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How to Write a Narrative Essay to Score Top Marks

How to Write a Narrative Essay Like Best-Selling Authors

What Is a Narrative Essay?
Common Narrative Essays Types
Emotionally Charged Narrative Essay Ideas
Effective Narrative Essay Outline
Actionable Narrative Essay Writing Tips
Archetypal Narrative Essay Topics
Final Word of Advice


Storytelling is among the most sought-after soft skills across multiple industries, from Education and Marketing to Data Science and Business. For that reason alone, you should treat mastering narrative essay writing as an invaluable experience, not another dull schoolwork chore. And to help you gain this skill, we'll share our detailed guide and provide an example of a narrative essay topic or two to beat writer's block.

What Is a Narrative Essay?

You can think of a narrative essay as a short story told from a first-person perspective, but unlike most works of fiction, it should describe an actual situation you've witnessed or experienced. As you can imagine, these conditions make a narrative essay very different from your other academic writing assignments. Instead of building your research and argumentation skills, this essay type focuses on your ability to develop compelling characters, create an exciting narrative, and deliver a memorable moral without reference data.

When a professor expects you to write a narrative essay, they usually specify the desired word count. And the limited scope becomes a problem for most students. It seems impossible to achieve every narrative goal without exceeding the word count. But you'll have an easier time if you follow our advice.

Common Narrative Essays Types

Before you think of a topic and start outlining, you need to decide on the narrative type:

  • Descriptive narrative essays paint a vivid picture of your characters, their relationships, and the world around them. The story can focus on one moment in time, one conversation, or one experience and describe it in fine detail, highlighting why it's so vital for you.
  • Personal narratives help present a longer timeline and focus on your experiences, relationships, etc. Depending on the scope of your autobiographical piece, it can cover a week, a school term, one year, or your whole life. In this assignment, time, actions and changes are the focus, rather than their setting or impact.

Emotionally Charged Narrative Essay Ideas

A recent study suggests that all fiction works can be categorized into six types depending on the combination of rise (positive emotion building) and fall (negative emotion building) throughout the story. You can use these findings to choose topics for your narrative essays in college and build your account around the rise and fall.

The six narrative writing combinations include:

  • Rise - Rags to riches
  • Fall - Hamlet
  • Fall + rise - Man in a hole
  • Rise + fall - Icarus
  • Rise + fall + rise - Cinderella
  • Fall + rise + fall - Oedipus

Effective Narrative Essay Outline 

Despite the seemingly endless number of options for developing a story, the typical narrative essay outline is no different from other writing assignments. Like all movies, novels, and short stories, your narrative should have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.

Introduction

Most narrative essay guides will tell you to open with a hook before introducing the topic and setting the background. And while that's good advice, it won't work if your word count is minimal. It's always better to begin a narrative introduction in the middle of the story and set up the internal or external conflict within the first paragraph. It can serve as your hook, drawing the audience in. And you won't need to specify the topic explicitly, as it will be easy to discern from your opening. Besides, setting the scene, especially if you were thinking of describing the weather, is overused to the point of losing any power over the reader.

At first, opening narrative essays with the climax of the story may seem counterintuitive and scary, but it's the most effective narration tool you can use. However, remember to increase the stakes with each following passage to keep the readers on their toes.

For instance, if we were to write an essay about losing faith in one's hero, the opening narrative paragraph example could read like this:

I still remember the day Mr. Hanson turned from my favorite teacher to a stranger. It was a whirlwind of black police uniforms, screams, and accusations in the middle of our first chemistry lab of the year. 

Body

Suppose you think of a narrative essay introduction as the movie's first act, introducing the main characters and setting up their motivations and conflict. In that case, the body is the second act, the longest of the three, and it contains the bulk of the action. Like short stories and novels, the only way to keep your narrative essay outline exciting is to present ever-bigger conflicts. The level of drama should steadily increase with each following passage until you reach the climax of the narrative essay. At that point, the action and conflict can slow down and decrease to provide a smooth transition to the conclusion.

If we turn to our example about losing faith in one's hero, the body passages could recount

how the favorite teacher was found to sell drugs, his lies to the administration, and his attempts to shift the blame onto one of the students.

Conclusion

The final part of the narrative essay outline should lead to a satisfying and memorable conclusion of the story. It doesn't have to be a happy ending, but it should contain a hidden or obvious moral or a lesson you and the readers can learn from the story. The final passage of the narrative essay can include a flash forward to the long-term repercussions of the story or details the ways it impacted your life and the lives of people around you.

If we go back to our example, you could write something like this:

Mr.Hanson taught me many things in science class, but the most important lesson I learned was to never put a teacher on a pedestal so high they could crush me when they fall off it. 

Editing and Proofreading

Once your narrative essay is ready, let it sit for a day or two and get some distance. You'll need it to look over your writing with fresh eyes to catch inconsistencies, weird transitions, weak characterization, etc.

Remember that editing, proofreading, and formatting can take as much time as narrative writing, so leave enough time to review the paper several times and polish it according to the professor's requirements. 

Also, while your narrative essay should reflect your unique tone of voice, it's best to avoid slang and jargon unless it's critical to the story. At the same time, overusing a thesaurus will not endear you to the professor. To find the happy medium, use professional writing software like Grammarly, Hemingway Editor, or ProWritingAid. They will produce plenty of valuable suggestions to streamline and improve your writing.

Finally, ensure your narrative essay format and structure meets the professor's requirements. It would be a shame to lose points merely because you used APA instead of MLA formatting or went overboard with the word count.

Actionable Narrative Essay Writing Tips

In many ways, narrative essay writing is one of the most creative assignments with minimum limitations and rules. But there are ways to make it better, and our top 4 include:

  • Show, don't tell. You've heard it a million times because it works. In narrative essays, it usually comes down to word choice. Remove adverbs and replace your verbs with stronger ones to make your story compelling (i.e., yell or roar instead of say loudly).
  • Engage all senses. Humans receive 90% of information about the world visually, but adding sounds, smells, and textures to any scene will make it immersive and help the reader feel the atmosphere you're trying to create in your narrative essay.
  • Limit pronouns. In a personal narrative, it can be tempting to start every sentence with "I", but it will quickly turn your story into a report. Instead, consider using different sentence structures to develop a better pace for your piece.
  • Stick to one tense. Most students use past tense in narratives describing events that occurred some time ago. But you can write a narrative essay in the present tense if you wish to make it dynamic. Remember to stick to your chosen tense throughout the paper to avoid confusing the readers.

Archetypal Narrative Essay Topics

There's no shortage of narrative essay topics, but if you take a closer look at them, you'll quickly notice they fall into several core categories:

  1. Overcoming an adversary or problem - Outsmarting a bully in a schoolyard
  2. The quest - Your first independent road trip ripe with adventure
  3. Comedy - The funniest outtakes from the latest family Thanksgiving dinner
  4. Tragedy - A losing battle with an illness that took the life of a family member
  5. Significant change - Your move out of your parents' house to a college dorm room


You can find many great personal narrative essay examples if you check out student writing contests, such as the one held by The New York Times.

Final Word of Advice

Narrative essays are a fun and exciting assignment when you have the time and inspiration to deal with them. But when your energy is sapped by half a dozen papers, and you don't remember the last time you got a full night's sleep, you're unlikely to produce a good storyline, let alone get a high grade. 

Let us know if you desperately need help choosing a narrative essay topic, developing characters, writing, proofreading, or editing your assignment. All it takes is a message, like 'write my narrative essay' in the live chat window, and we'll match you with the best expert suited to score a high mark for you.