do anything!" I cried disdainfully.
"You never let me do anything!" To this day, my mother swears that the glare I levelled at her as I spat those words out could have soured milk.

Using ProWritingAid will help you find these instances in your manuscript and edit them without spending hours trawling through your work yourself.

4. Use "I," But Don't Overuse It

You, the author, take ownership of the story, so the first person pronoun "I" is used throughout. However, you shouldn't overuse it, as it'd make it sound too self-centred and redundant.

ProWritingAid can also help you here – the Style Report will tell you if you've started too many sentences with "I", and show you how to introduce more variation in your writing.

5. Pay Attention to Tenses

Tense is key to understanding. Personal narratives mostly tell the story of events that happened in the past, so many authors choose to use the past tense. This helps separate out your current, narrating voice and your past self who you are narrating. If you're writing in the present tense, make sure that you keep it consistent throughout.

tenses in narratives

6. Make Your Conclusion Satisfying

Satisfy your readers by giving them an unforgettable closing scene. The body of the narration should build up the plot to climax. This doesn't have to be something incredible or shocking, just something that helps give an interesting take on your story.

The takeaways or the lessons learned should be written without lecturing. Whenever possible, continue to show rather than tell. Don't say what you learned, narrate what you do differently now. This will help the moral of your story shine through without being too preachy.

GoodReads is a great starting point for selecting read-worthy personal narrative books. Here are five of my favourites.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen, the author of 386 books, wrote this poetic story about a daughter and her father who went owling. Instead of learning about owls, Yolen invites readers to contemplate the meaning of gentleness and hope.

Night by Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel was a teenager when he and his family were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944. This Holocaust memoir has a strong message that such horrific events should never be repeated.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

This classic is a must-read by young and old alike. It's a remarkable diary by a 13-year-old Jewish girl who hid inside a secret annexe of an old building during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in 1942.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

This is a personal narrative written by a brave author renowned for her clarity, passion, and honesty. Didion shares how in December 2003, she lost her husband of 40 years to a massive heart attack and dealt with the acute illness of her only daughter. She speaks about grief, memories, illness, and hope.

Educated by Tara Westover

Author Tara Westover was raised by survivalist parents. She didn't go to school until 17 years of age, which later took her to Harvard and Cambridge. It's a story about the struggle for quest for knowledge and self-reinvention.

Narrative and personal narrative journalism are gaining more popularity these days. You can find distinguished personal narratives all over the web.

Curating the best of the best of personal narratives and narrative essays from all over the web. Some are award-winning articles.

Narratively

Long-form writing to celebrate humanity through storytelling. It publishes personal narrative essays written to provoke, inspire, and reflect, touching lesser-known and overlooked subjects.

Narrative Magazine

It publishes non,fiction narratives, poetry, and fiction. Among its contributors is Frank Conroy, the author of Stop-Time , a memoir that has never been out of print since 1967.

Thought Catalog

Aimed at Generation Z, it publishes personal narrative essays on self-improvement, family, friendship, romance, and others.

Personal narratives will continue to be popular as our brains are wired for stories. We love reading about others and telling stories of ourselves, as they bring satisfaction and a better understanding of the world around us.

Personal narratives make us better humans. Enjoy telling yours!

what to write an narrative essay

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Jennifer Xue is an award-winning e-book author with 2,500+ articles and 100+ e-books/reports published under her belt. She also taught 50+ college-level essay and paper writing classes. Her byline has appeared in Forbes, Fortune, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Business.com, Business2Community, Addicted2Success, Good Men Project, and others. Her blog is JenniferXue.com. Follow her on Twitter @jenxuewrites].

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Literacy Ideas

Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students

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MASTERING THE CRAFT OF NARRATIVE WRITING

Narratives build on and encourage the development of the fundamentals of writing. They also require developing an additional skill set: the ability to tell a good yarn, and storytelling is as old as humanity.

We see and hear stories everywhere and daily, from having good gossip on the doorstep with a neighbor in the morning to the dramas that fill our screens in the evening.

Good narrative writing skills are hard-won by students even though it is an area of writing that most enjoy due to the creativity and freedom it offers.

Here we will explore some of the main elements of a good story: plot, setting, characters, conflict, climax, and resolution . And we will look too at how best we can help our students understand these elements, both in isolation and how they mesh together as a whole.

Visual Writing Prompts

WHAT IS A NARRATIVE?

What is a narrative?

A narrative is a story that shares a sequence of events , characters, and themes. It expresses experiences, ideas, and perspectives that should aspire to engage and inspire an audience.

A narrative can spark emotion, encourage reflection, and convey meaning when done well.

Narratives are a popular genre for students and teachers as they allow the writer to share their imagination, creativity, skill, and understanding of nearly all elements of writing.  We occasionally refer to a narrative as ‘creative writing’ or story writing.

The purpose of a narrative is simple, to tell the audience a story.  It can be written to motivate, educate, or entertain and can be fact or fiction.

A COMPLETE UNIT ON TEACHING NARRATIVE WRITING

narrative writing | narrative writing unit 1 2 | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students | literacyideas.com

Teach your students to become skilled story writers with this HUGE   NARRATIVE & CREATIVE STORY WRITING UNIT . Offering a  COMPLETE SOLUTION  to teaching students how to craft  CREATIVE CHARACTERS, SUPERB SETTINGS, and PERFECT PLOTS .

Over 192 PAGES of materials, including:

TYPES OF NARRATIVE WRITING

There are many narrative writing genres and sub-genres such as these.

We have a complete guide to writing a personal narrative that differs from the traditional story-based narrative covered in this guide. It includes personal narrative writing prompts, resources, and examples and can be found here.

narrative writing | how to write quest narratives | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students | literacyideas.com

As we can see, narratives are an open-ended form of writing that allows you to showcase creativity in many directions. However, all narratives share a common set of features and structure known as “Story Elements”, which are briefly covered in this guide.

Don’t overlook the importance of understanding story elements and the value this adds to you as a writer who can dissect and create grand narratives. We also have an in-depth guide to understanding story elements here .

CHARACTERISTICS OF NARRATIVE WRITING

Narrative structure.

ORIENTATION (BEGINNING) Set the scene by introducing your characters, setting and time of the story. Establish your who, when and where in this part of your narrative

COMPLICATION AND EVENTS (MIDDLE) In this section activities and events involving your main characters are expanded upon. These events are written in a cohesive and fluent sequence.

RESOLUTION (ENDING) Your complication is resolved in this section. It does not have to be a happy outcome, however.

EXTRAS: Whilst orientation, complication and resolution are the agreed norms for a narrative, there are numerous examples of popular texts that did not explicitly follow this path exactly.

NARRATIVE FEATURES

LANGUAGE: Use descriptive and figurative language to paint images inside your audience’s minds as they read.

PERSPECTIVE Narratives can be written from any perspective but are most commonly written in first or third person.

DIALOGUE Narratives frequently switch from narrator to first-person dialogue. Always use speech marks when writing dialogue.

TENSE If you change tense, make it perfectly clear to your audience what is happening. Flashbacks might work well in your mind but make sure they translate to your audience.

THE PLOT MAP

narrative writing | structuring a narrative | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students | literacyideas.com

This graphic is known as a plot map, and nearly all narratives fit this structure in one way or another, whether romance novels, science fiction or otherwise.

It is a simple tool that helps you understand and organise a story’s events. Think of it as a roadmap that outlines the journey of your characters and the events that unfold. It outlines the different stops along the way, such as the introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution, that help you to see how the story builds and develops.

Using a plot map, you can see how each event fits into the larger picture and how the different parts of the story work together to create meaning. It’s a great way to visualize and analyze a story.

Be sure to refer to a plot map when planning a story, as it has all the essential elements of a great story.

THE 5 KEY STORY ELEMENTS OF A GREAT NARRATIVE (6-MINUTE TUTORIAL VIDEO)

This video we created provides an excellent overview of these elements and demonstrates them in action in stories we all know and love.

Story Elements for kids

HOW TO WRITE A NARRATIVE

How to write a Narrative

Now that we understand the story elements and how they come together to form stories, it’s time to start planning and writing your narrative.

In many cases, the template and guide below will provide enough details on how to craft a great story. However, if you still need assistance with the fundamentals of writing, such as sentence structure, paragraphs and using correct grammar, we have some excellent guides on those here.

USE YOUR WRITING TIME EFFECTIVELY: Maximize your narrative writing sessions by spending approximately 20 per cent of your time planning and preparing.  This ensures greater productivity during your writing time and keeps you focused and on task.

