How to Write a Narrative Essay Guide for Students

Updated April 2021

As we may still remember from our middle school years, a narrative essay relates to those written assignments that aim to tell a story by sharing a personal experience or describing something that we have observed. Since the topics and subjects may vary all the time, depending on your university course, you will have to follow your grading rubric to ensure that nothing is missed. As you have to tell a story, you ought to learn how to do it right and what things to consider. The purpose of our how to write narrative essay guide is to make all the complex aspects easier for you!

What is a Narrative Essay?

Without a doubt, you are asking yourself about how to write a narrative essay, which is only natural! A narrative essay writing usually represents an essay form that revolves around a central point or an argument. While it has to be creative, it also follows a single motif that inspires your readers just like a good book. In terms of structure, you will have to follow the classic "five-paragraph" pattern where you must include an introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Remember that you will have to work at your characters, events, or dialogues as you compose your structure. The best part about writing a narrative essay is being creative, which grants you more freedom and the use of literary devices than the other essays belonging to other writing tasks.

Narrative Essay

Regarding how to start a narrative essay, one should understand that it is not a short story because every narrative essay that you will encounter at college (unless you have to write a short story!) will have specific aspects that you must explore and a precise motif. It is something that you must set before you write the essay, being an author. The short story will take a different approach in terms of writing since it will leave your audience to analyze and think of things that could have happened. On the contrary to a short story, a narrative essay definition and purpose, regardless of what personal narrative essay topics you may choose, must leave your audience fully satisfied with a definite conclusion that marks the end of your narration.

Here are the definitive characteristics of a narrative essay:

  • It deals with the events that actually took place, making it non-fiction.
  • It is always written from the author's viewpoint, which means that you must write using 1st person.
  • Include elements of a good story but always follow the basic structure.
  • If there is a chronology, provide your information accordingly.
  • Focus on details like an event, a person's character, an incident, or something that represents your thesis.
  • The point is not to argue about something or teach but to inform your audience about something.

As a way to make things easier as you compose your narrative essay, you should maintain three vital elements of a successful narration, which are:

- Character. Even if you shall speak about your childhood times or your college experience, you will involve at least one character even if he or she may not appear in your story in a physical form. Focus on how your characters act, behave, and those things that make them important and special.

- Always Set Your Theme. Approach it just like you would approach a thesis statement by breaking things down into at least three distinct pieces of evidence. They should be explored and analyzed in your body paragraphs as your narration must provide evidence.

- The Art of a Good Dialogue. You have to capture the spirit of a conversation to let your characters shine. It is what helps to add more life to your narration.

Remember to always consult your grading rubric to ensure that nothing is missed as your particular narrative essay task guidelines may differ from the classic patterns.

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The Types of Narrative Essay

In most cases, an average student will have to deal with either descriptive or autobiographical narration. As a rule, descriptive writing may seem relatively more challenging, yet it is not always the case as the trick here is to describe an experience and talk of some situation that you may have witnessed or heard of from someone you know.

- Descriptive Narration. It provides certain freedom as you get creative and implement various literary devices to fuel the experience for your audience. Your purpose here is to inspire your readers and have them envision a clear picture of some event or situation. Do not just tell about it in plain terms but turn it into a vivid experience since you have to describe things! Always keep things straight as much as you can. Even if you plan to talk about something complicated, keep the storyline simple by adding your complexity when you describe things. Know your purpose and use all you can to provide your audience with evidence of your thesis statement. You may have to keep things short as you write if it is allowed but always remember that you have to tell a story and explain why you are telling it without sounding like a mentor or a teacher in the classroom!

- Autobiographical Narration. This one is simpler in terms of having to tell a true story that you have experienced in the past. Remember that you should focus on a single event. For example, if you are talking about your first middle school teacher, you should talk about a certain event or the day by keeping up with the precise chronology. Unlike a typical descriptive approach, the purpose plays a greater role here, while the details are not that significant.

