Of all the types of essays, the narrative essay is the one that comes most naturally to most people. A narrative is just a story, and we all have plenty of experience at telling stories. Whether you have actually studied story construction or not, you already know the essential elements from experience.
A good story has an introduction, a plot, characters, a setting, a climax, and a conclusion. And you have room to work in the same moods that you might enjoy in the stories you read or watch. Your narrative essay can be a mystery, a suspense tale, or even a horror story. The possibilities are endless. But that’s not to say that you can just scribble anything down and call it a narrative essay. Here are some guidelines for writing a narrative essay:
Core Principles of the Narrative Essay
The use of the first person pronoun ‘I’ is allowed.
Your assignment may dictate whether or not it is appropriate to include yourself in the text, but if not, it’s up to you. This isn’t a short story, so even if you do decide to include first person words like “I” and “we,” they risk making your essay seem overly casual or, worse, like a diary entry. So use them if appropriate, but proceed with caution.
The essay should have a purpose.
A meandering, unfocused recounting of some arbitrarily chosen experience won’t do the trick here. You should have a point to make. If there’s no point to your story, the reader will feel like it’s a waste of time to read.
If possible, include something in the first paragraph which will grab the reader’s attention and make them interested to find out what is coming next. A vague or confusing beginning can compromise your essay’s impact.
Use evocative language.
The best narrative essays includes language which is carefully chosen to make an impact. Aim to evoke emotion and stimulate the reader’s imagination as much as possible. Rather than vaguely telling your readers what happened, aim to use specific details and vivid descriptions to recreate an experience for your readers.
Put yourself in the shoes of your reader.
Keep in mind that the information you present in your essay is all your reader will know about the experience you are describing. Remember that the small details, which may seem unimportant to you, are not necessarily known to your reader and could very well be worth including.
Communicating the significance of the experience.
You may want to jump right in. It can be very effective to begin a narrative essay with a paragraph that gets straight to core emotion you are communicating. With this technique, the reader will have no doubt as to the significance or your essay as they move through it. The opposite strategy can also work well. You can start out relating the details of the experience, but hold off of explaining its significance until closer to the end.
Don’t be afraid to experiment.
You may try it one way, only to decide upon another later. None of that work will be wasted, and your essay will be stronger for it in the end.
Be aware of how time flows in your essay.
Don’t describe each and every one of your own movements. Jump forward if you want. You can jump back, too, as long as you can do it in a way that does not confuse the reader.
Example Narrative Essays
Now that you’ve learned how to write an effective essay, check out our Sample Essays so you can see how they are done in practice.