Use tools such as graphic organizers to logically sequence your narrative if you are not a confident story writer.  If you are working with reluctant writers, try using narrative writing prompts to get their creative juices flowing.

Spend most of your writing hour on the task at hand, don’t get too side-tracked editing during this time and leave some time for editing. When editing a  narrative, examine it for these three elements.

  • Spelling and grammar ( Is it readable?)
  • Story structure and continuity ( Does it make sense, and does it flow? )
  • Character and plot analysis. (Are your characters engaging? Does your problem/resolution work? )

1. SETTING THE SCENE: THE WHERE AND THE WHEN

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The story’s setting often answers two of the central questions in the story, namely, the where and the when. The answers to these two crucial questions will often be informed by the type of story the student is writing.

The story’s setting can be chosen to quickly orient the reader to the type of story they are reading. For example, a fictional narrative writing piece such as a horror story will often begin with a description of a haunted house on a hill or an abandoned asylum in the middle of the woods. If we start our story on a rocket ship hurtling through the cosmos on its space voyage to the Alpha Centauri star system, we can be reasonably sure that the story we are embarking on is a work of science fiction.

Such conventions are well-worn clichés true, but they can be helpful starting points for our novice novelists to make a start.

Having students choose an appropriate setting for the type of story they wish to write is an excellent exercise for our younger students. It leads naturally onto the next stage of story writing, which is creating suitable characters to populate this fictional world they have created. However, older or more advanced students may wish to play with the expectations of appropriate settings for their story. They may wish to do this for comic effect or in the interest of creating a more original story. For example, opening a story with a children’s birthday party does not usually set up the expectation of a horror story. Indeed, it may even lure the reader into a happy reverie as they remember their own happy birthday parties. This leaves them more vulnerable to the surprise element of the shocking action that lies ahead.

Once the students have chosen a setting for their story, they need to start writing. Little can be more terrifying to English students than the blank page and its bare whiteness stretching before them on the table like a merciless desert they must cross. Give them the kick-start they need by offering support through word banks or writing prompts. If the class is all writing a story based on the same theme, you may wish to compile a common word bank on the whiteboard as a prewriting activity. Write the central theme or genre in the middle of the board. Have students suggest words or phrases related to the theme and list them on the board.

You may wish to provide students with a copy of various writing prompts to get them started. While this may mean that many students’ stories will have the same beginning, they will most likely arrive at dramatically different endings via dramatically different routes.

narrative writing | story elements | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students | literacyideas.com

A bargain is at the centre of the relationship between the writer and the reader. That bargain is that the reader promises to suspend their disbelief as long as the writer creates a consistent and convincing fictional reality. Creating a believable world for the fictional characters to inhabit requires the student to draw on convincing details. The best way of doing this is through writing that appeals to the senses. Have your student reflect deeply on the world that they are creating. What does it look like? Sound like? What does the food taste like there? How does it feel like to walk those imaginary streets, and what aromas beguile the nose as the main character winds their way through that conjured market?

Also, Consider the when; or the time period. Is it a future world where things are cleaner and more antiseptic? Or is it an overcrowded 16th-century London with human waste stinking up the streets? If students can create a multi-sensory installation in the reader’s mind, then they have done this part of their job well.

Popular Settings from Children’s Literature and Storytelling

  • Fairytale Kingdom
  • Magical Forest
  • Village/town
  • Underwater world
  • Space/Alien planet

2. CASTING THE CHARACTERS: THE WHO

Now that your student has created a believable world, it is time to populate it with believable characters.

In short stories, these worlds mustn’t be overpopulated beyond what the student’s skill level can manage. Short stories usually only require one main character and a few secondary ones. Think of the short story more as a small-scale dramatic production in an intimate local theater than a Hollywood blockbuster on a grand scale. Too many characters will only confuse and become unwieldy with a canvas this size. Keep it simple!

Creating believable characters is often one of the most challenging aspects of narrative writing for students. Fortunately, we can do a few things to help students here. Sometimes it is helpful for students to model their characters on actual people they know. This can make things a little less daunting and taxing on the imagination. However, whether or not this is the case, writing brief background bios or descriptions of characters’ physical personality characteristics can be a beneficial prewriting activity. Students should give some in-depth consideration to the details of who their character is: How do they walk? What do they look like? Do they have any distinguishing features? A crooked nose? A limp? Bad breath? Small details such as these bring life and, therefore, believability to characters. Students can even cut pictures from magazines to put a face to their character and allow their imaginations to fill in the rest of the details.

Younger students will often dictate to the reader the nature of their characters. To improve their writing craft, students must know when to switch from story-telling mode to story-showing mode. This is particularly true when it comes to character. Encourage students to reveal their character’s personality through what they do rather than merely by lecturing the reader on the faults and virtues of the character’s personality. It might be a small relayed detail in the way they walk that reveals a core characteristic. For example, a character who walks with their head hanging low and shoulders hunched while avoiding eye contact has been revealed to be timid without the word once being mentioned. This is a much more artistic and well-crafted way of doing things and is less irritating for the reader. A character who sits down at the family dinner table immediately snatches up his fork and starts stuffing roast potatoes into his mouth before anyone else has even managed to sit down has revealed a tendency towards greed or gluttony.

Understanding Character Traits

Again, there is room here for some fun and profitable prewriting activities. Give students a list of character traits and have them describe a character doing something that reveals that trait without ever employing the word itself.

It is also essential to avoid adjective stuffing here. When looking at students’ early drafts, adjective stuffing is often apparent. To train the student out of this habit, choose an adjective and have the student rewrite the sentence to express this adjective through action rather than telling.

When writing a story, it is vital to consider the character’s traits and how they will impact the story’s events. For example, a character with a strong trait of determination may be more likely to overcome obstacles and persevere. In contrast, a character with a tendency towards laziness may struggle to achieve their goals. In short, character traits add realism, depth, and meaning to a story, making it more engaging and memorable for the reader.

Popular Character Traits in Children’s Stories

  • Determination
  • Imagination
  • Perseverance
  • Responsibility

We have an in-depth guide to creating great characters here , but most students should be fine to move on to planning their conflict and resolution.

3. NO PROBLEM? NO STORY! HOW CONFLICT DRIVES A NARRATIVE

narrative writing | 2 RoadBlock | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students | literacyideas.com

This is often the area apprentice writers have the most difficulty with. Students must understand that without a problem or conflict, there is no story. The problem is the driving force of the action. Usually, in a short story, the problem will center around what the primary character wants to happen or, indeed, wants not to happen. It is the hurdle that must be overcome. It is in the struggle to overcome this hurdle that events happen.

Often when a student understands the need for a problem in a story, their completed work will still not be successful. This is because, often in life, problems remain unsolved. Hurdles are not always successfully overcome. Students pick up on this.

We often discuss problems with friends that will never be satisfactorily resolved one way or the other, and we accept this as a part of life. This is not usually the case with writing a story. Whether a character successfully overcomes his or her problem or is decidedly crushed in the process of trying is not as important as the fact that it will finally be resolved one way or the other.

A good practical exercise for students to get to grips with this is to provide copies of stories and have them identify the central problem or conflict in each through discussion. Familiar fables or fairy tales such as Three Little Pigs, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Cinderella, etc., are great for this.

While it is true that stories often have more than one problem or that the hero or heroine is unsuccessful in their first attempt to solve a central problem, for beginning students and intermediate students, it is best to focus on a single problem, especially given the scope of story writing at this level. Over time students will develop their abilities to handle more complex plots and write accordingly.

Popular Conflicts found in Children’s Storytelling.

  • Good vs evil
  • Individual vs society
  • Nature vs nurture
  • Self vs others
  • Man vs self
  • Man vs nature
  • Man vs technology
  • Individual vs fate
  • Self vs destiny

Conflict is the heart and soul of any good story. It’s what makes a story compelling and drives the plot forward. Without conflict, there is no story. Every great story has a struggle or a problem that needs to be solved, and that’s where conflict comes in. Conflict is what makes a story exciting and keeps the reader engaged. It creates tension and suspense and makes the reader care about the outcome.

Like in real life, conflict in a story is an opportunity for a character’s growth and transformation. It’s a chance for them to learn and evolve, making a story great. So next time stories are written in the classroom, remember that conflict is an essential ingredient, and without it, your story will lack the energy, excitement, and meaning that makes it truly memorable.

