Writing essays is an essential skill that every student needs to grasp, whether for a high school class or college admissions.
A narrative essay can be tough to write but it’s often very rewarding to read – since it’s focused on telling a story.
It’s been a while since I finished college, but I never really stopped writing narrative essays.
It’s simply an amazing writing exercise with its simple structure and a strong focus on the significance or moral of the story.
Today, I’ll give you my best tips on creating a kick-ass narrative essay.
I’ll cover everything you need to know before you’re ready to write, and even give you an example of a narrative essay I wrote on the topic of overcoming a challenge.
What Counts as a Narrative Essay?
Narrative essays are often more fun to both read and write than other types of academic essays.
You probably already realize how much information you need to gather for an argumentative synthesis essay or a concise expository essay.
However, instead of recounting information, narrative essays seek to tell a story, convey an anecdote or an experience, and wrap up with a moral of the story or an insightful conclusion.
It’s a popular writing task that lets students express themselves and describe their thoughts in a way that’s meaningful to them.
But not every story counts as a narrative essay. Unlike traditional short stories, a narrative essay typically DOESN’T include extensive dialogues or intricate plotlines.
Instead, you should focus on describing a specific event or experience. It can be something you experienced yourself, or you can describe an event from another person’s (or fictional character’s) point of view.
That means you can write in both 1st and 3rd person, and even try 3rd person omniscient if you’re brave!
The goal is to take the reader on a journey with you – let them connect to you and learn a lesson through your experience.
How do you write a narrative essay?
There are only a couple of requirements that you need to cover with your narrative essay:
- It should recount an experience significant to the main character
- It needs to make a point through an integral theme or moral
- It requires an introduction, conflict, resolution, and conclusion
- Includes a limited amount of events or characters.
Along with these basic requirements, your topic and narrative choices are limited by specific rules set by your teacher, school, or admissions office.
1. Pick a topic that moves you – and it will move your readers too
When you get the task to write a narrative essay, you’ll likely also get broad instructions on the topic.
Whether that’s “Overcoming a challenge” (my topic for the day) or “A tale from your childhood”, picking a specific experience or event to write about will likely be tough.
Here’s an approach that worked for me:
- I dwelled on the topic of overcoming a challenge first – what makes hardships important, how they help us grow.
- I listed a few challenges I remember going through. I examined each example I could think of – how difficult the experience felt for me, and how well I handled the situation. In hindsight, a lot of my reactions and solutions seem far from ideal.
- I was left with a couple of solid ideas, and finally chose the one that was a deeply emotional experience for me. This brings me to my next point…
Your topic should be important to you. It’ll be hard to convince your reader to care about your story if you don’t write it with convincing zeal.
Picking a topic that you care about deeply will resonate in your writing and immediately make your audience more interested in what you have to say.
That being said, the contents of your narrative essay don’t necessarily need to be real. Embellish a few details or even make up the entire story – it’s up to you.
2. Weigh your conflicts
Every good narrative requires a conflict. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to write about a fight with a friend.
In fact, there are many kinds of conflict that you can choose from or combine to make an amazing story.
Any story’s characters may end up in a struggle against:
- Other people (for example, a physical fight or a psychological conflict),
- Nature (natural disasters and survival),
- Society (social forces or political ideologies)
- Themselves (dealing with depression, tough decisions, or a path to self-actualization)
If you’re writing your essay for college admission, make sure your conflict doesn’t seem too trivial or commonplace. You don’t need a life-and-death situation for an interesting story, either.
The most important aspect of describing a conflict in your narrative essay is to express how it affects and fits in with your life and personality.
3. Stay grounded
One of the common mistakes students make when writing narrative essays is trying hard to impress their teacher.
In many cases, that ends up with one of these two results:
- The story sidetracks when the student gets wrapped up in over-explaining unimportant details. Make sure you start with a solid outline and refrain from a lot of additional info to avoid this issue.
- The message gets “lost in translation” when the student uses complex structures and terminology they don’t fully understand. Don’t try to impress your teacher by using a big word just because you read it in a book – only do it if you’re 100% positive that it precisely expresses the meaning you want.
The Narrative Essay Structure
A narrative essay typically describes one experience or event, so its structure shouldn’t be overly complex.
