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Academic Narrative Essay

Narrative Essays


The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.

Contributors: Jack Baker, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2013-07-30 01:39:00

What is a narrative essay?

When writing a narrative essay, one might think of it as telling a story. These essays are often anecdotal, experiential, and personal—allowing students to express themselves in a creative and, quite often, moving ways.

Here are some guidelines for writing a narrative essay.

  • If written as a story, the essay should include all the parts of a story.

This means that you must include an introduction, plot, characters, setting, climax, and conclusion.

  • When would a narrative essay not be written as a story?

A good example of this is when an instructor asks a student to write a book report. Obviously, this would not necessarily follow the pattern of a story and would focus on providing an informative narrative for the reader.

  • The essay should have a purpose.

Make a point! Think of this as the thesis of your story. If there is no point to what you are narrating, why narrate it at all?

  • The essay should be written from a clear point of view.

It is quite common for narrative essays to be written from the standpoint of the author; however, this is not the sole perspective to be considered. Creativity in narrative essays often times manifests itself in the form of authorial perspective.

  • Use clear and concise language throughout the essay.

Much like the descriptive essay, narrative essays are effective when the language is carefully, particularly, and artfully chosen. Use specific language to evoke specific emotions and senses in the reader.

  • The use of the first person pronoun ‘I’ is welcomed.

Do not abuse this guideline! Though it is welcomed it is not necessary—nor should it be overused for lack of clearer diction.

Have a clear introduction that sets the tone for the remainder of the essay. Do not leave the reader guessing about the purpose of your narrative. Remember, you are in control of the essay, so guide it where you desire (just make sure your audience can follow your lead).

Do not confuse a narrative essay with an expository essay. If you are assigned with the task to dwell on your life experience that is closely linked with your class topic, it means you are expected to write a narrative essay.

Describing your life you will learn how to articulate your experience and open up new talents as well as you will have the chance to tell your story to other students and teachers. Do not think it is really boring to write about yourself. You can make your college paper an interesting piece of writing, if you insert a funny joke or peculiarity in a narrative essay about friendship, for example, that will be apt for the topic that you are offered. Articulating your story you will look at it from a different angle which will bestow you a life lesson or may offer you another variant of the unraveling of the situation in a narrative essay about love or about any other topic. Look through literacy narrative essay and other types of the narrative essay to have a general idea about this type of writing.

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Main characteristics of a narrative essay

As any other type of an essay, features of narrative essay tend to be of a general nature but are obligatory to be adhered to. Do not confuse a narrative essay with a narrative report because the latter is just a description that lacks analysis.

  • The narrative essay may remind you of a short story, it uses the same cohesive text devices
  • All the events are usually told in a sequence
  • A narrative essay shows your personal point of view
  • The event described in your essay should not just tell a simple story without any conclusions and thought-provoking details, but give the reader a lesson and trigger thoughts concerning this or that question or moral theme
  • A narrative is usually conveyed in the first person though variations are possible

The structure of a narrative essay

  1. Introduction. This part of the essay puts the reader into the oicture of the topic by stating thesis which can be put in either one or two sentences. State what story you are going to render. When did it happen and what are the prerequisites for the chosen part of your life. As you see, it looks like a biographical narrative essay.
  2. Body. Each paragraph here commences with a topic sentence that provides an insight into the rest of the paragraph. Describe the characters that are involved in the story, tell who they are to you. You are also supposed to describe the setting of the story to give the audience a vivid understanding of where you were faced with the situation. The pinnacle of your essay should be the climax that will release the readers from suspense. End your story by telling the outcome of the presented situation.
  3. Conclusion. Here tell the audience why you described that story and what lesson did you learn with its help. Your essay should be like an exemplum, convey a smart, instructive message to the audience that should find it useful. 

Typical errors in narrative essays

  • Inappropriately chosen situation that is not connected with the main theme provided by the professor.
  • Describing a boring common story that is deprived of vibrant and interesting details.
  • Being too specific may perplex the reader and he will lose the main idea of the story. Choose just important details and essential characters.
  • Switching from one aspect to another.

Possible topics of the narrative essays

“The person that greatly influenced your life”
“You first impressions from the theater performance”
“There is no such a wonderful place like home”
“Birds of the feather flock together – how do you understand it?"
“Pessimists hamper us from achieving high results”
“How I drastically changed my life.”

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