4. THE NARRATIVE CLIMAX: HOW THINGS COME TO A HEAD!

narrative writing | tension 1068x660 1 | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students | literacyideas.com

The climax of the story is the dramatic high point of the action. It is also when the struggles kicked off by the problem come to a head. The climax will ultimately decide whether the story will have a happy or tragic ending. In the climax, two opposing forces duke things out until the bitter (or sweet!) end. One force ultimately emerges triumphant. As the action builds throughout the story, suspense increases as the reader wonders which of these forces will win out. The climax is the release of this suspense.

Much of the success of the climax depends on how well the other elements of the story have been achieved. If the student has created a well-drawn and believable character that the reader can identify with and feel for, then the climax will be more powerful.

The nature of the problem is also essential as it determines what’s at stake in the climax. The problem must matter dearly to the main character if it matters at all to the reader.

Have students engage in discussions about their favorite movies and books. Have them think about the storyline and decide the most exciting parts. What was at stake at these moments? What happened in your body as you read or watched? Did you breathe faster? Or grip the cushion hard? Did your heart rate increase, or did you start to sweat? This is what a good climax does and what our students should strive to do in their stories.

The climax puts it all on the line and rolls the dice. Let the chips fall where the writer may…

Popular Climax themes in Children’s Stories

  • A battle between good and evil
  • The character’s bravery saves the day
  • Character faces their fears and overcomes them
  • The character solves a mystery or puzzle.
  • The character stands up for what is right.
  • Character reaches their goal or dream.
  • The character learns a valuable lesson.
  • The character makes a selfless sacrifice.
  • The character makes a difficult decision.
  • The character reunites with loved ones or finds true friendship.

5. RESOLUTION: TYING UP LOOSE ENDS

After the climactic action, a few questions will often remain unresolved for the reader, even if all the conflict has been resolved. The resolution is where those lingering questions will be answered. The resolution in a short story may only be a brief paragraph or two. But, in most cases, it will still be necessary to include an ending immediately after the climax can feel too abrupt and leave the reader feeling unfulfilled.

An easy way to explain resolution to students struggling to grasp the concept is to point to the traditional resolution of fairy tales, the “And they all lived happily ever after” ending. This weather forecast for the future allows the reader to take their leave. Have the student consider the emotions they want to leave the reader with when crafting their resolution.

While the action is usually complete by the end of the climax, it is in the resolution that if there is a twist to be found, it will appear – think of movies such as The Usual Suspects. Pulling this off convincingly usually requires considerable skill from a student writer. Still, it may well form a challenging extension exercise for those more gifted storytellers among your students.

Popular Resolutions in Children’s Stories

  • Our hero achieves their goal
  • The character learns a valuable lesson
  • A character finds happiness or inner peace.
  • The character reunites with loved ones.
  • Character restores balance to the world.
  • The character discovers their true identity.
  • Character changes for the better.
  • The character gains wisdom or understanding.
  • Character makes amends with others.
  • The character learns to appreciate what they have.

Once students have completed their story, they can edit for grammar, vocabulary choice, spelling, etc., but not before!

As mentioned, there is a craft to storytelling, as well as an art. When accurate grammar, perfect spelling, and immaculate sentence structures are pushed at the outset, they can cause storytelling paralysis. For this reason, it is essential that when we encourage the students to write a story, we give them license to make mechanical mistakes in their use of language that they can work on and fix later.

Good narrative writing is a very complex skill to develop and will take the student years to become competent. It challenges not only the student’s technical abilities with language but also her creative faculties. Writing frames, word banks, mind maps, and visual prompts can all give valuable support as students develop the wide-ranging and challenging skills required to produce a successful narrative writing piece. But, at the end of it all, as with any craft, practice and more practice is at the heart of the matter.

TIPS FOR WRITING A GREAT NARRATIVE

  • Start your story with a clear purpose: If you can determine the theme or message you want to convey in your narrative before starting it will make the writing process so much simpler.
  • Choose a compelling storyline and sell it through great characters, setting and plot: Consider a unique or interesting story that captures the reader’s attention, then build the world and characters around it.
  • Develop vivid characters that are not all the same: Make your characters relatable and memorable by giving them distinct personalities and traits you can draw upon in the plot.
  • Use descriptive language to hook your audience into your story: Use sensory language to paint vivid images and sequences in the reader’s mind.
  • Show, don’t tell your audience: Use actions, thoughts, and dialogue to reveal character motivations and emotions through storytelling.
  • Create a vivid setting that is clear to your audience before getting too far into the plot: Describe the time and place of your story to immerse the reader fully.
  • Build tension: Refer to the story map earlier in this article and use conflict, obstacles, and suspense to keep the audience engaged and invested in your narrative.
  • Use figurative language such as metaphors, similes, and other literary devices to add depth and meaning to your narrative.
  • Edit, revise, and refine: Take the time to refine and polish your writing for clarity and impact.
  • Stay true to your voice: Maintain your unique perspective and style in your writing to make it your own.

NARRATIVE WRITING EXAMPLES (Student Writing Samples)

Below are a collection of student writing samples of narratives.  Click on the image to enlarge and explore them in greater detail.  Please take a moment to read these creative stories in detail and the teacher and student guides which highlight some of the critical elements of narratives to consider before writing.

Please understand these student writing samples are not intended to be perfect examples for each age or grade level but a piece of writing for students and teachers to explore together to critically analyze to improve student writing skills and deepen their understanding of story writing.

We recommend reading the example either a year above or below, as well as the grade you are currently working with, to gain a broader appreciation of this text type.

narrative writing | Narrative writing example year 3 1 | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students | literacyideas.com

NARRATIVE WRITING PROMPTS (Journal Prompts)

When students have a great journal prompt, it can help them focus on the task at hand, so be sure to view our vast collection of visual writing prompts for various text types here or use some of these.

  • On a recent European trip, you find your travel group booked into the stunning and mysterious Castle Frankenfurter for a single night…  As night falls, the massive castle of over one hundred rooms seems to creak and groan as a series of unexplained events begin to make you wonder who or what else is spending the evening with you. Write a narrative that tells the story of your evening.
  • You are a famous adventurer who has discovered new lands; keep a travel log over a period of time in which you encounter new and exciting adventures and challenges to overcome.  Ensure your travel journal tells a story and has a definite introduction, conflict and resolution.
  • You create an incredible piece of technology that has the capacity to change the world.  As you sit back and marvel at your innovation and the endless possibilities ahead of you, it becomes apparent there are a few problems you didn’t really consider. You might not even be able to control them.  Write a narrative in which you ride the highs and lows of your world-changing creation with a clear introduction, conflict and resolution.
  • As the final door shuts on the Megamall, you realise you have done it…  You and your best friend have managed to sneak into the largest shopping centre in town and have the entire place to yourselves until 7 am tomorrow.  There is literally everything and anything a child would dream of entertaining themselves for the next 12 hours.  What amazing adventures await you?  What might go wrong?  And how will you get out of there scot-free?
  • A stranger walks into town…  Whilst appearing similar to almost all those around you, you get a sense that this person is from another time, space or dimension… Are they friends or foes?  What makes you sense something very strange is going on?   Suddenly they stand up and walk toward you with purpose extending their hand… It’s almost as if they were reading your mind.

NARRATIVE WRITING VIDEO TUTORIAL

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Teaching Resources

Use our resources and tools to improve your student’s writing skills through proven teaching strategies.

When teaching narrative writing, it is essential that you have a range of tools, strategies and resources at your disposal to ensure you get the most out of your writing time.  You can find some examples below, which are free and paid premium resources you can use instantly without any preparation.

FREE Narrative Graphic Organizer

narrative writing | NarrativeGraphicOrganizer | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students | literacyideas.com

THE STORY TELLERS BUNDLE OF TEACHING RESOURCES

narrative writing | story tellers bundle 1 | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students | literacyideas.com

A MASSIVE COLLECTION of resources for narratives and story writing in the classroom covering all elements of crafting amazing stories. MONTHS WORTH OF WRITING LESSONS AND RESOURCES, including:

NARRATIVE WRITING CHECKLIST BUNDLE

writing checklists

OTHER GREAT ARTICLES ABOUT NARRATIVE WRITING

narrative writing | Narrative2BWriting2BStrategies2Bfor2Bjuniors2B28129 | Narrative Writing for Kids: Essential Skills and Strategies | literacyideas.com

Narrative Writing for Kids: Essential Skills and Strategies

narrative writing | narrative writing lessons | 7 Great Narrative Lesson Plans Students and Teachers Love | literacyideas.com

7 Great Narrative Lesson Plans Students and Teachers Love

narrative writing | Top narrative writing skills for students | Top 7 Narrative Writing Exercises for Students | literacyideas.com

Top 7 Narrative Writing Exercises for Students

narrative writing | how to write a scary horror story | How to Write a Scary Story | literacyideas.com

How to Write a Scary Story

what to write an narrative essay

Narrative Essay Topics: TOP 200 Choices for Students

what to write an narrative essay

Imagine yourself facing a blank page, ready to fill it with your memories and imagination. What story will you tell today?

