Unique Characteristics of the Narrative Essay

Seth French

Telling a Story vs. Exploring a Topic

Most essays you have written up to this point in your academic career have likely introduced you to a certain topic and then asked you to explore that topic with three or more main points/examples/arguments. The narrative essay, in contrast, requires you to tell a story in order to communicate the specific message related to your writing topic. While there is certainly nothing wrong with other types of essays, it is vital that you approach this essay differently than how you approached others in order to successfully achieved a narrative style that is required.

Once you receive your writing prompt, begin brainstorming by thinking about what experiences from your past relate to the particular topic you’re writing about. As you recall these experiences, try to narrow down the experiences you will include in your essay to the best one or two that you think would be most appropriate to write about. Since you are writing a narrative essay, not a narrative chapter or book, the more stories you include, the less detail you will be able to include because you will simply run out of space. So, it’s best to focus on one or two personal stories that correspond well with the writing prompt so you can go into as much detail as possible.

Once you have selected the best personal example(s) you will write about, remember that you are telling a story, so your essay should include elements which are typically present in stories, such as the setting, characters, problem/conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. While the level of detail you include regarding each of these elements will vary depending on your particular essay, be sure you don’t forget to discuss aspects that will help your reader better visualize the story you are telling them.

Use of Personal Pronouns

Language components of the narrative essay that separate it from other forms of writing are the common use of personal pronouns ( I, me, my, we, our(s), mine ), sensory language ( taste, hear, smell, feel, see ), dialogue, and the historical present / past tenses. Other forms of academic writing favor passive voice in which the agent is hidden and personal pronouns are limited, if not altogether absent. However, in the narrative essay you are sharing a personal experience with your audience, so it will sound most appropriate for you to use personal pronouns throughout your essay rather than use passive voice. In other words, if you were going to tell me about an event you attended with your friends, it would be more appropriate for you to say something such as, “We all had a really great time,” rather than, “A great time was had by everyone.”

Use of Sensory Language

Sensory language is often encouraged in narrative writing because it helps your audience bring themselves into your story as you share with them details that only you can tell them. When you read or hear some of your favorite stories, is it easy for you to visualize what the author is describing? If so, it is probably because the author is skilled at using sensory language to tell the story. While it is probably not necessary to include each of the five senses when you describe a particular event, you should consider which sensory details would be most useful for you to include in order to help your audience better visualize the setting(s) you describe. For instance, if your narrative setting were a concert, you would probably discuss the sights and sounds you experienced at that time as useful sensory details for your audience. On the other hand, if your narrative setting were a restaurant, it would perhaps make the most sense to discuss the smells and tastes you experienced. Thus, when you construct your narrative essay, consider which sensory details would be useful for you to include in order to more effectively engage your audience.

Use of Dialogue

The effective use of dialogue is another way of engaging your audience. Since your narrative essay contains characters who are interacting with one another, you should feel encouraged to share moments of dialogue within your narrative because it enables you to transition from simply telling your audience about what’s happening to actually immersing them in what’s happening.

Think for a moment about the conversations you have with your friends on a regular basis. When you’re telling them about an interaction you had with someone else or an event you witnessed, you probably include the dialogue from that other situation without even realizing it. The reason we do this often instinctively is because we understand that stories with dialogue are generally more interesting than those without dialogue.

For example, “When I was at Walmart the other day, I saw two men getting into an argument. The guy wearing the blue hat said, ‘I saw you trying to steal those. You better pay for them.’ Then the other guy said, ‘It’s none of your business.’ That made the guy in the blue hat mad, so he said, ‘You better pay for those, or else…’ They almost got into a fight. It made me really nervous to watch.”

Now, compare that to the following example: “When I was at Walmart the other day, I saw a guy with a blue hat arguing with another guy because the other guy was stealing something. They argued back and forth and almost got into a fight. It made me really nervous to watch.”

Which story is more intriguing, the first or the second? The first one, right? It’s funny how a small change like including dialogue can create such a significant difference in terms of engaging your audience.

Use of Historical Present and Past Tenses

Finally, the frequent use of historical present and past tense verbs also sets the narrative essay apart from other essays you may be used to writing. In many other academic writing contexts, present tense verbs are favored because they communicate general or ongoing events, truths, or realities. Present tense is a useful default tense to write in when your writing context is not particularly interested in the aspect of time. The narrative essay, in contrast, certainly emphasizes the aspect of time because you are telling a story which occurred in the past. Consequently, using the historical present or past tense to write about these events will work best in this context.

The historical present tense is useful when you are discussing an event that occurred in the past but would like to convey a sense of immediacy with it, as the following example illustrates: “So, I am at my house, and guess who calls me . . . My boss! I was worried at first, but then she tells me that she wants to give me a promotion! Isn’t that great?” In this example, the speaker is telling her friend about the unexpected call she received from her boss while she was at home. Rather than using all past tense verbs, the speaker uses the historical present tense to describe this event, which makes her friend feel as though she is experiencing the event at that moment rather than simply hearing about it.

Nevertheless, you should not feel as though you are restricted to using only these two verb tenses exclusively throughout your essay. Your thesis will likely be written using present tense verbs because your thesis will communicate some truth or realization you have learned through the experiences you share in your narrative. For example, if I were writing a narrative essay about a cultural tradition of the United States, I might write a thesis like this: “Celebrating Thanksgiving with my family reminds me that even though life can be hard and relationships can be complicated, I have so much to be thankful for.” As a general rule, use historical present or past tense verbs to discuss the events in your narrative which occurred in the past, and present tense verbs elsewhere. For more information regarding verb tense sequencing, refer to the appropriate link near the end of the “ Impact of the Thesis ” chapter under the “Useful Links” heading.

