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How to Write a Narrative Essay

Narrative essays are a type of writing where the writer provides an account of a particular situation or event. This genre of essay is often given to students as an academic assignment. Usually, these essays are a short version of a narrative-style novel. The primary objective is storytelling, i.e., the writer tells a story with the aim of making the narrative as interesting and engaging as possible for their readers. More so than other types of essays, the narrative essay gives the writer scope to be creative.

While narrative essays have the appearance of short stories, they are often based on the writer’s own personal experiences. This implies they are non-fictional in nature.

Writing a Narrative Essay – Main Steps

  1. Decide what you are going to write about, which means working out a plot for your essay. It is not recommended you begin writing this type of essay without having a definitive plot on which to base it. Otherwise, you will not have any solid direction to guide your writing.
  2. Create a sketch of the situation or events you intend to cover. The order of this should be chronological.
  3. When you begin writing your introductory paragraph, the first task is to set the scene for your readers. Essentially, this is a type of overview of the story you will be narrating. When you are developing this initial scene, it is advisable not to go into a lot of details, but the imagery you create should be as colorful, interesting, and vivid as is reasonably possible. The benefit of this is that it will enable your readers to clearly envisage the scene you are describing. It is important that readers can picture what you are talking about for themselves.
  4. From here, you will move onto creating your essay’s main body i.e. you will need to write the body paragraphs. The body of a narrative essay is usually comprised of a few paragraphs that build up the plot and develop the scene the writer set in the opening paragraph. These paragraphs are essentially the “meat” of your essay.
  5. The last stage in the process is the concluding paragraph. When you are writing this, you will need to recap on all the main points and create a memorable finale for your readers.

When they are first instructed to write a narrative essay, a lot of students are not sure what is required of them. But now that you understand this involves telling a story about, say, something that happened to you or something you witnessed, your next question is likely to concern the mechanics of actually writing the essay e.g. how to approach the assignment. Well, to begin with, it is important to say that writing an essay about one’s own experiences is not as difficult as writing an essay on, for instance, a complex scientific subject. Nonetheless, it requires focus and meticulous attention to detail. Another important point is that most narrative essays are written from the writer’s own perspective (e.g., from the “I” point of view) since the narrative usually relates to something the writer has experienced first-hand.

So, once you understand these basic principles, the process becomes much easier, and not least because there is a very wide range of topics one can write about. Another good thing is that a narrative essay does not stipulate a strict style, so the writer can choose any writing style they like. Nevertheless, this does not mean you have complete freedom to do as you please. There are some basic rules such as the structure described above i.e. introduction, body parts, and conclusion. And a further factor to bear in mind is that narrative essays should be aimed at the reader and they should be written in a creative manner.

Possibly the next question you will face is what to write about. If you think about your life, it is probably true to say that, like most people, it is likely you have more than one story or experience that is worth telling others about. The fact is that you can recount any experience you think is interesting and that you think your readers will be interested in hearing. However, while the narrative writing style may not be as difficult as some other genres of writing, there are still some tricky bits you will need to negotiate. For example, every part of your essay will need to be prepared carefully so that facts do not become confused or the chronological order mixed up.

To kick-start the process, you need to get some ideas to play around with. If you are stuck at this point and cannot think of anything, a brainstorming session can be a great help since this technique is well known for getting thoughts and ideas flowing. It does not matter whether you choose something from your early childhood years or something that happened recently. An event that changed your life or altered your views in some way can be an interesting topic to write about. Or why not describe a really interesting person you encountered somewhere? In addition, remember, you do not have to write about yourself. You can write about something that happened to someone you know or some experience they had, but you should still tell the story from your own personal perspective. As you can see, the range of topics for a narrative essay is endless.

Because narrative topics are often of a personal nature, they can arouse feelings of emotion in the writer (and in the reader), so it is important you remain focused on the recommended structure. For example, you could begin with a proverb, fact, or statement that briefly “sets the scene” or provides an overview of what you will be writing about. This is a very good starting point and, at this stage, you can just write down everything that comes to mind or that you can recollect about the event or experience you are writing about. In this first draft, it does not matter if the order gets messy because you will be able to edit what you have written at a later time.

Describe the background to the event e.g. how it started. Then go on to describe how that event unfolded and what the eventual outcome was. Share any ideas you have with your readers, say how you felt and what you thought. Remember to describe how everything occurred in chronological order. One of your objectives is to capture and retain the attention of your readers, and to do this, it is a good idea to include some personal observations and relevant detail. Address the “what,” “when,” “how,” “where” and “who” questions and you have essentially created the body of your essay.

When you reach the conclusion, make sure this does not interrupt or end your narrative in an abrupt way. Wrap everything you have said up neatly. To achieve this, revisit the beginning of your essay and remind readers where and how your story started. Reiterate the importance of this experience in light of the outcome and say whether you think there are any valuable lessons that can be learned.   

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