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A complete guide to writing captivating and engaging narrative essays that will leave your readers hooked.

Writing narrative essays

When it comes to storytelling, the ability to captivate your audience is paramount. Creating a narrative essay that holds the reader’s attention requires finesse and creativity. A well-crafted story is not merely a sequence of events; it should transport the reader to another time and place, evoking emotions and leaving a lasting impression. Crafting a compelling narrative essay requires careful consideration of the elements that make a story interesting and engaging.

Dive into the depths of your imagination and unleash your creativity to give life to your narrative. The key to an engaging story lies in your ability to paint vivid images with your words. Strong sensory details and descriptive language allow readers to visualize the scenes and connect with the story on a deeper level. Engage the senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell to take your readers on a sensory journey through your narrative.

In addition to capturing the reader’s imagination, establish a relatable protagonist to anchor your story. Your main character should be someone your readers can empathize with, someone they can root for. By creating a three-dimensional character with relatable qualities, you invite the reader to become emotionally invested in the narrative. Develop a character with flaws, desires, and a clear motivation for their actions. This will add depth and complexity to your story as your protagonist navigates through challenges and evolves.

Choose a captivating topic that resonates with your audience

Choose a captivating topic that resonates with your audience

When it comes to writing a narrative essay, one of the most important factors in capturing your audience’s attention is selecting a captivating topic. A captivating topic will resonate with your readers and draw them into your story, making them eager to read on and discover more.

Choosing a topic that resonates with your audience means selecting a subject that they can relate to or find interesting. It’s essential to consider the interests, experiences, and emotions of your target audience when deciding on a topic. Think about what will grab their attention and keep them engaged throughout your essay.

One way to choose a captivating topic is by drawing from personal experiences. Reflect on significant events or moments in your life that have had a lasting impact on you. These experiences can provide the basis for a compelling narrative, as they often resonate with others who have gone through similar situations.

Another approach is to explore topics that are relevant or timely. Think about current events or social issues that are capturing public attention. By addressing these topics in your narrative essay, you can tap into the existing interest and engage readers who are already invested in the subject matter.

Additionally, consider incorporating elements of surprise or intrigue into your chosen topic. This could involve telling a story with an unexpected twist or focusing on an unusual or lesser-known aspect of a familiar subject. By presenting something unexpected or unique, you can pique your audience’s curiosity and make them eager to discover what happens next.

In summary, selecting a captivating topic is crucial for creating a compelling narrative essay. By choosing a subject that resonates with your audience, drawing from personal experiences, addressing relevant topics, and incorporating elements of surprise, you can capture and hold your readers’ attention, ensuring that they stay engaged throughout your story.

Develop well-rounded characters to drive your narrative

In order to create a captivating story, it is essential to develop well-rounded characters that will drive your narrative forward. These characters should be multi-dimensional and relatable, with their own unique personalities, motivations, and struggles. By doing so, you will not only make your readers more invested in your story, but also add depth and complexity to your narrative.

When developing your characters, it is important to consider their backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs. A character’s past experiences can shape their actions and decision-making throughout the story, while their beliefs can provide insight into their values and worldview. By delving into these aspects, you can create characters that feel authentic and true to life.

Furthermore, it is crucial to give your characters goals and motivations that propel them forward in the narrative. These goals can be internal or external, and can range from a desire for love and acceptance to a quest for power or revenge. By giving your characters something to strive for, you create tension and conflict that drives the plot.

In addition to goals and motivations, it is important to give your characters flaws and weaknesses. No one is perfect, and by acknowledging this, you create characters that are more relatable and human. Flaws can also create obstacles and challenges for your characters to overcome, adding depth and complexity to your story.

Lastly, remember to show, rather than tell, your readers about your characters. Instead of explicitly stating their traits and qualities, let their actions, dialogue, and interactions with other characters reveal who they are. This will allow your readers to form their own connections with the characters and become more engaged with your narrative.

By taking the time to develop well-rounded characters with unique personalities, motivations, and flaws, you will create a narrative that is not only compelling, but also resonates with your readers on a deeper level. So, dive into the minds and hearts of your characters, and let them drive your story to new heights.

Create a clear and engaging plot with a strong conflict

In order to craft a captivating narrative essay, it is essential to develop a plot that is both coherent and captivating. The plot serves as the foundation of your story, providing the framework that will guide your readers through a series of events and actions. To create an engaging plot, it is crucial to introduce a strong conflict that will propel the story forward and keep your readers hooked from start to finish.

The conflict is the driving force that creates tension and suspense in your narrative. It presents the main obstacle or challenge that your protagonist must overcome, creating a sense of urgency and keeping your readers invested in the outcome. Without a strong conflict, your story may lack direction and fail to hold your readers’ interest.

When developing your plot, consider the various elements that can contribute to a compelling conflict. This could be a clash between characters, a struggle against nature or society, or a battle within oneself. The conflict should be meaningful and have significant stakes for your protagonist, pushing them to make difficult choices and undergo personal growth.

To ensure that your plot remains clear and engaging, it is important to establish a logical progression of events. Each scene and action should contribute to the overall development of the conflict and the resolution of the story. Avoid unnecessary detours or subplots that do not advance the main conflict, as they can distract from the core narrative and confuse your readers.

In addition to a strong conflict, a clear and engaging plot also requires well-developed characters that your readers can root for and relate to. The actions and decisions of your characters should be motivated by their personalities, desires, and beliefs, adding depth and complexity to the narrative. By creating multidimensional characters, you can further enhance the conflict and make it more compelling.

When crafting your plot, consider the pacing and structure of your narrative. Gradually increase the tension and suspense as the conflict intensifies, leading to a climactic moment that resolves the conflict and provides a sense of closure. Use techniques such as foreshadowing, dramatic irony, and plot twists to keep your readers engaged and guessing.

In conclusion, creating a clear and engaging plot with a strong conflict is essential for writing a compelling narrative essay. By introducing a meaningful conflict and developing it throughout the story, you can capture your readers’ attention and keep them invested in the outcome. Remember to establish a logical progression of events, develop well-rounded characters, and consider the pacing and structure of your narrative. With these elements in place, you can create a memorable story that resonates with your readers.

Use vivid and descriptive language to bring your story to life

When it comes to writing a compelling narrative essay, one of the most important elements is the use of vivid and descriptive language. This technique helps to immerse your readers in the story, making it more engaging and memorable. By carefully selecting your words and painting a clear picture with your descriptions, you can bring your story to life and make it resonate with your audience.

Instead of simply stating facts and events, try to use descriptive language that appeals to the senses. For example, instead of saying “It was a sunny day,” you could say “The sun bathed the landscape in a warm golden glow, casting long shadows across the grass.” Using words that evoke specific sensations and feelings can help your readers to not only see the scene but also experience it.

In addition to appealing to the senses, you can also use vivid language to create a strong emotional connection with your readers. By choosing words that carry a particular emotional weight, you can elicit a specific response from your audience. For instance, instead of saying “She was sad,” you could say “Her heart ached with a deep sense of loss, tears streaming down her face.” By using descriptive language to convey emotions, you can make your readers feel the same way your characters do, creating a more powerful and immersive reading experience.

Another effective technique is to use literary devices such as similes and metaphors to add depth and richness to your narrative. By comparing seemingly unrelated things, you can make your descriptions more vivid and memorable. For example, instead of saying “The waves were big,” you could say “The waves crashed against the shore like giants, their fury and power shaking the very foundations of the earth.” By using similes and metaphors, you can create vivid and imaginative descriptions that transport your readers into the world of your story.

Finally, don’t be afraid to use strong and colorful language to convey the tone and atmosphere of your narrative. Whether your story is light-hearted and humorous or dark and suspenseful, your choice of words can greatly impact the overall feel of the story. By carefully selecting descriptive adjectives and powerful verbs, you can set the mood and create an immersive reading experience that leaves a lasting impression.

In conclusion, using vivid and descriptive language is essential when writing a compelling narrative essay. By appealing to the senses, evoking emotions, using literary devices, and setting the tone, you can bring your story to life and captivate your readers. So, don’t be afraid to unleash your creativity and use language that paints a vibrant and memorable picture in the minds of your audience.

Incorporate sensory details to immerse your readers in the story

When crafting a compelling narrative essay, it’s important to engage your readers on a sensory level. By incorporating sensory details, you can create a vivid experience that immerses your readers in the story. Through the use of descriptive language and vivid imagery, you can evoke the senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch to bring your story to life.

One way to engage your readers’ senses is by utilizing descriptive language to paint a visual picture. Instead of simply telling your readers what is happening, show them through descriptive details. For example, instead of saying “the sun was shining,” you could say “the golden rays of the sun illuminated the tranquil meadow, casting a warm glow on the vibrant wildflowers.” By using descriptive language, you can transport your readers to the setting of your story and engage their sense of sight.

In addition to engaging the sense of sight, you can also incorporate sensory details to appeal to your readers’ sense of sound. This can be achieved through the use of onomatopoeia, dialogue, and descriptive language. For example, instead of saying “the dog barked,” you could say “the dog’s sharp, piercing bark reverberated through the quiet neighborhood, causing heads to turn and hearts to race.” By incorporating sensory details related to sound, you can make your readers feel as if they are truly experiencing the events of your story.

Another way to immerse your readers in the story is by appealing to their sense of smell and taste. Incorporate descriptive language that allows your readers to imagine the scents and flavors of the narrative. For example, instead of saying “the food smelled delicious,” you could say “the aroma of the sizzling garlic and onions wafted through the air, making my mouth water in anticipation.” By incorporating sensory details related to smell and taste, you can make your readers feel as if they are present in the scene and experiencing it firsthand.

Lastly, don’t forget to engage your readers’ sense of touch. By describing the textures and physical sensations experienced by the characters or narrator, you can create a more immersive reading experience. For example, instead of saying “it was hot outside,” you could say “the scorching sun beat down on my skin, causing beads of sweat to form and trickle down my forehead.” By incorporating sensory details related to touch, you can make your readers feel as if they are physically present in the story.

Incorporating sensory details into your narrative essays is essential for creating a compelling and immersive reading experience. By engaging your readers’ senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, you can transport them to the world of your story and make them feel as if they are living it alongside your characters. So, don’t be afraid to use descriptive language and vivid imagery to captivate your readers’ imaginations and immerse them in your narrative.

Pace your narrative effectively to maintain suspense and interest

Pace your narrative effectively to maintain suspense and interest

Mastering the art of pacing is crucial in creating a compelling narrative that keeps readers hooked from beginning to end. By controlling the rhythm and tempo of your story, you can effectively maintain suspense and interest, making your readers eager to find out what happens next.

One way to achieve this is by varying the length and complexity of your sentences and paragraphs. Short, concise sentences can create a sense of urgency, while longer, more descriptive ones can slow down the pace and build anticipation. By using a combination of both, you can create a dynamic flow that engages your readers and keeps them guessing.

Another technique to consider is the strategic placement of cliffhangers and plot twists. These unexpected moments can interrupt the flow of the narrative and leave readers wanting more. Whether it’s a shocking revelation or a sudden change in direction, these moments of suspense can captivate your audience and propel them forward in the story.

Additionally, carefully timing the reveal of key information can help maintain suspense and interest. By strategically withholding important details until the opportune moment, you can create a sense of curiosity and anticipation in your readers. This can be achieved through foreshadowing, hinting at future events, or by gradually unveiling the truth behind a mystery.

Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of well-placed pauses and moments of reflection. By allowing your characters – and your readers – to take a breath and reflect on what has just happened, you can create tension and build anticipation for what’s to come. These moments can also provide the opportunity for emotional connection and deeper character development.

In conclusion, pacing your narrative effectively is essential in maintaining suspense and interest throughout your story. By utilizing a combination of sentence and paragraph length variations, strategic cliffhangers, well-timed reveals, and moments of reflection, you can create a captivating and engaging narrative that keeps your readers eagerly turning the pages.

Pay attention to the overall structure and organization of your essay

Ensuring that your narrative essay has a clear and well-organized structure is essential in captivating your readers and keeping them engaged throughout your story. The overall organization and flow of your essay play a crucial role in conveying your message effectively.

When crafting your narrative essay, it is vital to consider the structure that best suits your story. You can choose from various structures, such as a chronological order, a reflective approach, or even a non-linear format. Whatever structure you decide on, make sure it aligns with the theme and tone of your narrative.

Before diving into the writing process, take some time to outline the main events and key points you want to cover in your essay. This will help you establish a logical flow and prevent your story from becoming disjointed or confusing for the reader.


Effective organization involves arranging your ideas and events in a coherent manner. Start your essay with a compelling and attention-grabbing introduction that sets the scene and introduces the main characters or your central thesis. From there, progress through your story by presenting the events in a logical sequence.

Transition smoothly between each paragraph or section to maintain the flow of your essay. Use transitional phrases or words, such as “next,” “meanwhile,” or “afterward,” to guide your readers through the narrative. This will help them understand the chronology of the events and prevent any confusion.

It is also important to give your readers a break from the main plot by incorporating descriptive details, character development, and dialogue. These elements add depth to your story and engage the readers on a more emotional level.

In conclusion, paying close attention to the overall structure and organization of your essay is vital to creating a compelling narrative. By choosing a suitable structure and organizing your ideas effectively, you can guide your readers through your story in a captivating and engaging manner.

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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.

If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

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ways to start narrative essays

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 Start a Narrative Essay

Last Updated: February 13, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Christopher Taylor, PhD and by wikiHow staff writer, Danielle Blinka, MA, MPA . 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. 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 206,331 times.

A narrative essay tells a story, which allows you to flex your creative muscles. Your story may be fictional or nonfictional, depending on the requirements of your assignment. At first, starting your narrative essay might seem hard, but you can make your work simpler by narrowing down your topic and planning out your story. Then, you’ll be able to easily write your story’s introduction.

Choosing a Topic for Your Narrative

Step 1 Read your assignment to identify the prompt and expectations.

  • If your instructor provides a rubric, read over it thoroughly to identify the expectations for full credit. Later, you can measure your essay against the rubric before turning in the assignment.
  • If you have questions about the assignment, ask your instructor for clarification.

Step 2 Brainstorm...

  • List the first thoughts that come to mind when you think about the prompt or question.
  • Make a mind map to sort out your ideas.
  • Use freewriting to uncover story ideas. Simply write whatever comes to mind without worrying about grammar or making sense.
  • Make an outline to help put your ideas in order.

Step 3 Choose a single meaningful event to detail in the story.

  • Don’t try to cover too much in one essay, as this will be too hard for your reader to follow.
  • For example, let’s say the prompt reads: “Write about a setback that taught you perseverance.” You might want to write about an injury you overcame. To narrow down your story, you might focus on the first time you exercised your injured limb after the accident, as well as the difficulties you faced.