Chronological Organization

Since you are telling a story, it often makes the most sense to organize your essay chronologically in the order that the events happened. In other essays, you will likely organize your points/examples/arguments in the order of their importance or strength. The narrative essay, however, is easiest for your audience to follow if you structure the events chronologically. If your narrative contains two stories rather than one, either of the following organizational strategies can be effective:

  • Oldest to most recent
  • Most recent to oldest

Whichever organizational strategy you select, make sure the last story you share is strong because it will be the last opportunity you have to leave your audience with a positive impression of your essay.

Because the organization of the narrative is chronological, the transitional expressions you use within and between paragraphs will likely be chronological in nature as well. Consider using some of the following expressions and other similar expressions to transition from one event to the next as you construct your narrative essay: Then , Next , After that , Once that was over , When I/we had finished , Eventually, and Finally . Learning to use transitional expressions effectively will greatly enhance the quality of your writing.

Unique Characteristics of the Narrative Essay Copyright © 2020 by Seth French is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Characteristics of Narrative Essays

Jana sosnowski, 26 sep 2017.

The narrative essay tells of personal experience to share a lesson.

The narrative essay reports events or tells a story using elements of fiction. Plot, characters and details are included in a narrative essay. Generally, these essays are written in chronological order. The purpose of the narrative essay is to share a personal experience that a reader can identify with or learn from. The characteristics of a narrative essay include use of characters and setting, literary techniques, chronology and a moral to the story.

Explore this article

  • Characters and Setting
  • Literary Techniques
  • Moral of the Story

1 Characters and Setting

Characters and setting are storytelling elements that give life to the narrative essay. It is important to choose the characters who are most important to the story development. Characters' personalities should follow the "showing, not telling" rule and demonstrate the qualities of each character. In developing the characters, use the actions and dialogue of the character to show personality and mood. Setting can include visual details, tastes, sounds and smells. Specific measurements can add to details about shape, time and size.

2 Literary Techniques

In addition to showing the actions and personalities of characters and giving visual details of the setting, add details and description to the narrative essay through the use of writing techniques. Use of figurative language, such as similes and metaphors, can add to the descriptive quality of the the narrative essay. These comparisons allow the reader to draw personal connections with the writing and topic. Monologues, humor and suspense increase the reader's interest in the narrative.

3 Chronology

A narrative essay is written in chronological order — that is, events told in the order of occurrence. Transition words should cue the passage of time. Examples of appropriate transition words include first, later, before, afterward and meanwhile. Flashback sequences are used in narratives to give context to the story.

4 Moral of the Story

The key point or reflection of the story is often presented as the moral of the story at the end of a narrative essay. In this final section of the essay, the writer reflects on the experience presented in the narration and discusses the lesson learned or larger importance of the story. The conclusion may also include the significance of the event to the author's own life or to a broader population.

  • 1 Capital Community College Foundation: Guide to Grammar and Writing: Narrative and Descriptive
  • 2 National Council of Teachers of English: 7 Narrative Writing Activities

About the Author

Based in Los Angeles, Jana Sosnowski holds Master of Science in educational psychology and instructional technology, She has spent the past 11 years in education, primarily in the secondary classroom teaching English and journalism. Sosnowski has also worked as a curriculum writer for a math remediation program. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in print journalism from the University of Southern California.

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narrative essay qualities

Narrative Essay: Inside Out

What is a narrative essay?

How is it different from other essay types?

How to write a narrative essay so it would impress a teacher, or any other reader, and be worth sharing and retelling?

This ultimate guide on narrative writing gets all the answers straight.


Table of Contents:

  • Purpose of narrative essays
  • Characteristics of narrative essays
  • Choose a topic
  • Outline the details
  • Write a draft
  • Revise the draft
  • Edit your narrative essay
  • Do’s and don’ts of your narrative essay
  • Narrative essay samples

What is a Narrative Essay?

Why do we call it narrative?

Because you use a particular way of telling your story and explaining its events, known as “narrative.” Here goes the narrative definition:

Beemgee described it best:

Essay Outline: General

narrative essay qualities

Narrative turns a story into information and influences the way how readers will perceive it. In other words, narrative builds your story .

So, your narrative essay is a type of paper, where you tell a story using a particular format and all elements of storytelling.

Okay, we know what you are thinking:

Source: Giphy

Keep calm! Everything is much easier than it seems.

Purpose of Narrative Essays

Narrative essays are about telling stories to your readers. It’s their fundamental purpose. You, the writer, tell about the personal experience but also make a point for readers to understand why you tell about it and why your story is important to share.

In a narrative essay, you simply guide a reader and allow them to draw own conclusions. You don’t criticize anything and don’t try to persuade them with arguments or prove them anything. That’s exactly what makes a narrative essay different from other academic papers.

Let’s compare:

Feel free to check our ultimate guide on how to write a persuasive essay and see the difference between these two essay types in more details.

Why write personal narrative essays?

Doing so, you learn to voice your opinion, views, and beliefs to the world. You learn to express and share thoughts consistently and intriguingly so people would get involved and inspired by your story.

It’s all about storytelling:

A human brain retains 70% of information through stories and 95% – through emotions; so the only way to make people want to listen to you is to tell them a story.

narrative essay qualities

Source: One Spot

And such writing assignments as narrative essays help you learn how to tell stories so that others would listen to you.

Your narrative, if written right, is the best way to share views and make others see the world through your eyes. It’s the best way to make them listen, broaden the mind, and be more creative about own experience and lives.

