The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.
Contributors: Jack Baker, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2013-07-30 01:39:00
What is a narrative essay?
When writing a narrative essay, one might think of it as telling a story. These essays are often anecdotal, experiential, and personal—allowing students to express themselves in a creative and, quite often, moving ways.
Here are some guidelines for writing a narrative essay.
- If written as a story, the essay should include all the parts of a story.
This means that you must include an introduction, plot, characters, setting, climax, and conclusion.
- When would a narrative essay not be written as a story?
A good example of this is when an instructor asks a student to write a book report. Obviously, this would not necessarily follow the pattern of a story and would focus on providing an informative narrative for the reader.
- The essay should have a purpose.
Make a point! Think of this as the thesis of your story. If there is no point to what you are narrating, why narrate it at all?
- The essay should be written from a clear point of view.
It is quite common for narrative essays to be written from the standpoint of the author; however, this is not the sole perspective to be considered. Creativity in narrative essays often times manifests itself in the form of authorial perspective.
- Use clear and concise language throughout the essay.
Much like the descriptive essay, narrative essays are effective when the language is carefully, particularly, and artfully chosen. Use specific language to evoke specific emotions and senses in the reader.
- The use of the first person pronoun ‘I’ is welcomed.
Do not abuse this guideline! Though it is welcomed it is not necessary—nor should it be overused for lack of clearer diction.
Have a clear introduction that sets the tone for the remainder of the essay. Do not leave the reader guessing about the purpose of your narrative. Remember, you are in control of the essay, so guide it where you desire (just make sure your audience can follow your lead).
In a narrative essay, you want to tell the story by writing about an event or experience that you've had. It’s the ultimate in storytelling and requires some finesse to create a retelling that people will actually want to read.
Unlike other types of essays, a narrative essay allows you to express yourself. It's a story that you are telling, often from personal experience. You can look at a narrative essay example from middle school, high school or college, and you'll see the same elements throughout. That's because a story has very specific parts that must be included and the narrative is similar, no matter what the topic.
Using a narrative essay templatevia a writing tool can help you work through the essay quickly and ensure that it is correctly formatted. It may also help to check out a narrative essay example to see exactly how this type of writing is done.
Choose Your Story
The most essential part of writing a narrative essay is the selection of the story you want to tell. What can you share with readers that will impact them? What will you tell them that has meaning and isn't just an entertaining anecdote? A narrative essay needs to have a point, so you don't want to tell just any story, but rather one that will have a purpose.
Narrative essays tend to focus on a small story. You will not be writing your entire life into the essay, just a single event that you experienced. Take a look at some examples to see what a good narrative essay looks like and then you can begin to work on your own.
If you are struggling to find a story that will work, here are a few options to consider: A time when a major belief was shattered, or when someone influenced you or a time when you changed or attempted to change your life. There are endless stories to tell, so pick the one that will work best for the purpose of your narrative. Keep it narrow and focused. This is only about one single event, or you’ll end up writing an entire book.
Note that in a few cases, a narrative essay is not a story and will be written slightly differently. For example, a book report will be more informative than telling a story. In this case, it still talks about your opinion and feelings related to an event, but the event is within the book, not your own personal experience. However, most narrative essays will be personal.
Structure Your Narrative
Like all good stories, a narrative essay needs a beginning, middle, climax and end. It also needs characters and a plot, as well as a setting. All of these elements come together to ensure that the story flows properly and keeps people's interest.
While most narrative essays are written from the author's point of view, you can write from any perspective that works for the telling of the story. Above all, there needs to be a specific reason to tell the story. This is the most important thing to keep in mind as you plan and write. What is the purpose of telling this story? What will the reader learn? What will they walk away with after reading the essay?
You don’t have to have some big moral lesson in the essay to make it a narrative, but you should have a specific point. Think about what you want to accomplish with the essay and then focus on that as you write. Use this narrative essay outline to start your essay.
Start With a Bang
Your essay should grab the reader instantly. Starting with an impactful statement or a quote is a good way to begin. Give them a very good reason to continue reading. Use descriptive language to express yourself and tell your story in a way that captures the reader's attention.
The introduction is the most important part of your essay, since it is what will help the reader choose to read on or put the essay aside. Make sure it catches them and pulls them into the story, making them want to read on to find out what happens. The best narrative essays will turn a simple story into one that is captivating, using imaginative language.
Once you have the reader's attention, you can create an introduction that will present them with the setting and main characters of your story. Remember that every good story answers the questions who, what, when, where, how and why. While not all of this information needs to be in the intro, you should at least set the scene. Leave your reader curious enough to continue reading the essay.
Tell Your Story
The body of the essay should tell the rest of the story, usually in chronological order. Try to show the story, instead of just telling it. This means using descriptive language, including dialog and presenting the feelings that accompanied the event. Make your reader feel like they're in the story. For example, don’t say, “the dog walked up the street.” Instead, help the reader imagine the street and the dog. Was it well-kept? Or was the dog mangy and dirty? Was the street dirt, paved or cobbled? What kind of day was it?
The more details you include, the easier it is for the reader to picture themselves there. They will feel the story, rather than simply read it. “The old dog limped painfully down the center of the dirt street, the autumn wind kicking up leaves and dust around him.” This sentence makes it easier for you to imagine the dog and the street, doesn’t it?
Plain facts may be informative, but they are boring. Just stating the basics will immediately turn people off your writing. Creating a descriptive story will ensure more people read the essay than if you simply state the facts and go no further.
Get creative, pull those memories up and include details to make the story more real to your reader. Recall how you felt, how things smelled or tasted and what you were thinking during the events you’re recounting.
Present Your Point
At the climax of the story, your point will be made clear. There's no reason to state it flatly, but it should be obvious to the reader that something important happened and they should be able to draw their own conclusions at this point. When you look at a narrative essay example, you'll see that this climax is near the end of the essay and indicates a change of heart, a lesson learned or something similar.
The climax is the part of the story that people will remember most. It’s a sticking point, something that will catch in their mind and stay there, especially if well done. You can ensure that this is something memorable by adding a little twist or including details that will help the reader understand the importance of the moment.
Reflect on the Importance of the Story
Finally, you’ll wrap the essay up and finish it with a flourish. The conclusion or the final paragraph of the narrative essay is where you leave your reader with a brief summary.
The conclusion of the essay will review the important parts of the story and is the ideal place to look a little closer at the impact of the event you just shared. This is where you can really hammer home the point that you wanted to make, without being overly obvious.
Ideally, the final paragraph of your essay will stick with the reader for a long time. Don’t just recap, give them something to think about. This is the parting gift for your reader, something that they can think on for days or weeks to come.
Finally, you will need to edit and revise the narrative essay. This part is just as important as the actual writing, as you need to make sure that there are no discrepancies or errors to pull the reader out of the story. It can be helpful to put the essay aside for a few days so you can read it again with fresh eyes. Likewise, you may want to ask someone else to read it critically and mark any mistakes they find.
Look for spelling and grammar mistakes, of course, but you should also change up the writing if needed. A sentence that could be made better or clearer should be adjusted. The idea is to give your reader the best possible experience so they’ll want to share your narrative essay.