Step 4 Decide on a theme or message for your story.

  • For instance, the story about recovering from an injury might have a theme of overcoming hardships or persevering to reach a goal. You might want your reader to finish your story feeling inspired and uplifted. To achieve this feeling, you'd want to focus on your successes throughout the process and end the story with a positive thought.

Planning Your Story

Step 1 List and describe the characters in your story.

  • If you are a character in your story, you will still need to complete this step. It's up to you how much detail you want to write down about yourself. However, it's helpful to take note of your description, interests, and desires at the time the story takes place, especially if a lot of time has passed.
  • A main character description might look like this: “Kate, 12 - An athletic basketball player who suffers an injury. She wants to recover from her injury so she can return to the court. She’s the patient of Andy, a physical therapist who is helping her recover.”
  • A side character description might read like this: “Dr. Lopez is a friendly, fatherly middle-aged doctor who treats Kate in the emergency room.”

Step 2 Describe the setting of your story in a few brief statements.

  • For example, a story about overcoming a sports injury might include a few settings, such as the basketball court, the ambulance, the hospital, and a physical therapy office. Although you want to show your reader each setting, you'll spend the most time on the main setting of your story.
  • You might list the following descriptors about the basketball court: “squeaky floor,” “roar of the crowd,” “bright overhead lights,” “team colors in the stands,” “smell of sweat and sports drinks,” and “wet jersey sticking to my back.”
  • Your story may feature several different settings, but you don't need to provide the same level of detail about each one. For instance, you may be in an ambulance for a brief moment in the scene. You don't need to fully describe the ambulance, but you might tell the reader about "feeling cold and alone in the sterile ambulance."

Step 3 Map out the plot of your story with a beginning, middle, and end.

  • For example, you might introduce a young basketball player who is about to make a big play. The incident that kicks off the story might be her injury. Then, the rising action is the basketball player’s efforts to complete physical therapy and get back into the game. The climax might be the day of tryouts for the team. You might resolve the story by having her find her name on the team list, at which point she realizes she can overcome any obstacle.
  • It’s helpful to use Freytag’s triangle or a graphic organizer to plan your essay. Freytag's triangle looks like a triangle with a long line to its left and a short line to its right. It's a tool that helps you plan out your story's beginning (exposition), an incident that starts your story's events, the rising action, a climax, the falling action, and the resolution of your story.
  • You can find a Freytag's triangle template or a graphic organizer for your narrative essay online. [8] X Research source

Step 4 Write out the climax of your story either in detail or as an outline.

  • The most common types of conflict include person vs. person, person vs. nature, and person vs. self. Some stories will have more than one type of conflict.
  • In the story about the young athlete who gets injured, her conflict might be person vs. self, as she’s having to push through her pain and limitations.

Step 5 Choose a point-of-view for your story, such as 1st person or 3rd person.

  • In most cases, a personal narrative will use the 1st person “I” point-of-view. For example, “Over my last summer with my grandfather, I learned more than how to fish.”
  • If you’re telling a fictional story, you might use the 3rd person point of you. Use your character’s name, as well as the appropriate pronouns like “he” or “she.” For instance, “Mia picked up the locket and opened it.”

Writing Your Introduction

Step 1 Begin your essay with a hook to engage your reader.

  • Start your essay with a rhetorical question. For instance, “Have you ever faced losing something that’s important to you?”
  • Give a quote that fits your essay. You might write, “According to Rosa Gomez, ‘You don’t know how strong you are until a setback breaks you.”
  • Provide an interesting fact that’s related to your story. As an example, “About 70% of kids will stop playing sports by the age of 13, and I was almost one of them.”
  • Use a short anecdote that relates to the larger story. For your essay about overcoming an injury, you might include a short story about your best moment playing sports before your injury.
  • Start with a shocking statement. You might write, “As soon as they loaded me into the ambulance, I knew I might never play sports again.”

Step 2 Introduce the main characters in your story.

  • Let’s say your main character is you. You could write, “As a tall, lean 12-year-old, I easily outplayed the other girls on the court.” This gives the reader a picture about what you might look like, as well as your interest in sports and athletic ability.
  • If you’re telling a fictional story, you might introduce your character like this: “As she walked toward the high school debate podium, Luz exuded confidence from her Kate Spade headband down to her thrift shop Betsey Johnson pumps.” Not only does this help the audience picture Luz, but it also shows that she puts effort into her appearance. The fact that she shops at thrift stores might indicate that her family isn’t as wealthy as she portrays.

Step 3 Describe the setting to set the scene for your story.

  • You might write, “It was my 7th-grade year, and I knew I had to make varsity if I were going to get attention from the high school coaches.”
  • Sensory details trigger your senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. As an example, “My shoes squeaked across the court as I dribbled toward the goal line, the red basket in sight. Sweat made the ball feel slippery against my fingertips, and its salty taste coated my lips.”

Step 4 Include an overview of the story and its theme in the last sentence.

  • For instance, you might write, “I never expected that pass across the court to be my last for the season. However, recovering from my injury taught me I’m a strong person who can accomplish anything I set out to do.”

Sample Introduction and Outline

ways to start narrative essays

Expert Q&A

  • A narrative essay will always tell a story, so make sure your essay has a clear plot. Thanks Helpful 2 Not Helpful 0

ways to start narrative essays

  • Don’t borrow someone else’s ideas for your story or copy someone else’s writing. This is plagiarism and can result in severe academic penalties, including loss of credit. Thanks Helpful 37 Not Helpful 0

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About This Article

Christopher Taylor, PhD

If you’re struggling to start your narrative essay, find a way to encourage your reader to keep reading and introduce your main characters. Since opening lines can pull a reader in, choose something catchy that’s related to your story. For example, if your essay is about loss, you could open with a question like, “Have you ever faced losing something that’s important to you?” Then, add some details about your story’s setting that will interest the reader, such as describing how your trainers squeaked as you dribbled across the court if your story is about sports. You should also include enough information about the main character to peak the reader’s interest, like “She was a tall, lean 12-year-old,” but not too much so they know everything. For tips from our Writing co-author on how to plan out your entire narrative essay before you start writing, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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The Ultimate Narrative Essay Guide for Beginners

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A narrative essay tells a story in chronological order, with an introduction that introduces the characters and sets the scene. Then a series of events leads to a climax or turning point, and finally a resolution or reflection on the experience.

Speaking of which, are you in sixes and sevens about narrative essays? Don’t worry this ultimate expert guide will wipe out all your doubts. So let’s get started.

Table of Contents

Everything You Need to Know About Narrative Essay

What is a narrative essay.

When you go through a narrative essay definition, you would know that a narrative essay purpose is to tell a story. It’s all about sharing an experience or event and is different from other types of essays because it’s more focused on how the event made you feel or what you learned from it, rather than just presenting facts or an argument. Let’s explore more details on this interesting write-up and get to know how to write a narrative essay.

Elements of a Narrative Essay

Here’s a breakdown of the key elements of a narrative essay:

A narrative essay has a beginning, middle, and end. It builds up tension and excitement and then wraps things up in a neat package.

Real people, including the writer, often feature in personal narratives. Details of the characters and their thoughts, feelings, and actions can help readers to relate to the tale.

It’s really important to know when and where something happened so we can get a good idea of the context. Going into detail about what it looks like helps the reader to really feel like they’re part of the story.

Conflict or Challenge 

A story in a narrative essay usually involves some kind of conflict or challenge that moves the plot along. It could be something inside the character, like a personal battle, or something from outside, like an issue they have to face in the world.

Theme or Message

A narrative essay isn’t just about recounting an event – it’s about showing the impact it had on you and what you took away from it. It’s an opportunity to share your thoughts and feelings about the experience, and how it changed your outlook.

Emotional Impact

The author is trying to make the story they’re telling relatable, engaging, and memorable by using language and storytelling to evoke feelings in whoever’s reading it.

Narrative essays let writers have a blast telling stories about their own lives. It’s an opportunity to share insights and impart wisdom, or just have some fun with the reader. Descriptive language, sensory details, dialogue, and a great narrative voice are all essentials for making the story come alive.

The Purpose of a Narrative Essay

A narrative essay is more than just a story – it’s a way to share a meaningful, engaging, and relatable experience with the reader. Includes:

Sharing Personal Experience

Narrative essays are a great way for writers to share their personal experiences, feelings, thoughts, and reflections. It’s an opportunity to connect with readers and make them feel something.

Entertainment and Engagement

The essay attempts to keep the reader interested by using descriptive language, storytelling elements, and a powerful voice. It attempts to pull them in and make them feel involved by creating suspense, mystery, or an emotional connection.

Conveying a Message or Insight

Narrative essays are more than just a story – they aim to teach you something. They usually have a moral lesson, a new understanding, or a realization about life that the author gained from the experience.

Building Empathy and Understanding

By telling their stories, people can give others insight into different perspectives, feelings, and situations. Sharing these tales can create compassion in the reader and help broaden their knowledge of different life experiences.

Inspiration and Motivation

Stories about personal struggles, successes, and transformations can be really encouraging to people who are going through similar situations. It can provide them with hope and guidance, and let them know that they’re not alone.

Reflecting on Life’s Significance

These essays usually make you think about the importance of certain moments in life or the impact of certain experiences. They make you look deep within yourself and ponder on the things you learned or how you changed because of those events.

Demonstrating Writing Skills

Coming up with a gripping narrative essay takes serious writing chops, like vivid descriptions, powerful language, timing, and organization. It’s an opportunity for writers to show off their story-telling abilities.

Preserving Personal History

Sometimes narrative essays are used to record experiences and special moments that have an emotional resonance. They can be used to preserve individual memories or for future generations to look back on.

Cultural and Societal Exploration

Personal stories can look at cultural or social aspects, giving us an insight into customs, opinions, or social interactions seen through someone’s own experience.

Format of a Narrative Essay

Narrative essays are quite flexible in terms of format, which allows the writer to tell a story in a creative and compelling way. Here’s a quick breakdown of the narrative essay format, along with some examples:


Set the scene and introduce the story.

Engage the reader and establish the tone of the narrative.

Hook: Start with a captivating opening line to grab the reader’s attention. For instance:

Example:  “The scorching sun beat down on us as we trekked through the desert, our water supply dwindling.”

Background Information: Provide necessary context or background without giving away the entire story.

Example:  “It was the summer of 2015 when I embarked on a life-changing journey to…”

Thesis Statement or Narrative Purpose

Present the main idea or the central message of the essay.

Offer a glimpse of what the reader can expect from the narrative.

Thesis Statement: This isn’t as rigid as in other essays but can be a sentence summarizing the essence of the story.

Example:  “Little did I know, that seemingly ordinary hike would teach me invaluable lessons about resilience and friendship.”

Body Paragraphs

Present the sequence of events in chronological order.

Develop characters, setting, conflict, and resolution.

Story Progression : Describe events in the order they occurred, focusing on details that evoke emotions and create vivid imagery.

Example : Detail the trek through the desert, the challenges faced, interactions with fellow hikers, and the pivotal moments.

Character Development : Introduce characters and their roles in the story. Show their emotions, thoughts, and actions.

Example : Describe how each character reacted to the dwindling water supply and supported each other through adversity.

Dialogue and Interactions : Use dialogue to bring the story to life and reveal character personalities.

Example : “Sarah handed me her last bottle of water, saying, ‘We’re in this together.'”

Reach the peak of the story, the moment of highest tension or significance.

Turning Point: Highlight the most crucial moment or realization in the narrative.

Example:  “As the sun dipped below the horizon and hope seemed lost, a distant sound caught our attention—the rescue team’s helicopters.”

Provide closure to the story.

Reflect on the significance of the experience and its impact.

Reflection : Summarize the key lessons learned or insights gained from the experience.

Example : “That hike taught me the true meaning of resilience and the invaluable support of friendship in challenging times.”

Closing Thought : End with a memorable line that reinforces the narrative’s message or leaves a lasting impression.

Example : “As we boarded the helicopters, I knew this adventure would forever be etched in my heart.”

Example Summary:

Imagine a narrative about surviving a challenging hike through the desert, emphasizing the bonds formed and lessons learned. The narrative essay structure might look like starting with an engaging scene, narrating the hardships faced, showcasing the characters’ resilience, and culminating in a powerful realization about friendship and endurance.

Different Types of Narrative Essays

There are a bunch of different types of narrative essays – each one focuses on different elements of storytelling and has its own purpose. Here’s a breakdown of the narrative essay types and what they mean.

Personal Narrative

Description : Tells a personal story or experience from the writer’s life.

Purpose: Reflects on personal growth, lessons learned, or significant moments.

Example of Narrative Essay Types:

Topic : “The Day I Conquered My Fear of Public Speaking”

Focus: Details the experience, emotions, and eventual triumph over a fear of public speaking during a pivotal event.

Descriptive Narrative

Description : Emphasizes vivid details and sensory imagery.

Purpose : Creates a sensory experience, painting a vivid picture for the reader.

Topic : “A Walk Through the Enchanted Forest”

Focus : Paints a detailed picture of the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings experienced during a walk through a mystical forest.

Autobiographical Narrative

Description: Chronicles significant events or moments from the writer’s life.

Purpose: Provides insights into the writer’s life, experiences, and growth.

Topic: “Lessons from My Childhood: How My Grandmother Shaped Who I Am”

Focus: Explores pivotal moments and lessons learned from interactions with a significant family member.

Experiential Narrative

Description: Relays experiences beyond the writer’s personal life.

Purpose: Shares experiences, travels, or events from a broader perspective.

Topic: “Volunteering in a Remote Village: A Journey of Empathy”

Focus: Chronicles the writer’s volunteering experience, highlighting interactions with a community and personal growth.

Literary Narrative

Description: Incorporates literary elements like symbolism, allegory, or thematic explorations.

Purpose: Uses storytelling for deeper explorations of themes or concepts.

Topic: “The Symbolism of the Red Door: A Journey Through Change”

Focus: Uses a red door as a symbol, exploring its significance in the narrator’s life and the theme of transition.

Historical Narrative

Description: Recounts historical events or periods through a personal lens.

Purpose: Presents history through personal experiences or perspectives.

Topic: “A Grandfather’s Tales: Living Through the Great Depression”

Focus: Shares personal stories from a family member who lived through a historical era, offering insights into that period.

Digital or Multimedia Narrative

Description: Incorporates multimedia elements like images, videos, or audio to tell a story.

Purpose: Explores storytelling through various digital platforms or formats.

Topic: “A Travel Diary: Exploring Europe Through Vlogs”

Focus: Combines video clips, photos, and personal narration to document a travel experience.

How to Choose a Topic for Your Narrative Essay?

