In a narrative essay, you want to tell the story by writing about an event or experience that you've had. It’s the ultimate in storytelling and requires some finesse to create a retelling that people will actually want to read.
Unlike other types of essays, a narrative essay allows you to express yourself. It's a story that you are telling, often from personal experience. You can look at a narrative essay example from middle school, high school or college, and you'll see the same elements throughout. That's because a story has very specific parts that must be included and the narrative is similar, no matter what the topic.
Using a narrative essay templatevia a writing tool can help you work through the essay quickly and ensure that it is correctly formatted. It may also help to check out a narrative essay example to see exactly how this type of writing is done.
Choose Your Story
The most essential part of writing a narrative essay is the selection of the story you want to tell. What can you share with readers that will impact them? What will you tell them that has meaning and isn't just an entertaining anecdote? A narrative essay needs to have a point, so you don't want to tell just any story, but rather one that will have a purpose.
Narrative essays tend to focus on a small story. You will not be writing your entire life into the essay, just a single event that you experienced. Take a look at some examples to see what a good narrative essay looks like and then you can begin to work on your own.
If you are struggling to find a story that will work, here are a few options to consider: A time when a major belief was shattered, or when someone influenced you or a time when you changed or attempted to change your life. There are endless stories to tell, so pick the one that will work best for the purpose of your narrative. Keep it narrow and focused. This is only about one single event, or you’ll end up writing an entire book.
Note that in a few cases, a narrative essay is not a story and will be written slightly differently. For example, a book report will be more informative than telling a story. In this case, it still talks about your opinion and feelings related to an event, but the event is within the book, not your own personal experience. However, most narrative essays will be personal.
Structure Your Narrative
Like all good stories, a narrative essay needs a beginning, middle, climax and end. It also needs characters and a plot, as well as a setting. All of these elements come together to ensure that the story flows properly and keeps people's interest.
While most narrative essays are written from the author's point of view, you can write from any perspective that works for the telling of the story. Above all, there needs to be a specific reason to tell the story. This is the most important thing to keep in mind as you plan and write. What is the purpose of telling this story? What will the reader learn? What will they walk away with after reading the essay?
You don’t have to have some big moral lesson in the essay to make it a narrative, but you should have a specific point. Think about what you want to accomplish with the essay and then focus on that as you write. Use this narrative essay outline to start your essay.
Start With a Bang
Your essay should grab the reader instantly. Starting with an impactful statement or a quote is a good way to begin. Give them a very good reason to continue reading. Use descriptive language to express yourself and tell your story in a way that captures the reader's attention.
The introduction is the most important part of your essay, since it is what will help the reader choose to read on or put the essay aside. Make sure it catches them and pulls them into the story, making them want to read on to find out what happens. The best narrative essays will turn a simple story into one that is captivating, using imaginative language.
Once you have the reader's attention, you can create an introduction that will present them with the setting and main characters of your story. Remember that every good story answers the questions who, what, when, where, how and why. While not all of this information needs to be in the intro, you should at least set the scene. Leave your reader curious enough to continue reading the essay.
Tell Your Story
The body of the essay should tell the rest of the story, usually in chronological order. Try to show the story, instead of just telling it. This means using descriptive language, including dialog and presenting the feelings that accompanied the event. Make your reader feel like they're in the story. For example, don’t say, “the dog walked up the street.” Instead, help the reader imagine the street and the dog. Was it well-kept? Or was the dog mangy and dirty? Was the street dirt, paved or cobbled? What kind of day was it?
The more details you include, the easier it is for the reader to picture themselves there. They will feel the story, rather than simply read it. “The old dog limped painfully down the center of the dirt street, the autumn wind kicking up leaves and dust around him.” This sentence makes it easier for you to imagine the dog and the street, doesn’t it?
Plain facts may be informative, but they are boring. Just stating the basics will immediately turn people off your writing. Creating a descriptive story will ensure more people read the essay than if you simply state the facts and go no further.
Get creative, pull those memories up and include details to make the story more real to your reader. Recall how you felt, how things smelled or tasted and what you were thinking during the events you’re recounting.
