How to write a narrative essay

November 3, 2016

We deal with literature and creative writing regularly – through our studies, work or even leisure activities. Essays are one of the most common assignments, and each of them has a particular set of requirements to fulfil.

Right now, instead of delving deeper into other varieties of essays (descriptive, expository, persuasive, analytical), we’ll take a look on how to write a personal narrative essay.

What is a Narrative Essay?

To give a proper definition, we’ll need to outline some associated terms.

Narration is an act of presenting something to an audience; the narrative is a sequence of events (real or imaginary) organized in a specific way to instigate an emotional response; narrator (or the writer) is the person telling or writing the article, usually from a personal point of view.

Narrative essays are not simple short stories and are still defined as essays, so don’t deviate significantly from the structure when writing one.

In general, some stories can incorporate atypical methods of storytelling — like unreliable narration; this is the first thing you need to avoid when writing a narrative essay. Your goal is not to come up with a creative method of storytelling, but rather get the point across by linearly establishing your plot.

How Long are Narrative Essays?

There is no standard regarding the length when it comes to narrative essays; they can be quite long.

Don’t forget to ask your professor about the word count when you receive your assignment.

Usually, a total of 5 paragraphs is the norm; we’ll go over the format in greater detail.

Also, ask your college and high school professor for samples of writing, if possible. It will give you some ideas on how to begin.

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A narrative essay is not just a story; it is an essay that makes a point by telling a story.

You need the information to be compressed and easily accessible.

How to start a narrative essay? Choose a topic that is grounded in reality, since narrative essays are usually non-fiction. Nothing stops you from asking your professor if going the fantasy route is possible, though.

Choosing a Topic

When it comes to choosing a topic, try to narrow them down in terms of scale; it will be hard to accurately express a broad idea to the fullest extent within the template of an essay. You’re not required to do additional research or cite sources; you’re merely getting the point across and trying to present a story that supports your claim. Make sure the selected topic fits the template of your teacher.

Create a basic outline before you begin writing. Don’t add more details to improve the overall density of the text; you need to figure how your story begins, unfolds and eventually ends.

Three Main Parts of a Narrative Essay

1) Introduction (1 paragraph)

The part in which you are introducing the characters, giving the plot some starting details and stating the main point.

Try to make your introduction as memorable as possible, since your audience will remember it the most and it will give an idea of what to expect.

As with other types of essays, the author is required to give a thesis statement in the introduction.

2) Main body (~3 paragraphs)

It can contain multiple parts (paragraphs), and they should always be connected to the main of your story. Each paragraph should include one idea, one that is directly tied to the main topic of the essay. If you have multiple sections featuring different chunks of your narrative, make sure to construct proper transitions between them.

Each chapter can act as an additional step in finding the answer to the main question (or problem) expressed in the introduction.

The events should be told in chronological order. Do not use unreliable narration and don’t deviate from the main.

3) Conclusion (1 paragraph)

Write a personal statement. You conclude your story with restating the thesis. It should, in essence, also present itself as a lesson. Provocative ideas tend to leave an impression.


Some ways to improve the quality of your writing.

For example, there are three stylistic essentials — Rhythm, Flow, and Tone.

You can attain rhythm be varying the length of sentences and changing their structure.

Use interrogative, declarative, imperative and exclamatory sentences to add personal flair.

Try to vary the length of sentences; use general and specific verbs; add simple, complex and compound sentences.

These small things add up to create a personal literary style.

Good presentation and a well-written manner are not enough if the story has no emotional effect on your audience, you need it to be engaging. Flow is closely tied to rhythm, but it mostly refers to the meaning of writing – how the sentences flow into each other, the continuous progression of thoughts and ideas.

By incorporating flow into your story, will be able to influence your audience directly. A good story always prompts to think and analyze.

The tone of writing needs to fit the topic. Disregard irony and sarcasm if you intend to express serious ideas. Proper tone also helps to get the audience on your side.

A Couple of Additional Suggestions

  • Narrative essays have a point.
  • Avoid saturating the narrative with irrelevant information – creating needless exposition is never an advantage. This applies to secondary characters, plot details that don’t get revisited or off-hand remarks that serve no purpose.
  • Use vivid language and detailed descriptions to create a sense of place. This will help to draw the audience in the narrative.
  • Draw relevant and proper conclusions.
  • Dialogue is allowed and is a big plus.
  • When you’re considering the events to choose as a basis for the essay, try going with a something special, momentous or significant. The best stories are never based on unexciting topics.
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Once your essay is done, don’t forget to proofread. The last thing you need is to tank your grade by an unfortunate typo.

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