Selecting a compelling topic for your narrative essay is crucial as it sets the stage for your storytelling. Choosing a boring topic is one of the narrative essay mistakes to avoid . Here’s a detailed guide on how to choose the right topic:

Reflect on Personal Experiences

  • Significant Moments:

Moments that had a profound impact on your life or shaped your perspective.

Example: A moment of triumph, overcoming a fear, a life-changing decision, or an unforgettable experience.

  • Emotional Resonance:

Events that evoke strong emotions or feelings.

Example: Joy, fear, sadness, excitement, or moments of realization.

  • Lessons Learned:

Experiences that taught you valuable lessons or brought about personal growth.

Example: Challenges that led to personal development, shifts in mindset, or newfound insights.

Explore Unique Perspectives

  • Uncommon Experiences:

Unique or unconventional experiences that might captivate the reader’s interest.

Example: Unusual travels, interactions with different cultures, or uncommon hobbies.

  • Different Points of View:

Stories from others’ perspectives that impacted you deeply.

Example: A family member’s story, a friend’s experience, or a historical event from a personal lens.

Focus on Specific Themes or Concepts

  • Themes or Concepts of Interest:

Themes or ideas you want to explore through storytelling.

Example: Friendship, resilience, identity, cultural diversity, or personal transformation.

  • Symbolism or Metaphor:

Using symbols or metaphors as the core of your narrative.

Example: Exploring the symbolism of an object or a place in relation to a broader theme.

Consider Your Audience and Purpose

  • Relevance to Your Audience:

Topics that resonate with your audience’s interests or experiences.

Example: Choose a relatable theme or experience that your readers might connect with emotionally.

  • Impact or Message:

What message or insight do you want to convey through your story?

Example: Choose a topic that aligns with the message or lesson you aim to impart to your readers.

Brainstorm and Evaluate Ideas

  • Free Writing or Mind Mapping:

Process: Write down all potential ideas without filtering. Mind maps or free-writing exercises can help generate diverse ideas.

  • Evaluate Feasibility:

The depth of the story, the availability of vivid details, and your personal connection to the topic.

Imagine you’re considering topics for a narrative essay. You reflect on your experiences and decide to explore the topic of “Overcoming Stage Fright: How a School Play Changed My Perspective.” This topic resonates because it involves a significant challenge you faced and the personal growth it brought about.

Narrative Essay Topics

50 easy narrative essay topics.

  • Learning to Ride a Bike
  • My First Day of School
  • A Surprise Birthday Party
  • The Day I Got Lost
  • Visiting a Haunted House
  • An Encounter with a Wild Animal
  • My Favorite Childhood Toy
  • The Best Vacation I Ever Had
  • An Unforgettable Family Gathering
  • Conquering a Fear of Heights
  • A Special Gift I Received
  • Moving to a New City
  • The Most Memorable Meal
  • Getting Caught in a Rainstorm
  • An Act of Kindness I Witnessed
  • The First Time I Cooked a Meal
  • My Experience with a New Hobby
  • The Day I Met My Best Friend
  • A Hike in the Mountains
  • Learning a New Language
  • An Embarrassing Moment
  • Dealing with a Bully
  • My First Job Interview
  • A Sporting Event I Attended
  • The Scariest Dream I Had
  • Helping a Stranger
  • The Joy of Achieving a Goal
  • A Road Trip Adventure
  • Overcoming a Personal Challenge
  • The Significance of a Family Tradition
  • An Unusual Pet I Owned
  • A Misunderstanding with a Friend
  • Exploring an Abandoned Building
  • My Favorite Book and Why
  • The Impact of a Role Model
  • A Cultural Celebration I Participated In
  • A Valuable Lesson from a Teacher
  • A Trip to the Zoo
  • An Unplanned Adventure
  • Volunteering Experience
  • A Moment of Forgiveness
  • A Decision I Regretted
  • A Special Talent I Have
  • The Importance of Family Traditions
  • The Thrill of Performing on Stage
  • A Moment of Sudden Inspiration
  • The Meaning of Home
  • Learning to Play a Musical Instrument
  • A Childhood Memory at the Park
  • Witnessing a Beautiful Sunset

Narrative Essay Topics for College Students

  • Discovering a New Passion
  • Overcoming Academic Challenges
  • Navigating Cultural Differences
  • Embracing Independence: Moving Away from Home
  • Exploring Career Aspirations
  • Coping with Stress in College
  • The Impact of a Mentor in My Life
  • Balancing Work and Studies
  • Facing a Fear of Public Speaking
  • Exploring a Semester Abroad
  • The Evolution of My Study Habits
  • Volunteering Experience That Changed My Perspective
  • The Role of Technology in Education
  • Finding Balance: Social Life vs. Academics
  • Learning a New Skill Outside the Classroom
  • Reflecting on Freshman Year Challenges
  • The Joys and Struggles of Group Projects
  • My Experience with Internship or Work Placement
  • Challenges of Time Management in College
  • Redefining Success Beyond Grades
  • The Influence of Literature on My Thinking
  • The Impact of Social Media on College Life
  • Overcoming Procrastination
  • Lessons from a Leadership Role
  • Exploring Diversity on Campus
  • Exploring Passion for Environmental Conservation
  • An Eye-Opening Course That Changed My Perspective
  • Living with Roommates: Challenges and Lessons
  • The Significance of Extracurricular Activities
  • The Influence of a Professor on My Academic Journey
  • Discussing Mental Health in College
  • The Evolution of My Career Goals
  • Confronting Personal Biases Through Education
  • The Experience of Attending a Conference or Symposium
  • Challenges Faced by Non-Native English Speakers in College
  • The Impact of Traveling During Breaks
  • Exploring Identity: Cultural or Personal
  • The Impact of Music or Art on My Life
  • Addressing Diversity in the Classroom
  • Exploring Entrepreneurial Ambitions
  • My Experience with Research Projects
  • Overcoming Impostor Syndrome in College
  • The Importance of Networking in College
  • Finding Resilience During Tough Times
  • The Impact of Global Issues on Local Perspectives
  • The Influence of Family Expectations on Education
  • Lessons from a Part-Time Job
  • Exploring the College Sports Culture
  • The Role of Technology in Modern Education
  • The Journey of Self-Discovery Through Education

Narrative Essay Comparison

Narrative essay vs. descriptive essay.

Here’s our first narrative essay comparison! While both narrative and descriptive essays focus on vividly portraying a subject or an event, they differ in their primary objectives and approaches. Now, let’s delve into the nuances of comparison on narrative essays.

Narrative Essay:

Storytelling: Focuses on narrating a personal experience or event.

Chronological Order: Follows a structured timeline of events to tell a story.

Message or Lesson: Often includes a central message, moral, or lesson learned from the experience.

Engagement: Aims to captivate the reader through a compelling storyline and character development.

First-Person Perspective: Typically narrated from the writer’s point of view, using “I” and expressing personal emotions and thoughts.

Plot Development: Emphasizes a plot with a beginning, middle, climax, and resolution.

Character Development: Focuses on describing characters, their interactions, emotions, and growth.

Conflict or Challenge: Usually involves a central conflict or challenge that drives the narrative forward.

Dialogue: Incorporates conversations to bring characters and their interactions to life.

Reflection: Concludes with reflection or insight gained from the experience.

Descriptive Essay:

Vivid Description: Aims to vividly depict a person, place, object, or event.

Imagery and Details: Focuses on sensory details to create a vivid image in the reader’s mind.

Emotion through Description: Uses descriptive language to evoke emotions and engage the reader’s senses.

Painting a Picture: Creates a sensory-rich description allowing the reader to visualize the subject.

Imagery and Sensory Details: Focuses on providing rich sensory descriptions, using vivid language and adjectives.

Point of Focus: Concentrates on describing a specific subject or scene in detail.

Spatial Organization: Often employs spatial organization to describe from one area or aspect to another.

Objective Observations: Typically avoids the use of personal opinions or emotions; instead, the focus remains on providing a detailed and objective description.


Focus: Narrative essays emphasize storytelling, while descriptive essays focus on vividly describing a subject or scene.

Perspective: Narrative essays are often written from a first-person perspective, while descriptive essays may use a more objective viewpoint.

Purpose: Narrative essays aim to convey a message or lesson through a story, while descriptive essays aim to paint a detailed picture for the reader without necessarily conveying a specific message.

Narrative Essay vs. Argumentative Essay

The narrative essay and the argumentative essay serve distinct purposes and employ different approaches:

Engagement and Emotion: Aims to captivate the reader through a compelling story.

Reflective: Often includes reflection on the significance of the experience or lessons learned.

First-Person Perspective: Typically narrated from the writer’s point of view, sharing personal emotions and thoughts.

Plot Development: Emphasizes a storyline with a beginning, middle, climax, and resolution.

Message or Lesson: Conveys a central message, moral, or insight derived from the experience.

Argumentative Essay:

Persuasion and Argumentation: Aims to persuade the reader to adopt the writer’s viewpoint on a specific topic.

Logical Reasoning: Presents evidence, facts, and reasoning to support a particular argument or stance.

Debate and Counterarguments: Acknowledge opposing views and counter them with evidence and reasoning.

Thesis Statement: Includes a clear thesis statement that outlines the writer’s position on the topic.

Thesis and Evidence: Starts with a strong thesis statement and supports it with factual evidence, statistics, expert opinions, or logical reasoning.

Counterarguments: Addresses opposing viewpoints and provides rebuttals with evidence.

Logical Structure: Follows a logical structure with an introduction, body paragraphs presenting arguments and evidence, and a conclusion reaffirming the thesis.

Formal Language: Uses formal language and avoids personal anecdotes or emotional appeals.

Objective: Argumentative essays focus on presenting a logical argument supported by evidence, while narrative essays prioritize storytelling and personal reflection.

Purpose: Argumentative essays aim to persuade and convince the reader of a particular viewpoint, while narrative essays aim to engage, entertain, and share personal experiences.

Structure: Narrative essays follow a storytelling structure with character development and plot, while argumentative essays follow a more formal, structured approach with logical arguments and evidence.

In essence, while both essays involve writing and presenting information, the narrative essay focuses on sharing a personal experience, whereas the argumentative essay aims to persuade the audience by presenting a well-supported argument.

Narrative Essay vs. Personal Essay

While there can be an overlap between narrative and personal essays, they have distinctive characteristics:

Storytelling: Emphasizes recounting a specific experience or event in a structured narrative form.

Engagement through Story: Aims to engage the reader through a compelling story with characters, plot, and a central theme or message.

Reflective: Often includes reflection on the significance of the experience and the lessons learned.

First-Person Perspective: Typically narrated from the writer’s viewpoint, expressing personal emotions and thoughts.

Plot Development: Focuses on developing a storyline with a clear beginning, middle, climax, and resolution.

Character Development: Includes descriptions of characters, their interactions, emotions, and growth.

Central Message: Conveys a central message, moral, or insight derived from the experience.

Personal Essay:

Exploration of Ideas or Themes: Explores personal ideas, opinions, or reflections on a particular topic or subject.

Expression of Thoughts and Opinions: Expresses the writer’s thoughts, feelings, and perspectives on a specific subject matter.

Reflection and Introspection: Often involves self-reflection and introspection on personal experiences, beliefs, or values.

Varied Structure and Content: Can encompass various forms, including memoirs, personal anecdotes, or reflections on life experiences.

Flexibility in Structure: Allows for diverse structures and forms based on the writer’s intent, which could be narrative-like or more reflective.

Theme-Centric Writing: Focuses on exploring a central theme or idea, with personal anecdotes or experiences supporting and illustrating the theme.

Expressive Language: Utilizes descriptive and expressive language to convey personal perspectives, emotions, and opinions.

Focus: Narrative essays primarily focus on storytelling through a structured narrative, while personal essays encompass a broader range of personal expression, which can include storytelling but isn’t limited to it.

Structure: Narrative essays have a more structured plot development with characters and a clear sequence of events, while personal essays might adopt various structures, focusing more on personal reflection, ideas, or themes.

Intent: While both involve personal experiences, narrative essays emphasize telling a story with a message or lesson learned, while personal essays aim to explore personal thoughts, feelings, or opinions on a broader range of topics or themes.

5 Easy Steps for Writing a Narrative Essay

A narrative essay is more than just telling a story. It’s also meant to engage the reader, get them thinking, and leave a lasting impact. Whether it’s to amuse, motivate, teach, or reflect, these essays are a great way to communicate with your audience. This interesting narrative essay guide was all about letting you understand the narrative essay, its importance, and how can you write one.

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ways to start narrative essays

Creative Truth Telling 101: How to Write a Narrative Essay

ways to start narrative essays

Most people get their first introduction to the art of narrative essays through cookie-cutter school assignments or high-pressure college applications. But here’s a fun fact a lot of folks don’t know:

Writing a narrative essay can be fun .

When you’re not under pressure to impress someone who holds your academic fate in their hands, an essay can be a thrilling tool for self-expression and even self-discovery. 

But first, you gotta understand the art form. You and I are going to make that happen right now. We’re about to cover all your most pressing narrative essay questions, from what it is to how to write one. You’ll also get some suggestions for narrative essay examples worth checking out.

Let’s start with a definition:

What is a Narrative Essay?

A hand holding a blue pen writes in a notebook.

A narrative essay tells a true story from a first-person point of view . 

It’s often a personal story drawn from the author’s own life, but it doesn’t have to be. You could write a narrative essay about an event you observed or learned about through research and interviews.

What matters is that you’re telling a story rather than reporting on facts. There’s a narrative arc incorporating character development , conflict , themes , and a vivid, relevant setting . You’re basically involving all the elements of fiction, except for the part where everything is made up.

Narrative essays fall under the heading of creative nonfiction . That means the stories are true, but instead of merely conveying information, the goal is to engage readers emotionally, express a personal perspective, or explore a topic in greater depth.

A narrative essay is usually somewhere between 1,000 and 5,000 words long, but it could be as much as 15,000-20,000 words.

Narrative Essay Examples

You’ve likely written a narrative essay before. If you ever had to write about a time when you overcame hardship for a college application or a teacher asked you to write about your summer vacation, you’ve already dipped your toe into this particular art form.

But you can easily find narrative essays beyond the walls of academia, too. 

The New York Times’ famous “Modern Love” column consists of real-life stories about human relationships. 

Authors like Samantha Irby , Jenny Lawson , and David Sedaris write essay collections filled with hilarious narratives from their own lives, some of which touch on profound themes.

Roxane Gay uses the art of the narrative essay to explore social issues in the more intimate context of her personal experience. And Joan Didion was famous for making every essay feel personal, even when she was telling someone else’s story.

As you study these and other experienced writers in the genre, you’ll find that there are endless ways to tackle a true story. 

The Role of Storytelling in a Narrative Essay

Okay, so obviously, storytelling is the defining feature of a narrative essay. But why? Why not just present the facts?

It all comes down to giving readers the feels . Most narrative essays aim to communicate not just factual truth but emotional truth. 