Present Your Point
At the climax of the story, your point will be made clear. There's no reason to state it flatly, but it should be obvious to the reader that something important happened and they should be able to draw their own conclusions at this point. When you look at a narrative essay example, you'll see that this climax is near the end of the essay and indicates a change of heart, a lesson learned or something similar.
The climax is the part of the story that people will remember most. It’s a sticking point, something that will catch in their mind and stay there, especially if well done. You can ensure that this is something memorable by adding a little twist or including details that will help the reader understand the importance of the moment.
Reflect on the Importance of the Story
Finally, you’ll wrap the essay up and finish it with a flourish. The conclusion or the final paragraph of the narrative essay is where you leave your reader with a brief summary.
The conclusion of the essay will review the important parts of the story and is the ideal place to look a little closer at the impact of the event you just shared. This is where you can really hammer home the point that you wanted to make, without being overly obvious.
Ideally, the final paragraph of your essay will stick with the reader for a long time. Don’t just recap, give them something to think about. This is the parting gift for your reader, something that they can think on for days or weeks to come.
Finally, you will need to edit and revise the narrative essay. This part is just as important as the actual writing, as you need to make sure that there are no discrepancies or errors to pull the reader out of the story. It can be helpful to put the essay aside for a few days so you can read it again with fresh eyes. Likewise, you may want to ask someone else to read it critically and mark any mistakes they find.
Look for spelling and grammar mistakes, of course, but you should also change up the writing if needed. A sentence that could be made better or clearer should be adjusted. The idea is to give your reader the best possible experience so they’ll want to share your narrative essay.
In a narrative essay you tell a story, often about a personal experience, but you also make a point. So, the purpose is not only to tell an entertaining tale but also show the reason for the story and the importance of the experience.
Narrative Essays: To Tell a Story
There are four types of essays:
- Exposition - gives factual information about various topics to the reader.
- Description - describes in colorful detail the characteristics and traits of a person, place, or thing.
- Argument - convinces the reader by demonstrating the truth or falsity of a topic.
- Narrative - tells a vivid story, usually from one person’s viewpoint.
A narrative essay uses all the story elements - a beginning, middle and ending, plot, characters, setting and climax - all coming together to complete the story.
Essential Elements of Narrative Essays
The focus of a narrative essay is the plot, which is told using enough details to build to a climax. Here's how:
- It is usually told chronologically.
- It has a purpose, which is usually stated in the opening sentence.
- It may use dialogue.
- It is written with sensory details and bright descriptions to involve the reader. All these details relate in some way to the main point the writer is making.
All of these elements need to seamlessly combine. A few examples of narrative essays follow. Narrative essays can be quite long, so here only the beginnings of essays are included:
Learning Can Be Scary
This excerpt about learning new things and new situations is an example of a personal narrative essay that describes learning to swim.
“Learning something new can be a scary experience. One of the hardest things I've ever had to do was learn how to swim. I was always afraid of the water, but I decided that swimming was an important skill that I should learn. I also thought it would be good exercise and help me to become physically stronger. What I didn't realize was that learning to swim would also make me a more confident person.
New situations always make me a bit nervous, and my first swimming lesson was no exception. After I changed into my bathing suit in the locker room, I stood timidly by the side of the pool waiting for the teacher and other students to show up. After a couple of minutes the teacher came over. She smiled and introduced herself, and two more students joined us. Although they were both older than me, they didn't seem to be embarrassed about not knowing how to swim. I began to feel more at ease.”
The Manager. The Leader.
The following excerpt is a narrative essay about a manager who was a great leader. Notice the intriguing first sentence that captures your attention right away.
“Jerry was the kind of guy you love to hate. He was always in a good mood and always had something positive to say. When someone would ask him how he was doing, he would reply, 'If I were any better, I would be twins!' He was a unique manager because he had several waiters who had followed him around from restaurant to restaurant. The reason the waiters followed Jerry was because of his attitude. He was a natural motivator. If an employee was having a bad day, Jerry was there telling the employee how to look on the positive side of the situation.”
