How To Write A Narrative Essay: General Guidelines

Learn how to write a narrative essay step-by-step with this easy and professional guide.

The art of writing consists of four main types: descriptive, narrative, expository, and persuasive. Each has a unique style and its own purpose.

Narration, also known as the ability to tell stories, has its sole purpose to describe and transmit both fictional and factual tales. Every time you tell a friend or relative something that happened to you, you engage in a form of narration. The difference between factual and fictional narration lies in the amount of “proofs” the storyteller has to offer to its listener. For fictional stories, those that are made-up or imagined, the writer is in charge of creating the characters and events he or she seems relevant to the story. 

Further, another difference between both narratives has to do with the writer’s purpose. Factual storytellers, such as memoirs and biographies, try to describe and explain events as they happened or as they remember them happening, whereas fictional tale makers, like novels or short stories, can depart from real events or people because they do not intend to retell a factual situation.

To help you understand the concept and its different stages better, below there’s a detailed guide with narrative essay ideas to help you succeed every time you write.

1. What Is A Narrative Essay?

If you want to know how to write a good narrative essay there are a few concepts we have to describe first.

A narrative essay is a text used to construct and communicate a story, with characters, conflicts, and settings. Narrative writing is used in almost every piece of writing, whether fiction or nonfiction. It has a central point that the whole narrative revolves around, including incidents and characters. A narrative essay is similar to a simple five-paragraph essay, in that it has the same format. It is only different in that it is a narrative, having characters, incidents, and dialogues. Narrative writing includes poetry, anecdotes, and novels.

Specific Prompts

  • Write about the time you met your best friend.
  • Write a story about your first trip to the beach.

Open-ended Prompts

  • Write about something you did that you are very happy for.
  • Write a story about what you’d like your future life to be.

Bonus: Difference Between Narrative Essay And Short Story

Both writings have a few differences that come to play big on paper. In a narrative essay, you will use facts to tell the story, typically relying on your memory. With short stories, you will make up the content, creating characters and events that suit the story. The first one is known to make writers struggle with accuracy because they fully rely on their memory for details or exact dialogue. Further, when writing a narrative paragraph you’ll need a thesis statement, where the first paragraph of the text has to inform the reader of the main idea of the paper

As you tell the story throughout your essay, you will work towards proving or showing the accuracy of your thesis statement.

Although a short story does not have a thesis statement, many short stories do have a central theme.

2. Purpose Of A Narrative Essay

Ultimately, whether the story is fact or fiction, narrative writing tries to relay a series of events in an emotionally engaging way. If you want to know how to start a narrative essay there’s one fundamental question you should ask yourself: what is my purpose? You want your audience to be moved by your story, which could mean through laughter, sympathy, fear, anger, and so on. The more clearly you tell your story, the more emotionally engaged your audience is likely to be. Having in mind the correct style and approach to perfectly communicate your idea

Specific Prompts

  • Write about the moment you overcame your biggest concern.
  • Write a story about your thoughts on what courage is.

Open-ended Prompts

  • Write about a trip you will never forget.
  • Write a story about starting a relationship.

Bonus: What Makes A Good Narrative Essay?

Narrative essays tell a vivid story, usually from one person's viewpoint. A narrative essay uses all the story elements such as a beginning, middle, and ending, as well as plot, characters, setting, and climax. Use different body paragraphs for each to visually allow the reader to have some rest while reading and also separate the different periods in your story. The plot’s usually told chronologically and the story always has a purpose. Further, it might use dialogue if the writer chooses to. It’s written with sensory details and bright descriptions that involve the reader. All these details relate in some way to the main point the writer is making.

For example, if you choose to write about a place you visited alone, it could be told without dialogue, but if you want to narrate about the time you met a celebrity, for example, a conversation should be included.

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3. Elements Of A Narrative Essay

What makes a narrative essay relies on three fundamental elements: character, theme, and dialogue.

Characters are very important in this type of writing, even if the essay is an autobiography, the person writing the essay becomes a character that involves some other characters who behave, act and do things like the rest of the participants presented in novels and stories.