An author might write a narrative essay about antiquing with their mother. Their goal isn’t to inform people about what their mom bought and why. It’s to express something more abstract about parent/child relationships or the passage of time or whatever.

They’re using concrete events to illustrate a much deeper theme. And storytelling is a more effective tool than fact-spewing because it engages the reader emotionally, helping them connect with that profound emotional truth.

Pre-Writing Phase: Planning Your Narrative

A project planning notebook lies open on a desk beside a cup of coffee, a watch, and three gold binder clips.

In a moment, we’re going to talk about how to write a narrative essay. 

But first, you’re going to want to do a little prep work. How much you do is entirely up to you. Some writers are plotters who like to have everything figured out before they write their essay. Some are pantsers who find their story as they go.

While I land closer to the plotter end of the spectrum as a fiction writer, I veer more towards pantsing when it comes to narrative essays. Probably because I don’t have to dream up all the raw material. It’s already there, rolling around in my memory, and I won’t know what I want to say about it until I start writing.

You do you. But I recommend giving your narrative essay at least a little thought before you dive in.   

Choosing a Topic

Hands hold several Polaroid photos fanned out, showing different images.

First, figure out what you want to write about. You can start with a specific personal experience, like that time you picked up a hitchhiker.

If no interesting life events spring to mind, you can start with a theme instead.

Maybe you want to write about your personal definition of love. Or the homelessness crisis in your city. Start there and brainstorm real-life stories that connect to your main idea.

If you have no idea what you want to write about, here are some open-ended prompts to get the wheels turning:

Narrative Essay Writing Prompts

  • What’s your earliest childhood memory?
  • What’s your core belief regarding love, forgiveness, family, or justice? How did you come to hold that belief?
  • What seemingly insignificant moment had a massive impact on your life?
  • What needs to change in society? If you could tell the world one story to help them understand why that change is necessary, what would it be?
  • How do you define joy? What moment in your life illustrates that best?
  • How do you define loss? What moment in your life illustrates that best?
  • Is there a painful moment in your life that you’ll be eternally grateful for?
  • What about a joyful moment you’ve come to regret?

Brainstorming Your Content

A gray notebook and yellow pencil sit on a blue and green background.

Once you’ve chosen a topic, you’re ready to start thinking about your story in more detail.

Jot down the basic arc of your story. What happened? Who was involved? What did you learn?

Pinpoint the most relevant details. The challenge of writing about our own lives is that we know everything—what we ate for breakfast, how much the bus ticket cost, the elderly neighbor’s maiden name. 

Review your notes, looking for details that have the potential to clarify your theme and those that are more likely to drag down your story with unnecessary information.

It might also be a good idea to zoom out and see if there are any other personal experiences worth tying into your essay. Maybe the narrative essay about antiquing with your mother would benefit from a one-paragraph flashback to the time when you went with her to visit her own mother in assisted living. 

Mindmaps and freewriting are both great tools for this type of brainstorming. You can learn more about how to do them here .

Creating an Outline

If you’re a planner, you’ll probably want to outline your narrative essay before you start writing. So let’s talk structure real quick.

In school, you probably learned that a good essay starts with an introduction containing a thesis statement followed by multiple supporting paragraphs. But now you’re writing a narrative essay, which means your readers are expecting a story. 

Skip the thesis statement. You still have a main point to make, but that point is called a theme and you’re making it by weaving it into a traditional story structure .

In fact, think of this more like a short story that’s true. A protagonist (probably you) has a goal but faces obstacles in pursuit of that goal. This conflict forces them to either make a bold decision or undergo some internal transformation, possibly both. 

Lay out your narrative so it’s not just a series of events, it’s an actual story arc. Sprinkle in flashbacks and alternating timelines as needed, and make sure to track the way your themes and emotional truth unfold over the course of the story. 

Pro tip: The Dabble Plot Grid is a huge help for stuff like this.

Drafting Your Essay

Behind a window reflecting streetlights, a writer sits in a café holding a cup of coffee and typing on a laptop.

Time for the fun stuff. Let’s dig in and actually write a narrative essay.

We’ll go over the key elements of a good narrative essay, but first I want to talk prose .

As I mentioned earlier, this is narrative writing, which means you’re going to treat it as if you were writing fiction.

This means you’re going to use the same language tricks you’d use when writing a novel. Figurative language, vivid sensory details, literary devices like foreshadowing and irony … all that fun stuff.

I also recommend checking out these submission tips straight from the editors of “Modern Love.” It’s created for writers who plan to submit their work to “Modern Love” (and much of the advice is several years old), but it also offers outstanding tips for creating a compelling narrative essay in any context. 

Okay, let’s get to writing.

Crafting the Hook

Kick off your narrative essay with an interesting hook —something that immediately draws the reader in and makes them want to stick around to see where this is going.

Great hooks come in many forms, including:

  • An interesting setting
  • A shocking opening line
  • A controversial claim
  • A compelling question
  • An impossible dilemma
  • A fascinating character 

Pinpoint the thing that’s most likely to snag your reader’s attention and get to it right away. Like, in the first sentence. Check out this article for tips on writing a stellar opening line.

Setting the Stage

A pretty café patio with tropical plants, string lights, and white bistro tables.

The setting of a narrative essay is as essential as the setting of a novel. Use vivid details to draw readers into your world. 

Stick with concrete descriptive language instead of speaking in the abstract. Don’t say it was a beautiful day; show the reader dappled sunlight shivering through the gaps in the leaves. This makes it easier for your audience to disappear inside your story and connect with it emotionally.

You can use these worksheets to practice the “show, don’t tell” approach to descriptive writing.

Also remember that a setting is more than physical space. Is there anything your readers should understand about the culture or political climate your story takes place in?

Developing Characters

You may not think of character development as an essential skill for writing a narrative essay. After all, you’re dealing with the truth. The people in your story are who they are.

Nevertheless, you’ve got to think like a storyteller. That means considering how each person contributes to the narrative. How do these individuals move the story forward? How are they changed because of the experience? 

Because most narrative essays are personal stories, the author is typically the main character. That means you’ve got to give yourself the protagonist treatment , going deep on your own goals, motivations , fears , strengths, and weaknesses within the story.

Who are you at the beginning of the story? Who have you become by the end? A great narrative essay reveals a journey of growth—a character arc —no matter how big or small.

Introducing the Conflict

Two people arm wrestling in black and white.

Speaking of personal growth, you need a clear conflict to set your journey in motion.

Now, as an essayist, you don’t face the same pressures a novelist faces—at least not when it comes to crafting nail-biter conflicts. While some narrative essays explore shocking, life-altering conflicts, others reflect on the deeper symbolism of small moments like burning a cake or enduring a humiliating job interview.

So don’t worry about going big if you’re not writing about a major life event. Just focus on creating tension, helping the reader empathize with the protagonist’s (your) emotions, and revealing the theme that explains why this seemingly minor conflict is worth writing about.

Advancing the Plot

In all good stories, things get worse before they get better.

But what if, in the true story you’re telling, they didn’t? What if there was just one conflict and then it ended?

Not a problem. The external conflict—the tough diagnosis or the fight you had with your cousin—is only half of the central conflict, anyway. The other half is the internal conflict —whatever battle you were fighting with yourself in that moment.

And when it comes to narrative essays, internal conflict is huge . 

This includes stuff like:

  • Moral dilemmas
  • Identity crises
  • Spiritual crises
  • Conflicting feelings about other people
  • Plummeting self-confidence

The beauty of writing a narrative essay is that you get to zoom into small moments. You can tell a 100-year story in an essay if you want to. But you can also write about the 30 minutes you spent trying to get an oil stain off your driveway if each failed attempt triggers the perfectionist tendencies you’re trying to overcome.

You can also heighten the conflict of your narrative essay by demonstrating that the issue is bigger than this one moment in your life. Maybe it reflects a larger societal problem, in which case, reflect on that! Let it add dimension to your personal journey. You might even incorporate statistics or a news story if it fits your writing style .

Resolving the Narrative

A satisfying ending is no less important in a narrative essay than it is in a work of fiction. The challenge, of course, is that we can only work with what actually happened.

This is why it’s so important to build the internal conflict. Your satisfying conclusion is going to come from your personal growth. How did the experience change you? What did you discover about yourself?

Who have you become by the time you’re sitting alone in the middle of your driveway with your steel wool and bucket, willing yourself to make peace with the stain?

Read a ton of narrative essays and pay attention to the endings that shake your soul. Great authors know how to spin a powerful conclusion out of a moment that looks mundane on the outside.

Polishing Your Narrative Essay

A smiling person holds a bottle of cleaning solution and a rag.

So you’ve written the first draft of your essay. Now what?

It’s time to make this baby shine. That means several rounds of self-editing, sharing your work for feedback, more editing, and finally a little proofreading.

If that sounds like a lot of work, it is. But these steps are key if you hope to publish your masterpiece in a magazine or essay collection. 

So let’s get to it.


In this phase, you are your only editor. For the most part, anyway. You might have an alpha reader or a critique partner to help you workshop problem areas in your first draft. 

But generally speaking, it’s best to do as much revising as you can before you start seeking feedback from others. That way, your readers don’t waste any time (and you don’t waste any favors) pointing out issues you could’ve found and fixed on your own.

I recommend doing a few rounds of self-edits, focusing first on big-picture things like structure and flow, gradually moving your focus down to smaller details like syntax, word choice, and grammar.

You can find more self-editing tips here .

Seeking Feedback

Two writers sit in front of a laptop, discussing something.

Once you’ve made all the improvements you can make on your own, you’re ready for outside input. 

Reach out to fellow essayists and essay readers. Ask if they’d be willing to read your manuscript and provide honest feedback, and give them a clear (and generous) time frame for when you hope to receive their notes.

It’s always a little uncomfortable to invite critiques of your work, but this process is key for making your narrative essay the best it can be. You don’t have to incorporate all the feedback you get, but make sure you express gratitude whether you agree with their notes or not.

You can learn more about the feedback process here .

Final Polish

After you’ve completed several revisions and taken advantage of all that insightful feedback, you’ll hopefully have a compelling narrative essay you feel great about. 

The only thing left to do is scour it for remaining typos, grammatical errors, punctuation problems, formatting issues, or any other tedious issue that could potentially distract from its brilliance.

Once you’ve polished your narrative essay, you’re ready for the next step, whether that means submitting your masterpiece to literary magazines, pitching it to glossies , publishing it in an essay collection…

…or even just sitting yourself back down at the keyboard to get started on the next one.

Master the Art of Narrative

Now that you’ve nailed the basics of how to write a narrative essay, you’re ready for a deeper dive into the art of narrative writing. And you can learn how to tell a compelling story right here in DabbleU .

Browse DabbleU for hundreds of free articles and resources on character development, conflict, setting, prose, and more. Find inspiration and learn what it takes to build a writing routine and become a published author .

You can also have great tips delivered right to your inbox every week when you sign up for our free newsletter. There’s no spam—just loads of guidance to help you tell a good story. Click here to subscribe.

Abi Wurdeman is the author of Cross-Section of a Human Heart: A Memoir of Early Adulthood, as well as the novella, Holiday Gifts for Insufferable People. She also writes for film and television with her brother and writing partner, Phil Wurdeman. On occasion, Abi pretends to be a poet. One of her poems is (legally) stamped into a sidewalk in Santa Clarita, California. When she’s not writing, Abi is most likely hiking, reading, or texting her mother pictures of her houseplants to ask why they look like that.


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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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We’re glad it was helpful, Mary!

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How to Write a Narrative Essay A Step by Step Guide Featured

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How to Write a Narrative Essay — A Step-by-Step Guide

N arrative essays are important papers most students have to write. But how does one write a narrative essay? Fear not, we’re going to show you how to write a narrative essay by breaking down a variety of narrative writing strategies. By the end, you’ll know why narrative essays are so important – and how to write your own.

How to Write a Narrative Essay Step by Step

Background on narrative essays.

Narrative essays are important assignments in many writing classes – but 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 a narrative essay should take place in an established timeline, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. 

In simplest terms, a narrative essay is a personal story. A narrative essay can be written in response to a prompt or as an independent exercise.

We’re going to get to tips and tricks on how to write a narrative essay in a bit, but first let’s check out a video on “story.” 

How to Start a Narrative Essay  •  What is a Story? by Mr. Kresphus

In some regards, any story can be regarded as a personal story, but for the sake of this article, we’re going to focus on prose-written stories told in the first-person POV.

How to Start a Narrative Essay

Responding to prompts.

Many people wonder about how to start a narrative essay. Well, if you’re writing a narrative essay in response to a prompt, then chances are the person issuing the prompt is looking for a specific answer.

For example: if the prompt states “recount a time you encountered a challenge,” then chances are the person issuing the prompt wants to hear about how you overcame a challenge or learned from it.

That isn’t to say you have to respond to the prompt in one way; “overcoming” or “learning” from a challenge can be constituted in a variety of ways.

For example, you could structure your essay around overcoming a physical challenge, like an injury or disability. Or you could structure your essay around learning from failure, such as losing at a sport or performing poorly on an important exam.

Whatever it is, you must show that the challenge forced you to grow. 

Maturation is an important process – and an essential aspect of narrative essays... of course, there are exceptions to the rule; lack of maturation is a prescient theme in narrative essays too; although that’s mostly reserved for experienced essay writers.

So, let’s take a look at how you might respond to a series of narrative essay prompts:

How successful are you?

This prompt begs the writer to impart humility without throwing a pity party. I would respond to this prompt by demonstrating pride in what I do while offering modesty. For example: “I have achieved success in what I set out to do – but I still have a long way to go to achieve my long-term goals.”

Who is your role model?

“My role model is [Blank] because ” is how you should start this narrative essay. The “because” is the crux of your essay. For example, I’d say “Bill Russell is my role model because he demonstrated graceful resolve in the face of bigotry and discrimination. 

Do you consider yourself spiritual?

For this prompt, you should explain how you came to the conclusion of whether or not you consider yourself a spiritual person. Of course, prompt-givers will differ on how much they want you to freely express. For example: if the prompt-giver is an employee at an evangelizing organization, then they probably want to see that you’re willing to propagate the church’s agenda. Alternatively, if the prompt-giver is non-denominational, they probably want to see that you’re accepting of people from various spiritual backgrounds.

How to Write Narrative Essay

What makes a good narrative essay.

You don’t have to respond to a prompt to write a narrative essay. So, how do you write a narrative essay without a prompt? Well, that’s the thing… you can write a narrative essay about anything!

That’s a bit of a blessing and a curse though – on one hand it’s liberating to choose any topic you want; on the other, it’s difficult to narrow down a good story from an infinite breadth of possibilities.

In this next video, the team at Essay Pro explores why passion is the number one motivator for effective narrative essays.