The power of personal narrative is hard to overestimate. Just watch this awesome TED talk by Christian Jensen! Isn’t inspiring and motivating enough?

Characteristics of Narrative Essays

A narrative essay doesn’t equal a short story. It’s not fiction. It’s still an academic paper, non-fiction writing about an experience that actually happened.

If you write a fictional story, it’s no longer a narrative essay.

narrative essay qualities

So, the narrative essay characteristics are:

  • Informal, written in the 1st person. (You are a storyteller here.)
  • With a purpose to inform, not argue or teach.
  • Describes a person, a scene, or an event in details and chronological order.
  • Non-fictional, tells about the actual experience.
  • Includes the elements of a story but follows the structure of an essay.

The Structure of a Narrative Essay

As well as any other college paper , a narrative essay has its structure. But given that it’s kinda informal writing about your personal experience in real life, it will have a format and elements peculiar to narratives (storytelling).

Here they go:

1 – Elements

Every narrative should have five elements to become a story: plot , setting , character , conflict , and theme . Sounds difficult at first glance, but what if look closer?

  • Plot: it’s the events happening in your essay (story). For example, you write about how you learned swimming and describe what you did/how it influenced your mood and swimming skills.
  • Setting: it’s when and where the events happen; in other words, it’s location and time. For example, you learned swimming in the pool of your local school, in the winter of 2013.
  • Character: it’s a protagonist who drives a plot of your story. Also, there can be supporting characters. Thus, you are the protagonist of your essay about swimming, and the supporting characters are your friends May and Jerry who went to the pool with you.

In classical storytelling, a character is a hero who has to set off on a journey and deal with all antagonists and conflicts to come back home with a reward or wisdom.

narrative essay qualities

Source: SlideShare

It was Joseph Campbell, mythologist who developed the hero’s journey in literature. Read his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces if want to learn the tricks behind writing compelling stories.

Or, check The Writer’s Journey , the book by Disney’s screenwriter Christopher Vogler to reveal storytelling secrets behind all movie blockbusters. It’s a kinda practical guide to above mentioned The Hero with a Thousand Faces .

  • Conflict: it’s a problem the character resolves, a moment of tension he needs to win through. In our example, the conflict was the challenge for you to swim with legs and arms together.

In literature, a conflict is defined as a hero’s struggle with opposing force. These forces are three: other characters (enemies), outside forces (society, nature, technology, fate), and a hero himself (his internal conflict).

In your narrative essay, feel free to use any of those three conflict types.

  • Theme: it’s the moral of a story. What have you learned? What do you want the readers to understand? Back to the example with the essay about swimming: you’ve learned to swim; you want to encourage readers to learn new things, be brave and not afraid of challenges.

To combine all the five elements into a strong narrative essay, make sure you follow the format known as the narrative arc . It’s five phases your plot should get through to become a story.

In short, a narrative arc is the sequence of the events in your story.

In details, it’s the chronological construction of your plot, and it consists of five components: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Back in 1863, German novelist Gustav Freytag studied common patterns in stories’ plots and described a narrative arc as a pyramid:

narrative essay qualities

Read more about a narrative arc at Reedsy .

And here’s a short description of narrative arc components, with Cinderella as an example.

  • Exposition: it’s the introduction of your story, with the background information about main characters and setting. Cinderella: awful life, evil stepmother and sisters.
  • Rising action: it’s the moment when conflict appears, a trigger that creates tension and makes the readers understand what your story is about. Cinderella: gets invited to the ball, makes clothes.
  • Climax: it’s the main event of your story, the height of tension, when the protagonist faces the truth, needs to make a choice, etc. Cinderella: goes to the ball, meets a prince.
  • Falling action: it’s the result of that choice, the moment of conflict resolution. Cinderella: time to go, back to the awful life but with the new experience.
  • Resolution: it’s the conclusion of your story, with a moral or point of view you wanted to share. Cinderella: the prince finds her, they live happily.

If you want your narrative essay to rock, make sure you format it with all five components in mind. Or, use three basic ones at least: exposition (in the introduction), climax (in the essay body), and resolution (in your essay conclusion ).

3 – Structure

You need to structure a narrative essay by the rules of academic writing. For that, use a standard 5-paragraph essay format:

Write an introduction (the exposition of your narrative essay). Don’t forget to add a hook, a thesis statement, and a description of your topic.

Craft three paragraphs of your essay body (the rising action, climax, and falling action). Tell about the setting, the characters, events that happened, conflict, and its aftermath.

And write a conclusion (the resolution). Explain the moral of your story, why it’s significant, and what the audience might want to do after reading it.

Narrative Essay Structure

narrative essay qualities

4 – Language

More often than not, narrative essays are about personal experience and thoughts. So you need to express them with a big voice for readers to believe your story. In writing, it refers to language patterns and sentence structures, as well as your tone and ability to “draw” images with words so readers could imagine themselves in the described situation.

How to do that?

narrative essay qualities

  • Stay consistent: follow the narrative arc of your story, and don’t tell anything that didn’t happen.

How to Write a Narrative Essay: Step by Step

The process of narrative essay writing is not that different from other college assignments. First, you need to choose a topic and do research on it. Second, you craft the outline with as many details as you can and start writing a draft. Third, you revise the essay, edit it, and submit to a teacher for review.

Like taking candy from a baby, right?

Here’s how to write a personal narrative essay so that it will not only help you get a high grade but also wow and inspire the readers.

Step 1 – Choose a Topic

As a rule, teachers give you the freedom of choice when it comes to the narrative essay topics. And that’s the problem. You just sit and can’t come up with the idea of what to write. Here is the risk of choosing the very first topic that comes to your mind, but don’t do that!

