Unless you can answer the question “What is a narrative essay?” you can hardly expect to deal well with this type of homework. Some students don’t bother with trying to understand what is expected of them when they get assigned a narrative essay. They either struggle with writing it, finding it more difficult than other types of essays, or write quickly without giving it a second thought, failing to deliver an exciting and well-structured paper.
A narrative essay is a short written work that has the purpose of telling a story, describing a certain event or experience that an author encountered and had to deal with. A personal narrative essay may seem to be easier to produce since it does not require any research or reference material, only what happened to the author. However, writing it utilizes and develops storytelling skills, necessary to turn recollection of even some simple event into an interesting piece of writing.
There are some key elements that help to understand what a narrative essay should be like:
- a theme or a motif that everything revolves around;
- a character, usually the author writing in the first person;
- a few supporting characters the antagonist may have a dialogue with;
- details that define a character, location, or are simply relevant to the central point;
- an opening hook to grab the reader’s attention;
- a plot, binding the sequence of events;
- tension used to maintain the reader’s interest until the very end;
- the climax as the highest point of tension;
- the resolution, followed by a conclusion and answering the main question.
Differences Between a Narrative Essay and a Short Story
Despite similar elements, a narrative essay should also not be confused with a short story. The former always has a specific theme everything revolves around, and the main idea is repeated at the very end, demonstrating that the described events and the manner in which they were presented support that statement. A short story does not have a strict format it has to follow, and the central point is not necessarily introduced before the events start unfolding. So, one could say that a short story may have an unpredictable ending while in a narrative essay everything leads towards proving the idea suggested earlier.
One of the best ways to learn how to write a narrative essay is to read some examples. That way, you will have a clear presentation of fitting all the necessary elements and telling a captivating story serving the main idea. So, consider checking narrative essay examples we have prepared for you on our site before writing your own.
And now, let’s go into more details so that you can later compare the available essay samples against this guide and see how certain things have been incorporated into a final work.
How to Write a Narrative Essay Step By Step: Selecting a Topic
Unless you are given a specific topic by your professor to write about, you will have to come up with one on your own. There may be a prompt for your essay that your topic has to be in line with. Read the assignment carefully to make sure you don’t miss anything and choose a topic which will be relevant and won’t keep you from getting full credit.
We know that coming up with a topic may be stressful and it wouldn’t hurt to get some help with it. That is why we post lists of exciting and thought-provoking essay topics on our site. You may either find the exact topic you will choose to write on or get a sense of direction and come up with your own idea. Some of the available topics can even inspire you to write your narrative essay, but you can check our site for ideas on topics for other assignments as well (for example, argumentative essay topics).
Narrowing Down Your Ideas for a Narrative Essay
Don’t just go with the first idea that comes into your head, although it can be the one you’ll end up writing about. Instead, think of the events that fit the prompt and write them all down. For example, if your prompt says to write about the new experience that taught you something, you will be able to choose which of such instances from your life serves the best for telling the story and teaching the lesson. The event itself may not seem like something extraordinary, but it’s all about how vividly and compelling you manage to write about it.
For instance, you decide to write a personal narrative essay about your first day at a new school. Not only does it provide lots of opportunities to write about it vividly, incorporating precise detail, maintaining tension, and delivering a certain idea, but it is something many readers can relate to. This will make it easier for them to feel the emotions you are trying to convey and appreciate your message. In this case, it can be about fear of not being able to adjust to a new environment and kind people willing to help you do that.
Coming Up with the Best Title
Once you have your topic, remember the important tips on what your title should be as those work for other types of essays as well. They are no strict regulations, and there are always exceptions, but it’s preferable that you adhere to these hints:
- it should be original and nor frequently used;
- better make it short and memorable than long and too revealing;
- the title should be intriguing enough to get a reader find out the story behind it.
Don’t worry if you cannot come up with a good title at once. It is often advisable to leave that task for the very last step, when you have written, edited, and proofread your essay. But if you do have a good idea for it before having started, write it down and see if it still fits the story once it’s done.
Writing an Introduction
Do your best to make sure your reader gets hooked after reading the first couple of sentences of your introduction. There are several ways to do that, but make sure this part is connected to the story and introduces the topic, as well as the question you set on to answer at the end of your essay.
One way to start an essay is with a quote that you are either going to agree with or disapprove based on your own experience. That way, you will be able to introduce the conflict and the intrigue on what made you question someone’s famous words.
Another common technique is to start your narrative essay with a question. It has to be rhetorical and once again hint towards the conflict of your story. It can also be a question you are asking yourself as the main character after facing certain events.
While no research is necessary to write a personal narrative essay, you can use some interesting fact or statistics related to your story, either showing yourself part of the majority or more of an exception to the rule.
One more good way to grab your reader’s attention and make him/her feel involved in the story is throwing them right into the action from the very beginning. You can go back a little in the following paragraph and explain how you got into that situation and what preceded it.
Introducing the Characters
Right after an introduction, when you already have your reader’s attention, you need to make sure you don’t lose it. That is why it’s important to provide the necessary details as to who your main characters are. If you are writing a personal narrative essay, naturally, the main character will be you. In most cases, you should use the 1st person point of view, but even if you decide to use the 3rd person for that purpose, stay consistent throughout your essay.
Either way, you need to provide some information about your main character, and it’s up to you which details to share, as long as they help the reader to understand the character’s motive’s, desire’s, and what he or she is struggling with. Don’t overload your story with details that are irrelevant and may confuse the reader as to why they are mentioned. The same goes for supporting characters.
You don’t have to simply list them but make them enter a story in a natural way. Some characters may be tied to certain locations so there may be no need to mention them before getting there. What you need to make sure, however, is that your essay only contains characters who are relevant to the story. For your first day at a new school, you should not recall the names of all your classmates and teachers, only those people you interact with and who play some role in your experience. Considering the size of an essay, there should not be more than a couple of side characters.
Introducing the Setting
Tell your reader where and when your story takes place. If the specific date or year matters, mention it. Describing the season, you may write a sentence or two about the weather and how it felt. Even though it may not be important to the story, it will help to make scenes more vivid and convey your mood.
Try to describe the location by telling how you felt as well. Use sensory details to describe something specific about the place, whether its smell, sounds, temperature, light, or else. By providing a recollection of what triggered your senses, you will make the description more captivating and the story more engaging. Also, by doing so rather than simply naming the location without any further details, you will let your reader know about its importance to the story.
Once again, compose your essay in such a way that you will only need one or two locations in it. This will help you focus on the events and have more room to tell about what matters.
Mapping Out the Plot
Before writing your narrative essay, prepare an outline and write what you need to include and what you would like to tell about. This will help you to organize your paragraphs and get rid of the parts that don’t fit the story.