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A Complete Guide to Narrative Essay Writing

A narrative essay is a typical assignment in high schools and colleges. Its purpose is to tell a personal story in a compelling way. Unlike other types of essays, it doesn’t feature a thesis statement or scientific evidence.

Although it makes it easier in terms of research, it is a complex task. Telling a story in a concise and engaging manner can be tricky. It requires reflection, creativity, and advanced writing skills. Sometimes, the sheer fact that you must come up with a topic might feel overwhelming.

In this post from Writer24 writing professionals, you’ll find all the crucial information about narrative essays, along with practical tips on nailing them.

Narrative Essay Definition and Main Characteristics

What makes narrative essay writing unique? Let’s start with defining this type of assignment and its main features.

A narrative essay is much like a personal one regarding the subject and presentation. It always features a personal story or experience with a clear structure and conclusion. The primary purpose is to showcase your writing skills but also reveal what type of person you are. Unlike an academic argument, it is much more “yours” in all regards.

That’s why students are often required to submit it with college applications. Sometimes, one can be asked to work with an imaginary situation and dwell on topics like “What would I do if I could travel back in time?” But in the vast majority of cases, you’ll need to tell something that happened in your life.

Narrative essay writing is quite different from other types of academic papers. You do not need to do deep research into a subject and find scholarly evidence. You also do not have to use complex terms and dwell into a scientific background of the argument.

Also, students can be more flexible with their word choice and style. Creativity and descriptive language are welcomed. You need to make the story relatable for a reader and extrapolate it in a bigger context. It is what makes it a complex task.

What Is the Purpose of Narrative Essay Writing?

The goal of narrative essay writing can be separated into three aspects:

  • To present your writing skills and storytelling;
  • To showcase your personal growth, development, and traits;
  • To flex your creativity.

And you should accomplish all of that in one text. First, being concise, logical, and grammatically correct is essential. Creating a fascinating piece will take some time, so do not expect the first draft to be perfect.

In terms of the second aspect, students need to tell readers something that makes them unique. Because of that, it is very common to write about personal stories. The event itself doesn’t have to be extraordinary. What is crucial is the reflections and thoughts it provoked in you to feature in narrative essays.

For example, what made you realize your weakness is actually your strength? What made you value something more? It may be a conversation that inspired you to apply for this major.

Creativity is essential because it shapes how you tell a story. It must have a clear beginning, conflict, and resolution. Also, there has to be a conclusion – a moral of the story. So before you get to typing, you need to know what you want to tell and why you want to share it.

Types of Narrative Writing

If you want to create something that captivates attention from the first sentence, you need to know more about prose writing. Essentially, it is the same process, but the format and goal differ.

You can find good narrative essays written by well-established authors, such as Kurt Vonnegut and Joan Didion. Those examples can give inspiration and more insights into what makes good prose.

Overall, there are four types of narrative writing you can choose for your text:

  • Linear deals with events in chronological order. An author tells the story as it unfolds, from start to finish.
  • Non-linear conveys a story in non-chronological order. It is a more intriguing approach as it can feature flashbacks and unexpected plot twists.
  • Descriptive uses a lot of imagery and various linguistic techniques to create a vision for a reader. The language is very vivid, and the audience feels like they can almost “see” the story unfold.
  • Viewpoint focuses on telling a story from the narrator’s perspective. It is more reflective and focuses on one’s emotions and thoughts.

When working on your paper, you can choose any of these types. However, the most common one in academia is the viewpoint. It is often more direct and allows readers to relate more to what you are writing about. This type focuses on personal experience and thus is often more suitable for meeting the purpose of the text.

Narrative Essay Topic Ideas and Examples

Students may get a prompt with a formulated topic, or they must come up with it themselves. In the first case, you can go right into brainstorming ideas on the subject. But if you need to choose the topic yourself, here are some inspiring examples.

Good topics for narrative essays:

1. The Book That Turned Me Into an Avid Reader

2. The Event That Helped Me Overcome the Fear

3. How I Lost Hope but Found Something Better

4. An Ordinary Day That Turned My Life Around

5. My Most Valuable Childhood Toy

6. How My Teacher Became My Role Model

7. The Choice I Regret Making

8. My Favorite Book Characters and Why I Relate to Them

9. Long-Distance Relationships and How They Changed My Perspective on Friendship

10. My First Time Public Speaking

You can use these ideas to develop your own narrations.

How to Write a Narrative Essay: Step-By-Step Guide

Taking into consideration what you’ve learned about narrative essay writing, it is time to get into practical steps. First of all, make sure to start early and have enough time for all the stages. Secondly, read the prompt carefully and determine what you should do. Pay attention to formatting requirements as well.

A narrative essay is less strict with the structure, yet it still needs to have a logical flow. A good story always leads somewhere. So, there has to be a moral – the main conclusion you want to convey. It can be an idea or realization you’ve got through a specific experience.

Always keep the end goal in mind – what you want readers to learn. Maybe you want to make them feel a particular way. Or you might want to show some of your personal qualities. All other aspects of writing will be built around the purpose.

When planning time for the task, ensure you have enough of it for proofreading and editing. Consider asking someone you trust to read it and give feedback. It can be your friend or relative. A third-party perspective is essential to understand whether you’ve accomplished the goal you’ve set for yourself.

Step 1. Choose the Topic

If your topic is not stated in the prompt, you need to come up with it. Look through the good topics for narrative essays mentioned above. You can use one of them, or you can build upon them.

Overall, the topic should be:

  • Concise;
  • Structured with a beginning, conflict, and resolution;
  • Thought-provoking or interesting;
  • Personal;
  • Compelling;
  • Relatable.

Think of events or people that influenced you. Do not get into stories that are too long or convoluted. Academic papers are limited in volume. Think of the moral of the story – it has to be one precise idea. And last but not least, the topic should also be exciting for you.

