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How To Write A Narrative Essay: General Guidelines

Essays come in several forms. Some are descriptive in nature and others can be more persuasive. In this guide, the focus is on the narrative essay. This is a particular type of work that involves the use of narration or telling a story.

We’ll give you a further explanation of what this type of essay is. As well as this, we’ll show you how to write narrative essay, so you’re more confident about writing your own. Our guide also goes over at narrative format and the different essay types you can write.

A Narrative Essay Explained

To define this type of essay, we should look at what narrative writing is. This is a type of writing whose purpose is to tell the reader a story. It involves characters, settings and a plot that ends up getting resolved. If it’s fictional, everything’s made up. Novels are a good example of fictional narrative writing. On the other hand, if the writing is factual, everything is based on real-life events.

Academic assignments that involve narrative essay writing nearly always require you to write factual content. The bulk of your work should therefore be a story that’s true and whose details can be backed up by facts.

If you’re wondering how to write narrative writing, just imagine you’re telling a story to someone you know. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning sets the scene and the end concludes everything. The middle consists of the story’s most important parts; it can be as short or long as you need. However long your narrative text is, you should keep in mind that you’re telling a story and it should flow well.

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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.

The Narrative Essay and the Short Story: Key Differences

This type of essay and the short story have some similarities but also some differences. It’s important to understand what structures the two have so your own piece of work sticks to the required format.

When writing a narrative essay for a college or university assessment, you’ll have to rely on facts. Your writing should give the reader a clear summary of what happened. You’ll also have to stick to a word count, if there is one, and follow the general narrative essay structure that markers are looking for. There should be a thesis statement in the opening section that summarises your paper’s key argument.

As for a short story, this is fictional and what happens is the product of the writer’s imagination. It doesn’t require a thesis statement and its structure is a lot more fluid than that of a narrative essay. There’s no set way to approach one and you can be as creative as you like with the content.

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A Narrative Essay’s Aim

If you’re not sure how to start a narrative essay, ask yourself why you want to tell people this particular story; what’s your purpose in sharing it with others. When someone writes a story, no matter what genre it is, they want it to have an impact on those who read it; they want their readers to react to it in a particular way. If someone writes a horror story, for example, their purpose will be to make their readers feel afraid and frightened.

You should want readers to be engaged with your story. The more closely someone reads your work, the more likely they will be to take it in and react to it. To make the story more compelling and effective, you have to write it in the best possible way. This involves using the right language, having a clear structure and making sure your writing is clear.

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.

What Makes a Good Narrative Essay?

A good narrative essay should draw readers in, tell them a story that leaves an impression on them and finish with a definitive conclusion. It includes all the familiar elements of a story but without being as long as one. It should also let the reader know what you make of the story and what your thoughts about it are.

What’s also crucial is structure and format for narrative essay. These make your work presentable and readable. We’ll discuss both of these later on.

Elements of Narrative Essays

There are several key components, or elements, that make up this type of essay. These include characters, speech and theme.

  • Characters are the backbone of any story and are, therefore, very significant in narrative essays. Not only do they drive the plot forward, but they also interact with one another. Each one has a personality and background; sometimes, one or both of these may directly influence the story’s action. 
  • More often than not, the story part will include some speech. This reflects the conversations that characters have with one another or thoughts they may have. 
  • The theme is the main idea or meaning behind the story. It’s a concept that a writer can express to the reader through the story’s plot, setting and characters. The thesis statement should mention the theme and provide a summary of what it is.

Common Narrative Essay Types

There are multiple types of narrative essays. Most college and university assignments require your work to be factual. For some courses, such as creative writing, your work will be fictional. You’ll find some of the main types below:

  • Factual. When you’re writing a factual (or nonfiction) narrative essay, you’re retelling real-life events for other people. To put the story together, you’ll look at evidence from one or more sources.
  • Fictional. For fictional narrative essays, you can be creative and come up with any sort of story you want. Since it’s for an academic assignment, it should still have some purpose and meaning.
  • Autobiographical. An autobiographical essay involves writing down a story you’re directly involved in. This is a factual piece of academic writing where you’re sharing with the reader something you’ve experienced. You’ll use the first person and can, if you want, inject your telling of the story with thoughts and opinions.

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.

Types of Narrative Writing

When thinking of how to start a narrative essay for college, you should try to decide on the type of writing you’ll be using. Below are some types to consider:

  1. Linear. When taking a linear approach to the writing, you’ll describe the story’s events in the order they happened in. One event will follow from the previous one and lead into the next one. 
  2. Non-linear. Should you take a non-linear approach, you’ll tell the events of the story out of sequence. This may include flashbacks or even flashforwards.
  3. Quest. Some stories are a sequence of events taking place and characters reacting to these. Others are more like a quest where a person actively tries to complete a goal and this becomes their entire purpose.
  4. Viewpoint. With a viewpoint type of narration, the main character narrates the events from their own point of view. Instead of it being just about the plot, it’s just as much about the opinions, ideas and feelings of the narrator. 
  5. Descriptive. For this type of narrative writing, you should be very descriptive and use vivid details throughout. Readers should be able to picture the story’s setting and visualise what the characters in it look like.

Your story should make sense, whatever type of narrative writing you choose. The paragraphs should connect to one another in a clear and logical way. If you choose a non-linear style, the reader should be able to tell that the events aren’t in the right order.

