Narrative
Essay Guide

When students are tasked with writing a narrative essay for the first time, they are usually excited about the prospect. This enthusiasm is caused by the lack of understanding of what the definition of narrative essay entails.

When students are tasked with writing a narrative essay for the first time, they are usually excited about the prospect. This enthusiasm is caused by the lack of understanding of what the definition of  narrative essay entails. In other words, they are being told what is a narrative essay but they do not realize the meaning behind the definition. Thus, the easiest way to explain this type of essay is by mentioning that it is simply a story told to the reader by the writer.

It seems simple, doesn’t it? You take an anecdote from life and retell it. This is certainly easier than writing an argumentative or persuasive essay which requires significant research on the topic under question. However, appearances are deceitful and there is much more complexity to writing a good narrative essay than it may seem. So, let’s take a closer look at what a narrative essay is, and how to write it properly.

As mentioned above, writing a narrative essay boils down to telling the reader a story. In most cases, it is an anecdote from the author’s life. In other words, a narrative essay is often personal which means that it allows the use of first person. Again this aspect of the format seems appealing to many students who believe that everything goes for a personal narrative essay.

Unfortunately for them, things are not as easy, as they may seem. It is not enough to tell any story to create a meaningful and catching narrative.

  1. Choose an interesting story. Let’s face it, nobody wants to read about your daily routines such as grocery shopping. You need to decide on the story that is likely to resonate with the readers and capture their attention.
  2. Explain to the audience why they should care about your narrative. The previous point does not mean that you cannot write a personal narrative essay unless you have encountered a UFO or travelled to the north pole. The main task, however, is to clarify to the readers why the experience you chose to tell them about is meaningful and how they can relate to it. Draw a conclusion from the story. Present it as a lesson for yourself and everybody who reads the story.
  3. Set a goal. As it is already mentioned. Your narrative essay is the opportunity to make a statement about an important issue or share a formative experience with others. To do so, you need to think about the issue you would like to address first, and then choose a story or anecdote that illustrates the point you are about to make perfectly. In other words, you need to formulate a statement and then look for a narrative that would support it. Coming up with a story, albeit an engaging and funny one, and trying to smuggle a moral lesson into it afterwards is not likely to work.

Overall, a narrative essay is a story (often a personal one) told with the intention of making a particular statement. Unlike other types of academic writing, it allows nd even encourages the use of first person pronouns and subjective perspective in your writing. At the same time, you must make your point clear and relatable to the audience. To achieve this goal, you need to follow the structure of a properly written narrative essay.

In essence, the structure of a narrative essay does not differ from any other type. It should have an introduction, body section, and conclusion. However, the peculiarities of narrative essay format make it necessary to pay close attention to special features of structure that will be addressed below. The discussion may appear overly complicated and  detailed at first glance. However, you will benefit from including all the elements discussed below in at least a brief sentence each even when writing a short narrative essay.

As well as any other essay type, a narrative essay starts with a hook. The good news is, however, that you have much more creative freedom when writing a narrative essay than it is the case with other essay types. In practical terms, it means that you are welcome to share personal experiences or reflect on personal ideas in order to gather the attention of your audience. It won’t hurt to mention once again, however, that the key is to make sure that your hook really catches the audience. In other words, you should not get too excited with the opportunity to reflect your personality in your essay and end up with a hook that can be understood by noone but yourself.

The next step in writing an introduction for your narrative essay is to provide background for the story you are about to tell. Bear in mind that it is not the same as establishing the setting for the story which will be done later in the paper. The background is more about why you feel it is necessary to share your narrative than what will be discussed in the essay. In other words you should explain the relevance of your narrative essay to the readers and persuade them that it is worth reading because there is something they will find useful in it.

Of course, your introduction has to close with a thesis statement. It goes without saying that narrative essay format presupposes a special type of thesis statement. While it is still supposed to present your argument, the way to back this claim differs from what you are supposed to write in, for example, an argumentative essay. Your evidence in support of the thesis comes from the story, and there is hardly an opportunity to present any countering viewpoints. This observation brings us back to the perceived simplicity of writing a personal narrative essay coming from the fact that the process does not require you to conduct research or disprove opposing arguments. However, it is important to stay focused on your thesis and support it with the contents of your essay as strongly as possible.

