How to write a narrative essay

A narrative essay is a personal piece of writing about an event in the writer's life.

Topic

Whether the topic for a narrative essay is assigned or not, the key in approaching this essay is to narrow the idea down to a manageable time frame. For example, the assignment may be an essay about the writer's most hated job. Rather than try to write everything about the job from the first day to the last, the writer might choose instead to write about the single worst day. Or the essay might be about the moment the writer realized just how bad the job really was.

Narrowing down the topic in this way has two advantages. The first advantage is that it automatically makes the writing more concrete. Instead of writing about a vague series of bad days at work, the writer zeroes in on specific incidents. The second advantage is that it makes the essay manageable. Because narrative essays are often about important and emotional events, trying to distill the experience into just a few pages can feel overwhelming. Working within a small time frame can help.

Techniques from Fiction

The narrative essay is a form of creative writing, and it may use techniques of fiction such as dialogue and description. The writer should use all of the five senses, if possible, to describe events. The writer can also think of the structure of the essay as a story. A narrative essay often lacks a traditional thesis statement, but the introduction might end with a bit of foreshadowing. Here's an example: "When I left for work at the restaurant that afternoon, I had no idea that within a few hours time I'd be laid out cold on the kitchen floor after a tussle with an irate customer." This raises the reader's interest. How did a restaurant job end in a physical fight with a customer? The writer can build suspense throughout the paper before reaching the climactic scene.

Since this is a personal essay, the writer should write in first person point of view using "I."

Conclusion

The conclusion for a narrative essay explains why the writer is telling this story. It doesn't have to reveal a lesson or moral that the whole world can learn from, but it should explain what the writer learned from the experience or put the experience in some sort of context within the writer's life.

Now: Read a narrative essay example.

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