How to Write a Narrative Essay Step by Step  •  Real Essay Examples by Essay Pro

So, before you write anything, ask yourself: “what am I passionate about?” Movies? Sports? Books? Games? Baking? Volunteering? Whatever it is, make sure that it’s something that demonstrates your individual growth . It doesn’t have to be anything major; take a video game for example: you could write a narrative essay about searching for a rare weapon with friends.

Success or failure, you’ll be able to demonstrate growth.

Here’s something to consider: writing a narrative essay around intertextuality. What is intertextuality ? Intertextuality is the relationship between texts, i.e., books, movies, plays, songs, games, etc. In other words, it’s anytime one text is referenced in another text.

For example, you could write a narrative essay about your favorite movie! Just make sure that it ultimately reflects back on yourself. 

Narrative Writing Format

Structure of a narrative essay.

Narrative essays differ in length and structure – but there are some universal basics. The first paragraph of a narrative essay should always introduce the central theme. For example, if the narrative essay is about “a fond childhood memory,” then the first paragraph should briefly comment on the nature of the fond childhood memory.

In general, a narrative essay should have an introductory paragraph with a topic sentence (reiterating the prompt or basic idea), a brief commentary on the central theme, and a set-up for the body paragraphs.

The body paragraphs should make up the vast majority of the narrative essay. In the body paragraphs, the writer should essentially “build the story’s case.” What do I mean by “build the story’s case?”

Well, I mean that the writer should display the story’s merit; what it means, why it matters, and how it proves (or refutes) personal growth.

The narrative essay should always conclude with a dedicated paragraph. In the “conclusion paragraph,” the writer should reflect on the story.

Pro tip: conclusion paragraphs usually work best when the writer stays within the diegesis. 

What is a Video Essay?

A video essay is a natural extension of a narrative essay; differentiated only by purpose and medium. In our next article, we’ll explain what a video essay is, and why it’s so important to media criticism. By the end, you’ll know where to look for video essay inspiration.

Up Next: The Art of Video Analysis →

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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
  • No Comments
  • 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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  • Tags: Academic Writing , Essay , Essay Writing

The narrative essay is a unique and creative form of academic writing. It tests your ability to narrate personal anecdotes in a structured, meaningful, and engaging manner. This type of writing vastly differs from other academic writing types, which rely more on facts and statistics. 

In this article, we’re going to understand what is a narrative essay, how to write one, and its various types with the help of plenty of examples. We have also provided a narrative essay outline to help you craft a foolproof essay. But before we get into all of that, let’s start with something simple: what’s a narrative essay in the first place?

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What is a narrative essay?

A narrative essay is a highly creative form of academic writing which involves recounting personal anecdotes in an organized and climactic format. Although not as frequently used as expository essays or argumentative essays , this type of essay is a common requirement in high schools and creative writing courses in colleges. A personal statement is also a common requirement for many college admissions. 

A narrative essay uses literary devices such as similes, metaphors, and alliteration that add depth and character to your essay. The objective is to express yourself in a creative and compelling way, and not just convey information.

Now that you understand the narrative essay definition, it’s time to look at some common topics you may have to write on.

Topics for a narrative essay

Narrative essay topics can range from a personal narrative and specific essay topics to loose open-ended prompts. Let’s better understand this with the help of a few good narrative essay topics.

Here are a few topics. 

1. Write about your last day of school.

2. Write about your favorite book and your interpretation of its message.

3. An awkward encounter that led to a long-lasting friendship.

4. Your favorite vacation.

5. The moment you realized, you’re finally an adult.

Here are a few narrative essay examples of open-ended prompts.

1. Describe a life changing event and how it impacted you.

2. What is your favorite childhood memory? 

3. A personal accomplishment that you are proud of and how it has shaped you as a person.

4. The time when you overcame a fear or obstacle and how it helped you grow as a person.

5. A moment of personal growth and reflection that helped you realize something important about yourself.

Here are a few personal narrative essay topics.

1. The moment you realized what you wanted to do with your life.

2. A time when you felt like an outsider and how you dealt with it.

3. A moment when you had to make a difficult moral decision.

4. An experience that changed your perspective on a particular issue.

5. A personal passion or interest and how it has impacted your life.

Narrative essay structure

Although less formulaic than an expository or argumentative essay, your narrative essay format still needs to be well-structured and cohesive for it to be impactful. Like all essay types, the narrative format essay consists of an introduction, body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph. However, this structure is less rigid than most essay types and mainly serves as a guideline. 

Let’s look at the main components of the structure of a narrative essay.

1. Introduction

In order to write a well-structured narrative essay, you need to know how to start it. The introduction of a narrative essay plays a crucial role in capturing the reader’s attention and setting the stage for the story that follows. 

A good introduction should include three key elements. First, an attractive, eye-catching opening statement that intrigues the reader and creates suspense. Second, background information that provides context for the story. Finally, a central idea or narrative that serves as a foundation of the story. 

Here are examples of a narrative essay introduction:

  • Background information
  • Central idea

As I stepped off the plane and took my first breath of the humid air, I knew my life was about to change forever. The next few weeks would be filled with new experiences, new people, and a new perspective that would stay with me for a long time. My study trip to Costa Rica was an unforgettable experience that had a significant impact on me.

2. Body paragraph

You can showcase most of your creative writing skills in the body paragraphs of your narrative essay. Use a topic sentence to introduce each experience, provide detailed elaboration, and conclude with a key takeaway or moral.

The body paragraphs of a narrative essay are also used to showcase numerous artistic elements. These elements may include the introduction of fresh characters, vivid descriptions of settings, subtle hints toward the conclusion, and the build-up of a pivotal event or a climactic situation. You can use these elements to transform a boring piece of writing into an impactful and captivating essay. 

Here’s an example of a vivid and highly descriptive body paragraph:

  • Topic sentence with descriptions of setting
  • Sensory descriptors elaborating the topic sentences
  • Key takeaway

The moment I set foot on Central American soil, I was welcomed by the tropical rainforest, the vibrant colors of the flowers, and the sounds of exotic birds. The air was filled with the sweet scent of fresh fruits, and I could feel the warmth of the sun on my skin. This trip was not only a cultural and educational experience, but it was also an adventure of a lifetime.

3. Conclusion

When writing the conclusion of a narrative essay, it’s important to include three essential elements: an updated version of your thesis statement, reflections on all your experiences, and your final thoughts and key takeaways. 

You can remind your readers of the central idea you explored throughout your essay, by revisiting your thesis statement. Reflecting on your experiences allows you to explore the personal impact of your narrative. Whereas, your final thoughts help in providing a cohesive and impactful summary of your message.

Here’s an example of a strong conclusion:

  • Updated thesis statement
  • Reflections on experiences
  • Final thought

My study trip to Costa Rica was certainly a transformative experience. This trip taught me how to approach the world with an open mind and strive in the face of difficulties. It also inspired me to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Experiencing the rich culture of Costa Rica is something I would highly recommend to all students. It’s an opportunity to break free from our comfort zones, challenge our perspectives, and immerse ourselves in a world of stunning natural beauty.  

Now that we’ve looked at how to structure a narrative essay, let’s move on to writing a narrative essay.

How to write a narrative essay

Writing narrative essays is not just about telling a captivating story, but also about communicating a message to the reader. Although less formal than other types of essays, it still requires a coherent sequence of events, a clear central idea, a moral or message, and a structured outline.

Let’s understand how to write a narrative essay step by step. 

1. Choose an appropriate topic.

While essay topics are often predetermined, certain classes may give you the freedom to select your own topic. When choosing a topic for your narrative essay, it is crucial to consider the message that you want to convey. 

Simply recounting a one-dimensional, uneventful story can bore the reader. It is necessary to keep the reader in mind and choose an engaging story topic. This topic should encompass surprising plot twists, a recurring theme, and a significant takeaway or moral.

Here are a few examples of narrative essay topics for college:

Describe a moment in your life that challenged your beliefs or values and forced you to reconsider your perspective.

Describe a time in your life when you faced a difficult decision that required you to choose between two equally compelling options.

2. Form a central idea.

Your narrative essay should revolve around a central idea or theme, which is similar to a thesis statement. This idea should be unique and have a moral or message that sets the tone for your entire essay. Keep in mind that the central idea is crucial to your essay, so choose one carefully and make sure it’s unique and impactful.

Here are a few examples of central ideas:

Growing up as a first-generation immigrant, I faced several setbacks. But these setbacks motivated me to overcome language barriers and also taught me the value of hard work, and determination.

My journey of learning a new language in a foreign country challenged me in ways I never imagined. However, it also taught me the importance of persistence, adaptability, and embracing discomfort to achieve personal growth and success.

3. Construct an essay outline. 

While a narrative essay allows for a great deal of creative expression, it still sticks to a loose structure that includes a clear beginning, middle, and end. A well-organized narrative allows readers to follow and understand your story. Before writing your essay it’s crucial to answer key questions in your narrative essay outline. 

Here are a few questions you need to answer before starting your essay:

  • What central idea or message do I want to convey through my essay?
  • Which personal experiences and anecdotes will best support my central idea?
  • In what ways can I incorporate dialogues or other creative expressions to enhance my essay?
  • How can I effectively structure my essay to ensure it flows cohesively and logically?
  • What techniques can I use to build up to a climactic end that leaves a lasting impression on the reader?
  • What key takeaway do I want my audience to have after reading my essay?

4. Begin writing your essay.

The narrative essay differs from other forms of essay writing and typically follows a chronological order. Hence, it’s advisable to start by fleshing out your introduction and providing sufficient background information to give relevance to your central idea.

Written in the first-person point of view, the narrative essay shares several similarities with a short story. These include a clear plot structure with a beginning, middle, and end, vivid and detailed settings, a climactic point or peak, dialogues, and a key takeaway or moral. These elements can be incorporated to add depth and dimension to your essay.

Narrative essay outline

An outline for a narrative essay differs significantly from that of an evidence-based essay. The narrative essay outline provides structure and coherence to your essay, helping you map out a clear and logical flow of your ideas. This can guide your writing and help ensure that your story is well-organized, engaging, and effectively conveys your central message.

Here’s an example of a personal narrative essay outline that focuses on the challenges of low self-esteem and the ways to overcome them.

Journey to Self-Acceptance

I. Introduction

A. Hook: Start with an anecdote or a shocking statistic that highlights the rampantness of low self-esteem.

B. Background information: Explain what low self-esteem is, how it affects people, and how it can manifest in different ways.

C. Thesis statement: Describe your challenges with low self-esteem and how you overcame them.

II. Tackling Challenges

A. Describe the situation that challenged your self-esteem, such as a particular event or a persistent feeling.

B. Explain how it affected your life, such as your relationships, academic and professional performance, or your mental health.

C. Share your thoughts and feelings about the situation, and how they contributed to your low self-esteem.

III. Seeking Help

A. Describe how you recognized that you needed help, and what motivated you to seek it.

B. Discuss the steps you took, such as talking to a friend or therapist.

C. Explain the challenges you faced, such as stigma, fear of judgment, or financial barriers.

IV. Building Self-Esteem

A. Describe the strategies you used to build your self-esteem, such as positive self-talk, affirmations, or therapy.

B. Share your progress, and how you measured it, such as tracking your thoughts, feelings, or behaviors.

C. Explain how these strategies helped you, and how they impacted your life, such as improved relationships, academic or professional success, or mental health.

V. Maintaining Self-Esteem

A. Describe how you maintain your self-esteem on a daily basis, and what routines or habits you have developed.

B. Share your challenges and setbacks, and how you cope with them.

C. Explain the importance of self-care in maintaining self-esteem, and what self-care practices you use.

VI. Conclusion

A. Summarize the key points of your essay, and what you have learned from them.

B. Restate your thesis, and how you successfully overcame the challenge of low self-esteem.

C. Discuss how the experience has impacted your life, and what advice you would give to someone who is struggling with low self-esteem.

Narrative essay examples

To guide you in writing a foolproof narrative essay, we’ve constructed an example of a narrative essay. The following is a personal narrative essay example that explores the challenges faced by a student who was bullied in school. This personal narrative essay example will guide you on how you write a personal narrative essay.

Beyond the Shadows

Starting high school as a timid and shy kid was a daunting experience for me. I craved new opportunities and friendships but was overcome by the fear of being judged. Unfortunately, my fears soon became a reality as I found myself being relentlessly bullied.

It began with verbal abuse but soon escalated to physical aggression. Consulting my teachers was of no help since they did not understand the gravity of the situation. The only option was to ignore the bullies and concentrate on my classes, but the constant harassment made it difficult.

The bullying soon took its toll on my mental health, and I spiraled into a pit of anxiety and depression. I lost faith in myself and I believed I was undeserving of happiness. I retreated from my loved ones and spent my days battling my inner demons.

Despite the pain and anguish, I still decided to hold onto hope. I realized that standing up for myself and others was the only way to combat the bullying. I began speaking out against the harassment and also spoke up for those who were scared to raise their voice.

In an attempt to break out of my shell, I made a conscious effort to socialize with my fellow students and offered support to those going through a tough time. As a result, I encountered several friends who had shared experiences with mine. We bonded over our shared struggles and formed a tight-knit community of support and solidarity. Together, we worked to raise awareness of the devastating impact of bullying.

With time and effort, I began to heal from the trauma of my experiences. I learned to embrace my unique qualities and appreciate myself for who I am. The challenges I faced made me stronger and more resilient. As a result, I became more outgoing and confident, which allowed me to forge genuine friendships with my peers.

The bullying I experienced during high school transformed me in ways I could never have imagined. It instilled in me the value of empathy and courage and compelled me to use my voice to create positive change in the world.

Once you’re done writing your narrative essay, the process of editing and proofreading still remains. You can either choose to do this on your own or consider working with an essay editing service .  

Keep reading with more resources from your loyal editors and proofreaders:

  • What is an Expository Essay?
  • What are the Different Types of Essays
  • What is an Essay and What are the Parts of an Essay
  • How to Write an Essay Header
  • How to Write an Argumentative Essay 

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How to Write a Narrative Essay: The Only Guide You Need

In this article, you’ll learn how to write a narrative essay.

The meaningful strategies, unique templates, and specific tips from this ultimate guide help college students write high-quality narratives. After reading it, you’ll have all the instruments you need to craft engaging stories in your academic papers.

So, let’s get to work.

Narrative: The Basics

What is a narrative essay?

The above narrative essay definition comes from our professional essay writer with ten years of experience in storytelling. He’s also shared details about a narrative’s elements, which you’ll see below.


First, it’s critical to understand the difference between a story and a narrative. That’s when you might hit a snag:

A narrative isn’t a story itself, but how you present that story to readers. In plain English, it’s a particular format you use to build your text.