Here’s a common, tested and tried narrative essay structure that gives coherent, neat results:
|Introduction||Includes a hook for your readers and introduces the moral of the story in broad terms|
|Body||Setting||Introduces the reader to the setting and characters involved|
|Conflict||Details the key event of your narrative|
|Resolution||Explains how you (or your character) dealt with the conflict and got out of it|
|Conclusion||Provides a moral of the story and explains the significance of the experience|
Make an outline before you start writing your essay.
It should contain the basic order of events and point out important details to elaborate on.
You can decide on what to put in the intro and conclusion after you nail down the basic narrative.
If you have a target word count, the outline can also help you determine approximately how long each paragraph needs to be.
Narrative Essay Example – “Overcoming a Challenge”
I make me tremble
Shy people can’t really explain why they’re shy. It’s not really that others are intimidating. It’s a state of being that just is, a quiet fear that burns and stings regardless of the actions of others. It’s a fear of feeling stupider, inferior, less worthy than others in a system that only exists within oneself – and that has nothing to do with how others perceive us.
I’ve been battling shyness for ages. I’ve gone through plenty of ups and downs, but one particular event stands out on my self-liberation path.
My love for writing has deep roots. I was fairly good at it back when I was 16 years old and attending the Eastern European equivalent of a language-focused magnet school.
In my reading-oriented literature class, we spent most of the time analyzing famous works of fiction. But once in a while, we’d get an essay writing task – and I couldn’t be happier. For me, essays were the easy way to bump my grade up.
Writing simply came naturally to me. This time was no different until, a few days later, my teacher told me that she liked my essay so much she wanted me to read it in front of the class. I felt blood in my veins freeze. I knew there’s no way that’d end well. I was good at writing, but public speaking was a nightmare! I was sure I was going to mess it up.
There was nothing I could do but get out there, face my 23 classmates, take a deep breath, and begin reading. In the beginning, it seemed alright. But as time went on, I felt a growing unease. Instead of fellow teens I spent my days with, I felt 23 pairs of unblinking, unforgiving eyes on me, judging every word I say, the way I stand, the way I speak, the way I breathe. I hated it. With each passing moment, my throat tightened more. The words I was reading made no sense. They hated it, hated me. I just needed to run away from there.
Instead of sprinting home, I stopped. I closed my eyes and just breathed for a moment. I swallowed rapidly emerging tears. And I reminded myself there wasn’t a malevolent jury in front of me – just 23 of my peers, each of them insecure and self-conscious in one way or another. I could hear my heart like it was thumping on my eardrums, and my shaking knees felt like giving out.
“I’m super nervous and I know it makes no sense but I can’t control it” – I managed to say, lips still quivering.
To my utter astonishment, “yeah, that’s ok”, “no worries”, and “why? It’s good!” could be heard from a few corners of the classroom. Nina, a close friend, showed her support with a raised fist. The class clown simply shouted “Stop stalling! I wanna hear how it ends!”
I couldn’t help but smile. Some of these people really liked me and appreciated my talent. Others were, at worst, indifferent. Most simply enjoyed the fact they didn’t have to do anything for the rest of the lesson.
I took a few more breaths to steady my heart rate and continued reading where I left off. Instead of looking down and wishing it’d just end, I looked up at the faces of my listeners and basked in the support that radiated from them.
That day, I learned that my shyness comes from within. I figured out that my insecurities lied to me. It wasn’t my audience that was judging me – I’m my own harshest critic. I felt my environment turn from horror to wholesome in a matter of minutes, but the truth is, only my perception changed. Back when I was 16 and felt my legs shake from stage fright, I learned that people are sometimes kinder to us than we are to ourselves.
Narrative Essay Outline
Here’s the outline I created before writing my essay. You should do this before writing anything – I just placed it after my essay to avoid spoiling the story!
- Intro: What is shyness?
- 16 year old in high school, good at writing
- Great essay for the literature class, the teacher asks me to read it in front of the class
- I feel growing self-consciousness and stage fright as I read. By the middle, I can’t control my tears
- I stop reading, take a breath. Tell the class I’m super nervous and can’t control it
- The class shows support, a friend makes a joke
- I feel calmer, wipe tears and continue reading
- Moral: You’re your own worst critic, people are usually less critical towards you than you think
I hope I explained and covered everything there is to know about writing a narrative essay.
And don’t hesitate to leave a comment if you know or figure out something I overlooked in my narrative essay how-to!