Tips Of Writing Narrative Essays

So, your professor just gave you a new assignment, and it looks like an interesting topic. The problem is you don’t know how to write a narrative essay.

Relax (but don’t procrastinate)! Narrative essays are actually pretty fun to write. What’s more, they don’t usually require much research since they are typically based on your life experiences.

All that said, there are some important rules to follow. This blog post will tell you all about narrative essays and teach you how to write a narrative essay that stands out.

What Is a Narrative Essay?

Narration is writing that tells a story. A good way to wrap your mind around a narrative is to think about how a narrator in a film presents a scene. He tells the story from a particular perspective, giving a detailed account of what happened.

Consider the narration in this clip from How the Grinch Stole Christmas:

So, how is the narrator’s recounting of the Grinch’s failure to steal Christmas related to learning how to write a narrative essay?

As the narrator in your essay, you set the scene and tell the story from your viewpoint, giving a detailed report of events.

Chances are, you narrate stories every day. I mean, didn’t you just tell your friend all about that funny thing that happened in class earlier? You know how to narrate. So, writing a narrative essay should be easy, right?

Well, hold on, it’s not that simple. One of the challenges with writing narrative essays is that you often have to distill a complex story into a limited (and to-the-point) number of words. At the same time, you have to garner enough interest to keep the reader engaged in your story.

Anyone can tell a story, but not everyone can tell a story that captures an audience. It’s important to keep some rules in mind as you learn how to write a narrative essay.

Sample Narrative Essay

The best way to learn how to write a narrative essay is to see an example. I’m going to pretend that I’m the character Rudy (from the 1993 film Rudy), and I’m going to write a narrative essay about something that happened in my (Rudy’s) life.

First, watch this clip from the film:

Now, I will write a sample narrative essay, as if this clip were based on my experience. Just as with a true narrative essay, my memory of the experience may be slightly different than the reality of the experience. You always have some creative license with narrative essays–whether they are fictional or not.

Read this sample essay first, and then I’ll break it down into its elements:

     A janitor changed my life. I was at a low point, ready to quit everything–even when I had it all. I didn’t realize how lucky I was. At 5 foot nothing, 100 and nothing pounds, I was hardly your typical football player. But, that didn’t stop me from believing that I could play for Notre Dame. It turns out, the most important part of achieving my dreams is believing in myself.

After two years of trying hard to prove that I was worthy of playing, I found out that I hadn’t made the dress list for our kickoff game.After fighting to be on the team and sweating through every practice, I was going to sit on the bench…again.

So, I decided to call it quits. Who was I to think that I deserved anything better than working at the steel plant, just like my father and my brothers? If that life was good enough for them, why wasn’t it good enough for me?

As I stood there in section five, staring out at the empty stadium, I thought of how proud my dad would have been to see me out there on the field playing for the team we both loved so much. I felt so stupid. I wasn’t a football player. I was a bench warmer… nothing more. That’s when the team janitor found me standing there.

“Hey,” he said. “Don’t you have to be at practice?”

“Not anymore,” I said, annoyed. “I quit.”

“Why’d you quit? You don’t seem like the quitting type.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I just don’t see the point anymore.”

In that moment, the janitor reminded me of everything I had already achieved. Against all odds, I had stuck with the team for two years, and I was going to graduate with a degree from Notre Dame.

What he said next drove his point home. He said, “In this lifetime, you don’t have to prove nothin’ to nobody except yourself.”

He had a point. I had already proven myself to everyone except for me. If I didn’t believe in myself… who would ever believe in me? Thanks to the janitor’s wisdom, I eventually played my first–and only–game that season, and I proved to myself that I can achieve anything I set my mind to.

Okay, now let’s pick this thing apart. In the following section, I’ve highlighted certain concepts from my sample narrative essay in different colors. Their explanations follow.

First Paragraph:

A janitor changed my life.I was at a low point, ready to quit everything–even when I had it all. I didn’t realize how lucky I was. At 5 foot nothing, 100 and nothing pounds, I was hardly your typical football player. But, that didn’t stop me from believing that I could play for Notre Dame. It turns out, the most important part of achieving my dreams is believing in myself.

Let’s break it down.

  • Start with a strong hook. Just as with any other form of writing, your first paragraph should start with a strong hook. The sentence, “a janitor changed my life,” sets up the story with a bold statement meant to capture the attention of my readers. The goal is to make readers ask, “How did a janitor change your life? What happened?”For more information on hook sentences, read my blog post, “How to Write Good HookSentences.”
  • Set the scene. In this section of my first paragraph, I set the scene. I give the reader some context for my story (I was at a low point. I was a struggling football player for Notre Dame… etc.).
  • Define the purpose. Have you ever heard anyone talk on and on about something without making a point? This is a common trap for writers attempting a narrative essay. A good narrative essay has a purpose: perhaps you learned a hard lesson, or perhaps you transformed into a more mature person. Whatever the case, that purpose should be stated in the first paragraph. In the example narrative, my purpose is to make the point that “the most important part of achieving my dreams is believing in myself.”