Story Components

Let’s say you describe events in chronological order; that’s one narrative. Then, you decide to shuffle the events to make your story non-chronological. That will be another narrative BUT the same story, even if it’s being told backwards.

That’s why we call our described essay “narrative”; it requires a particular way of telling a story. A student includes the storytelling elements in their essay but also follows the structure of an academic paper.

Remember that when choosing a topic and format for your assigned paper in school.

Narrative essay characteristics:

  • Non-fictional
  • Written in the 1st person (using “I” or “we”)
  • Informal tone
  • Presents events in chronological order
  • Informs, without arguing or teaching anything
  • Includes storytelling elements but follows the structure of a standard essay

For your essay to become a narrative, it needs five elements:

  • Characters: A protagonist (you) and supporting characters (friends, teachers, etc.) to drive your story
  • Setting: A location and time (when and where the story takes place)
  • Plot: A chain of events happening in the story
  • Conflict: A problem the protagonist (i.e., you) resolves
  • Theme: A moral of your story

In classical storytelling, the path a protagonist travels is known as the “hero’s journey”:

The Hero's Journey by Joseph Campbell

A hero gets a call to adventure, sets off on a journey, meets obstacles, deals with conflicts, and returns home with a reward (a learned lesson).

The creator of this concept was the mythologist Joseph Campbell. He described the hero’s journey in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces . Another work to check out if you want to learn storytelling tricks is Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey . Vogler is a Disney screenwriter, so get ready to uncover the secrets behind the creation of your favorite movie and cartoon characters!

movie and cartoon characters

When writing a narrative essay, you’ll combine all of the above elements into a compelling writing piece. The structure all authors know as a “narrative arc” will help here.

Types: Personal Narrative Essay and Co.

When in college, you’ll deal with two types of narratives:

  • Personal narratives. Focus on your personality, experiences, emotions, and reflections.
  • Descriptive narratives. Focus on other characters and places, i.e., the story itself — you should avoid emotions or reflections here.
Personal narrative essay
Descriptive narrative essay

Personal narratives come in two forms: literacy and viewpoint .

  • Literacy narratives are about experiences (meeting a person, reading a book, etc.) and how they influenced your life. You can also try this when writing a college application essay.
  • Viewpoint narratives are about a character’s (your) inner world and reflections.

Descriptive narratives take two forms, too: historical and fictional .

  • As a student, you may need to write historicals about a specific period in your life, aka memoirs.
  • Fiction narratives are made-up stories in books or movies (sci-fi, thrillers, romance, etc.). They aren’t about narrative essays you write in class.

We know what you are thinking:

How to Write a Narrative Essay: 5 Steps

  • Choose a topic
  • Craft a structure
  • Create an outline
  • Write a draft
  • Proofread and edit

And now (finally!), to the most intriguing part:

How to Write a Narrative Essay

Below is your practical guide on how to write a narrative essay step by step.

1. Choose a topic

Sure, a teacher can prescribe a particular prompt for your paper. However, students often choose a narrative essay topic themselves. For your future story to succeed, ensure that your topic meets the following criteria:

  • It’s meaningful to you.
  • It resonates with your personality.
  • It’s thought-provoking and disturbing for society.
  • It relates to a specific moment or experience in your life.
  • It’s potentially interesting for your target audience. (Think of something that’s relevant to the course material you’ve been taught and that will be informative to those reading your paper.)

Below is the list of niches you could consider:

Narrative Essay Topics Niches to Choose From

Organize a brainstorming session to think about what to tell in your narrative ( 1 ). Try a freewriting technique to boost inspiration: Write down all the ideas that come to your mind and then choose one to share with the world. Answer the question: “What message would I like to communicate in my essay?”

Remember that your narrative essay is not only about entertaining the readers with your story. It’s also about conveying a moral (a lesson) to them.

Tip: Choose topics that sound echoic to your interests. Your ability to turn a topic into an informative and emotional story depends on how much it resonates with you.

Do you need to see several narrative essay topics to understand the principle of choosing one for your paper?

We’ve got some narrative essay ideas. They can also serve as topics for a personal narrative essay:

Narrative Essay Topic Ideas

2. Craft a structure

Remember how we discussed the storytelling elements your essay should have to become a narrative? ( See above .) Now, it’s time to combine them into a compelling writing piece.

Given that you’ll need to present story events in chronological order, a classic narrative arc can help here:

A Narrative Arc

image source: Oregon State University

  • Exposition: The introduction of your essay, aka your story’s setting
  • Rising action (journey and discovery): The first body paragraph, aka the trigger leading to conflict
  • Climax (crisis and confrontation): The second body paragraph describing the main event of your story, aka the conflict (you face the truth, you have to make a choice, etc.)
  • Falling action: The third paragraph, aka the conflict resolution (the result of the main event from the previous section)
  • Resolution: The conclusion, aka the theme or moral of your story

In plain English, a narrative arc is the sequence of the events in your story. Organize them beforehand to save time and ensure that you get all the required elements in your essay when writing a draft.

Below is a narrative essay structure you can use when planning your papers. As you can see, it includes all the storytelling elements yet follows the strict rules of academic writing.

Narrative Essay Structure

3. Create an outline

The structure looks spooky, huh?

Well, such is a narrative essay format. That’s why it would help if you crafted an outline before writing to make sure that every paragraph is in its proper place.

A narrative essay outline is a plan for your paper. There, you note down what you’ll include in each paragraph. Thus, you’ll get all the details and ensure that your story looks cohesive and compelling.

What to include in an outline? Keep reading to get a template and see an example.

4. Write a draft

Now, it’s time to write your narrative essay. Follow the outline and start crafting each paragraph step by step. Stick to the narrative arc, but remember that you are writing an academic paper, not a fictional story.

Operate within the structure of a standard college essay. Organize your narrative like this:

  • Introduction: A paragraph with a hook, a story’s background, and a thesis
  • Body: Three or four paragraphs where you’ll describe the events, climax (conflict), and resolution
  • Conclusion: A final paragraph with your thesis restatement, the moral of your story (reflection), and a call to action for the reader

5. Proofread and edit

Please don’t rush to submit your draft for the teacher’s review once it’s ready. First, reread it several times to ensure that:

  • It has a logical structure and all the necessary narrative elements.
  • You’ve formatted it according to the rules of academic writing.
  • It’s free of spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes.

Tip: Edit your essay the day after you’ve written it. It will help you see it with “fresh eyes” and notice tiny errors you’d miss if you read it when tired.

Narrative Essay Outline: Template and Example

Of all the strategies and tips on how to write a narrative essay, its outline’s creation remains the most essential to know:

Craft a detailed plan for your narrative before writing — and you’ll see if your story is cohesive, complete, and compelling. Outlining allows you to evaluate the clarity of your topic, statements, and storyline, re-organizing and reinforcing them with supporting details if necessary.

Below is a narrative essay outline template for you to consider. Once you make notes on each point, it will be easier (and faster!) for you to write your essay.

Narrative Essay Outline

Let’s clarify every point:

What’s in the introduction?

  • Hook. It’s an attention-grabber to encourage the audience to read your story. Think of a wowing fact, an intriguing question, or a thought-provoking statement.
  • Background. Here is a brief context (setting) for your story.
  • Thesis. It’s a claim with your story’s main point.

Now that you know how to write a narrative essay introduction, we move on.

What’s in the body?

  • Event(s). The initial situation. What happened?
  • Turning point. The moment you realized the situation was significant and noticed the shift in your perspective.
  • Climax. The peak of your story, i.e., the most transformative part of your described experience.
  • Resolution. Your response to the climax. How did you resolve the situation, and what was the immediate aftermath?

What’s in the conclusion?

  • Thesis restatement. Summarize the claim you made in the introduction. How does your story support it? What lessons did you learn?
  • Moral. Reflect on those lessons, offering the insights gained. Why should readers care?
  • Final words. It’s your message for the audience: a call to action, some food for thought, etc.

Here’s an example of a narrative outline to help you understand what to write there. (We bet you’ll guess the story we used for it!)

The moment that changed my life forever

How to Write a Personal Narrative Essay

Personal essays are about your experiences and emotions. You are the hero here, so structure and outline your story accordingly. Also, don’t hesitate to add other characters and dialogues to your essay. They’ll help readers understand your motivations and deeds better.

That’s how to write a personal narrative essay:

  • Write it in the 1st person.
  • Follow the format: Ensure that you include all the storytelling elements.
  • Don’t tell but show: Use descriptive language that helps readers “see” your story.
  • Ensure that your essay has a conflict.
  • Describe everything in chronological order.
  • Specify the moral: What do you want to say? What did you learn from the story that happened to you?
  • Write about real-life events and experiences. Narrative essays aren’t fictional stories.

How to Write a Good Narrative Essay

Now, this is important:

How to start a narrative essay?

Start it with a compelling essay hook to impress readers and grab their attention:

  • Ask a provocative question.
  • Write an intriguing yet relevant quote.
  • Think of some engaging statement to evoke curiosity.

Get inspired by the opening lines of your favorite books. Here are several examples:

5 Opening Lines from Popular Books Worth Reading

How to write a good narrative essay:

  • Say no to slang and formal language.
  • Choose descriptive and sensory words to evoke emotions.
  • Add details: Tell about what you saw and heard, how it smelled, what you felt, etc.
  • Use active voice to describe actions.
  • Add dialogues if appropriate.
  • Don’t write in the 2nd person (“you”).
  • Follow the narrative arc but put it in the standard essay structure.

Final Tips on How to Write a Narrative Essay

To those craving more strategies and insights on how to write a narrative essay, keep reading:

Below are some extra tips for you on how to write a narrative essay.

Five Extra Tips on How to Write a Narrative Essay

  • Write about a specific moment or experience. Don’t describe every tiny movement of your character; focus on those moving the plot forward.
  • Avoid redundant -ly adverbs like “very,” “really,” “truly,” etc. Think of solid verbs instead; use a thesaurus for more attractive words in your narrative.
  • If you are stuck on choosing a topic, try books or check other writing prompts for inspiration.
  • Try experimenting with perspectives. For example, you can describe the event from a supporting character’s view. (Write it in the 3rd person, if so.)
  • When writing a personal narrative essay, it’s okay to make it less formal than a standard academic paper. You can skip formatting it in MLA, APA, or another citation style. Be creative.

Still Need Help With Your Essay?

Now that you know how to write a narrative essay, it’s time to practice:

  • Choose a meaningful topic that resonates with your personality.
  • Write an outline, placing all the narrative elements according to the rules of academic writing.
  • Tell your story, and remember to edit it for better clarity before sharing it with the audience.

Still looking for ‘ write my essay ‘ helpers in Google? Your search is over: Our experts are ready to assist with every pitfall you may have on your way to flawless essay writing. Just ask.

Photo by Timothy L Brock from Unsplash

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How to Start a Narrative Essay: Engaging Techniques for a Strong Opening

By: Author Paul Jenkins

Posted on May 27, 2024

Categories Education , Writing

Crafting the beginning of a narrative essay sets the stage for the story you’re about to tell.

It requires choosing an engaging topic, which can be personal, fictional, or even autobiographical, and embedding a tone that captures and holds your reader’s attention.

An impactful introduction plays the crucial role of providing a glimpse into the setting, characters, and the overarching theme without giving away the entire plot.

A Blank Page With A Pencil Resting On Top, Surrounded By Scattered Brainstorming Notes And A Focused Expression

Establishing the right narrative structure is fundamental, as a clear sequence of events maintains reader interest and drives the essay forward.

Incorporating dialogue and various literary devices enhances the vividness of a narrative essay, allowing characters to come to life.

Writing a narrative essay is about telling a story that is compelling, coherent, and leaves a lasting impression on its audience.

Key Takeaways

  • The introduction of a narrative essay must captivate and set the premise for the story.
  • Effective storytelling in essays involves clarity, engagement, and a thorough narrative structure.
  • Revision and proofreading are essential processes in ensuring a polished final essay.


When embarking on the crafting of a narrative essay , the introduction serves as the pivotal gateway for the reader .

It is the part of the essay where a writer has the opportunity to seize the reader’s attention and set the tone for the narrative that unfolds.

This section should encompass the beginning of the story arc while introducing the central theme in a manner that is both engaging and informative.

To captivate the reader , employ a hook —an intriguing opening line or an evocative question.

This hook could take the form of a striking statement, a vivid description, or a compelling anecdote. The goal is to pique curiosity and encourage further reading.

Structure of the Introduction:

  • Example : Start with a dialogue or a pivotal moment.
  • Example : Introduce the main characters and setting briefly.
  • Example : Foreshadow the core conflict or challenge.

The introduction should not only hook but also smoothly transition to the middle of the essay where the main events take place.

It must ensure a coherent flow towards the eventual end of the narrative, completing the story arc in a satisfying manner.

The art of beginning a narrative essay lies in striking a balance— capturing attention and laying the groundwork for the story to come.

The author is the architect of this delicate opening, designing it to be both alluring and informative, setting the stage for the narrative adventure.

Selecting a Topic and Setting the Tone

Before starting a narrative essay, one must select a topic that resonates with their personal experiences and decide upon the tone that will carry the narrative forward. These aspects set the foundation for a compelling essay.

Brainstorming Ideas

Brainstorming is a critical step for unlocking creative themes and potential essay topics .

Using methods such as mind maps or lists can help one to visually organize their thoughts and find connections between them.

Writers should consider prompts that inspire them and reflect on personal experiences for authentic and engaging stories.

  • List past experiences related to the essay’s purpose
  • Utilize prompt guidelines to steer the brainstorming process
  • Develop a mind map to explore different angles of a potential topic

Deciding on the Narrative’s Tone

The tone of a narrative essay shapes the reader’s perception and can vary from humorous to solemn. It should align with the theme and the writer’s intent.

When a writer has selected a topic , they must consider the emotional atmosphere they wish to create.

They ought to ask themselves what response they want to evoke in the reader.

Crafting a Compelling Opening

The beginning of a narrative essay sets the trajectory for the reader’s journey. It’s crucial to engage your audience with a powerful hook and a vivid setting.

Using a Hook

A narrative essay benefits from a hook that grabs the reader’s attention from the first sentence.

This could be a provocative question , a surprising fact , or an intriguing quote from a character.

For instance, opening with a rhetorical question invites the reader to ponder and engage directly with the essay’s theme.

Alternatively, a shocking statement can create immediate intrigue or conflict that compels the reader to continue.

  • Question : “Have you ever wondered where fear comes from?”
  • Quote : She whispered, “Dreams have a way of making a heart speak.”
  • Shocking Statement : They never told him that the price of his dreams would be his nightmares.

Setting the Scene

Establishing the scene is about more than just describing a location. It involves introducing the characters, the ambiance, and the time frame, which provides context and grounds the narrative.