As students, you often have to write narratives that capture people's attention. But with so many stories to choose from, where do you start? How do you find the perfect topic that will grab our readers' interest and make them think?

Join our essay service experts as we explore 200 topics for college where stories are waiting to be told, and experiences are ready to be shared. From everyday events to unforgettable moments, each topic is a chance to connect with your readers and make them feel something.

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Best Narrative Essay Topics: How to Choose the One That Resonates 

A narrative essay is a type of writing that tells a personal story, including characters, plot, setting, and the order of events. Its main goal is to connect with readers emotionally and share a specific message or insight through the retelling of a meaningful experience.

Students write narrative essays as part of their studies for several reasons. Firstly, it allows them to express themselves creatively by sharing their unique experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Secondly, it helps them develop important writing skills like organizing ideas and thoughts effectively.

Narrative Essay topics

Choosing good narrative essay ideas involves looking at personal experiences, interests, and the potential for engaging storytelling. Here's a simple guide to help you pick the right topic:

  • Think about significant moments in your life that had a lasting impact, such as personal growth or overcoming challenges.
  • Choose topics related to your hobbies, interests, or areas of expertise to make your story more engaging.
  • Consider what your audience would be interested in and choose topics that resonate with them.
  • Focus on a specific event or detail to make your narrative more focused and impactful.
  • Look for universal themes like love or personal transformation that connect with readers on a deeper level.
  • Brainstorm ideas and write freely to uncover compelling topics.
  • Decide on storytelling techniques like flashbacks or foreshadowing and choose a topic that fits.
  • Get feedback from friends, peers, or instructors to see if your topics are interesting and impactful.
  • Choose topics that evoke strong emotions for a more compelling narrative.
  • Select a topic that you personally connect with to make your story authentic.

Once you've chosen a topic, brainstorm ideas and create an outline for your essay. Follow your professor's instructions carefully and consider seeking help from our narrative essay writing service if needed.

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Ideas for Narrative Essay Topics

After exploring how students write narrative paragraphs, we've put together a list of narrative essay topics designed specifically for college and school students. This list covers a wide range of subjects, so pick one that speaks to you! If you want to see how to develop a topic into a written essay, check out our narrative essay example . 

Literacy Narrative Essay Topics for College Students

How about delving into captivating literacy narrative essay topics designed specifically for college-level writing? Exciting, isn't it?

  • How did learning to read change my perspective on the world?
  • What was my favorite childhood book and why?
  • How did writing my first story impact my love for storytelling?
  • What challenges did I face when learning a new language?
  • How did keeping a journal help me improve my writing skills?
  • How did my family influence my attitude toward reading?
  • What role did literature play in shaping my identity?
  • How did participating in a book club enhance my reading experience?
  • How did technology affect my reading habits?
  • What was the most memorable book I read in school?
  • How did my favorite teacher inspire my passion for literature?
  • What impact did reading diverse perspectives have on my worldview?
  • How did overcoming a reading difficulty shape my relationship with books?
  • What lessons did I learn from writing my first poem?
  • How did storytelling traditions in my culture influence my literacy journey?

Personal Narrative Essay Topics on Relationships

Take a moment to reflect on your past experiences and craft compelling personal narratives with these essay ideas.

  • How did my relationship with my best friend change over time?
  • What lessons did I learn from my first romantic relationship?
  • How did my relationship with my sibling influence who I am today?
  • What challenges did I face in maintaining a long-distance friendship?
  • How did a conflict with a family member teach me about communication?
  • What role do my pets play in my life and relationships?
  • How did volunteering together strengthen my bond with a friend?
  • What impact did a mentor have on my personal growth?
  • How did a betrayal affect my trust in relationships?
  • What did I learn from a failed friendship?
  • How did traveling with a friend deepen our connection?
  • What role does forgiveness play in maintaining healthy relationships?
  • How did my relationship with my parents evolve as I grew older?
  • What lessons did I learn about teamwork from a group project?
  • How did a disagreement with a colleague teach me about compromise?

Best Narrative Essay Topics on Education and Learning

Consider the beauty of sharing your personal experiences and emotions in a captivating manner through these ideas for personal narrative essays.

  • How did a particular teacher inspire me to excel in school?
  • What challenges did I face while adapting to online learning?
  • How did participating in extracurricular activities shape my educational experience?
  • What lessons did I learn from a memorable field trip?
  • How did studying abroad broaden my perspective on education?
  • What role does technology play in modern education?
  • How did overcoming a learning obstacle impact my academic journey?
  • What did I gain from tutoring a classmate in a challenging subject?
  • How did a hands-on learning experience change my understanding of a topic?
  • What impact did a mentor have on my educational and career aspirations?
  • How did peer collaboration enhance my learning in a group project?
  • What lessons did I learn from a failure or setback in school?
  • How did my cultural background influence my approach to education?
  • What role does self-directed learning play in my academic success?
  • How did participating in a debate or public speaking event shape my communication skills?

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Personal Narrative Essay Ideas on Reflection on Life

Why not ignite your creativity with a range of narrative essay topics, from extraordinary moments to everyday experiences?

  • How did confronting a fear change my view on courage and growth?
  • How do family traditions shape my personal values and beliefs?
  • What does success mean to me, and how has it evolved?
  • Reflecting on friendships as a source of support in tough times.
  • How have travel experiences expanded my global perspective?
  • How do my hobbies and passions bring fulfillment to my life?
  • Exploring the link between self-love and mental well-being.
  • How can challenges lead to unexpected personal growth?
  • Reflecting on the importance of setting and reaching personal goals.
  • What pivotal moments mark my journey to self-acceptance?
  • Investigating how forgiveness resolves personal conflicts.
  • How do cultural expectations shape my idea of success?
  • Reflecting on the significance of self-care for overall well-being.
  • Exploring how technology influences my connections and worldview.
  • What did I learn from facing a life-changing decision?

Ideas for a Narrative Essay on Culture and Society

Engaging your readers with narrative essays on culture and society is a great way to spark interest, offering captivating ideas for exploration.

  • How has my cultural heritage shaped my identity?
  • Reflecting on a tradition or ceremony that holds significance in my culture.
  • Exploring the impact of globalization on local traditions and customs.
  • How does language influence the way I perceive the world around me?
  • Investigating the role of food in cultural identity and expression.
  • Reflecting on a cultural celebration or festival that left a lasting impression.
  • How does media portrayal affect societal perceptions of different cultures?
  • Exploring the intersection of culture and religion in shaping values and beliefs.
  • Reflecting on experiences of cultural assimilation or integration.
  • How do stereotypes impact individuals within a cultural group?
  • Investigating the role of art and literature in preserving cultural heritage.
  • Reflecting on the challenges and benefits of multiculturalism in society.
  • Exploring the significance of storytelling in passing down cultural traditions.
  • How do cultural norms influence gender roles and expectations?
  • Reflecting on the cultural exchange experiences that have broadened my perspective.

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Narrative Writing Topics on Hobbies and Interests

Wow your readers by turning your passions and hobbies into compelling narrative essay topics that will get them thinking.

  • Describe a memorable adventure or experience related to your favorite hobby.
  • Reflect on how your hobby has evolved over time and its significance in your life.
  • Write about a moment when your hobby provided a sense of escape or relaxation.
  • Explore the role of hobbies in promoting mental health and well-being.
  • Share a story of how you discovered your passion for a particular hobby.
  • Describe a challenge you faced while pursuing your hobby and how you overcame it.
  • Reflect on the impact of your hobby on your relationships with others.
  • Write about a hobby-related achievement or milestone that you are proud of.
  • Explore how your hobby connects you to a community or group of like-minded individuals.
  • Describe the process of learning a new hobby and the lessons you gained from it.
  • Reflect on the role of hobbies in balancing work, leisure, and personal growth.
  • Write about a hobby-related project or creation that you are passionate about.
  • Explore the connection between your hobbies and your broader interests and values.
  • Describe a favorite memory or experience involving your hobby.
  • Reflect on how your hobbies have influenced your perspective on life and the world around you.

Narrative Essay Titles on Life-Changing Moments

Life is full of unexpected twists that can lead to life-changing moments. Take a look at these narrative essay titles for stories that have had a lasting impact on your life.