As you can see, the first paragraph is critical to setting up a good story. Now, let’s talk about what goes on in your body paragraphs.

Body Paragraphs:

After two years of trying hard to prove that I was worthy of playing, I found out that I hadn’t made the dress list for our kickoff game. After fighting to be on the team and sweating through every practice, I was going to sit on the bench…again. So, I decided to call it quits. Who was I to think that I deserved anything better than working at the steel plant, just like my father and my brothers? If that life was good enough for them, why wasn’t it good enough for me?
      As I stood there in section five, staring out at the empty stadium, I thought of how proud my dad would have been to see me out there on the field playing for the team we both loved so much. I felt so stupid. I wasn’t a football player. I was a bench warmer… nothing more. That’s when the team janitor found me standing there.
      “Hey,” he said. “Don’t you have to be at practice?”
      “Not anymore,” I said,annoyed. “I quit.”
“Why’d you quit? You don’t seem like the quitting type.”
      “I don’t know,” I said. “I just don’t see the point anymore.”
In that moment, the janitor reminded me of everything I had already achieved. Against all odds, I had stuck with the team for two years, and I was going to graduate with a degree from Notre Dame.
      What he said next drove his point home. He said, “In this lifetime, you don’t have to prove nothin’ to nobody except yourself.”

Let’s break it down.

  • Use vivid and appropriate detail. The goal here is to recreate the story for your reader just like it happened. Make the story vivid and full of detail. Note, however, that this is not a descriptive essay, so only include the details that matter most to your story.
  • Use dialogue. Sometimes, a great story can’t be told without dialogue. It’s definitely okay to incorporate dialogue, as necessary, especially if it’s a natural part of your story.In my sample essay, the conversation with the janitor is critical to the story, so including the dialogue from this interaction is appropriate.
  • Write chronologically. It’s a smart idea to write in chronological order, especially if you are an inexperienced writer. What happened first, next, and last?This will help you to stay true to your story and not wander. In this sample, I focus on the sequence of events that led me to my moment of truth, how the janitor talked me into staying on the team, and how this changed my perspective on life.
  • Maintain consistency in narration. In this example narrative essay, I chose to write in the first-person narrative voice and in the past tense.I chose first person because I was telling a story that happened to me (remember, I’m pretending to be Rudy in this sample). I chose past tense because I’m telling a story that happened in the past.Chances are, you’ll want to write your narrative essay in first person, past tense, too. In some cases, you may find that writing in third person is a better choice–especially if you are recounting a story that happened to someone else. But, whatever you choose, keep it consistent throughout.

Okay! Let’s move on to the last paragraph.

Closing Paragraph:

He had a point. I had already proven myself to everyone except for me. If I didn’t believe in myself… who would ever believe in me? Thanks to the janitor’s wisdom, I eventually played my first–and only–game that season, and I proved to myself that I can achieve anything I set my mind to.

Let’s break it down.

  • Restate your purpose. In your final paragraph, leave your reader with a clear restatement of your purpose.Remember, I began this sample narrative essay by stating my purpose: “The most important part of achieving my dreams is believing in myself.” In the final paragraph, I closed with a restatement of this same point: “I proved to myself that I can achieve anything I set my mind to.”

Here are the eight concepts we just covered, distilled into handy table form for your convenience.

Final Thoughts on How to Write a Narrative Essay

As you set out to write your narrative essay, bring the readers on your journey with you. Give them a reason to listen to your story.

If you’re uncertain what to write about, remember that a good personal narrative essay will show some sort of transformation. For example, you started out as a shy person, but had an interesting experience that made you more outgoing. Find a story of transformation, and then write about what happened.

If you need more ideas, check out these example narrative essays.

Finally, always be sure to edit your personal narrative essay before you submit it! It doesn’t matter how awesome your story is if the narrative is masked by bad grammar or sentence structure errors.

Good luck!

Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.

After years of being told that you shouldn’t use “I” or other personal pronouns in your essays, you get to break all the rules! Here come the personal pronouns! Finally, a topic that is actually interesting to you: YOU!

The excitement is building, you actually might not procrastinate this time. You’ve got your fingers on the keyboard, jittering to get started, but… wait… How do you write a personal narrative essay anyway?

And, how do you make it good?

Never fear. I’ll help you understand how a personal narrative essay works and how you can write it well enough to make your audience gasp in awe and surprise.

What Is a Personal Narrative Essay?

Personal narrative essays come in all shapes and sizes, but what they have in common is that they should be about you.

In a nutshell, writing a personal narrative essays means sharing an experience from your life to create an emotional reaction in your reader–reactions such as laughing out loud, tears, frustration, disappointment, etc.

By drawing people in and making them relate to you as a character, your readers will invest their time more readily into your story.

Most often, your instructor will give you a topic to work from, topics such as “explain a time when you had to make a difficult decision” or “talk about an experience you had that was similar to what happened in the book we just read.”