Even for a short narrative essay, its body has to include the following elements to be effective:

  • setting and time of the narrative;
  • background of the events
  • the characters involved in the story
  • the events themselves
  • the critical action or decision that solves the situation at hand and leads to the conclusion drawn as the thesis statement.

The points presented above appear simple and self-evident, yet it is worth paying close attention to each of them.

Setting and time of the narrative are important to define for two reasons. First, it is easier for readers to understand and appreciate the story if they have a clear picture of it. Lack of information leads to confusion that may, in its turn, prevent the reader from getting the point you are trying to make. The second reason why these elements are necessary to establish precisely is that they have the potential to add to the context of the narrative. You want to think of the setting of your narrative as one of the characters in a sense that interactions between people and their actions are often influenced by the physical and social environment they find themselves in. To put it in simple terms, your interaction with a friend within a college building is likely to be much different from the same encounter in a local supermarket.

As soon as you have answered the questions of when and where your story takes place, it is important to clarify why the things you are about to describe have happened. In other words, you must provide a brief context for the story that will unfold before the reader’s eyes. It is one of the reasons why you need to go through your narrative essay ideas before you start writing. Having the moral you are trying to draw from the narrative planned in advance will help you to analyze the context of your essay thoroughly and come up with some conclusions that may surprise even you, let alone the readers of your essay.

The characters can be outlined either in the beginning of the narrative or gradually throughout the story. The former option works best for short narrative essays while the latter one is preferable if you are producing a comparatively lengthy work. Again, you do not need to introduce each character in detail if you are writing a few pages of narrative. After all, the key purpose of this type of writing is to make a point and illustrate it with a story. At the same time, it is vital to keep it clear who is who, who does what, and for what reasons. It means that you should take care and plan your essay properly to show the interaction between characters and clarify their perspectives in given situations. There are a few hints on how to o it:

 

  • Use language to describe reactions and emotions of each character clearly.
  • Show, do not tell. It means that you need to be precise in the choice of words and phrases. Take your time to think about synonyms that would best convey the behavior and emotional responses of the characters.
  • Do not overuse personal pronouns. It is a common mistake that should be avoided. Students like to refer to the characters while writing a narrative essay to avoid repeating their names. They believe that this approach makes the writing flow better. While there is truth to this statement, the problem behind this tactic is that after the tenth “she,” it is virtually impossible to remember who this particular person is out of several characters interacting at the moment. The narrative becomes confusing and the reader ends up disinterested in the outcome of the situations and the conclusions you are about to draw from it.

When it comes to describing the situation around which you are writing your narrative essay, the key problem to solve is how to strike the balance between providing too much detail and moving forward towards the conclusion. One of the strategies useful to avoid falling into either of these two extremes is to keep your language precise. For example, you are allowed to use phrasal verbs in your narrative essay since this writing type is informal when compared to other essay types. However, overreliance on them may lead you to writing an unnecessarily wordy narrative that fails to keep the reader’s attention.

Another danger to be aware of while writing a paper in a narrative essay format is the opportunity to wander off the topic pointed to in your thesis statement. In other words, it is possible to turn the narrative aside the main point while discussing the event and become distracted from the main argument. It goes without saying that such writings will score low grades according to any reasonable narrative essay rubric.

One of the signs that you have strolled off the topic is the inability to bring the story to its climax for a long time. The key action or decision must be made by one of the characters to resolve the situation at hand and enable you as the narrator to draw conclusions from the whole occurrence.

As in the rest of academic writing formats, the conclusion to your narrative essay has to summarize the key points and restate the thesis affirmatively. An important thing to bear in mind is that it is preferable to recapitulate the takeaways from the narrative to the story itself. In other words, close our essay by reminding the reader why it is important.

As mentioned above, the key to writing a successful narrative essay is in choosing the right topic which means the one you care about and the one you have a story with. Here is a brief list of topics for your future narrative essays.

