Writing a Narrative Essay

Table of contents

What is a Narrative Essay?

The term narrative is just a sophisticated word for story. Every time you read a short story, a novel, or someone’s memoir, you are reading a narrative. When a friend tells you about an event in their lives, they are telling a narrative. 

If you are assigned a narrative essay, you will be telling a story – real or fiction. Usually, you will be asked to relate a story about your own life – the scariest event in your life, your best vacation, your most embarrassing moment, etc. On the other hand, you might be given plenty of flexibility and you can even make up something that is total fiction. (Actually, who’s to know if it is true anyway?).

You need to understand the difference between a narrative essay and a personal essay that you will be required to write for college admissions. In that case, the narrative has to be true and focused on some learning or growth on your part. The narrative essay, on the other hand, does not necessarily require any analysis and reflection. It is, above all, a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

No word matters. But man forgets reality and remembers words

Roger Zelazny

Sample Narrative Essay on an Accident

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Potential Narrative Essay Ideas

You may not have a choice, because your instructor has already made it for you. But if you do have a choice, here are some potential topics that have worked for many others before you.

Start with some general categories for narrative essay topics:

  • Your Childhood Memories: these can be anything from your best vacation or Christmas to a frightening experience, to your favorite toy, etc.
  • Adult Experiences: You have had a wealth of experiences as an adult – embarrassing moments, successes, failures, events that changed your beliefs or taught you to appreciate life or what you have more, a relationship fail, etc. Think about those that you remember in full detail, so that you will be able to give the reader a complete picture.
  • Educational Experiences: Since we spend much of our days in school as we grow up, there are lots of experiences that we can recall in detail – a conflict with a teacher, winning or losing an election for a leadership position, a disastrous social event, etc. Again, identify those that you remember in vivid detail.
  • Relationships: Think about experiences and events that involved relationships with family, friends, and lovers – your first date, the death of a family member or friend, etc. Those that impacted you emotionally are always great topics for a narrative essay.
  • Values: We have all had experiences that tested our moral compasses. Think about times when you had to make decisions about the actions of yourself or close friends that tested you. These might include your first experience of drinking underage, an event of vandalism,  bullying, etc. Describe the event or circumstance in detail and how you responded to it.

This is really an incomplete list of potential narrative essay topics, and you should be able to think of many more. The key thing  is that you want to write a narrative essay on something that you really remember in detail – without that detail, you will not be able to engage the reader in the story.

Narrative writing infographic

A Video Can Tell It Well

Reading this guide will take you step by step through writing your narrative. But for those of you who learn best by seeing as well as reading, this one’s for you. Here is a YouTube video on the traits of a good narrative essay.

Crafting the Narrative Essay Outline 

You don’t need a formal outline for a narrative essay, so save yourself the anxiety. What you do need is a sequential listing of the story – the plotline, so to speak – with all of the details that should be included in each piece of the plot. You have a beginning, a middle, and an end to that story, so start with that. Don’t worry about the introduction and conclusion at this point. Just get the sequence and details listed for your rough draft.

Writing the Rough Draft

Without worrying about grammar just yet, get your story down on your screen. As you write, think about the emotions you were feeling and how you can make your description come alive for your reader. 

Revising the Rough Draft

This not your first rodeo. You know what you have to do. The piece has to be read and re-read, looking for any flaws in structure, flow, sentence construction, dialogue (if present), and, of course, the mechanics (punctuation). Get some help.

Once you have done this, then look to crafting that intriguing and compelling introduction. This will require some creativity on your part. Again, get some help if you don’t feel adequate.

The conclusion should allow for some reflection on your part. What did you learn from this experience? How were you changed because of it? 

The Final Polished Piece

If you have completed your revision carefully, you can now type up that final draft and submit it. Give it a final reading to ensure that you are totally happy with it and that it says exactly what you want it to.

Best narrative paper topics

  1. An act of kindness I never expected
  2. Reading is for pleasure
  3. Paper notes should be replaced with digital versions
  4. Social media more often make people sad rather than happy
  5. Your first World Cup: expectations and reality
Send topics by mail?

Some Additional Tips

Here are a few extra thoughts to keep in mind as you craft your narrative essay:

  • Don’t exaggerate or embellish the facts – you won’t sound genuine. If you have chosen the right topic, you will have all of the interesting facts you need.
  • Make sure that you have included a good transition from each paragraph to the next. These are really important in a narrative.
  • Get as creative as you want. The great thing about a narrative is that you have a license that you don’t have with other types of essays
  • Don’t short-change your conclusion. The reader wants to know how this event impacted you.
  • Follow any narrative essay format requirements that your instructor has given – you want a happy reader, after all.

We are all born as storytellers. Our inner voice tells the first story we ever hear

Kamand Kojouri

 An Infographic that May Help

Part of understanding how to write a narrative essay is understanding the process you should go through as you craft it. This infographic should provide a solid roadmap for you:

You now have all of the information and coaching you need for a good narrative – get writing and have fun while you do it. You can be creative, poignant, humorous, or inspirational – the choice is yours.

How ready is your essay? Choose the stage you are at right now
What’s next and what’s missing?

How ready is your essay?