The success of your narrative essay depends on its topic too. You need to choose something both interesting to you and appealing enough to hook the audience. For that, do brainstorming:

  • Ask yourself questions on what bothers you and what you’d like to tell or discuss with others.
  • Use social media for brainstorming your narrative essay topic: what your peers discuss, what they share, what message you’d like to send with your essay.
  • Take a walk and think, think, think until you come up with an idea.
  • Try free writing: take a pen and a notebook and just start writing down all thoughts that come to your mind. Re-read what you’ve written. Are there any ideas you could use as a topic for your narrative essay?

Here go topic examples. (If stuck with choosing yours, feel free to ask our writers for help.)

Topics to Choose for Your Next Narrative Essay

Experience: – The most frightening experience I ever had. – How I learned swimming (cooking, playing guitar, etc.) – It was the moment I changed my life philosophy. – The most embarrassing moment of my life. – Why I’ll never support vegans again.

School years: – My favorite subject in school was… You’ll never guess. – Why my English teacher could be your best friend. – How my best friend from school influenced my life. – The day when my parents said no to my homework. – I participated in primary school events, and I regret it.

Childhood: – My most memorable birthday party. – Why I’ll never say thank you to my father. – How I stole a cat that meowed on my dog. – The only game I miss from childhood. – The day when I cried for the first and last time in my life.

Relationships: – This friendship breakup cost me a year of life. – My worst quarrel with parents. – The friend zone none of you would handle. – About Cathy, a person I fear losing the most. – This joke cost me the best friend.

Morality: – It was the hardest decision for me. – They’ll never call me a coward again. – That’s why it’s okay to lie sometimes. – How to treat strangers well if they don’t do the same. – Are you ready for rebel acts for the sake of goodness?

Interests: – The song/movie that touched me the most. – The book character I associate myself with. – The famous person from the past I’d like to meet. – If I were a politician, I’d be… – The superpower I’d like to have, and why.

Traveling: – The place in the world everyone needs to visit. – It was my worst trip ever. – How travels to the countryside can change your world view. – The best place for a family vacation. – Top things to take with you to the mountains.

Student life: – The most exhausting exam I had in college. – How I dropped out of college and what happened. – The moment I’ve understood: college life put me in depression. – This person influenced my social life in college. – Why I decided not to enter university.

Imagine if: – You had a time machine. – You were a book character. – You were born in a different country. – You’ve become a superhero. – You’ve wakened up being an animal.

Step 2 – Outline the Details

Unlike with argumentative essays, narrative ones are about your personal life and experiences; so, you won’t need any specific research to support facts, arguments, or your thesis statement .

However, you need to organize thoughts so you could make a claim for your thesis and see if there are any gaps in your knowledge to describe all the details in your narrative essay. For that, create an outline .

Here’s the sample for you to follow:

Narrative Essay Outline (Sample)

I. Introduction (one paragraph)

a) hook and background information b) specific moment that makes your essay matter c) thesis

II. Body (three paragraphs minimum, but don’t limit yourself if the assignment requirements allow)

a) the point that led you to the conflict (think of feelings and emotions you experienced) b) the actual moment (the climax of your story): write about tension, anxiety, or other feelings you experienced; compare them with some universal ideas so your readers would understand you c) the result (resolution): write about the lesson you’ve learned, think of questions your readers might ask, answer them in your essay

III. Conclusion (one paragraph)

a) restate the thesis and major points of your essay (back to lessons learned) b) think of a question or a call to action for readers: what’s in there for them in your essay; what can they learn from it?

Once the outline is ready, evaluate the clarity of your topic and re-organize your thoughts if necessary.

Make sure that your outline has enough supporting details to reinforce the claim and tell a compelling story.

Step 3 – Write a Draft

Now it’s time to start writing and organize the content of your essay right.

Divide your outline into three parts: a setup of your story, its main part with the climax, and a conclusion. Describe each, following the course of events. Remember about the narrative arc and don’t miss any details: readers weren’t there, so stay clear and “paint” the picture for them to get involved in your story.

Oh yes, and write your narrative essay from the 1st person. It’s your story, after all.

Step 4 – Revise a Draft

Once the first draft is ready, put it aside and wait for a few hours before revising it. Take a walk, a nap, a cup of coffee, whatever. You need to abstract yourself from the story for a while so you could evaluate your writing from a fresh perspective.

Read through your narrative essay and make sure it includes all elements of a story. Identify where more details are needed and what details to remove so they wouldn’t distract readers from the plot.

Answer the questions:

  • Is my essay easy to read and understand for an average reader?
  • Do I involve readers in my experience?
  • Are my words descriptive enough? Do I show or just inform readers about the events?
  • Have I conveyed the message? Will the reader understand the connection between the event and its meaning?
  • Do I follow the structure of narrative essays? Does my story have a clear introduction and conclusion?

Step 5 – Edit Your Narrative Essay

This stage refers to finding rough spots in your narrative essay, proofreading it to avoid spelling and grammar mistakes, and revising its language and style for better clarity and readability.

When editing, use applications like Grammarly or ProWritingAid to check grammar and spelling. Remove double spacing, replace misspellings, and rewrite too complex sentences into simple ones.

Don’t use terms of many meanings. Delete all repeats: words, arguments, ideas. Paraphrase where it’s hard to understand the sense and verify the citations wherever needed.

Ask someone to read your essay before you submit it to a teacher. They may notice the mistakes you’ve missed or share their opinion on your essay. It can help you improve the story and make it more compelling.