Step 2. Outline

The next stage is to plan an outline. One of the best tips for writing narrative essays is to follow a traditional plan:

  • Introduction. Set the stage to make an exciting hook to keep readers interested. Also, establish the central theme of the text right away. Also, you can hint at the conflict – a wrong decision or a failure that made you reconsider your beliefs.
  • Main Body. Unfold the story. Paint a vivid picture, but avoid using too much imagery if it is inappropriate. Present the timeline and the challenges (the conflict). Fill in all the intentions set in the introduction. Show how the situation was resolved.
  • Conclusion. State what you’ve learned or how it affected you. Make it clear why this is an important event. Extrapolate it to a bigger context or global experience.

Step 3. It is Time to Write!

With the outline and the topic, you are ready to start writing. Remember that at this stage, it is better not to edit anything. It might ruin the creative flow. Just let the words guide you and tell your story.

Be direct and logical. It is appropriate to be creative, but make sure you know why you are using specific techniques. They all have to serve the primary purpose.

Use First Person

In narrative essay writing, it is standard to use first-person POV. After all, you are sharing your experience. So, it would be weird to address yourself in the third person. Use “I,” “me,” and “mine.”

There might be rare exclusions where you can use third-person POV, so pay attention to the prompt.

Use Storytelling

Please do not write it as a case study or research. Be more creative and use storytelling language. Paint a picture for a reader. Establish the place, time, and essential circumstances. Tell how some things made you feel or what you’ve thought about in a moment. Using quotes is also a good idea.

Step 4. Proofread and Edit

The last of the tips for writing narrative essays effectively is to edit ruthlessly. This is the stage where you can be critical.

After you’ve finished the first draft, take time to rest. Not only is it good for your well-being, but it also allows you to clear your mind. You need a fresher look at the text to be a good proofreader.

Read the draft once and determine whether it is logical, concise, and relevant. Make changes if needed. Pay attention to the style, wording, and pacing of the text.

After the first edits, ask a friend or relative for feedback. If they have valuable suggestions, make new changes. When you finish the story, it is time to get into grammar, spelling, and punctuation. And remember to format it according to the requirements.

Your Essay is Ready

The last step is to submit and publish your text. With all the work and the hooks for narrative essays, you should be confident in your writing.

After all this time planning, drafting, and typing, you have a great story on your hands. It is relatable and engaging. Depending on the topic and purpose, it can also be ironic or funny. But, most importantly, it should be authentic.

The secret of great storytelling is being honest with yourself and the readers. Do not try to minimize or maximize your experiences. Even the smallest of them are valid and vital.

FAQ: What You Need to Know About Narrative Essay Writing

Here are answers to students’ most common questions about this type of writing. If you still have inquiries, these might give you the answer you are looking for.

1. What are the examples of narrative essays?

If you are looking for examples of narrative essays, you can read the ones mentioned above – by K. Vonnegut or J. Didion. Other famous authors with such examples published include J. J. Sullivan, D. F. Wallace, and N. Ephron.

Another fantastic source of inspiration is The New York Times Narrative Essay Contest. The magazine publishes the best from thousands of contestants. The authors are students, so there might be a lot of relatability in there. Use them for brainstorming topic ideas or thinking about events that you could feature in your text.

2. What are the five paragraphs of a narrative essay?

Personal narrative essays follow a standard essay structure with five paragraphs. The first one is the introduction, where you set the scene, make a hooking beginning, and establish the text’s main theme. 

The main body that covers the story, conflict, and resolution takes the following three paragraphs. They need to purposefully present the event. And the last paragraph is the conclusion, where you write about the moral of a story – what you’ve learned. You can also relate personal experience to a bigger context here. 

3. How do you start a narrative essay paragraph?

The most critical sentence in terms of a hook is the first one. It needs to be intriguing to make readers want to read further. It can be something like, “I remember the day when I learned what failure is for the first time” or “Since an early age, I was told that girls should not be opinionated or loud.” 

You can be creative with it. The main goal is to present the theme of the writing and make it exciting. 

4. What makes a good narrative essay?

It all starts with topic ideas for narrative essays. The text will be as good as the story you are telling. Students do not have to choose something outlandish. Yet, it needs to have a conflict or a plot twist along with a conclusion.

Also, a good essay is defined by the storytelling techniques. Use creative language and create a picture so the audience can feel like they were there. Try to make your experience relatable universally.

5. How long should a narrative essay be?

Usually, it takes about five paragraphs unless it is stated otherwise. The prompt often defines the volume. But it shouldn’t be too long. It is not a novel or autobiography. 

To keep it short and sweet, make sure you are not including unnecessary or confusing details. If what you were wearing has nothing to do with the story, there is no need to mention it. As with any other piece of good prose, it has to be purposeful. Whatever you are writing about needs to be relevant to the plot. 

6. What are the three characteristics of a narrative essay?

Looking through the samples of narrative essays, you’ll notice that they all have three distinct characteristics. They are written in the first person. They tell a personal story or experience. And they have a clear moral/ending to the story. 

Remember that the conclusion is crucial. You need to tell what you’ve learned or how it impacted your worldview directly. Do not let readers wonder what the author wanted to say. Also, the logical structure and compelling narrative make the deal. 

Key Takeaways

Narrative essays do not require scientific research or supporting evidence. Yet, they are challenging to master in other ways. Such a text requires reflective writing and creativity. Students need to find a topic that suits the purpose and is not too long for the format. 

It also takes significant effort to present it engagingly. Writing a hook might be challenging at first. You need to stick to the point and use storytelling language. 

Also, remember to make time for proper proofreading and feedback. With all these tips, you can nail this task. Follow the guide and tell your unique story.