  • How did meeting a lifelong friend change my life?
  • What lessons did I learn from overcoming a major obstacle?
  • How did traveling to a new country broaden my perspective?
  • Reflecting on the day I discovered my passion.
  • How did a health scare transform my lifestyle?
  • What impact did volunteering in my community have on me?
  • How did I find strength in a moment of loss?
  • Reflecting on the decision that altered my path.
  • How did a random act of kindness change my outlook?
  • What lessons did I learn from a failed endeavor?
  • How did confronting a fear empower me?
  • Reflecting on the day I realized my potential.
  • How did experiencing a natural disaster shape my priorities?
  • What insights did I gain from a cultural exchange?
  • How did a mentor's guidance impact my life trajectory?

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Good Narrative Topics on Travel and Adventure

Consider creating intriguing titles for your narrative essay ideas by exploring thrilling travel adventures.

  • What was my most unforgettable travel experience?
  • How did a solo journey change my perspective on life?
  • Reflecting on an unexpected adventure in a foreign land.
  • How did traveling on a budget lead to unexpected discoveries?
  • What lessons did I learn from getting lost in a new city?
  • How did a cultural immersion experience broaden my understanding of the world?
  • Reflecting on the friendships formed during a travel adventure.
  • What was the scariest moment I encountered while traveling?
  • How did volunteering abroad impact my outlook on life?
  • What cultural differences surprised me the most while traveling?
  • Reflecting on the beauty of nature experienced during a hiking trip.
  • How did traveling to a remote destination challenge my comfort zone?
  • What was the most delicious food I tried while traveling?
  • Reflecting on the kindness of strangers encountered during a journey.
  • How did a travel mishap turn into a memorable experience?

Narrative Essay Topic Ideas on Career and Work Experience

College students can uncover captivating narrative essay ideas by exploring potential career paths or reminiscing about past job experiences.

  • What was my first job, and what did I learn from it?
  • Reflecting on a challenging project that taught me resilience.
  • How did a career setback lead to unexpected opportunities?
  • What lessons did I learn from transitioning to a new career?
  • Reflecting on a mentor who influenced my career path.
  • How did a workplace conflict teach me about communication?
  • What was the most rewarding moment in my career so far?
  • Reflecting on the importance of work-life balance in my career journey.
  • How did networking help me advance in my career?
  • What challenges did I face as a new graduate entering the workforce?
  • Reflecting on the decision to pursue a passion versus stability in my career.
  • How did a career change impact my sense of fulfillment?
  • What skills did I develop through volunteer work that helped in my career?
  • Reflecting on the role of mentors in my professional growth.
  • How did a career milestone shape my future aspirations?

Interesting Narrative Essay Topics about Challenges and Obstacles

If you're not sure what to write about for your narrative essay, think back to the tough times you've had and how you managed to get through them.

  • How did I overcome my fear of failure?
  • Reflecting on a time when I felt like giving up but persevered.
  • How did a personal setback lead to unexpected growth?
  • What lessons did I learn from navigating a difficult relationship?
  • Reflecting on a time when I had to step out of my comfort zone.
  • How did I overcome a major health challenge?
  • What strategies did I use to overcome procrastination?
  • Reflecting on the resilience I developed after facing adversity.
  • How did I navigate financial challenges and come out stronger?
  • What did I learn from failing at something I was passionate about?
  • Reflecting on the obstacles I faced while pursuing my dreams.
  • How did I overcome imposter syndrome in my academic or professional life?
  • What role did self-care play in helping me overcome challenges?
  • Reflecting on a time when I had to stand up for myself in the face of adversity.
  • How did I find motivation and inspiration during tough times?

Final Remarks

As we wrap up, our list of 200 narrative essay topics is here to fuel your creativity for your next writing project! Whether you're sharing a memorable event, reliving a childhood memory, or expressing a profound insight, crafting a narrative essay can be an uplifting experience that resonates deeply with readers.

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How to Write a Good Narrative Essay: Tips, Examples, & Step-by-Step Guide

How to write a narrative essay? To do that, you need to know what a narrative essay is. It is an academic text usually written as a story and containing all the usual elements of a story. Narrative essays are often personal, experiential, and creative. Still, they should be made according to the rules of academic writing.

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Want to know how to write a good narrative essay for college or middle school? In this guide by Custom Writing experts, you’ll find a step-by-step guide, narrative essay examples, advice on choosing a topic, outlining and writing your text, as well as useful narrative essay tips.

❔ What Makes a Good Narrative Essay?

  • 👣 Narrative Writing Guide
  • 💡 Writing Tips

🔗 References

A narrative essay is usually a story about your own or somebody’s experience. We tell stories every day. So, when you ask “How to write a narrative essay,” you should think of a story you want to write about. Stories don’t need to be very accurate. They should be engaging, that is their most important quality. If written as a story, your narrative essay should contain all the necessary parts of it: an introduction, a rising action, a climax, a falling action, and a denouement.

The Main Elements of a Narrative Essay Are: Introduction, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, & Lessons Learned.

Check out information below to learn what each part of a good narrative essay includes:

📌 Introduction

The introduction of a narrative essay consists of exposition and conflict:

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  • The exposition presents the setting (time and place), characters, and mood.
  • The conflict is the main problem that drives the plot. It is an internal or external challenge the main character faces.

📌 Rising action

The rising action includes the events that lead up to the climax. They usually make the issue worse.

The climax is a turning point in the plot. It is the moment when opposing forces confront each other, make significant decisions, or take action.

📌 Falling action

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The falling action refers to the events that occur after the climax, such as character development, answers to key questions, etc.

📌 Denouement

The denouement, also known as resolution, reveals how things turn out in the end, leaving readers with questions, answers, frustration, or satisfaction.

👣 How to Write a Good Narrative Essay

Below are five simple writing steps for a narrative essay. Here are simple things you should do before you start writing your story:

  • Think about your narrative essay topic and how your life experience correlates with it. Even a small fact, idea, or goal can become a good story idea.
  • Think about your emotions. The more passionate you will be – the more effective your assignment.
  • Recall your story’s details : people and objects, setting, and season. Think about the sequence of events and remember; no detail is too small. Remember: the small details reveal big ideas!

Step 1. Choose Your Narrative Essay Topic

If you are free to select your own topic for a narrative essay, you still need to read what is expected from you carefully and to follow the requirements stated in the assignment. These are the most common characteristics of a narrative essay for college students to mind when choosing a topic:

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  • A challenge or conflict: an exciting or dangerous incident that creates suspense.
  • A protagonist: a character facing the challenge or conflict as mentioned above. If you are not the protagonist and the story is a third-person, it is better to choose a relatable character.
  • Evolution, growth, and change: when protagonists live through a conflict or challenge, their personality changes. Difficulties spark insights that may be used as a moral of the story.

To come up with a successful narrative topic, brainstorm the following directions of thought:

  • Think of a problem that bothers you and you’d like to share
  • Have you had any memorable experiences that have changed your view on life?
  • What kind of stories raises your interest? You can invent something similar.

Step 2. Make Your Narrative Essay Outline

A narrative essay is a less formal kind of academic paper. Still, it shall also conform with arrangement rules. This outline template will help you structure a narrative essay according to the traditional format.

Narrative Essay Outline

  • Background information about the protagonist
  • Thesis statement
  • Setting (place and time)
  • Preceding events
  • Secondary characters
  • Action and culmination
  • Outcome or morale
  • Summary of main events
  • Thesis restatement

Narrative Essay Introduction

The components of an introduction are:

  • Hook. Your narration needs to be moving, personal, and reflective. But in the first place, you shall engage your reader with the story. A hook sets the necessary tone from the beginning. An intriguing revelation or confession is the best choice here.
  • Background. Who is the protagonist of your story? Additional information helps the reader to put themselves into your shoes.
  • Thesis . It is an argumentative sentence where you specify the point of the piece of writing.

Narrative Essay Body

The components of a body are:

  • Setting. Make a visual and emotional description that suggests what experiences you will share. State when and where the action takes place.
  • Preceding events. In continuation of the previous point, sketch the circumstances under which the scenario unfolds.
  • Characters. Describe the secondary characters of your story.
  • Action and climax. Use the chronological order format throughout the main part. All the events shall culminate with a climax, the most emotional point of the plot.
  • Morale. What was the result of everything described above? What lessons can be learned from your story?

Narrative Essay Conclusion

The components of a conclusion are:

  • Summarizing paragraph . List the key points of your narration.
  • Thesis restatement. Reiterating your purpose in different words relating to the content of the main body finalizes your paper.