If you’re stuck on how to write a narrative paragraph, remember that it should be concise. It should also connect with the one before it and the one after it. Your work ideally won’t have any blocks of text that stand out or are separate from the rest of the writing. For your essay to read well, there should be links from one paragraph to the next.

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The Length of a Narrative Essay

When it comes to writing a narrative essay, there’s no set length. The required word count will vary depending on who’s setting the work and what institution is running your course. Some narrative essays can be as short as 500 words, whereas others may have a few hundred more. Sometimes, your narrative essay guidelines may require at least 1,000 words.

If you’re given a word count, e.g., 500-600 words, obviously, you will have to stick to it. If there’s no restriction, it’s up to you how long your work should be. An ideal narrative essay should be at least a few hundred words in length. It should have a clear beginning and conclusion, with three or more body sections.

However long your assignment is, it should be direct and to the point. An essay that’s narrative should retell the key points of a story without necessarily going into detail. You should only include the most important characters, locations and events. By all means, have some descriptive language, but don’t overdo it.

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Guidelines for Writing a Narrative Essay

If you’re wondering how to write a good narrative essay, we’ll cover some of the most important guidelines in this section. Follow these and you should find your work much easier to approach and complete. Use our guidelines and you should have a better idea of how to write narrative essays.

How Do You Start a Narrative Essay?

First, you’ll receive a prompt from your lecturer/tutor. This is the instruction your lecturer/tutor gives you when setting the assignment. When you have this, you should start gathering ideas about what you’ll be writing. Come up with a title - unless your essay has a set title - and consider how you’re going to approach the story aspect of your writing.

When coming up with your story, think about how you would tell it to someone else. Break it down into a number of events that follow one another. When writing it, you should try to draw the reader in by using descriptive language and adding plenty of relevant details. The aim is to interest whoever’s reading your work but not to bore them. They should want to keep reading and find out what the conclusion of the story is.

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.

How to Choose an Essay Topic?

The topic you’ll be writing about will depend on your prompt. This can fall under two categories: specific and open-ended.

If you have a specific prompt, you’re going to be writing about a particular event or series of events. If it’s an open-ended one, you don’t have to write about something specific and you have a lot more choice in your topic.

The number and range of narrative writing topics are endless. The benefit of having a specific prompt is that it’s easier for you to determine what you’ll be writing about. All you’ll have to do is think about what the prompt is directing you toward and tell the story it’s asking of you.

If your prompt is open-ended, choosing a topic to write about can be tricky because there can be many possibilities. You should settle on one that the reader will find interesting, engaging and relevant.

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 structure of narrative essay is straightforward. There are four key parts: the introduction, the thesis statement, the body and the conclusion.

  • The introduction provides the reader with an overview of your essay. The thesis statement is a brief summary of your work’s main points. 
  • The body is where you tell the story. After introducing your characters and establishing the setting, you’ll narrate the events of the story and move the plot forward. Most narrative essays have a minimum of three body paragraphs.
  • The conclusion is where you bring the story’s plot to an end. You should also comment on it, explaining why it’s significant and what benefits it may have.

It’s important for you to stick to the standard structure of a narrative essay. Doing so helps you present the story in a logical way. It also makes your piece of writing easier to read.

Narrative Essay Examples

As for the format of narrative essay, this should be professional. The final piece of work you submit should look just like any other type of academic essay. The writing should have an appropriate font and size. As well as this, things like indentation, spacing and paragraph sizing should all be consistent. Your narrative essay format is just as important as the content because academic submissions require formatting of a certain standard.

The exact type of narrative writing format you use will depend on the college or university you’re at. Some institutions will have a set formatting style that all academic writing submissions will have to follow.

Narrative Essay Outline

An outline is a general sort of plan that you’ll use to write your essay. When putting one together, you should think about not only the content of your work but also how you’re going to present this to the reader. It’s a good idea to consider the language you’ll be using, how long your sentences and paragraphs will be, how often you’ll use speech and so on. 

The introduction should do two things: catch the attention of the reader; make them want to carry on reading. It should also make them intrigued about your essay’s topic and curious to find out what you have to say about it. Once you’ve written one, it’s a good idea to let others read it and see if it makes them want to find out more about your work.

The body is the bulk of your essay and is where most of the storytelling takes place. The first paragraph should set the scene, introduce at least one character and establish the basics of the plot. Over the next few paragraphs, you should develop everything that you previously introduced. Once the reader is done with the body section, they should know your characters and plot quite well. 

The conclusion is very important because it’s where you conclude the story and reflect on it. This final section should sum up what you’ve learnt and how you want the story to affect others. It should also link back to your thesis statement in some way. 

For more information and help with writing, read our narrative essay outline example article. This includes a full step-by-step guide that you may find useful.

Narrative Essay Thesis Statement

The thesis statement is a short sentence in the introduction that sums up what your essay is about. It gives the reader a clear idea of what the paper’s key argument is, but without revealing too much about the story. If you’re wondering how to structure a narrative essay, a rule of thumb is to place the thesis statement at the end of the introduction. This way, it naturally leads into the main part of your paper.

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.

Writing a good thesis statement is vital for any essay type. If yours reads well, it can help the reader engage with your work more. If you’re struggling to write a thesis statement, buy narrative essays online and see some examples from our team. By reading other people’s work, you’ll get a better idea of how to write things yourself.

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