Utilizing a first-person perspective can create intimacy, which can be a powerful way to immerse readers in the essay’s universe.

Detailed descriptions enable the audience to visualize the setting and form a connection with the characters.

Developing the Narrative Structure

When creating a narrative essay, it’s crucial to construct a clear and coherent narrative structure . This ensures that the plot unfolds in a deliberate manner, maintains the reader’s interest through controlled pace and suspense, and delivers a satisfying resolution.

Outlining the Plot

An effective narrative essay begins with a detailed outline .

This provides a framework to organize events in a logical sequence while addressing essential elements of the narrative such as conflict , climax , and resolution .

The plot should be outlined as follows:

  • Exposition : Introduce characters, setting, and background.
  • Rising Action : Develop the conflict or challenges that propel the story.
  • Climax : Bring the story to a turning point with the highest level of tension.
  • Falling Action : Resolve the tensions and lead toward the closure.
  • Resolution : Provide a satisfying conclusion to the story.

Carefully planning these elements enables the writer to maintain chronological order or apply a non-linear storytelling technique effectively.

Establishing Pace and Building Suspense

Manipulating the pace of a narrative essay is key to building suspense . Key strategies include:

  • Vary sentence length : Short, sharp sentences can accelerate pace, while longer ones can slow it down.
  • Timing of revelations : Disclose information at strategic points to keep readers intrigued.
  • Use of details : Descriptive details can create an atmosphere that heightens anticipation or foreboding.

By considering how each event impacts the tension of the narrative, writers can deftly control pace to emphasize the suspense leading up to the climax .

The writer’s goal should be to guide the reader through a roller coaster of emotions, culminating in a memorable impact.

Describing Characters and Setting

To captivate readers from the start, a narrative essay needs to paint a picture of its characters and setting in vivid detail. This section will cover how to craft characters that feel alive and create a setting that immerses readers in your story’s world.

Crafting Vivid Characters

Character creation begins with descriptive language that outlines key traits and qualities.

First, consider their physical appearance, incorporating details like hair color, posture, and clothing, which can imply personality without stating it directly.

For example, a character with scruffy clothes and untamed hair might suggest a carefree or rugged lifestyle.

It’s also essential to include dialogue that reflects their unique voice, which can reveal their education level, background, and temperament.

Writers often use first-person or third-person perspectives to provide insight into thoughts and motivations, enriching the reader’s understanding of characters’ complexities.

Utilize personal anecdotes and figurative language , such as similes or subtle metaphors, to create memorable impressions of characters.

Creating an Immersive Setting

An immersive setting draws readers into the world where the narrative unfolds.

Begin by pinpointing the time period and location , whether it’s a modern city or a historical backdrop.

Use descriptive language to highlight sensory details like sounds, smells, and textures.

For instance, describing an urban setting might include the cacophony of city traffic and the aroma of street food .

Integrate vivid details that evoke the atmosphere, perhaps contrasting the warmth of a soft blanket against the chill of a dimly lit room.

Employing figurative language aids in connecting readers emotionally to the space, whether it’s through a simile describing the oppressive heat of a room as “like being wrapped in a thick blanket” or a metaphor likening the forest’s silence to a deserted cathedral.

Incorporating dialogue can also reveal the setting, such as characters commenting on their environment or reacting to changes around them.

Conveying the Theme and Message

When composing a narrative essay, the theme should serve as the compass guiding every paragraph. An effective theme is both universal and personal, resonating with the reader while offering insight into the writer’s unique perspective. It is essentially the main idea or moral of the story.

Message in narrative essays translates the writer’s personal statement and central argument into the fabric of the narrative.

As one constructs the narrative, it’s crucial to interweave the message subtly yet consistently to keep the reader engaged and impart the intended lesson.

To effectively communicate the message and theme, an author can employ various literary devices with symbolism being particularly potent. For example:

  • A character’s journey may represent life’s challenges.
  • Objects can hold significant meaning, enlightening the reader about the narrative’s deeper layers.

Literature is ripe with examples where authors seamlessly blend theme and message, making both an inseparable part of the reader’s experience. Writers should aspire to this balance, ensuring that neither overwhelms the other, but instead, they complement each other to enhance the story.

Writers should consider the following points:

  • Identify the core: What is the heart of the story?
  • Consistency is key: The theme should be evident throughout the narrative.
  • Subtlety in delivery: Overstating the theme can be jarring.

Writing Body Paragraphs

When constructing the body paragraphs of a narrative essay, the writer must focus on advancing the story while ensuring emotional resonance and factual accuracy.

The narrative should unfold from one paragraph to the next with a clear purpose in support of the central theme.

Building the Narrative

The body paragraphs serve as the building blocks of the narrative essay. They should each contribute a unique scene or idea, while still connecting smoothly to form a cohesive story.

A reliable technique is to provide compelling facts and details that breathe life into the narrative.

This can be achieved by implementing a first-person point of view that adds personal depth, making the narrative more immersive.

For example, if the paragraph describes an event, the writer should include sensory details:

  • Sight : “As the sunrise painted the sky in hues of gold and pink…”
  • Sound : “The rustling leaves whispered secrets of the forest…”

Creating Emotional Impact

Emotion is the heartbeat of a narrative essay, and body paragraphs should evoke feelings that are fitting for the story’s events.

The writer’s choice of words and the rhythm of sentences can significantly influence the reader’s emotional experience.

For instance, short, abrupt sentences can create tension or surprise, while longer, flowing sentences may establish a serene or nostalgic mood.

A sentence like “She watched the last train leave, a heavyweight of loss settling on her shoulders,” can encapsulate a profound emotional moment within a paragraph.

Incorporating Dialogue and Literary Devices

In narrative essays, dialogue serves as a powerful tool to enhance storytelling. Not only does it develop characters and move the plot, but it also grants readers access to the characters’ thoughts and emotions.

Effective dialogue should mirror authentic speech yet remain concise and purposeful.

Literary devices deepen the reader’s experience. For instance, metaphors create vivid imagery by making indirect comparisons, which enrich the narrative and offer deeper insights.

A metaphor, such as “life is a journey,” symbolizes the comparison without using “like” or “as,” as one would with a simile.

A descriptive essay utilizes a variety of literary devices.

One such device, the anecdote , grounds the reader in a specific moment, often used at the beginning of the essay to hook the reader’s interest. An anecdote might describe a brief, impactful moment that sets the stage for the main narrative.

Additionally, comparisons —such as analogies and similes—help to clarify and relate experiences to the reader, often leading to a better understanding and connection with the essay’s themes.

Literary DevicePurpose in Narrative Essay
DialogueAdds realism, character development, and advances the plot.
MetaphorCreates symbolic comparisons that enrich narrative imagery.
AnecdoteOffers a compelling opening or illustrates a point succinctly.
ComparisonClarifies and relates experiences to the reader.

Fostering Engagement and Empathy

When starting a narrative essay, the writer’s goal is to engage the audience by creating an emotional connection. To achieve this, they should consider integrating elements of empathy that resonate with readers.

  • Personal Stories : These are powerful tools. A relatable personal story can immediately draw readers in, making them invested in the outcomes and challenges faced by the characters.
  • Hardships and Resilience : Describing obstacles and the character’s resilience encourages readers to empathize. They should see the struggles as part of a shared human experience.

Writers can cultivate empathy by allowing their audience to walk in the shoes of the protagonist. This connection is deepened when they:

  • Use descriptive language to paint a vivid picture of the character’s situation.
  • Share inner thoughts and emotions to showcase the character’s humanity and vulnerability.

Finally, it is crucial to maintain a neutral and clear voice. Over-dramatization can alienate readers, while a well-crafted narrative stirs genuine emotion.

Concluding the Narrative Essay

In completing a narrative essay, one must ensure that the conclusion reaffirms the essay’s core theme and leaves the reader with a sense of resolution and reflection.

Bringing Closure to the Story

A successful conclusion serves as the final piece of the narrative puzzle. It should not introduce new information but instead, connect back to the essay’s main message or theme.

This can be achieved with:

  • Summarization of Key Points : Briefly recap the primary events to remind the reader of the journey.
  • Reiteration of the Theme : Clearly express how the events reinforce the central theme of the narrative.

When one wraps up their story, clarity and consistency with the established narrative are crucial to avoid confusing their audience.

Reflecting on the Journey

The conclusion is where one can offer reflection, illuminating how the narrative journey has influenced characters or the writer themselves.

Reflection should focus on:

Growth or Change :

  • Discuss how characters have evolved or what lessons they may have learned.
  • Illustrate the success or transformation to underscore the narrative’s impact.

Personal or Broader Implications :

  • Share insights on how the story’s events extend beyond the narrative to resonate with a larger truth or societal message.

Revising and Proofreading

Revising and proofreading are critical final steps in the essay writing process. They fine-tune one’s writing skills and ensure that the narrative essay conveys its message effectively and clearly.

Revising involves evaluating the overall structure, content, and flow of the essay.

Writers should check if the story is complete, engaging, and makes a point.

They should consider the following aspects:

  • Organization : Does the essay follow a logical order?
  • Clarity : Are the ideas clear and well-explained?
  • Consistency : Are the characters and settings consistent throughout?

Proofreading is the last step and focuses on correcting grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors.

It’s essential to carefully comb through every line to catch and rectify mistakes that could detract from the essay’s professionalism.

Tips for effective proofreading:

  • Take a break after revising to approach the essay with fresh eyes.
  • Read aloud to identify awkward phrasing or errors that might be missed when reading silently.
  • Use digital tools, but still do a manual check, as tools may not catch everything.

Incorporating feedback from peers can be invaluable for both revising and proofreading.

Fresh perspectives can help identify areas for improvement that the writer might overlook.

Revising and proofreading should not be rushed.

They require time and attention to detail to elevate the quality of the narrative essay.

Remember, these steps may seem demanding, but they are crucial in refining writing skills and producing a polished, publishable narrative essay.

Differences from Other Essay Types

When writing an essay, it’s important to understand how the goal and structure differ among various types. A narrative essay’s primary purpose is to tell a story, in contrast to other types which aim to describe, argue, or explain.

Narrative vs. Descriptive Essays

Narrative Essays :

  • Purpose : To tell a chronological story with a clear point.
  • Structure : Includes characters, a setting, a climax, and a resolution.

Descriptive Essays :

  • Purpose : To create a vivid image of a person, place, thing, or event.
  • Structure : Focuses on sensory details without necessarily following a chronological order.

In narrative essays, the chronological flow is central, while descriptive essays do not require a story’s progression but rather elaborate on details to paint a picture.

Narrative vs. Argumentative Essays

  • Focus : Shares a personal experience or story.
  • Perspective : Can be subjective, offering a personal viewpoint.

Argumentative Essays :

  • Focus : Presents a position on an issue with supporting arguments.
  • Evidence : Utilizes facts, data, and logical reasoning to persuade.

Unlike narrative essays, argumentative essays advance a thesis through well-substantiated arguments, aiming to convince the reader of a particular stance.

Narrative vs. Expository Essays

  • Approach : Utilizes storytelling elements to convey a narrative.
  • Connection : Engages emotions and personal connections.

Expository Essays :

  • Approach : Provides information or explains a topic in a structured manner.
  • Connection : Focused on delivering facts and logical explanations.

Expository essays are informational and rely less on an emotional connection with the audience, as opposed to the more personal and emotionally driven narratives.

Adhering to Essay Requirements

When a student begins a narrative essay, understanding and following the specific requirements is crucial. Whether for high school assignments or college essays , including those for the Common App , the format and guidelines are the foundation for a well-structured essay.

High School Requirements:

  • Narrative essays typically adhere to a standard five-paragraph format , consisting of an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
  • The emphasis is usually on creative writing and storytelling.

College Essay Considerations:

  • College applications may have more specific prompts and a focus on personal reflection.
  • Colleges often require adherence to style guides such as APA, MLA, or Chicago.

Common App Instructions:

  • Essays should recount a student’s personal experiences, detailing how they have grown or overcome obstacles.
  • The narrative must fit within the stated word count, typically 250-650 words.

Formatting Tips:

  • Use clear, legible fonts like Times New Roman or Arial, sized to 12 pt.
  • Double-space text to improve readability.

Students should always review the essay prompt thoroughly and consider any provided rubrics or examples, which outline the expected criteria for the narrative.

One should never underestimate the importance of editing and proofreading; even minor formatting errors can detract from the content’s impact.

Tips for First-Time Writers

When first-time writers approach a narrative essay, they should focus on cultivating a habit that encourages writing exercises to strengthen their creative muscles .

  • Begin with Brainstorming : Allocate time to ponder different life experiences, which can be employed as the backbone of a narrative essay. These reflections assist in finding a meaningful topic.
  • Outline Your Story : Constructing an outline helps in organizing thoughts methodically. It serves as a roadmap and ensures the narrative includes a clear beginning, middle, and end.

Persistence is Key : Novice writers must remember that perseverance in the face of challenges is crucial.

  • Seek Feedback : Whether from peers or an instructor , constructive criticism can be invaluable. They offer fresh perspectives that can enhance the essay’s clarity and impact.
  • Read and Analyze : Studying well-crafted narrative essays can serve as a great educational tool. One can learn a lot about pacing, character development, and dialogue.

Incorporating these tips, first-time writers can navigate the nuances of a narrative essay more effectively, creating engaging and clear stories imbued with personal flair and authenticity.

Advanced Techniques in Narrative Essays

In the crafting of narrative essays, writers can employ a repertoire of advanced techniques to enhance the storytelling experience.

One of the key elements is the strategic use of literary devices .

Metaphors, similes, and personification add depth to the narrative, allowing readers to connect on a more emotional level.

Writers may also integrate dialogue, carefully punctuated with action, to bring characters to life.

An effective narrative essay outline includes a climax , the pinnacle of tension or conflict upon which the story turns.

Building up to this zenith with escalating events not only hooks the reader but also paves the way for a satisfying resolution.

In the realm of details , specificity is crucial.

Rather than broad brushstrokes, successful narratives zoom in on the small, peculiarities that render scenes vivid.

The smell of rain on pavement, the stutter in a character’s speech, and the particular shade of twilight are the types of details that create authenticity.

Narrative ElementTechniquePurpose
SettingUse precise wordsGround readers in time and place
CharactersDevelop through dialogue and actionsFoster reader-character connection
PlotForeshadowing and flashbacksBuild suspense and depth

Leveraging Personal Challenges

Leveraging personal challenges in a narrative essay can powerfully showcase resilience and personal growth. A writer may choose to share insights on how they’ve navigated through a difficult time, providing a rich backdrop for a compelling story.

Selecting the Right Challenge: It is crucial to pick a personal hurdle that has significantly impacted one’s life.

This could be a setback , failure , injury , or a difficult situation where a passion was put to the test.