Step 3. Write Your Narrative Essay Introduction

Well, you have chosen the topic of your future writing and created your narrative essay outline. What’s next? Start writing your narrative essay with an introduction.

The introduction is an important part of your essay paper as it grabs the reader’s attention. And here are some basic guidelines for a narrative essay introduction.

  • Start with an introductory phrase. It has to be short and catchy. An unexpected point of view is always interesting to get acquainted with.
  • State the thesis. It doesn’t need to be as formal as in other types of academic papers. However, it’s worth saying a couple of words on why you decided to tell this particular story to the reader.
  • Write supporting sentences. Give reasons why the story you are sharing is significant.
  • Remember that the reader was not there when the story happened. He (or she)  is trying to catch up with it while reading. Be polite and thoughtful, don’t get into useless details or get swept away by the story, leaving your reader wondering and wandering.

Step 4. Create Your Narrative Essay Body

Your entire story is concentrated in body paragraphs: from three to as many as you wish.

Check the general guidelines on how to write a good narrative body!

  • Provide one idea per paragraph. Don’t try to put too many details in each of the logical parts.
  • Follow some logical pattern when presenting your narrative. Chronological is the easiest one.
  • Search for your personal writing style. It can be philosophical (careful! That requires specific knowledge), ironical, critical, romantic. Whatever you choose, it has to be you from top to bottom. The writing style is like an autograph. Work on it.

Step 5. Make a Narrative Essay Conclusion

You’re almost there. You just need to write good concluding sentences for your essay.

The conclusion is as important as an introduction. It leaves the aftertaste. Here you should make some final comments about your narrative. Restate some of the essential ideas and details and mention the most important lessons learned from your shared experience.

How to End a Narrative Essay?

  • Summarize. If you don’t like summarizing, or it doesn’t fit the style of the story, wrap it up with a rhetorical question or plans for the future.
  • Give your readers an idea. Think about the central message of the story and remind them of it.
  • Leave your readers experiencing a pleasant aftertaste. Give them a feeling that they need to sit back and think about the problems you brought up.

Step 6. Revise & Format Your Narrative Essay

Huh! You’ve done it. You finished the assignment. Now take a deep breath, go for a walk, or have some sleep. And then revise it. Here are some questions you should keep in mind when you review, reorganize, and modify your narrative essay to make it the best possible.

If you have any questions on how to format your narrative essay in MLA or APA, use our complete citation style guidebook .

Narrative Essay Checklist

  • Does the reader easily understand the progression of events? Do the transitions confuse or facilitate your readers?
  • Do I involve my readers in my experience? Should I add some details or remove extraneous ones that distract the attention?
  • How adequately did I convey the primary message of the essay? Does the experience described and its significance to me have a connection?

By the way, do you know which part of the writing process is usually the most underestimated? Proofreading . At this point, you should check and correct punctuation and grammar mistakes, improve clarity, and writing style. Ask your friend to read your narrative paper. You’ll get a fresh look at your writing.

📚 Narrative Essay Topics

If you need specific ideas to write your story about, explore the following narrative essay topics:

  • The most exciting day of your life .
  • A serious life lesson you learned.
  • A rebellious act that made a change .
  • A revelation that made you a different kind of person .
  • A moment you took a stand for yourself.
  • A situation when you protected someone.
  • An exciting discovery .
  • A moment when you had to overcome fear .
  • A dangerous situation you managed to escape.
  • What type of learner are you?
  • Detail how you used to handle stress at high school .
  • Describe the situation that helped you to understand the notion of race and ethnicity.
  • Discuss your experience of keeping to a financial plan .
  • Outline the day you attended court and how it influenced you.
  • Describe your experience of riding a bicycle .
  • Detail the parenting style of your parents and its impact on your personality.
  • Tell about the day you or your friend tried challenging gender norms .
  • Discuss your experience with writing.
  • Describe your traveling experience and the lessons you learned thanks to it.
  • Narrate how getting a degree changed your life.
  • Give details about your visit to a jazz concert .
  • What was the most embarrassing episode in your life?
  • Describe the peculiarities of the celebration of the traditional Thai New Year .
  • Tell a story that illustrates the influence of culture on human life.
  • Discuss the challenges you’ve faced when buying your first laptop .
  • Specify the situation when you faced racism .
  • What was the most memorable event in your childhood?
  • Write about your experience of trying dance movement therapy and its results.
  • Describe the case when you had a conflict and how you managed to resolve it.
  • Your experience of learning English.
  • Tell about your high school challenges and how you overcame them.
  • Give details about your experience of a cover conflict .
  • Recall and describe the moment of happiness .
  • Depict the last live concert you visited and the impression it made.
  • Write about your job experience.
  • Describe your visit to Australia and what you’ve learned from it.
  • Detail your experience of starting college and how it changed your life.
  • Tell about your first date .
  • Explain how a vacation in Mexico City added to your life experience.
  • Discuss the effect of the logic course on your life.
  • Describe your experience of bullying and its impact on your life.
  • Give details about your experience of global lockdown and how it changed your life values.
  • Tell a story that shows the role of technology in your life.
  • How was your first day at college?
  • Describe the most memorable event that had a positive impact on your life .
  • Narrate the story that happened to you on Christmas .
  • How did you meet your best friend ?
  • Write about the case of jealousy in friendship and how you managed to cope with it.
  • Describe your experience of adopting a cat from Humane Society .
  • Tell the story that shows how practicing mindfulness changed your life.

😸 Narrative Essay Examples

Example #1: live-saving experience.

In this essay, I would like to narrate a story that occurred with me and my friend when we were visiting a large shopping mall. It was the weekends, and our meeting in the café was planned in advance, but my friend suggested that we can go to the mall as she needed a new dress. I agreed with her and arrived a little earlier than it was arranged. I took a seat on the bench near the mall, sipping my cappuccino and looking around while waiting for my friend. The next 20 minutes were one of the most stressful and important in my life as I significantly contributed to saving a human life.

Example #2: Creating a Business with a Friend

I have been in business for more than ten years. I have seen crises, success, failures, tears, sweat, and hard work everywhere. Nevertheless, each time it was also about opportunities to grow both as an individual and as an entrepreneur. But I had one that was particularly memorable emotionally. This is a story about creating a business with a friend. I worked in various fields, and I started four of my companies with friends.

💡 Narrative Essay Tips

Do you need more tips for narrative writing? Keep reading!

  • Keep it clear. Avoid complex words and syntax.
  • Search for the balance when describing details . Don’t go into them too deeply. At the same time, even a single lost detail can skew the reader’s understanding.
  • Use the first-person narrative . Good narrative stories are usually written in the first person. When you use “I”, you’re engaging your readers with an immediacy of the story.
  • Use dynamic words and active voice . Think about your writing as it was the speech: what words, idioms, slang, and turns of phrase would you use? Try not to sound too clinical – no passive constructions.
  • Limit references . When you look through citation style guides, you’ll find the recommendations to include citations into your assignment. But not in a narrative essay – it is disruptive. When you find a useful piece of content, just cite it in the reference list after the essay.

Thank you for reading! Whenever you feel that you could use some help in writing your paper, take a closer look at these tips – you’ll definitely be able to develop your own signature style once you start following them. Keep up the good work!

  • Essay Writing: Purdue Online Writing Lab
  • How to Write an Making an Argument: Creating a Thesis (BMCC Writing Center)
  • Beginning the Academic Essay: Harvard College Writing Center
  • Conclusions: University of North Carolina Writing Center
  • Editing and Revision Tips: Indiana University Northwest
  • Narrative Essays // Purdue Writing Lab
  • Narrative Essay: Definition, Examples & Characteristics
  • Narrative Essays – National Geographic Learning – Cengage
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I will comment as soon as i finish reading your samples

Thanks guys it helped alot. i have my exam in 2 hours!

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Thanks for sharing this 🙂

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Thanks alot

Thank you for your feedback!

Thank you for your feedback, Mariam!

Thank u so much… your tips have really helped me to broaden my scope on the idea of a narrative. This is so thoughtful of you… Thanks again!❤

Thank you for your kind words, Maathai!

This passage is really good, it helps me a lot. I think I can get a good result in my next exam if I follow these tips. I hope you can give some more other examples of essay writing. Thank you.

Glad to help, Yuki 🙂

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Joy, I’m glad you found the tips useful!

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John Barth, Writer Who Pushed Storytelling’s Limits, Dies at 93

His sprawling and boisterous novel “The Sot-Weed Factor,” published in 1960, projected him into the ranks of the country’s most innovative writers.

