A narrative essay is one of the most commonly assigned forms of academic writing. Starting from school, students of various educational facilities face this type of task quite often, which is why knowing how to handle it is vital for their success. The main purpose of the narrative style of writing is to tell a compelling story. It doesn’t sound like too big of a deal, right? You couldn’t be more wrong. Even if it might seem easy at first sight, telling an engaging story can be rather challenging. To help you overcome this challenge, our writers have compiled a comprehensive guide on how to write a narrative essay step by step.
What Is a Narrative Essay?
A narrative essay is a form of academic writing that aims to tell a story. As the author, your goal is to create the right atmosphere and a lifelike experience for your readers.
As a rule, this type of paper is written from the first person perspective. You have to put readers at the epicenter of the plot and keep them engaged. To do this, and to ensure the right atmosphere, narrative writing uses plenty of vivid details, descriptive techniques, etc.
The biggest challenge in writing a narrative essay is that it is always limited in length. Thus, your task is to take a complex story and narrow it down to incorporate its key points to fit into a short essay, while at the same time providing enough detail to keep readers engaged.
Purpose of a Narrative Essay
This form of writing is all about sharing stories—that’s the key purpose. As a writer, your task is to tell readers about a real-life experience and, at the same time, to make a clear point of why you are telling that particular story and why it matters.
What makes it different from other types of essays? In a narrative essay, all you do is guide readers through the story; you don’t make arguments, criticize, or attempt to persuade them. You are just telling a story, letting readers draw their own conclusions. That’s the most distinctive feature of such papers.
Types of Narrative Essays
There are two types of essay to be put into narrative form:
Descriptive Narrative Essay
This is the most creative form of this task. The main goal of a descriptive narrative essay is to describe an experience, situation, or memory using vivid details. “Show, don’t tell” is the main credo of writing a descriptive narrative paper. The author’s goal is to evoke the readers’ different senses and paint a clear picture of an event.
A well-written descriptive narrative paper is usually straightforward. It takes a complicated story and narrows it down—allowing the reader to infer the rest. Great writers avoid over-exaggeration and stick to their purpose. There are always some limits to the amount of content you can provide to your readers; keep this in mind when choosing what to include in your work.
This form of task requires you to share a true story that took place throughout your life. Note that this type of assignment should focus on one specific event. Unlike a descriptive essay, an autobiographical one places a bigger focus on the story itself and its purpose, not details.
Narrative Essay Characteristics
Here are the basic characteristics that define this type of writing:
- Non-fiction – written about events that actually happened;
- Written from the author’s viewpoint (1st person);
- Includes elements of a story, but is written in accordance with a basic structure;
- Provides information in chronological order;
- Uses lots of details to describe an event, person, or scene;
- Strives to inform readers of something, not argue or teach.
10 Good Narrative Essay Topics and How to Pick One
When it comes to choosing a good narrative essay topic, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, you should start by carefully studying the given requirements. Typically, teachers will specify exactly what you are expected to do.
Some of the basic characteristics a teacher may be looking for in your paper are:
- A Conflict/Challenge: An inciting incident that creates the tone and sets the story in motion.
- A Protagonist: A relatable character that faces a conflict or challenge against overwhelming odds.
- Change or Growth: Overcoming the conflict or challenge sparks some change in the protagonist. A realization may have sparked this change. This realization can also be an after-effect of the character’s development throughout the story.
To come up with a brilliant topic for a narrative essay, you will need to take some time to brainstorm. To get on the right track, try using the following techniques:
- Think of your past experiences and memories, try to find something truly exciting.
- Think of what bothers you and what stories you’d want to share with others.
- Take a walk to refresh and generate some good ideas.
- Use the Internet to your benefit – social media, online magazines, blogs, and other resources can help you discover what stories your peers have shared, what they are interested in, and what they discuss. This can also help you find a few ideas.
- Try freewriting – this is a very handy technique that can help you get your story flowing. To give it a try, all you need is to get a pen and paper and to start writing your thoughts down.
Follow these tips to generate some great ideas and then pick one that looks the most compelling. The final tip is to choose something that is both interesting to you and appealing enough to engage your audience.
Here are some narrative essay ideas to help you brainstorm:
- Overcoming Fear
- Facing a Challenge
- A New Experience or Discovery
- A Moment of Excitement
- Learning a Tough Lesson
- A Thrilling Moment of Adrenaline
- The Moment You Stood Up for Yourself
- A Relationship Experience
- A Discovery That Changed Your Life
- A Rebellious Act
These are a few typical examples that students tend to explore. Consider making a story based on your personal life experiences. The most vivid memories are usually the ones that tell a great story.
Narrative Format and Structure
The narrative essay format and structure are standard. Like other assignments, this type of paper normally follows a 5 paragraph essay outline: one introductory paragraph, followed by three body paragraphs, and the last narrative paragraph is the conclusion. However, unlike other types of essays, a narrative paper’s paragraphs have specifically designated purposes:
- Introduction – makes an insight into the story, states the purpose of writing, and includes an engaging element to hook the reader;
- Main body paragraph 1 – rising action;
- Main body paragraph 2 – climax;
- Main body paragraph 3 – falling action;
- Conclusion – lessons learned from the story.
Narrative Essay Outline
Let’s look at how to start a narrative essay. When writing this type of academic task, we recommend that you follow this specific sequence of actions.
- Brainstorm ideas
- Pick the right topic
- Define your purpose of writing
- Plan your story – it should have a rising action, climax, and a falling action, and you should be able to draw logical conclusions from it
- Create an outline
If you approach your writing step by step, as described above, the whole process will become less stressful and much quicker. Now, let’s get back to the narrative essay outline.