It revolves around a theme or a motif, which it’s presented in a thesis statement that breaks down into three different parts. Further, in the text, these parts are elaborated through characters in body paragraphs that follow the essay structure.

Lastly, dialogue is used between characters to capture a conversation. It is the third most important element in which the narrative essay writer decides how to tell the story he or she wants to portray.

4. Types Of Narrative Essay

Writing a narrative essay can seem difficult if you don’t have a clear view of what you want to communicate or how to do it. There are several types of narrative essays: fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

  • Fiction is an imaginary narrative, based on the writer’s thoughts, ideas, and feelings presented as a series of many events. It can be presented in a form of a novel, folk-tale, short story, and a play, among others.
  • Non-fiction, on the other hand, counts as a personal narrative essay where it’s based on real information, facts, or happenings. Biographies along with journals and diaries are the most common non-fiction writings.
  • Poetry can be both fictional or non-fictional because it’s a narrative where the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by the distinctive style and rhythm. Sonnets and epics are the most frequently used.

Specific Prompts

  • Write about an experience that put you in danger.
  • Write a story about a time when you discovered a secret.

Open-ended Prompts

  • Write about a day you experienced that was unlike any other.
  • Write a story about a memorable summer vacation.

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Bonus: Types Of Narrative Writing

There are four common narrative essay writing: linear, non-linear, quest, and viewpoint.

  1. A linear narrative presents the story in the same order as the events that happened; it can be done through any narrative perspective (first-person narration, second, third). An example of a linear narrative can be found in Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s most famous book.
  2. On the other hand, a non-linear narrative presents the story’s events out of order, usually employing flashbacks and other literary resources that shift the chronology of a story. The Odyssey, Homer’s epic poem, presents the events in different orders.
  3. A quest narrative is a story in which the protagonist works tirelessly toward a goal, which becomes the all-consuming passion of the story and makes the character face a huge amount of obstacles along the way. Moby Dick and Sherlock Holmes are two top examples of a quest narrative.
  4. A viewpoint narrative is designed to express the points of view or subjective personal experience of the main character or other fictional characters in the story. In this one, writing, moods, feelings, and other sensory details are filtered through the narrator’s own life and subjective point of view. In Lolita by Vladamir Nabokov, the first-person narrative comes from Humbert Humbert, a man who has been in a psychiatric clinic multiple times and casts the entire story in a subjective, untrustworthy light.

5. Length Of A Narrative Essay

How long is a narrative essay? Well, it all depends, but generally, a good narrative essay is about five pages long and has a few standard requirements along the way. Some colleges require a narrative essay of 500 words only, so if it’s your case, just modify the number of blocks to fit the required word count.

Narrative essays should be as short and informative as possible, creating an engaging story without lacking information and following the established format.

A narrative essay structure consists of an introduction, where the main idea is presented in about 3-5 sentences. The main body collects supportive arguments for the story, where every new idea has a paragraph of around 3-5 blocks. And finally, a conclusion where you can sum up and prove what you stated in the introduction. Generally, in 3-5 well-arranged sentences you can succeed at this.

6. Guidelines For Writing A Narrative Essay

If you’re looking at how to start a narrative essay here is a narrative essay outline that will make your writing process a bit easier.

How To Start A Narrative Essay?

To begin, read your assignment carefully and take notes on what your professor is asking you to include. Brainstorm some ideas of what your essay might be about and just let your imagination flow. Take notes on a piece of paper of possible locations, characters, and conversations to later see if you can use them. Here are some prompts to help you with the process.

One of the best ways to start a narrative essay is through a provoking statement or by asking a question to the person reading the paper. A tip to have in mind is to rely on descriptive words and adjectives that allow the reader to visualize the story better, try to be as detailed as possible without boring the other person. The text should be informative and engaging and at the same time authentic and compelling.

Here are some prompts that you can use:

Specific Prompts

  • Write about the best birthday party you had.
  • Write a story about the first time you cooked a meal by yourself.

Open-ended Prompts

  • Write about a life lesson you have learned.
  • Write a story about your best childhood memory.

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How To Choose An Essay Topic?