  • The event that changed my life
  • My most exciting experience so far
  • My first day at school/college/university
  • The person I consider the closest one
  • The moment I could not stay aside
  • My favorite book/poem/movie
  • The role of sports in my life
  • Communication with strangers can make people better
  • The day I felt rejected and the impact it had on me
  • Is there such a thing as a noble lie?

As you can see from the list above, a narrative essay often, but not necessarily, describes an event or events from the author’s life. It also can touch on a large scale ethical or philosophical question. The point is, however, that the proposed answer to this question must be illustrated and supported with a narrative.

We have started thi guide with the warning that writing a narrative essay is not as easy as many people believe. Reading through the lengthy explanation that followed might even leave slightly scared of the need to keep in mind a lot of nuances and issues to consider. There is no need to be afraid, in fact. Take a look at the following narrative essay samples and you will see that there is nothing too hard about writing a concise and well structured narrative essay that stays creative while meeting academic writing standards.

Probably, every one of you has had this feeling before, at least once. You know, the one of having something you had been waiting for a long time, yet being afraid of getting. It was exactly my state of mind before the first day at college. I had been working hard to pass the necessary tests and have my application to the undergraduate program in management approved. And when the time had come for me to visit the college for the first day of study, I had spent the night unable to sleep because of being anxious about how to look good both physically and in a larger sense in front of the whole new world I was about to enter. However, when that stressful day finally came, I realized that people often fall victim to their own anxiety and that positive outlook and readiness to accept support from others help a lot in a new environment.

It was Monday morning. Being too excited to sleep the night before, I came to the college half an hour early for the first lecture and was strolling nervously through the corridors. About fifteen minutes after I came, the corridor started to feel with students and, probably, professors who walked on their business and did not pay particular attention to me.  I knew which auditorium to go to and had already checked that it was open. However, I was hesitant to enter the auditorium and sit there alone. The corridor was not much better. People were moving around me as if they were not seeing me. I felt frustrated with the fact that I had literally nobody to talk to in this new and seemingly unfriendly place.

Suddenly, a neatly dressed man who seemed to be in his late twenties approached me and  asked whether I was lost and if he could help me with anything. Now, as I reflect on the situation, I realize that it was very kind of him and that he was exactly the person I had asked in my thoughts a minute before, yet then I was too nervous for a friendly chat. As a result, instead of welcoming the opportunity to make the first acquaintance, if not a friend, I told the man to mind his own business and leave me alone since I am an adult person capable of finding his class without anybody’s assistance.

Luckily for me, my interlocutor did not seem to take offense. He just shrugged, smiled a bit and went to the room where my first lecture was about to take place. Quite a lot of people had entered the room by the time, so I did not care about having a small feud with one of my future peers. I was embarrassed, however, when I finally learned that the man to whom I had been quite rude minutes before was our lecturer for the first  ever class in the college. As if offending a professor was not enough, it turned out that he was assigned to be my personal mentor for the first semester of study.

Professor Mathews turned out to be a proficient speaker and the lecture went really well. After the class was dismissed, I came to him to apologize for my behavior earlier in the day. Mr. Mathews said that there were no hard feelings and he too was afraid and nervous during his first day as the student of our college.

This episode has taught me a valuable lesson. It helped me realize that I should not let emotional strain and anxiety prevent me from communicating with people openly and friendly. After all, college is the place to establish social connections rather than stay alone trying to prove to anyone that you are capable of achieving something on your own.

My father taught me how to play chess when I was in elementary school. Back in the day, I did not like the game. As a child, I lacked the ability to concentrate and think about the moves for a long time. It goes without saying that I lost to my father constantly and that circumstance did not boost my motivation to play. However, I have recently (re)discovered my interest in chess by following the 2018 World Championship Match between Carlsen and Caruana. Nowadays, chess is more than a game to me. On the one side, it is the opportunity to show my creativity and prove my abilities in an intellectual struggle. On the other, and even more fascinating side, professional chess is a world full of stories about the great players of the past: the giants on whose shoulders the modern masters stand. The most amazing of those stories is about the triumph of character as well as mind in the most dire of circumstances.

The story I am referring to is that of Ossip Bernstein, a Russian chess grandmaster who remained in the elite for virtually his whole life. Bernstein was born at the end of the nineteenth century in Russian Empire. During his early years, he acquired quality education and started what would become an impressive chess career.