Still not sure if your narrative essay is ready to captivate readers and earn you A+? You may ask professional here on Bid4Papers for help and advanced tips on essay writing.

Do’s and Don’ts of Your Narrative Essay

To make this long guide easier for you to grasp, here is the short list of do’s and don’ts to remember when writing your narrative essay.

  • Start with some provoking info to hook readers: a question, a definition, a quote, a fact, etc.
  • Write from the 1st person. (A 3rd person is okay, too.)
  • State a point: what do you want to say by your essay?
  • Try to evoke all five senses in your essay: what you saw, heard, felt, smelled, etc.
  • Follow the format: include all components of a good story to your narrative essay.
  • Make sure your story has a conflict.
  • Describe events in chronological order.
  • Use clear and descriptive language: power words, transition words , short sentences.
  • Avoid slang, too formal language, and arguments like in persuasive essays.
  • Avoid second-person narrative.
  • Don’t tell, show. And make a point.
  • Avoid writing about each and every movement of your character in the essay: specify key points that drive the plot.
  • Don’t format references the way you do it in MLA essays .
  • Remember that your narrative essay is not a short story. Write about true events, don’t create fiction stories.

Narrative Essay Samples

  • How to Write an Essay: 10 Easy Steps
  • Narrative Essay: Characteristics and Examples
  • How to Write Narrative (video by Jeremy Thompson)
  • 500 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing
  • The Narrative Essay: It Differs From a Simple Story

And now, citing the above mentioned Christian Jensen and his TED talk:

“How will you use the power of your own personal narrative to accomplish things that no one else can?”

Frequently Asked Questions

First of all, for students, we have collected a small base of answers to questions about how narrative writing is constructed and what you will need for writing. Thanks to this, you can cope successfully with the task and get a positive grade from the teacher.

– What is a Narrative Essay?

A classic personal narrative essay involves telling a specific story with its own moral, main body, conclusion, and beginning. Such a research paper develops writing skills and allows you to share your creative experiences. The main feature is that you will be able to use your experience, vision of the situation, and conclusions that you were able to make. That is why this type of work is one of the most favorite among students.

– How to create a Narrative Essay

We first recommend seeing personal narrative examples to understand better the work’s essence and the result you should get. You need to analyze the chosen topic and make a list of arguments that you will use. You will then be able to develop ideas and give examples from personal experience. You should also follow a standard structure with main, initial, and concluding parts.

– What is the difference between a narrative essay and a descriptive essay?

If you look at personal narrative essay examples, you will immediately see the difference. In a narrative essay, you need to tell as complete a story as possible, which will look like a research paper. On the other hand, narrative essays are relatively short descriptions of a particular concept, object, or situation. The first assignment is usually much more creative.

– How to start a narrative essay?

It is best to begin any scholarly work, especially creative work, with a hook. That way, you can hook readers right away and give them a chance to read your essay to the end. You can initially give an interesting figure, fact, or statistic. Well, and of course, do not forget about the classic structure, which means writing a full-fledged introduction.

Our Writing Guides

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  • Narrative paper on personal experience

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Basic Qualities Of A Good Narrative Essay: A Helpful Guide

A narrative essay is one which tells a story often about something that happened to the author. The purpose of this piece is to tell a story in such a way that the audience is able to gain insight for learned some lessons from reading it.

  • When you are writing a narrative you want to tell about an event or a moment that is meaningful to you. The more you care about the particular event the easier it will be for you to create the story in an interesting manner from beginning to end. You want to avoid lengthy descriptions at the start and make sure that you get right down to the action of the story.
  • You also want to make sure that there is a point to what you are presenting. Do not simply tell the reader about the time that you fell and broke your leg. Tell them what you learned from falling and breaking your leg.
  • When you are working on this type of assignment you want to make sure to utilize all of your senses so that you describe not just the plot but also the characters and the setting. You want to avoid telling the story in any voice but your own. This is often a new style of writing for students but it offers the chance to avoid sounding like a textbook and two instead present a story with passion.

You should set aside some regular time to work on your essay during the weeks before it is due. This will give you the time you need to review what you have and edit it all properly. If you set up a regular work schedule during your free time, such as two hours in between a morning class and afternoon class, you will be able to work a little bit every day on all of your different assignments.

While you are working on any part of your essay, you want to make sure you stay hydrated so that you can focus better. Having the small snack also allows you the opportunity to avoid having to get up in the middle of a session to retrieve something to eat. If you find that you are unable to come up with more ideas, or you are struggling to think of the words you need, you might need one of these things.

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narrative essay qualities

Detailed Guide on How to Write a Narrative Essay with Tips

narrative essay qualities

Defining What Is a Narrative Essay

We can explain a narrative essay definition as a piece of writing that tells a story. It's like a window into someone's life or a page torn from a diary. Similarly to a descriptive essay, a narrative essay tells a story, rather than make a claim and use evidence. It can be about anything – a personal experience, a childhood memory, a moment of triumph or defeat – as long as it's told in a way that captures the reader's imagination.

You might ask - 'which sentence most likely comes from a narrative essay?'. Let's take this for example: 'I could hear the waves crashing against the shore, their rhythm a soothing lullaby that carried me off to sleep.' You could even use such an opening for your essay when wondering how to start a narrative essay.

To further define a narrative essay, consider it storytelling with a purpose. The purpose of a narrative essay is not just to entertain but also to convey a message or lesson in first person. It's a way to share your experiences and insights with others and connect with your audience. Whether you're writing about your first love, a harrowing adventure, or a life-changing moment, your goal is to take the reader on a journey that will leave them feeling moved, inspired, or enlightened.