If you are majoring in Journalism or Political Science, you may also have to deal with a given prompt that will require talking about a specific topic or an event. It is exactly the case where you may have to combine descriptive and biographical points if you have experienced the event yourself as an observer.

Narrative Essay Format & Structure Rules

In most cases, every narrative essay will follow the classic format that will include at least five paragraphs unless specified otherwise. What you must include will look this way:

  • Introduction. It is where you must provide insight for your narration, explain the event you are talking about, and state the purpose of your writing. It should also have a hook sentence that will inspire your readers. Your thesis statement (the main motif) also comes here.
  • First Body Paragraph. This is where the rising action comes into play. It should have the strongest point related to your thesis statement.
  • Second Body Paragraph. This part should represent the story's climax with the main action taking place. Feel free to add emotion as you compose your story’s body parts.
  • Third Body Paragraph. The falling action part where you conclude your narration. It is where you should help your readers get ready for the final part where you make the final facts fit by wrapping up the story.
  • Conclusion. It should contain the lessons that have been learned from the story with a brief restatement of the main thesis that has been introduced in your first paragraph.

The other important question that is always related to narrative essay writing is the length, which will always vary from task to task. Still, how long is a narrative essay? The answer to that should be provided in your essay instructions or specified by your course professor. Generally, a narrative essay will vary from 500 to 700 words, yet in some cases, your writing may be up to 1000 words.

Writing a Narrative Essay: Step-by-Step Guide

Without a doubt, you should consider various narrative essay topics as you start because it has to not only inspire your readers but also take your creative skills by storm. Here are the six steps you should consider as you start:

Step 1: Careful Topic Choice. You should choose a topic that you know well unless you have to deal with a particular event provided by your course professor. Some narrative essay examples and ideas to consider:

  • My First Childhood Memory.
  • My First Trip Abroad.
  • Parents Are Your Best Friends.
  • A Lesson My Pet Taught Me.
  • The Day I Became Responsible.

Step 2: Keep Your Narration Clear. It should be written in simple and clear language.

Step 3: Correct Balance of Descriptive Details. Keep a healthy balance of details and do not overuse them. Since you will face the limitations of the small word count, every sentence should carry some value.

Step 4: Write in the First-Person Narrative. As you describe the events that took place in your life or something that you know about, remember about this rule and try to test your narrative skills aloud as if telling a story to a friend.

Step 5: Keep Things Engaging. Remember about bringing your readers to a creative climax of your story and let it unfold. Do so by writing three main points as if they are the book chapters.

Step 6: No References. Avoid references if possible unless it is meant for some informational purpose. Make sure to quote properly according to your academic writing style.

Remember that your narrative essay should not be fictional as you talk about real events. It means that the plagiarism risks are quite low with this type of essay writing. Still, if you want to quote some information from the news or include anything that is not composed by you, it is best to use references to keep safe.

Useful Narrative Essay Tips

As you think of how to start a narrative essay, you have to keep prepared and plan some aspects in advance before you write.

  1. Brainstorm Various Ideas. Think about what can help the readers become engaged with the help of a strong hook. It can be some fact, a famous quote, or a specific statement that will make your readers wish to read further.
  2. Narrow Your Topic Down. Choose your topic with great care because you will have to make it connect to your thesis statement by focusing on a single event. In other words, you must avoid any vague topics as you write and compose them based on your primary point. A good thesis statement should not represent some fact or common knowledge. Do not make it into a question or some type of recommendation. It should provide an insight into a problem and explain things briefly.
  3. Define Your Story’s Purpose. Tell your audience what your story is about. Offer a sneak peek but do not reveal your lessons and the main morals yet as it is still to come for your readers. Doing so helps to keep things interesting!
  4. Plan Your Story. Create at least three main points that will help you to start each body paragraph with the climax being in the middle.
  5. Create a Narrative Essay Outline. Summarize all the important details before you write and create an outline the same way as you would start with a typical 5-paragraph essay

Following these simple five steps will help you to get rid of the writer's block as you will have your basics already done before you start writing.

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