A black-and-white portrait of a bald man with a full beard and large glasses, seated, with his left hand resting on his face and his left index finger extended. He wears a jacket and a tie with what looks like an illustration of bookshelves.

By Michael T. Kaufman and Dwight Garner

John Barth, who, believing that the old literary conventions were exhausted, extended the limits of storytelling with imaginative and intricately woven novels like “The Sot-Weed Factor” and “Giles Goat-Boy,” died on Tuesday at a hospice facility in Bonita Springs, Fla. He was 93.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Shelly Barth. Before entering hospice care, Mr. Barth had lived in the Bonita Bay neighborhood of Bonita Springs.

Mr. Barth was 30 when he published his sprawling third novel, the boisterous “The Sot-Weed Factor” (1960). It projected him into the ranks of the country’s most innovative writers, drawing comparisons to contemporaries like Thomas Pynchon, Jorge Luis Borges and Vladimir Nabokov.

He followed up with another major work, “Giles Goat-Boy” (1966), which he summarized as a story “about a young man who is raised as a goat, who later learns he’s human and commits himself to the heroic project of discovering the secret of things.” It was also an erudite and satirical parable of the Cold War, in which campuses of a divided university confronted each other in hostility and mutual deterrence.

Mr. Barth was a practitioner and a theoretician of postmodern literature. In 1967, he wrote a critical essay for The Atlantic Monthly, “The Literature of Exhaustion,” which continues to be cited as the manifesto of postmodernism, and which has inspired decades of debate over its central contention: that old conventions of literary narrative can be, and indeed have been, “used up.”

As his foremost inspiration, Mr. Barth cited Scheherazade, the tale-spinning enchantress who nightly wove stories to keep her master from executing her at dawn. He said it was she who first bewitched him when he worked as a page in the stacks of the Johns Hopkins University library in Baltimore as an undergraduate.

From 1965 to 1973, Mr. Barth taught at the State University of New York at Buffalo (now the University at Buffalo), where he was a member of a renowned English department that also included the critic Leslie Fiedler .

Mr. Barth’s creative output was prodigious: He published nearly 20 novels and collections of short stories, three books of critical essays and a final book of short observational pieces. In his teaching and in his writing, he stressed the force of narrative imagination in the face of death, or even just boredom.

When the university was thrown into chaos by a long and shapeless student upheaval in early 1970, Mr. Barth was asked by a young reporter what the experience had taught him.

In the Tidewater accent of his native Maryland, Mr. Barth acknowledged that by temperament he was not likely to get involved in campus protests and “the casuistries that people evolve.” He volunteered laconically that what he had learned was that “the fact that the situation is desperate doesn’t make it any more interesting.”

Mr. Barth was a distinctive presence. “He is a tall man with a domed forehead; a pair of very large-rimmed spectacles give him a professorial, owlish look,” George Plimpton wrote in the introduction to an interview he conducted with Mr. Barth for The Paris Review in 1985. “He is a caricaturist’s delight.”

“In manner,” Mr. Plimpton continued, “Barth has been described as a combination of British officer and Southern gentleman.”

John Simmons Barth was born on May 27, 1930, in Cambridge, Md., on Chesapeake Bay, to John Jacob and Georgia (Simmons) Barth. His father ran a candy store. He had a twin sister, Jill, who once told The Washington Post that he had “gotten a lot of things without trying very hard at school.” An older brother, William, said that as a child John “always had an overactive imagination.” He added, “What amazes me is how he imagines so much when he’s experienced so little.”

In high school Mr. Barth was drawn to music; he played drums in the school band and hoped to become a jazz arranger. He was accepted to join a summer program run by the Juilliard School in New York before enrolling at Johns Hopkins.

“I found out very quickly in New York,” he said in a 2008 interview , “that the young man to my right and the young woman to my left were going to be the real professional musicians of their generation, and that what I had hoped was a pre-professional talent was really just an amateur flair.”

Mr. Barth graduated from Johns Hopkins in 1951 and received a master’s degree there the next year. He taught at Pennsylvania State University from 1953 to 1965.

His first published novel, “The Floating Opera” (1956), was narrated by a character who considers killing himself out of existential boredom before realizing that this choice would be as meaningless as any other. In 1969, Mr. Barth’s “Lost in the Funhouse,” an experimental collection of short stories, was a finalist for the National Book Award. He won the award in 1973 for “Chimera,” another collection.

After the publication of “The End of the Road,” a campus novel filled with parodies of psychiatric and academic jargon, in 1958, Mr. Barth set out in a new and less realistic direction with “The Sot-Weed Factor,” a huge picaresque written in neo-Elizabethan style and laden with puns. It tells the story of Ebenezer Cooke, the “sot-weed factor” (tobacco peddler) of the title, who travels through a sinful late-17th-century world with his twin sister and his tutor, struggling to maintain his virtue.

“The book is a bare-knuckled satire of humanity at large and the grandiose costume romance,” Edmund Fuller wrote in a review in The New York Times, “done with meticulous skill in an imitation of such 18th-century picaresque novelists as Fielding, Smollett and Sterne.”

He added, “For all the vigor of these models, we have to go back to Rabelais to match its unbridled bawdiness and scatological mirth.”

Mr. Fiedler, Mr. Barth’s colleague in Buffalo, said “The Sot-Weed Factor” was “closer to the Great American Novel than any other book of the last decade.” Time magazine called it “that rare literary creation: a genuinely serious comedy.”

Mr. Barth took another gamble with his next book, saying it would be “a souped-up Bible.”

“What I really wanted to write after ‘The Sot-Weed Factor’ was a new Old Testament, a comic Old Testament,” he told an interviewer.

What emerged was “Giles Goat-Boy,” the story of a young man who, having recognized that he is human and not a goat, seeks to promote moral conduct on the west campus of a university and redeem its student body by reprogramming a computer, WESCAC, that dominates that portion of the campus, even while the machine is in a dangerous standoff with the equally threatening EASCAC, a deus ex machina that controls life on the east campus.

The book was generally received with enthusiasm and won Mr. Barth new admirers. But it was also criticized for what some called its artifice and contrivance. While Newsweek said it “confirms Barth’s standing as perhaps the most prodigally gifted comic novelist writing in English today,” Michael Dirda, writing in The Washington Post, called it “more than a little overwrought and too clever by half.”

The criticism would continue. Writing in The Times in 1982, Michiko Kakutani noted that over the years Mr. Barth had been “praised, on the one hand, for creating daring, innovative texts” and “damned, on the other, by critics as disparate as John Gardner and Gore Vidal, for substituting high-tech literary gimmicks for real characters and moral passion.”

Mr. Barth was clearly sensitive to such views and seemingly addressed them in one of his best-known statements: “My feeling about technique in art is that it has the same value as technique in lovemaking. That is to say, heartfelt ineptitude has its charm and so has heartless skill, but what you really want is passionate virtuosity.”

He defended his use of postmodern devices like jokes, irony and exaggeration to punctuate, comment on, and even ridicule and undermine a narrative. Such techniques, he insisted, provided the tools to replenish and build on what he considered to be the moribund realism of the 19th-century novel.

When an interviewer for Bookforum asked him in 2004 if he read his reviews, Mr. Barth replied: “Oh, sure. As I used to tell my apprentices, what you want most of all is intelligent praise. If you can’t have intelligent praise, you’ll take stupid praise. If you can’t have stupid praise, then the third-best thing is intelligent criticism. And, of course, the worst thing is stupid criticism.”

He especially disliked it when he was accused of writing spoofs. He once told Esquire magazine that the word “spoof” sounded like imperfectly suppressed flatulence.

Mr. Barth often tinkered with his own work and prepared revised editions of many of his books. One of his novels, “Letters” (1979), consisted of letters to and from the characters of his earlier novels. He revisited the essay “The Literature of Exhaustion” in another essay, written in 1980, titled “The Literature of Replenishment.” His “Tidewater Tales: A Novel” (1987) was conceived as a mirror-image twin to “Sabbatical: A Romance,” published five years earlier. Both dealt with couples on a sailboat trip, but with key characters making opposite life choices.

Mr. Barth’s novel “Coming Soon!!!” (2001) was a riff on his first book, “The Floating Opera.” It concerned a writing competition between an aging writer identified only as the “novelist emeritus” and a student at the Johns Hopkins writing department, where Mr. Barth had taught from 1973 to 1995.