Using the topic your instructor gives you, narrow down the personal experiences that fit. While you’re thinking, write your ideas down on paper, or tell the story out loud to get an idea of how it might come out on paper.

Once you have 5 to 10 ideas, think about which ones would

  1. be fun for you to write
  2. make your audience interested in the story
  3. fit the topic best
  4. be meaningful to you
  5. have enough material to meet your word or page count
  6. not be too long of a story to write in detail

After you rate the topics you came up with using those qualifications, you can choose from the narrowed down list and start thinking about the details you need to include. Writing an outline of what your experience entailed is a great way to keep you on track as you write the first draft.

Need more help thinking of a topic? Check out these personal narrative essay examples!

One of the Best Villains and Essay Tactics Ever to Exist: (The) Hook

While you might be throwing the conventions for using personal pronouns in formal essays out the window (this essay is about you, after all), that doesn’t mean that you should leave all your writing strategies by the wayside.

You still have to hook your reader into the story from the beginning. Give them something shiny to look at, and rope them into your devious plot (*maniacal laughter ensues*).

So, great. Give readers the hook. What does that mean? It might be easier to show you.

Imagine this is the opening sentence in a personal narrative essay:

I typically eat olives in the afternoon and dislike Peter Pan. I am a bad man who doesn’t treat his villainous pirate crew very well. One time, I captured Tinker Bell, and she got pretty mad.

Do you think you would want to keep reading this story?

Pretty dry for a beginning of a story, even if it is from the perspective of Captain Hook. Well, let’s try this again.

While eating olives in the middle of the afternoon, I thought I heard a sound. Looking up from the knots I had been studying in the wooden table, I glanced around, wary for signs of that dastardly Peter Pan. Having assured myself that the sound had been a trick of my mind, I reached for another olive only to find that someone had taken all of them.

A bit more interesting, right? Wouldn’t you want to know more?

When writing your personal narrative essay, you’ll want to lead your readers on and get them interested in your story from the get-go. You can do that by throwing them right into the middle of your story and giving the minute (but relevant!) details of the scene so they can imagine what’s going one.

Make your story so involved and intriguing that they forget they are reading at all.

Keeping Your Audience Interested with Imagery

You might be tired of hearing the age-old advice, “show, don’t tell,” but that definitely applies to personal narrative essays.

When you’re showing the reader, you give detail that makes them feel like a part of the story. Telling the reader, on the other hand,  means that you simply state the events that happened without engaging them in the story.

Let me give you some examples. This is what telling might look like:

I broke my pen, and the ink went everywhere. I was sad.

And, this is what showing might look like:

As I wrote my apology on the lined paper, I did not realize how hard I was pressing on the pen. I heard the pen crack, and ink gushed onto my fingers, the table, and the paper, ruining the halfhearted apology before I could even send it.

In the second example, you get more information about the speaker’s surroundings, the mess of ink, and clues about what the speaker might be dealing with.

Rather than reveal your emotions outright, flavor your story with actions—using verbs, adjectives, and (sometimes) adverbs—that give the reader a distinct idea of how the speaker feels.

For instance, in the second example, the words “halfhearted” and “apology” give much more information about the scene and the speaker than the word “sad” does in the first example.

Giving Enough Details in Your Personal Narrative Essay

Do you have one of those friends who starts telling a story and just assumes that you understand certain things they fail to mention?

Does she think you can read her mind?

Don’t be one of those people when you’re writing your personal essay.

The last thing you want to do in your personal narrative essay is confuse your readers. That means you have to give them all the background information they need to understand your personal narrative. Do you need to clarify some lingo? Do you need to explain how your family members are related to you?

That doesn’t mean you have to spell it all out . Here are some ways to give your readers more details about your story and further involve them:

  • Use dialogue
  • Add descriptions of the scene that apply to the story
  • Include a flashback if you need to go into the past to explain something
  • Explain the significance of particular items or people within your story

Again, keep the “show, don’t tell” rule in mind, but make sure that all the pieces of the story are there. To test out the fluidity and logic of your personal narrative essay, read it to someone without context.

Reading it out loud will also help you catch typos and silly grammatical errors.

Concluding Your Personal Narrative Essay

You would expect the last episode of the fourth season of Game of Thrones to end on a cliffhanger, but your personal narrative essay likely won’t have a sequel to explain the rest of what happened. You are responsible for writing the ending.

This is your chance to tie up loose ends, reiterate “the point” of your personal narrative essay (why the story is important or how it impacted your life), and drive home any emotion you want to leave the reader.

Fortunately, Kibin has some great tips on writing concluding paragraphs for personal narrative essays that you can look at if you are stumped.

If you need even more help with learning how to write a narrative essay, check out How to Write a Narrative Essay That Stands Out.

Once you’re finished with the first draft, the expert editors and fine-tuners at Kibin can help you edit your personal narrative essay and leave you comments about how you can make your writing even more interesting.

Good luck!

*Cover image credit: Ross Catrow (Creative Commons)

Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.

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