So if you're looking for a way to express yourself creatively and connect with others through your writing, try your hand at a narrative essay. Who knows – you might just discover a hidden talent for storytelling that you never knew you had!

Meanwhile, let's delve into the article to better understand this type of paper through our narrative essay examples, topic ideas, and tips on constructing a perfect essay.

Types of Narrative Essays

If you were wondering, 'what is a personal narrative essay?', know that narrative essays come in different forms, each with a unique structure and purpose. Regardless of the type of narrative essay, each aims to transport the reader to a different time and place and to create an emotional connection between the reader and the author's experiences. So, let's discuss each type in more detail:

  • A personal narrative essay is based on one's unique experience or event. Personal narrative essay examples include a story about overcoming a fear or obstacle or reflecting on a particularly meaningful moment in one's life.
  • A fictional narrative is a made-up story that still follows the basic elements of storytelling. Fictional narratives can take many forms, from science fiction to romance to historical fiction.
  • A memoir is similar to personal narratives but focuses on a specific period or theme in a person's life. Memoirs might be centered around a particular relationship, a struggle with addiction, or a cultural identity. If you wish to describe your life in greater depth, you might look at how to write an autobiography .
  • A literacy narrative essay explores the writer's experiences with literacy and how it has influenced their life. The essay typically tells a personal story about a significant moment or series of moments that impacted the writer's relationship with reading, writing, or communication.

You might also be interested in discovering 'HOW TO WRITE AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY'

Pros and Cons of Narrative Writing

Writing a narrative essay can be a powerful tool for self-expression and creative storytelling, but like any form of writing, it comes with its own set of pros and cons. Let's explore the pros and cons of narrative writing in more detail, helping you to decide whether it's the right writing style for your needs.

  • It can be a powerful way to convey personal experiences and emotions.
  • Allows for creative expression and unique voice
  • Engages the reader through storytelling and vivid details
  • It can be used to teach a lesson or convey a message.
  • Offers an opportunity for self-reflection and growth
  • It can be challenging to balance personal storytelling with the needs of the reader
  • It may not be as effective for conveying factual information or arguments
  • It may require vulnerability and sharing personal details that some writers may find uncomfortable
  • It can be subjective, as the reader's interpretation of the narrative may vary

If sharing your personal stories is not your cup of tea, you can buy essays online from our expert writers, who will customize the paper to your particular writing style and tone.

20 Excellent Narrative Essay Topics and How to Choose One

Choosing a good topic among many narrative essay ideas can be challenging, but some tips can help you make the right choice. Here are some original and helpful tips on how to choose a good narrative essay topic:

  • Consider your own experiences: One of the best sources of inspiration for a narrative essay is your own life experiences. Consider moments that have had a significant impact on you, whether they are positive or negative. For example, you could write about a memorable trip or a challenging experience you overcame.
  • Choose a topic relevant to your audience: Consider your audience and their interests when choosing a narrative essay topic. If you're writing for a class, consider what topics might be relevant to the course material. If you're writing for a broader audience, consider what topics might be interesting or informative to them.
  • Find inspiration in literature: Literature can be a great source of inspiration for a narrative essay. Consider the books or stories that have had an impact on you, and think about how you can incorporate elements of them into your own narrative. For example, you could start by using a title for narrative essay inspired by the themes of a favorite novel or short story.
  • Focus on a specific moment or event: Most narrative essays tell a story, so it's important to focus on a specific moment or event. For example, you could write a short narrative essay about a conversation you had with a friend or a moment of realization while traveling.
  • Experiment with different perspectives: Consider writing from different perspectives to add depth and complexity to your narrative. For example, you could write about the same event from multiple perspectives or explore the thoughts and feelings of a secondary character.
  • Use writing prompts: Writing prompts can be a great source of inspiration if you struggle to develop a topic. Consider using a prompt related to a specific theme, such as love, loss, or growth.
  • Choose a topic with rich sensory details: A good narrative essay should engage the senses and create a vivid picture in the reader's mind. Choose a topic with rich sensory details that you can use to create a vivid description. For example, you could write about a bustling city's sights, sounds, and smells.
  • Choose a topic meaningful to you: Ultimately, the best narrative essays are meaningful to the writer. Choose a topic that resonates with you and that you feel passionate about. For example, you could write about a personal goal you achieved or a struggle you overcame.

Here are some good narrative essay topics for inspiration from our experts:

  • A life-changing event that altered your perspective on the world
  • The story of a personal accomplishment or achievement
  • An experience that tested your resilience and strength
  • A time when you faced a difficult decision and how you handled it
  • A childhood memory that still holds meaning for you
  • The impact of a significant person in your life
  • A travel experience that taught you something new
  • A story about a mistake or failure that ultimately led to growth and learning
  • The first day of a new job or school
  • The story of a family tradition or ritual that is meaningful to you
  • A time when you had to confront a fear or phobia
  • A memorable concert or music festival experience
  • An experience that taught you the importance of communication or listening
  • A story about a time when you had to stand up for what you believed in
  • A time when you had to persevere through a challenging task or project
  • A story about a significant cultural or societal event that impacted your life
  • The impact of a book, movie, or other work of art on your life
  • A time when you had to let go of something or someone important to you
  • A memorable encounter with a stranger that left an impression on you
  • The story of a personal hobby or interest that has enriched your life

