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how to write a narrative essay
A narrative essay is a form of academic writing that is built around a narration of a certain event or situation. It is a short form of a narrative novel. Its main objective is to tell a story that it is both engaging and interesting to the reader. A narrative essay, more than any other type of essay, allows you to be creative as a writer.

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Though a narrative essay might seem like a short story, narrative essays focus on personal experience that hint at a lesson to be learned, and is therefore non-fiction.

Steps for Writing a Narrative Essay

  1. Figure out the plot. You should never start writing your narrative essay before you come up with the plot for it.
  2. Make a sketch of events you plan to show in chronological order.
  3. When starting your introduction, begin by setting the scene for the situation you will narrate about. Here it is best to go into details and make the imagery as vivid and colorful as possible so that readers will be able to clearly picture the setting in their minds.
  4. As you go into the main body paragraphs, narrate the story. Try to develop the plot gradually, starting from smaller events or incidents that lead to the main scene.
  5. Write the main body paragraphs in accordance with the structure you chose when making an outline—either block or point-by-point arrangement.
  6. Narrate the main scene of your story. Use as many details and emotional descriptions as you can to portray the story in full. Draw the reader into the events by evoking feelings and describing reactions of the characters of your story.
  7. End your story. Here you can appeal to the senses, moods, and feelings of your characters, describing the consequences of the narrated events.
  8. Lay your work aside for some time and then do a thorough proofreading.

Narrative Essay Topics

There are endless topics you can choose from for your story. With narrative essays being a creative type of writing, you have a unique opportunity to choose the ideal topic to narrate about. It should be about a concept or event you find interesting—otherwise it will be difficult to make it intriguing for your readers. Commonly, the story will have a lesson for readers to learn from, which will be hinted at through storytelling.

Your story must be based on what you have experienced personally. This means your personal experiences can be elaborated on or expanded on. It can be narrated in first or third person.

  • Your first day of school.
  • Your most exciting day of school
  • A field trip that your class took.
  • Your favorite summer vacation.
  • A trip that included something unexpected or surprising.
  • A time that you experienced something spooky.
  • A time that you experienced something truly frightening.
  • A time that you learned something new.
  • The moment when you met someone who changed your life.
  • The day that you got your first pet.

Key Points to Consider

  1. Start your essay by deciding upon the plot.
  2. If you find it difficult to start your essay, or cannot seem to come up with the story you want to convey, try to approach the process of writing with a “question-and-answer method.” Start asking yourself basic questions about the future story and slowly move onto more detailed questions as you develop the plot. For example, start with “Where did the event happen?” and “Who was involved in the situation?” moving onto “What were the consequences of this event?” and “What were the reactions of people involved?”
  3. With a narrative essay being a rather informal type of essay writing, keep in mind that even though you are telling a story to your readers, you are not exactly doing it the way you would say it in person. When a narrative essay is too conversational and simplistic, it can hardly be considered a successful one. You need to find a balance between telling a story in an interesting manner while keeping your writing stylistically pleasing.
  4. Evidence can be supported by a hypothesis. You, as an author, can give an alternative description of events the way they could have happened if some characters acted differently.
  5. To experiment with your writing style and make your narrative essay more unique, you can use a literary technique called ‘flashback narration.’ You can start your story from a particular point in time (usually an event that is extraordinary and exciting), and then move back to the events that lead to the described situation.
  6. Try to express yourself creatively and figuratively. Like, instead of saying “a very old man entered the room,” you could say “a grey-haired man with a thick beard creaked open the door—his hands slightly trembling from age, and stepped inside with a heaviness as if he was engrossed in profound thought.”
  7. With the narrative essay giving you a certain freedom to experiment with words, you can use interesting and unusual word combinations to make your writing more creative. An example of this would be using verbs with inanimate objects, or giving animals, plants or natural phenomena certain human qualities.

Do and Don’t


  • Do use dialog to make your writing more vivid and lifelike. Direct speech is also helpful when you need to show a rapid change of emotions and moods of your characters.
  • Do add descriptions between the dialog of your characters to keep the interest of the reader and to add more detail to conversations.
  • Do give information in order by time. Use time words like (first, before, then, after that, later, during, while and such) to help link events.
  • Do use senses and emotions to set the scene for your story.
  • Do enhance your writing with colorful stylistic literary techniques, like metaphors, epithets, distinguished comparisons, bright allegories, and the like.
  • Do include detailed descriptions of the places, people, and buildings that are part of the story. You should try to make it easier for your readers to picture what you describe.

  • Don’t be afraid to be creative. As long as you do not lose yourself in the surrealism of the described events and keep your reader interested, the essay will be a success.
  • Don’t switch from past tense to present and vice versa; stick to one tense for the entire story.
  • Don’t start writing your narrative essay before you decide on the ending for your story. It is absolutely necessary to plan the entire story prior to developing the plot in detail.
  • Don’t change the sequence of events—this will make it much harder for the reader to follow the plot.
  • Don’t be afraid to include elements of descriptive writing in your narrative essay. Your work will only benefit from bright details and specific descriptions.

Common Mistakes When Writing a Narrative Essay

– Switching from first person to third as you narrate.

– Using slang words is an acceptable stylistic technique when you use it in dialogues/monologues of your characters (in case it goes in line with the picture you want to create), but it is never a sound idea for regular prose.

– Overloading sentences with verbs so that you focus too much on the action and fail to construct the full picture. Always try to combine a moderate usage of verbs with adjectives and adverbs to balance your writing.

Now that you have acquainted yourself with the basic narrative essay writing tips and rules, you can check out our narrative essay samples to link theory with practice.

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