To choose an essay topic, there are a few considerations to have in mind. If you can freely choose a topic, make sure it is one where you can find details and relevant information. A “half-done” narrative essay is not desirable, so take your time brainstorming ideas and coming up with a few different topics and start reading and searching for information. To write a narrative essay that looks professional and well put, try to search on official websites or use Scholar Google for scientific prompts. It helps to picture yourself as the reader, you know what things you like to read about and what things you look for on a paper, incorporating those in your work will make things easier.

Once you’ve found the topic you’d like to write about, try writing possible essay titles to allow your mind to begin working and coming up with ideas. Below are some specific and open-ended prompts that might help.

Specific Prompts

  • Write about an old friend you’ve lost touch with and why it happened.
  • Write a story about your observation of a cowardly act.

Open-ended Prompts

  • Write about a hobby you like.
  • Write a story about the first time in your life you took a trip abroad.

How to Format And Structure A Narrative Essay?

The narrative essay format consists of an introduction, a thesis statement, the main body, and a conclusion. The first two are an overview of what your whole text will talk about; the main body will introduce and develop your characters, locations, and dialogues to further sum up the story in the conclusion.

Your essay must have a clear introduction, body paragraphs that are not only sequential, but also transitional, and an ending that leaves the reader with something to think about.

The introduction must contain a hook sentence that catches the attention of the reader, a thesis statement explaining what your essay is going to be about, and a clear description of why the topic is relevant to you. The main body should include an overview of the background and setting, all of the key people involved, some semblance of foreshadowing as well as the onset of the event and the climax, finally the resolution.

The conclusion has to address the moral of the story or the event's significance; it could be used to add a call-to-action as well.

Narrative Essay Outline

One of the most important things to consider is elaborating a relevant point, where the reader can understand the connection between the story and the topic you chose. This includes writing concisely and from a clear point of view, as well as a clear and crisp language where the use of descriptive words and phrases is frequent. Having a dictionary nearby to look for synonyms and new words is a great tool to guarantee an amazing essay.

To create your outline you just have to consider 3 essential parts: introduction, body, and conclusion.

As we stated before, an introduction is the most crucial section of any essay. It should be compelling enough that it makes the reader excited to read the full paper. The first introductory paragraph is the one you should pay more attention to, make sure it catches the reader's attention. If you’re struggling with this part, write down the paragraph or sentence and ask a friend or relative to take a look and ask them if they’d read the complete essay.

The main body should contain all of the details of the story, including background, characters, thoughts, and more, share facts, and guide readers through the plot. Use vivid descriptions of the events to help the reader paint a better picture. Dialogues also help with presenting the story more effectively, and they give life to the story as well as support to the story’s atmosphere. As for characters, they are the people acting and behaving in the story. Provide detailed descriptions and explain what role they're playing in the story.

The conclusion is the final part of the essay, and it provides the outcome of the story. It bears the same importance as the introduction paragraph, and it should contain the moral of the story or the lesson you’ve learned from the story. If required, a call-to-action too.

Narrative Essay Thesis Statement

This is the most important element of the introductory paragraph because it provides the full picture for the rest of the paper. Usually, it is written at the end of the introduction paragraph to give the essay more power. It is the main theme around which the whole story of the paper will revolve

To write a good thesis statement, make sure you have selected the topic beforehand. Once done with that, try to remember the event you’ll write about as detailed as possible. Ask yourself how you would react to that situation or event and turn it into a question or sentence for your readers.

Here are some examples of a good thesis statement

  • I have only one life and I will use every opportunity to be happy.
  • Love has changed my whole life and made me a new person, here’s why.

We covered the basics of a narrative essay, what it is, and the difference between a short story. The essential parts of a narrative essay, introduction, main body, and conclusion where details are the most important thing, as well as a clear and variant use of language.

Considerations for a good narrative essay like a clean and organized format, where the main idea of the paper is explained in the thesis statement and things to include in the paper such as a conflict or a climax to make the story more interesting to readers. The conclusion should be the closing scene where the moral of the story can be seen or a message can be left for the readers.

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