The opening clause of your story has to accomplish 3 goals:
- Engage readers in the story with the help of a hook. To create a powerful hook, you can use a question, fact, quote, or an intriguing statement that will make readers want to read further.
“I’m not quite sure whether it is a real memory or just some false belief that grew stronger and more convincing in me over time, but I remember my sister once trying to kill me…”
- Set the scene and give readers an idea of what is happening. However, it shouldn’t tell the entire story yet, just give a glimpse into it; don’t give it all away, and keep your readers intrigued.
“It was another warm summer day when we were making our way back home from the beach. The next thing I remember was a loud bang and a pounding ache in my head.”
- Define the purpose of your writing. Finally, your narrative introduction should provide some insight into what the story is all about. Give readers a sneak peek of what’s to come, but don’t state the lessons you’ve learned from the situation yet. Keep them engaged!
“Our memory can be a tricky thing sometimes. Just switch the point of view for a situation and you will get a completely different picture.”
As a rule, your introduction should contain a thesis statement.
Narrative Essay Thesis Statement
The thesis statement is another important element of your paper. It should be placed in the introductory paragraph and can later be restated in your conclusion to empower the effect of the essay.
A thesis statement is your main argument. Its main goal is to introduce the problem or conflict you are going to investigate in your paper and to spark up the readers’ interest.
A good thesis statement should not be a fact or general truth, and it also shouldn’t be a suggestion, recommendation, or question. Instead, it should give a sneak peek into the problem, explain it briefly, and give some hints for the outcome.
The main body of your paper is the most important part. This is where you tell the story, share facts and details, and guide readers through the plot.
The body of a narrative essay can consist of 3 or more paragraphs, and its length depends on the general word count of your paper.
Here are 4 important points to consider in the body paragraphs of your narrative essay:
- Include vivid and relevant detail: A narrative essay is all about creating a scene as well as a mood to follow. Even the best essay writers can spend hours writing and are meticulous when it comes to including details. However, don’t spam your sentences with literary symbols. As long as each sentence serves a purpose, then you are good to go.
- Incorporate dialogue: Throwing the reader into dialogues is an effective way to refresh their attention. Dialogue is a great way to give a story life and support the story’s atmosphere. Again, use this technique constructively.
If you have two New Yorkers talking to each other, using British slang won’t be a great choice.
- Write chronologically: It’s hard for readers to understand the timeline of events in a paper unless the author is blunt. Keeping things sequential is the best way to keep your paper organized.
- Avoid narration deviation: If you are talking about a personal experience, the first-person voice will work best. If this is a story you heard from a friend, writing in third-person will make more sense.
To find a compelling narrative paragraph example, keep on reading.
In the conclusion of your paper, you are expected to give some final comments about your story. This is where you can restate some of the key details and ideas mentioned in the body. In addition, you should stress the lessons you’ve learned from a particular situation and leave readers with something to think about.
“As I go through these events over and over in my head, I realize how much it has taught me. Everything that happens in our lives has at least two sides. To see the real image, it is necessary to collect all of the details piece by piece—to see both sides. And, not all memories should be trusted. Sometimes, it is just our brains that try to make up false stories, isn’t it?”
Writing a narrative essay should be a positive experience. It does not restrict you to a linear format with no allowance for variation. This is one of the most free-spirited and original essays to write. That doesn’t mean that rebelling against all rules and writing something absurd is appropriate though.
If you are still struggling to decide what to write about – think of your story as a coming of age tale. An event that transformed you into the person you are today.
Your primary goal is to take the readers on a journey. Have them share your experience and take something away from it. The best stories are always the ones that teleport the readers out of their comfort zones.
Now, let us give you a few more tips on how to write a flawless narrative story:
- Keep It Clear. Your narrative writing should be easy to read and understand. Thus, try to avoid phrasing and syntax that is too complex. Keep your language clear and simple.
- Don’t Overuse Details. A narrative essay should tell a story in vivid detail. However, it is important not to overuse details as well. As was already mentioned, your word count is going to be limited and you still need to have enough space to let your story unfold fully. Thus, don’t describe literally everything and focus on things that matter and add value.
- Use the First-Person Narrative. As a rule, narrative writing aims to describe real events and experiences that happened in the author’s life. That’s why you should avoid writing in the second-person perspective.
- Use Dynamic Words. A narrative story should be engaging and dynamic. Avoid making it too monotonous and don’t overuse passive voice.
- Limit References. Most papers written in MLA format have to include in-text citations and thus, lots of references. This is, however, not a good practice for a narrative essay. By its essence, this type of assignment is much more personal, so it would be great if you can use your own thoughts and feelings to write it. If you still used some other helpful resources while writing, cite them on a “Works Cited” page.
Do’s and Don’ts of Narrative Writing
To make the writing process less stressful, keep the following do’s and don’ts in mind:
- Preferably write your story in the first-person point of view (or third-person if necessary).
- Begin with a hook in the form of a fact, quote, question, definition, etc. to grab the readers’ attention.
- Make a clear statement of your point: what are you going to say with this paper?
- Follow the proper narrative format.
- Spice up your story with some kind of conflict.
- Try to address all five senses at the same time – tell the readers not only what characters of a story saw, but also what they smelled, heard, felt, etc.
- Follow a logical sequence of presentation – ideally, move from one event to another in chronological order.
- Keep your language clear and easy-to-read.
- Don’t hesitate to use different descriptive techniques such as power words, transitions, etc.
- Do not write a narrative essay in the second-person perspective.
- Don’t create fictional stories, write about events that really happened.
- Don’t use exceedingly formal language, arguments, slang, etc.
- Don’t write about everything – too many details are also not good, so be sure to be specific only about the main ideas and details that drive the plot of your story.
- Don’t tell a story, show it!