The chosen challenge should serve as a catalyst for growth or change, revealing the individual’s capacity to adapt and persevere.

  • Setbacks can demonstrate tenacity.
  • Failures offer a path to introspection and improvement.
  • Injuries might highlight physical and mental recovery and determination.
  • A stifled passion can illustrate the process of overcoming barriers to pursue a dream.

Incorporating the Challenge: When writing about personal challenges, the essay should start with a clear depiction of the issue.

He or she should employ vivid descriptions that paint a picture of the circumstances surrounding the challenge. This creates empathy and allows the reader to understand the gravity of the situation.

For example:

  • The exact moment an injury occurred during a pivotal game.
  • The intense emotions felt after a significant failure or setback .

Transition to Overcoming: The narrative should smoothly transition from the challenge itself to the actions taken to overcome it.

This includes the steps the individual took, the resources they capitalized on, and the support systems they leaned on. Throughout this journey, the internal transformation should become evident.

Reflection on Growth: Finally, reflecting on how the challenge was pivotal in shaping one’s character is essential.

It should illustrate what was learned, how the individual changed, and how they have since applied that knowledge or strength in other areas of life. This reflection conveys the resilience and adaptability that personal challenges can foster.

Incorporating Historical Narratives

Incorporating historical narratives into a narrative essay enriches the content, offering readers a bridge to the past through vivid storytelling.

To effectively integrate historical narratives, an essay writer must follow several key steps:

Choose Relevant History : Select a historical period or event that aligns with the essay’s theme. It should enhance the story, not detract from the narrative’s primary focus.

Research Thoroughly : Gather accurate details from reliable sources, such as historical archives, to lend authenticity to the narrative.

Create a Connection : Clearly draw lines between the historical context and the personal story. Explain the chosen history’s impact on the events or the individual experience being described.

Balance Story and Fact : Ensure the historical narrative does not overshadow the personal narrative. Use historical elements to support the story rather than overwhelm it.

Depict with Sensitivity : When handling delicate historical subjects, one must approach them with sensitivity and respect for the people and cultures involved.


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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, 3 great narrative essay examples + tips for writing.

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General Education


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.


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.


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.


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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Narrative Essays

Narrative: The spoken or written account of connected events; a story

Narrative Introductions

The introduction of a narrative essay sets the scene for the story that follows. Interesting introductions—for any kind of writing—engage and draw readers in because they want to know more.

Since narratives tell a story and involve events, the introduction of a narrative quite often starts in the middle of the action in order to bring the reader into the story immediately, as shown in examples 1, 3, and 5 below. Other effective introductions briefly provide background for the point of the story—often the lesson learned—as in 4 below and the first example on the reverse side.

Below are some strategies for writing effective openings. Remember your introduction should be interesting and draw your reader in. It should make your audience want to read more. If it's a person , begin with a description of the person and then say why that person mattered. If it's an event , begin with the action or begin by reflecting back on why the event mattered, then go into the narrative.

  • "Potter...take off!" my coach yelled as I was cracking yet another joke during practice.
  • Why do such a small percentage of high school athletes play Division One sports?
  • It was a cold, rainy night, under the lights on the field. I lined up the ball on the penalty line under the wet grass. After glancing up at the tied score, I stared into the goalkeeper's eyes.
  • My heart pounds in my chest. My stomach full of nervous butterflies. I hear the crowd talking and names being cheered.
  • Slipping the red and white uniform over my head for the first time is a feeling I will never forget.
  • "No football." Those words rang in my head for hours as I thought about what a stupid decision I had made three nights before.
  • "SNAP!" I heard the startling sound of my left knee before I ever felt the pain.
  • According to the NCAA, there are over 400,000 student-athletes in the United States.

Narrative Story

  • Unified: Ensure all actions in your story develop a central idea or argument.
  • Interesting: Draw your readers into your scene(s), making them feel as if they're experiencing them first-hand.
  • Coherent: Indicate changes in time, location, and characters clearly (even if your story is not chronological).
  • Climactic: Include a moment (the climax) when your ending is revealed or the importance of events is made clear.
  • Remember the 5 W's : Who? What? When? Where? Why?
  • Write vividly : Include significant sensory information in the scene (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste) to make readers feel they are there
  • Develop " Thick Descriptions "

Clifford Geertz describes thick descriptions as accounts that include not only facts but also commentary and interpretation . The goal is to vividly describe an action or scene, often through the use of metaphors, analogies, and other forms of interpretation that can emote strong feelings and images in your readers' minds.

"The flatness of the Delta made the shack, the quarters, and the railroad tracks nearby seem like some tabletop model train set. Like many Mississippi shacks, this one looked as if no one had lived there since the birth of the blues. Four sunflowers leaned alongside a sagging porch. When the front door creaked open, cockroaches bigger than pecans scurried for cover [...] walls wept with mildew."

—from Bruce Watson's Freedom Summer

Narrative Checklist

  • Does the story have a clear and unifying idea? If not, what could that idea be?
  • If the story doesn't include a thesis sentence, is the unifying idea of the story clear without it?
  • Is the story unified, with all the details contributing to the central idea?
  • Is the story arranged chronologically? If not, is the organization of ideas and events still effective and clear?
  • Do the transitions show the movement from idea to idea and scene to scene?
  • Are there enough details?
  • Is there dialogue at important moments?
  • Is there a climax to the story—moment at which the action is resolved or a key idea is revealed?

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General election results: What time will we know who has won?

Sky News' election analyst Professor Michael Thrasher explores what are the key constituencies to watch out for throughout election night.

By Prof Michael Thrasher, Sky News' election analyst

Thursday 4 July 2024 06:37, UK

Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer. Pic: PA

Since the prime minister stood in the rain to announce a surprise July election, six weeks have flashed/dragged by.

"Change" has been the buzzword. In this case, "change from the Conservatives ". If ever there was a protest election, this is it.

Labour 's campaign has centred on them not being the Conservatives. Policy details are hazy and when pressed, the party retreated to "change".

The Liberal Democrat leader, when not falling into the water, has emphasised that his party is "winning here", wherever here happens to be and the truth can be stretched by a bar chart.

Reform's campaign has emphasised that the Conservatives are not conservative enough. Too fond of taxes. Too tolerant of Europe and pretty much everyone and everything else.

Quite why Rishi Sunak called the election as early as this will be explained in his memoirs, we hope. I believed at the time it was either a masterstroke - because he knew something no one else did - or a mistake.

The Conservatives were a long way behind Labour in the polls. Few had much confidence in him, and no trust in the government.

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Normally, as an election is called, the polls narrow to a degree, with the underdog closing the gap. Not this time.

Unless the polls are spectacularly wrong then two main events are about to happen which makes the 2024 election special and one to watch closely as events unfold.

Labour is about to be returned with an overall majority that ranges from impressive to super, whatever a "supermajority" is. This would be extraordinary, given the party experienced one of its worst ever defeats at the previous election in 2019. It is not normal at all for a party to gain close on 200 seats.

Watch Sky News' election coverage live from 9pm on Thursday through to Friday Find more details of what you can expect here

The second event is an existential threat to the Conservative Party.

Sky News' Poll Tracker suggests that only around 20% of voters support them. In 2019, it was 44.7%. As decline in vote share goes - a 25-point collapse - this is off the scale.

Really bad things happen to a party when it falls from grace to this extent.

The Conservatives are defending 155 seats where they received less than half the votes last time. These seats can be written off if their vote is in freefall.

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But if MRP polls providing seat estimates are examined, the Conservatives could emerge with fewer than a hundred seats.

Two benchmarks are worth noting. In 1997, when John Major was trounced by Tony Blair , the Conservatives won just 165 seats - a post-war record.

But we may have to go further back in time to the 1906 election. Then, the party suffered its worst ever defeat, slumping to just 156 seats after a loss of a staggering 246 seats.

So, here's the schedule for watching Sky News' election coverage.

Polls are closed, the exit poll moment has arrived. In 2019 it forecast a majority for Boris Johnson . It was correct.

If the exit poll figures, taken by sampling voters as they leave carefully selected polling stations across Britain, are wildly at odds with the story told by the polls then who should we believe?

Having worked on the previous four exit polls, and observed at close quarters the experts that produce the figures, I'm inclined towards the exit version. In any case, stay tuned to see how this unfolds.

Ed Conway screen

But if exit poll and opinion polls agree, and a large win for Labour is forecast then still stay with it.

There's still an outside chance that both types of polling are wrong. But much more likely is that over the next six or so hours there will be huge drama as election counts repeatedly show "Lab gain from Con".

Fewer, but still a significant number, will display "LD gain from Con".

There may well be " Reform UK gain from Con".

Read more What are the parties pledging? What are the rules on political donations? What the polls tells us about the election

And let's not forget Scotland, where the currently dominant SNP defends 48 of the country's 57 seats and look set to lose many of those.

The turnover of seats might match or even exceed the drama of 1997 when Labour won a landslide victory, emerging with a 179-seat majority.

Michael Portillo, then the defence secretary, was beaten in his Enfield Southgate constituency by Labour's Stephen Twigg on a massive 17.4-point swing. This image, the so-called Portillo moment encapsulated a dramatic transfer of power from one party to another. A further six Cabinet members would lose before dawn.

How many Portillo-type moments might 2024 produce?

By now, ballot boxes are arriving at count centres, leading to the usual speculation about turnout. Last time it was 67%.

The highest since 1929, when universal suffrage was introduced, is 83.9% in 1950. The lowest was just 59.4% in 2001.

Low turnout has been a feature of elections since then.

Complaints are widespread about the late arrival of postal ballots. It's safe to assume that turnout will be about the same or slightly lower than in 2019. We must wait until all 650 seats have declared to know the actual turnout.

11.30pm to 12.15am

There is competition among some electoral services administrators to be the first constituency to declare. Last time it was Newcastle upon Tyne Central, announced at 11.27pm. It had been first in 2017 also.

Neither of these times comes close to the record declaration time, which belongs to Sunderland. It declared the first of its three seats at the 2001 election at 22.43pm.

A combination of boundary changes, and rules affecting the verification of postal votes handed in on the day at polling stations, will impact upon the speed of counting this time.

But the release of the estimates for declaration times suggests that two constituencies are vying for the coveted title.

Sunderland features once again with an estimated declaration time of 11.45pm for the Houghton and Sunderland South seat. However, Blyth and Ashington is clearly in the race because it may be trying to declare its result 15 minutes before then.

There could be an element of strategy going on here - reveal an estimated time but secretly plan to be before then. In which case, let's also include Basildon and Billericay, and Broxbourne - both of which are scheduled to appear at 12.15am. When the former declares, it will decide the fate of the Conservative Party chairman Richard Holden. Perhaps an early indication of the fortunes awaiting his Cabinet colleagues.

12.30am - 3am

Expect about 80 declarations over the next few hours.

If the pattern of 2019 repeats, then the North East will feature prominently. Hexham is a seat that invariably elects a Conservative and Labour needs a 11.3-point swing here to change that. Should that happen, then we will consider that Labour could outperform the national swing of the 1997 election.

If Hexham has fallen, then almost certainly Redcar, which Boris Johnson boasted about turning "blue car", will get a respray - the swing required here is only 5.5 points.

One of the surprise results from the recent May local elections was Labour's capture of Rushmoor Council - an authority it had never won before.

Rushmoor is home to the Aldershot constituency - true-blue Conservative. Labour needs a huge 17-point swing to win here but if general election voting follows the May pattern then prepare for a real upset.

Studio view of election night live

The Isle of Wight now has two seats, and it is the East version that declares first. A Labour victory here would be a major step towards Downing Street for Sir Keir Starmer.

Recent parliamentary by-elections broke all kinds of records with Labour making six net gains. One of these, Mid Bedfordshire, declares around 2.45am. The Conservative vote collapsed here in October 2023 and something similar will mean another Labour gain.

Some Labour councillors lost their seats at the May local elections when protests against the situation in Gaza impacted on local voting. Pendle was affected by this and it might be interesting to see what happens to Labour's vote share in the new Pendle and Clitheroe seat.

The south west of England holds great promise for the Liberal Democrats and one of the first seats to declare could be Torbay, which the party held during its heyday. Retaking the seat would signal a 17-point swing against the Conservatives and offer up the promise of further gains to come.

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An important part of the election narrative will be what happens to the 48 seats defended by the SNP. If Labour captures a relatively large number of these then its path towards an overall majority is made much easier.

A swing of 10 points or lower will see Airdrie and Shotts, Cowdenbeath and Kirkaldy, Midlothian and Glasgow North fall.

More ambitious targets include Kilmarnock and Loudon and Dundee Central. But if Labour gain one or even both of the Paisley seats, there is a real prospect of the party re-gaining its dominance in Scotland and delivering a devastating blow to the SNP and its drive for independence.

3am onwards

Should Labour and the Liberal Democrats run amok in Conservative heartland seats then from here onwards, Sky News will be focussing on Cabinet members at risk.

The most vulnerable to Labour's advance are Defence Secretary Grant Shapps - he of the "supermajority" fame. His Welwyn Hatfield seat goes with a 10-point swing. Wales Secretary David TC Davies is also in the frame in Monmouthshire. Two Cabinet members down, perhaps.

The second line of Conservative defence may not survive either. The local elections in Plymouth saw Labour doing well in Johnny Mercer's Moor View seat. Mel Stride's Devon Central seat could fall too, which takes care of the work and pensions secretary.

Read more: Is it possible to 'ringfence' family time when you're prime minister? Tories plot letter from SME backers in last-ditch bid to turn election tide

Next in line is Transport Secretary Mark Harper, defending Forest of Dean, the Attorney General Victoria Prentis in Banbury and Esther McVey in Tatton. That might make seven Cabinet attendees as election casualties. Not to mention a cluster of junior ministers alongside.

A significant number of senior Conservatives are vulnerable to the Liberal Democrats. The MRP polling is identifying the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Godalming and Ash constituency as one that is leaning towards the Liberal Democrats. A swing of below 10 points is all that is required and for the first time a sitting Chancellor will have been defeated at a general election.

Alex Chalk, the justice secretary, is almost certainly going to lose in Cheltenham on any polls projections. But some polls put the Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, in the frame as she defends Chichester.

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Others vulnerable to possible ambush from the Liberal Democrats are Michael Tomlinson in Dorset Mid and Poole North and Michelle Donelan in Melksham and Devizes.

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ways to start narrative essays

Rest assured, if all or even some of those ministers have lost then election coverage will switch. Out with analysis and in with the prime minister's concession.

From then on wall-to-wall coverage of the prime minister-in-waiting. Count the number of times "change" and "patience" appear in Starmer's victory speech as he celebrates what will have been one of the most spectacular turnarounds in our long electoral history.

Related Topics

  • Conservatives
  • General Election 2024
  • Keir Starmer
  • Rishi Sunak


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