This excerpt from The Climb also captures your attention right away by creating a sense of mystery. The reader announces that he or she has "this fear" and you want to read on to see what that fear is.
“I have this fear. It causes my legs to shake. I break out in a cold sweat. I start jabbering to anyone who is nearby. As thoughts of certain death run through my mind, the world appears a precious, treasured place. I imagine my own funeral, then shrink back at the implications of where my thoughts are taking me. My stomach feels strange. My palms are clammy. I am terrified of heights. Of course, it’s not really a fear of being in a high place. Rather, it is the view of a long way to fall, of rocks far below me and no firm wall between me and the edge. My sense of security is screamingly absent. There are no guardrails, flimsy though I picture them, or other safety devices. I can rely only on my own surefootedness—or lack thereof.”
The following narrative essay involves a parent reflecting on taking his kids to Disneyland for the first time.
“It was a hot, sunny day, when I finally took my kids to the Disneyland. My son Matthew and my daughter Audra endlessly asked me to show them the dreamland of many children, with Mickey Mouse and Snow White walking by and arousing a huge portion of emotions. Somehow these fairy-tale creatures can make children happy without such 'small' presents as $100 Lego or a Barbie house with six rooms and garden furniture. Therefore, I thought that Disneyland was a good invention for loving parents.”
The Sacred Grove of Oshogbo by Jeffrey Tayler
The following essay contains descriptive language that helps to paint a vivid picture for the reader of an interesting encounter.
“As I passed through the gates I heard a squeaky voice. A diminutive middle-aged man came out from behind the trees — the caretaker. He worked a toothbrush-sized stick around in his mouth, digging into the crevices between algae'd stubs of teeth. He was barefoot; he wore a blue batik shirt known as a buba, baggy purple trousers, and an embroidered skullcap. I asked him if he would show me around the shrine. Motioning me to follow, he spat out the results of his stick work and set off down the trail.”
This excerpt from “Playground Memory” has very good sensory details.
“Looking back on a childhood filled with events and memories, I find it rather difficult to pick on that leaves me with the fabled “warm and fuzzy feelings.” As the daughter of an Air Force Major, I had the pleasure of traveling across America in many moving trips. I have visited the monstrous trees of the Sequoia National Forest, stood on the edge of the Grande Canyon and have jumped on the beds at Caesar’s Palace in Lake Tahoe. However, I have discovered that when reflecting on my childhood, it is not the trips that come to mind, instead there are details from everyday doings; a deck of cards, a silver bank or an ice cream flavor. One memory that comes to mind belongs to a day of no particular importance. It was late in the fall in Merced, California on the playground of my old elementary school; an overcast day with the wind blowing strong. I stood on the blacktop, pulling my hoodie over my ears. The wind was causing miniature tornados; we called them “dirt devils”, to swarm around me.”
This excerpt from “Christmas Cookies” makes good use of descriptive language.
“Although I have grown up to be entirely inept at the art of cooking, as to make even the most wretched chef ridicule my sad baking attempts, my childhood would have indicated otherwise; I was always on the countertop next to my mother’s cooking bowl, adding and mixing ingredients that would doubtlessly create a delicious food. When I was younger, cooking came intrinsically with the holiday season, which made that time of year the prime occasion for me to unite with ounces and ounces of satin dark chocolate, various other messy and gooey ingredients, numerous cooking utensils, and the assistance of my mother to cook what would soon be an edible masterpiece. The most memorable of the holiday works of art were our Chocolate Crinkle Cookies, which my mother and I first made when I was about six and are now made annually.”
Tips on Writing a Narrative Essay
When writing a narrative essay, remember that you are sharing sensory and emotional details with the reader.
- Your words need to be vivid and colorful to help the reader feel the same feelings that you felt.
- Elements of the story need to support the point you are making and you need to remember to make reference to that point in the first sentence.
- You should make use of conflict and sequence like in any story.
- You may use flashbacks and flash forwards to help the story build to a climax.
- It is usually written in the first person, but third person may also be used.
Remember, a well-written narrative essay tells a story and also makes a point.