His work as financial lawyer was disrupted by the October Revolution. Soon after the bolsheviks took over Russia, Bernstein was arrested and sentenced to death by being shot by a firing squad. Luckily for Ossip, by that time he was already renowned as one of the most talented chess players in the world. When the captain of the firing squad found the name Bernstein in the list of people to be executed, he recognized it and asked Ossip whether he indeed was the famous chess master. Bernstein confirmed. In response, he received an offer he could not decline. The officer asked Bernstein to play for his life. If Bernstein lost or drew against an amateur, he would be executed as planned. However, if the officer lost, he would help the master escape. Bernstein won the game and the officer kept his promise. He helped Ossip escape and take a ship to France where he lived for the rest of his life.

There are several layers to this story that moved me deeply. To start with, I admire the composure of the man in face of seemingly imminent death. It also tells a volume about the officer who showed the utmost respect to the talent of chess master by letting him use his ability to fight for his life. For me, it is a story about dignity and respect in the time and place where these qualities were the most unlikely to manifest. The post-revolution Russia was a dangerous and unstable place where no one could be sure about their safety for the next day.

Of course, there is no bullet proof evidence that the story actually occurred. However, I believe that the best part of the legend is that it does not need to be true to do good to people learning it. People of all generations need stories of resilience and courage to inspire them. The beautiful legend of Bernstein’s escape provides such an optimistic narrative for chess enthusiasts all over the world. Moreover, I firmly believe that it works for people aspiring for success in any field as it shows that talent multiplied by hard work can save one’s life.

Everyone faces situations in life when a so-called “noble lie” appears to be the best option available. However, the same people who opt for deceit as the way out of trouble or what they believe to be the means of protecting the ones they love learn the hard way that lies do not provide relief. Instead of that, they necessitate even more lies creating a vicious circle which, if left unattended for a long time, becomes almost impossible to break. I have seen such a scenario unfold in my own family, and can say for sure that truth is the only weapon to fight against the challenges people encounter in life.

It all started five years ago when I was still in high school, and my older brother Pete entered his sophomore year at college. He studied finance and aspired for a career in banking sector. My brother is a smart and energetic person who combines inborn predisposition towards mathematics and extraverted nature thanks to which he was always surrounded by friends. By all means, he appeared set for a successful career to anyone who knew him.

I have been blessed to grow in a considerable well to do family. Therefore, our parents took it on themselves to support my brother financially during his studies at college. They wanted him to focus on academic issues instead of having to spend time and effort doing jobs that might be unrelated to his major. During his freshman year, Pete did his best to show commitment to his studies and avoided spending too much not to become too much of a financial burden.

However, things started to shift when he entered the second year of college. It all began gradually. Pete seemed always upset and sometimes he turned angry without any visible reason. It lasted for a few months until our father finally made Pete tell him what was the problem. Pete answered that he needed more money for the reasons that he did not want to discuss. Our parents were concerned by this revelation but agreed to provide more funds to Pete so that he could continue focusing on obtaining his degree. And Pete seemed to do his best, but the mood issues did not go. In fact, they became even worse.

When father interrogated Pete concerning his odd attitude for the second time, brother told him that he had fallen in love with a girl who seemed to ignore him, and the money was needed to impress her. The plan worked but now Pete needed to maintain the facade so he had no choice but to get a part-time job of which he did not want to tell parents.

Instead of making an issue out of it, father appreciated Pete’s desire for independence and, in a good hearted manner, asked him to bring the girl for a dinner some time. Pete answered “sure,” but did not bring up the topic for a few months thereafter.

All hell broke loose when one night Pete came home late and heavily bruised. It was difficult to imagine a girlfriend that could apply that kind of damage. At that point, my brother had no choice but to tell the truth: he had been gambling for almost a year and accumulated a significant debt by that point. There was no girlfriend, only debt collectors.

It all ended well. Our parents gathered the necessary sum to make sure that Pete was left alone and made him receive treatment for gambling addiction. It was the decision to tell the truth that set him free while telling one small lie at a time brought him ever deeper into the abyss.