Narrative Format and Structure

The narrative essay format and structure are essential elements of any good story. A well-structured narrative can engage readers, evoke emotions, and create lasting memories. Whether you're writing a personal essay or a work of fiction, the following guidelines on how to write a narrative essay can help you create a compelling paper:

narrative essay

  • Introduction : The introduction sets the scene for your story and introduces your main characters and setting. It should also provide a hook to capture your reader's attention and make them want to keep reading. When unsure how to begin a narrative essay, describe the setting vividly or an intriguing question that draws the reader in.
  • Plot : The plot is the sequence of events that make up your story. It should have a clear beginning, middle, and end, with each part building on the previous one. The plot should also have a clear conflict or problem the protagonist must overcome.
  • Characters : Characters are the people who drive the story. They should be well-developed and have distinct personalities and motivations. The protagonist should have a clear goal or desire, and the antagonist should provide a challenge or obstacle to overcome.
  • Setting : The setting is the time and place the story takes place. It should be well-described and help to create a mood or atmosphere that supports the story's themes.
  • Dialogue : Dialogue is the conversation between characters. It should be realistic and help to reveal the characters' personalities and motivations. It can also help to move the plot forward.
  • Climax : The climax is the highest tension or conflict point in the story. It should be the turning point that leads to resolving the conflict.
  • Resolution : The resolution is the end of the story. It should provide a satisfying conclusion to the conflict and tie up any loose ends.

Following these guidelines, you can create a narrative essay structure that engages readers and leaves a lasting impression. Remember, a well-structured story can take readers on a journey and make them feel part of the action.

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Narrative Essay Outline

Here is a detailed narrative essay outline from our custom term paper writing :


A. Hook: Start with an attention-grabbing statement, question, or anecdote that introduces the topic and draws the reader in. Example: 'The sun beat down on my skin as I stepped onto the stage, my heart pounding with nervous excitement.'

B. Background information: Provide context for the story, such as the setting or the characters involved. Example: 'I had been preparing for this moment for weeks, rehearsing my lines and perfecting my performance for the school play.'

C. Thesis statement: State the essay's main point and preview the events to come. Example: 'This experience taught me that taking risks and stepping outside my comfort zone can lead to unexpected rewards and personal growth.'

Body Paragraphs

A. First event: Describe the first event in the story, including details about the setting, characters, and actions. Example: 'As I delivered my first lines on stage, I felt a rush of adrenaline and a sense of pride in my hard work paying off.'

B. Second event: Describe the second event in the story, including how it builds on the first event and moves the story forward. Example: 'As the play progressed, I became more comfortable in my role and connecting with the other actors on stage.'

C. Turning point: Describe the turning point in the story, when something unexpected or significant changes the course of events. Example: 'In the final act, my character faced a difficult decision that required me to improvise and trust my instincts.'

D. Climax: Describe the story's climax, the highest tension or conflict point. Example: 'As the play reached its climax, I delivered my final lines with confidence and emotion, feeling a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment.'

A. Restate thesis: Summarize the essay's main point and how the events in the story support it. Example: 'Through this experience, I learned that taking risks and pushing past my comfort zone can lead to personal growth and unexpected rewards.'

B. Reflection: Reflect on the significance of the experience and what you learned from it. Example: 'Looking back, I realize that this experience not only taught me about acting and performance but also about the power of perseverance and self-belief.'

C. Call to action: if you're still wondering how to write an essay conclusion , consider ending it with a call to action or final thought that leaves the reader with something to consider or act on. Example: 'I encourage everyone to take risks and embrace new challenges because you never know what kind of amazing experiences and growth they may lead to.

You might also be interested in getting detailed info on 'HOW TO WRITE AN ESSAY CONCLUSION'

Narrative Essay Examples

Are you looking for inspiration for your next narrative essay? Look no further than our narrative essay example. Through vivid storytelling and personal reflections, this essay takes the reader on a journey of discovery and leaves them with a powerful lesson about the importance of compassion and empathy. Use this sample from our expert essay writer as a guide for crafting your own narrative essay, and let your unique voice and experiences shine through.

Narrative Essay Example for College

College professors search for the following qualities in their students:

  • the ability to adapt to different situations,
  • the ability to solve problems creatively,
  • and the ability to learn from mistakes.

Your work must demonstrate these qualities, regardless of whether your narrative paper is a college application essay or a class assignment. Additionally, you want to demonstrate your character and creativity. Describe a situation where you have encountered a problem, tell the story of how you came up with a unique approach to solving it, and connect it to your field of interest. The narrative can be exciting and informative if you present it in such fashion.

Narrative Essay Example for High School

High school is all about showing that you can make mature choices. You accept the consequences of your actions and retrieve valuable life lessons. Think of an event in which you believe your actions were exemplary and made an adult choice. A personal narrative essay example will showcase the best of your abilities. Finally, use other sources to help you get the best results possible. Try searching for a sample narrative essay to see how others have approached it.

Final Words

So now that you know what is a narrative essay you might want to produce high-quality paper. For that let our team of experienced writers help. Our research paper writing service offers a range of professional writing services that cater to your unique needs and requirements, from narrative essays to research papers, also offering dissertation help and more.

With our flexible pricing options and fast turnaround times, you can trust that you'll receive great value for your investment. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you succeed in your academic writing journey. 

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What Are the Characteristics of Narrative Writing?

Narrative writing is best described as an account of a sequence of fictional or nonfictional events, usually in chronological order. It is a story created in constructive format. The main characteristics of narrative writing are the plot, the characters, the setting, the structure and the theme.

Plot in narrative is defined by the events that take place within a story. When writing a narrative piece, the writer is primarily concerned with the main events that are central to the story, how these events lead from one to another, how they influence one another and how they effect one another. The conflict that makes up the plot sparks interest when it is able to produce an artistic effect and provoke emotion in the reader.