As he grew older, so did his characters. “The Development” (2008) was a set of linked stories about the elderly residents of a gated community called Heron Bay Estates. There were toga parties and high spirits in these stories, but also pain and loss. One story was titled “Assisted Living,” another “The End.”

His last book, a collection of short nonfiction pieces, “Postscripts,” was published in 2022.

Mr. Barth married Harriette Anne Strickland in 1950. They had three children, Christine, John and Daniel, and divorced in 1969. He married Shelly I. Rosenberg in 1970. In addition to her, he is survived by his children.

Mr. Barth often sailed in the Chesapeake, as did many of his characters. He regularly played the drums with a neighborhood jazz band in Baltimore.

He confided to Ms. Kakutani that his experience in the world at large had been somewhat limited. He said he had “led a serene, tranquil and absolutely non-Byronic life.”

Michael T. Kaufman , a former Times editor and correspondent, died in 2010. Alex Traub and Orlando Mayorquín contributed reporting.

Dwight Garner has been a book critic for The Times since 2008, and before that was an editor at the Book Review for a decade. More about Dwight Garner

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John Barth, innovative postmodernist novelist, dies at 93

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — John Barth, the playfully erudite author whose darkly comic and complicated novels revolved around the art of literature and launched countless debates over the art of fiction, died Tuesday. He was 93.

Johns Hopkins University, where Barth was an emeritus professor of English and creative writing, confirmed his death in a statement.

Along with William Gass, Stanley Elkin and other peers, Barth was part of a wave of writers in the 1960s who challenged standards of language and plot. The author of 20 books including “Giles Goat-Boy” and “The Sot-Weed Factor,” Barth was a college writing instructor who advocated for postmodernism to literature, saying old forms were used up and new approaches were needed.

Barth’s passion for literary theory and his innovative but complicated novels made him a writer’s writer. Barth said he felt like Scheherazade in “The Thousand and One Nights,” desperately trying to survive by creating literature.

He created a best-seller in 1966 with “Giles Goat-Boy,” which turned a college campus into a microcosm of a world threatened by the Cold War, and made a hero of a character who is part goat.

This book cover image released by Penguin Random House shows "There's Going to Be Trouble" by Jen Silverman. Penguin Random House via AP)

The following year, he wrote a postmodern manifesto, “The Literature of Exhaustion,” which argued that the traditional novel suffered from a “used-upness of certain forms.” The influential Atlantic Monthly essay described the postmodern writer as one who “confronts an intellectual dead end and employs it against itself to accomplish new human work.”

He clarified in another essay 13 years later, “The Literature of Replenishment,” that he didn’t mean the novel was dead — just sorely in need of a new approach.

“I like to remind misreaders of my earlier essay that written literature is in fact about 4,500 years old (give or take a few centuries depending on one’s definition of literature), but that we have no way of knowing whether 4,500 years constitutes senility, maturity, youth, or mere infancy,” Barth wrote.

Barth frequently explored the relationship between storyteller and audience in parodies and satire. He said he was inspired by “The Thousand and One Nights,” which he discovered while working in the classics library of Johns Hopkins University.

“It is a quixotic high-wire act to hope, at this late hour of the century, to write literary material and contend with declining readership and a publishing world where businesses are owned by other businesses,” Barth told The Associated Press in 1991.

Barth pursued jazz at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, but found he didn’t have a great talent for music, and so turned to creative writing, a craft he taught at Penn State University, SUNY Buffalo, Boston University and Johns Hopkins.

His first novel, “The Floating Opera,” was nominated for a National Book Award. He was nominated again for a 1968 short story collection, “Lost in the Funhouse,” and won in 1973 for “Chimera,” three short novels focused on myth.

His breakthrough work was 1960’s “The Sot-Weed Factor,” a parody of historical fiction with a multitude of plot twists and ribald hijinks. The sprawling, picaresque story uses 18th-century literary conventions to chronicle the adventures of Ebenezer Cooke, who takes possession of a tobacco farm in Maryland.

Barth was born on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and set many of his works there. Both his 1982 “Sabbatical: A Romance” and his 1987 “The Tidewater Tales” feature couples sailing on the Chesapeake Bay.

Barth also challenged literary conventions in his 1979 epistolary novel “Letters,” in which characters from his first six novels wrote to each other, and he inserted himself as a character as well.

“My ideal postmodernist author neither merely repudiates nor merely imitates either his twentieth-century modernist parents or his nineteenth-century premodernist grandparents. He has the first half of our century under his belt, but not on his back.”

Barth kept writing in the 21st century.

In 2008, he published “The Development,” a collection of short stories about retirees in a gated community. “Final Fridays,” published in 2012, was his third collection of non-fiction essays.

This story was first published April 2, 2024. It was updated April 3, 2024, to correct the name of one of Barth’s peers. He is Stanley Elkin, not Stanley Elkins.

AP Entertainment Writer Andrew Dalton contributed from Los Angeles.

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    Part 1 Understanding a Narrative Essay. A narrative essay is a form of writing where you share a personal experience or tell a story to make a point or convey a lesson. Unlike other types of essays, a narrative essay aims to engage your audience by sharing your perspective and taking them on an emotional journey. To begin, choose a meaningful ...

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    When writing a narrative essay, one might think of it as telling a story. These essays are often anecdotal, experiential, and personal—allowing students to express themselves in a creative and, quite often, moving ways. Here are some guidelines for writing a narrative essay. If written as a story, the essay should include all the parts of a ...

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    However, like any other type of writing, it comes with guidelines. 1. Write Your Personal Narrative as a Story. As a story, it must include an introduction, characters, plot, setting, climax, anti-climax (if any), and conclusion. Another way to approach it is by structuring it with an introduction, body, and conclusion.

  18. Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students

    A narrative can spark emotion, encourage reflection, and convey meaning when done well. Narratives are a popular genre for students and teachers as they allow the writer to share their imagination, creativity, skill, and understanding of nearly all elements of writing. We occasionally refer to a narrative as 'creative writing' or story writing.

  19. 200 Best Topic Ideas for Narrative Essay

    A narrative essay is a type of writing that tells a personal story, including characters, plot, setting, and the order of events. Its main goal is to connect with readers emotionally and share a specific message or insight through the retelling of a meaningful experience. Students write narrative essays as part of their studies for several reasons.

  20. How to Write a Good Narrative Essay: Tips, Examples, & Step-by-Step Guide

    👣 How to Write a Good Narrative Essay. Below are five simple writing steps for a narrative essay. Here are simple things you should do before you start writing your story: Think about your narrative essay topic and how your life experience correlates with it. Even a small fact, idea, or goal can become a good story idea. Think about your ...

  21. Write My Essay

    The first step to write college essay is think about the main idea you want to describe. There should be something important, impressing, heartwarming in your work. And, of course, it should be truthful and original as well. Even if you know how to write an argument essay, there's also a necessity to follow the right structure and composition.

  22. Ultimate Guide to Writing Your College Essay

    Sample College Essay 2 with Feedback. This content is licensed by Khan Academy and is available for free at www.khanacademy.org. College essays are an important part of your college application and give you the chance to show colleges and universities your personality. This guide will give you tips on how to write an effective college essay.

  23. 89+ Personal Narrative Ideas To Spark Your Creativity

    A long list of personal narrative ideas. 1. The journey of rediscovering my passion for painting after years of neglect sparked by an unexpected encounter with a street artist. 2. How a single conversation with my grandmother over her old photo album reshaped my understanding of family history and legacy. 3.

  24. Writing a narrative essay : r/CollegeEssays

    Writing a narrative essay . Discussion Hi Everyone 👋 I am writing a narrative essay about what I have learned from the relationship between plants and humans. This story is based on my own experience with my aunt and her plants in her garden. When I was a kid, I yanked up her plants and flowers once in her garden and she yelled at me furiously.

  25. Opinion

    The Israeli government needs to open more land routes for food and medicine today. It needs to stop killing civilians and aid workers today. It needs to start the long journey to peace today.

  26. John Barth, Writer Who Pushed Storytelling's Limits, Dies at 93

    Mr. Barth was a practitioner and a theoretician of postmodern literature. In 1967, he wrote a critical essay for The Atlantic Monthly, "The Literature of Exhaustion," which continues to be ...

  27. John Barth, innovative postmodernist novelist, dies at 93

    He was 93. Johns Hopkins University, where Barth was an emeritus professor of English and creative writing, confirmed his death in a statement. Along with William Gass, Stanley Elkin and other peers, Barth was part of a wave of writers in the 1960s who challenged standards of language and plot. The author of 20 books including "Giles Goat-Boy ...