Characters are central to any piece of narrative writing. It is the writer's job to use these characters by presenting them through the narrative. This is done by means of describing them, through their actions, speech and thoughts. A good character is one who has been developed in great detail, using the narrative.

The setting is the place and the time that the events that make up your narrative story occur. Setting is generally considered essential to any narrative writing because it allows the readers to establish familiar ground with the characters in the story and everything that surrounds them.

The structure is the general order and shape of the narrative. In the beginning of a traditional narrative it is common for the writer to introduce the reader to the setting, characters, situation and the main character's goal. In the middle of a narrative piece the story will develop through a series of (problematic) events and find itself in the middle of a crisis that must be resolved. In the end of the piece the climax is resolved, and the tension is dissipated during what is called the denouement.

The theme allows any narrative writing to do more than purely entertain. Good narratives also suggest a truth about, or a meaning to, life. A theme in a story can really move the reader and make a piece of writing much more memorable, as well as help illuminate it as a work of art. A good example of a narrative theme might be "the price of conformity.”

Angeliki Coconi started writing in 1999 with the theater comedy "Loop," produced in Athens. In 2001 she wrote and produced another comedy, "Modern Cinderella." In 2006 she was awarded a Master of Science in literature from the University of Edinburgh. In 2009 Coconi obtained the Postgraduate Certificate in Screenwriting from Napier University of Edinburgh.

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How to Write a Narrative Essay | Example & Tips

Published on July 24, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023.

A narrative essay tells a story. In most cases, this is a story about a personal experience you had. This type of essay , along with the descriptive essay , allows you to get personal and creative, unlike most academic writing .

Table of contents

What is a narrative essay for, choosing a topic, interactive example of a narrative essay, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about narrative essays.

When assigned a narrative essay, you might find yourself wondering: Why does my teacher want to hear this story? Topics for narrative essays can range from the important to the trivial. Usually the point is not so much the story itself, but the way you tell it.

A narrative essay is a way of testing your ability to tell a story in a clear and interesting way. You’re expected to think about where your story begins and ends, and how to convey it with eye-catching language and a satisfying pace.

These skills are quite different from those needed for formal academic writing. For instance, in a narrative essay the use of the first person (“I”) is encouraged, as is the use of figurative language, dialogue, and suspense.

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Narrative essay assignments vary widely in the amount of direction you’re given about your topic. You may be assigned quite a specific topic or choice of topics to work with.

  • Write a story about your first day of school.
  • Write a story about your favorite holiday destination.

You may also be given prompts that leave you a much wider choice of topic.

  • Write about an experience where you learned something about yourself.
  • Write about an achievement you are proud of. What did you accomplish, and how?

In these cases, you might have to think harder to decide what story you want to tell. The best kind of story for a narrative essay is one you can use to talk about a particular theme or lesson, or that takes a surprising turn somewhere along the way.

For example, a trip where everything went according to plan makes for a less interesting story than one where something unexpected happened that you then had to respond to. Choose an experience that might surprise the reader or teach them something.

Narrative essays in college applications

When applying for college , you might be asked to write a narrative essay that expresses something about your personal qualities.

For example, this application prompt from Common App requires you to respond with a narrative essay.

In this context, choose a story that is not only interesting but also expresses the qualities the prompt is looking for—here, resilience and the ability to learn from failure—and frame the story in a way that emphasizes these qualities.

An example of a short narrative essay, responding to the prompt “Write about an experience where you learned something about yourself,” is shown below.

Hover over different parts of the text to see how the structure works.

Since elementary school, I have always favored subjects like science and math over the humanities. My instinct was always to think of these subjects as more solid and serious than classes like English. If there was no right answer, I thought, why bother? But recently I had an experience that taught me my academic interests are more flexible than I had thought: I took my first philosophy class.

Before I entered the classroom, I was skeptical. I waited outside with the other students and wondered what exactly philosophy would involve—I really had no idea. I imagined something pretty abstract: long, stilted conversations pondering the meaning of life. But what I got was something quite different.

A young man in jeans, Mr. Jones—“but you can call me Rob”—was far from the white-haired, buttoned-up old man I had half-expected. And rather than pulling us into pedantic arguments about obscure philosophical points, Rob engaged us on our level. To talk free will, we looked at our own choices. To talk ethics, we looked at dilemmas we had faced ourselves. By the end of class, I’d discovered that questions with no right answer can turn out to be the most interesting ones.

The experience has taught me to look at things a little more “philosophically”—and not just because it was a philosophy class! I learned that if I let go of my preconceptions, I can actually get a lot out of subjects I was previously dismissive of. The class taught me—in more ways than one—to look at things with an open mind.

If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

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If you’re not given much guidance on what your narrative essay should be about, consider the context and scope of the assignment. What kind of story is relevant, interesting, and possible to tell within the word count?

The best kind of story for a narrative essay is one you can use to reflect on a particular theme or lesson, or that takes a surprising turn somewhere along the way.

Don’t worry too much if your topic seems unoriginal. The point of a narrative essay is how you tell the story and the point you make with it, not the subject of the story itself.

Narrative essays are usually assigned as writing exercises at high school or in university composition classes. They may also form part of a university application.

When you are prompted to tell a story about your own life or experiences, a narrative essay is usually the right response.

The key difference is that a narrative essay is designed to tell a complete story, while a descriptive essay is meant to convey an intense description of a particular place, object, or concept.

Narrative and descriptive essays both allow you to write more personally and creatively than other kinds of essays , and similar writing skills can apply to both.

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

Caulfield, J. (2023, July 23). How to Write a Narrative Essay | Example & Tips. Scribbr. Retrieved November 14, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/academic-essay/narrative-essay/

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